Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"

You know the danger of learning vocabulary out of context.

But what happens when you mix formal and informal vocabulary in the same message?

It can break the connection immediately.

It can also sound harsh or offensive.

Listen in to learn how to avoid this mistake today.

Comedy and vocabulary

Aubrey asks Lindsay if she often goes to stand-up comedy shows.

Lindsay says she has been to a few in Denver.

She loves when a comedian is really funny.

Aubrey shares that she went to the Trevor Noah show last weekend and she finds him so funny and talented.

Trevor Noah was the host of The Daily Show and is a very famous political commentator.

If you haven’t heard of him, Aubrey and Lindsay encourage you to check him out.

He has a book out entitled, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.”

Aubrey shares that he weaves politics into his comedy shows.

Should you learn from a textbook?

In the show, Trevor Noah mentioned that in Florida, people are arguing about the new social studies education standards and what should be included in textbooks.

He then gave his punchline that what Florida needs to realize is that nobody reads textbooks anymore.

It was hilarious, and it’s so true.

Textbooks are no longer the best source of learning.

Today’s listener’s question is related to this.

The question is about an idiom that can be very offensive and is not always appropriate for the situation.

If you learn lists of idioms in a textbook you won’t know when and how to use them.

You can’t easily learn how native English speakers use idioms to connect in a textbook.

Today’s question

Hi Lindsay I hope you’re doing well. I shared the following message on a webpage and I just want to know if the language and the structures I used are appropriate.

Dear Teachers. Please note that there are no incentives for you as we are fully cognizant that you outnumber other participants in the educational system. Please accept our apologies. Perhaps when pigs fly we’ll consider it.

Please try to check it out and let me know what you think. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Regards.


Are you cognizant?

Lindsay and Aubrey note that Mohamed has used really good vocabulary in this question.

He used ‘cognizant’ which means you are aware.

He has used good sentence structures as well.

However, the idiom ‘when pigs fly’ doesn’t fit.

If used in this way, it would sound rude, harsh and could give offense.

When pigs fly

The idiom ‘when pigs fly’ means that something is unlikely to happen.

This has a very negative tone and when you use it in a sentence, it can be very offensive.

It is especially problematic if you start to address someone formally and then bluntly use such an informal idiom.

You have to be careful and think of the setting of your conversation or written communication.

The idiom ‘when pigs fly’ is more informal so you can’t use this when stating that something is unlikely in a professional setting.

Here are examples using this idiom:

  • My kids will start picking up after themselves when pigs fly.
  • People are going to stop eating fast food when pigs fly.

Also, here is a mini roleplay to see how you can use this in a conversation:

Aubrey: When do you think you’ll be able to get away for a vacation?
Lindsay: When pigs fly!

A negative idiom

Lindsay and Aubrey stress that the idiom ‘when pigs fly’ should not be used to show positivity.

We use it to show frustration.

A better option in Mohamed’s message could be:

‘Additionally, we regret to inform you that it will not be possible to make these incentives available in the future.’

This will show you are still respectful when delivering bad news.

Similar expressions

You should not just memorize a list of idioms and use them loosely.

It’s best to learn how native speakers use them so you don’t break a connection.

It can hurt the connection if you misuse an expression or idiom.

There are more phrases that mean you don’t think something is going to happen.

We’ll share these phrases with examples to show how you should and should not use them.

#1: Don’t hold your breath

This means something will never happen or not anytime soon.

It is used most often as a response similar to just saying ‘never.’ This is also an informal option.


My daughter said she’ll clean her room but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, here is a mini roleplay to see how you can use this in a conversation:

Lindsay: I’m hoping Mike is going to move here.
Aubrey: Don’t hold your breath! He loves living in New York!


Some idioms can be offensive or inappropriate in certain contexts.

Don’t rely on textbooks to learn idioms or expressions from a list.

Take note of the tips from today’s episode to avoid problems when trying to create connections with someone either in a formal or informal setting.

What Lindsay and Aubrey shared with you won’t be found in a textbook.

Consume English content that will upscale your language learning level.

Learn from podcasts and applications like Rosetta Stone instead of memorizing lists of idioms.

What other idioms have you heard used incorrectly?

Share one in the comments!

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