For English Language Learners

We will be using the story at CNN linked below for English comprehension, with a key focus on idiomatic expressions. This is also for all the good people at the Facebook page, English Idioms, which I co-administer.

In this case, I will use another article from CNNMoney.com because topics like international news may use very few expressions, and are intended to tilt towards informative articles rather than entertaining articles. Also, many English learners want to learn English as a secondary language for business purposes.

In addition, I have written about Apple in the past.

This free lesson only uses about 50 to 60% of the article. This is for two reasons.

#1, it’s long, and for a free lesson, I can only spend a limited amount of time on it.

#2, the last part of the article (that I am not using) gets much more technical about the business implications of Apple’s communication issues with its customers. This makes the second half less useful to a general business audience, though it is probably quite useful to people in particular business fields.

So, let’s begin.

Apple’s communication gap irks business buyers

First, read the article.

Then, follow along while I explain various expressions.

Idioms/ Vocabulary Important In This Article

Communication gap; a gap is often used figuratively to indicate a difference between where something SHOULD be, and reality. In ages past, the “missile gap” (concerning intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads) was a giant political issue in the election campaign resulting in the election of John F. Kennedy. Therefore, the idiomatic use of “gap” is firmly entrenched in American culture.

Here, the communication gap is a gap between the communication Apple ought to have, and the communication Apple actually does have, right now.

When you think; this is not really an idiom so much as a rhetorical statement intended to focus your mind on a subject. The statement presumes that you have thought about Apple and, having thought about Apple, you associate Apple with iPods, and not with Apple being “a business IT company.”

IT; Information Technology. “Soft” tech rather than “hard” tech like automobiles (cars).

Fortune 500; a list of the 500 most profitable American companies, by revenue, published by Fortune magazine annually (once every year).

To kill; when used figuratively, this means to bring a thing to an end. In this case, what was “killed” was Apple’s Xserve servers.

A line; in business, this is used to describe a series of heavily related products. Related: a lineup of products (such as merchandise for display, either in real life or in a catalog). In this case, this line was of “rack servers” called Xserve; all products were servers (for computer networks) of this type.

What’s more; a far more informal version of in addition, which I used at the top of my article, which you are still reading.

Transition guide; apparently, this is a guide (a notice) to inform customers of a transition (that is, to the fact these servers would no longer be sold!).

Wonky; easiest thought as “nerdy”; at any rate, it means something highly unlikely to be understood except by a very small fraction of people. This often applies to subjects that are highly technical, like “blade servers.”

To network; used as a verb, this means to form a network. In this case, this means forming a computer network, not a network of people.

A Mac; this means a Macintosh computer. (A Macintosh is originally a type of apple; that is, the actual fruit. It is a very red apple.) This is an old nickname that is extremely well entrenched in the English-speaking world.

A number of; this is a very unspecific expression for some, a portion, a fraction of something larger, which in this case is Apple’s Xserve customers.


Head-scratching; this is an adjective derived from to scratch one’s head, which is an idiom for being thoroughly confused. (Some people really do rub their head in a scratch-like motion when considering something perplexing/ confusing.) So, “head-scratching” simply means confusing and difficult to comprehend at face value.

Hold; this can be used figuratively when describing objects that are completely unrealistic to hold in the human hand, such as a large computer server.

Side-by-side; if not literally one beside the other, it nonetheless means a direct visual comparison. Such comparisons are a very old, strong part of business, so its cultural significance is deeply rooted.

A laughable comparison; this is a comparison so ridiculous that it makes the person doing the comparison laugh.

Combining the last three, this means that a direct visual comparison will show that the first object is not like the second object, and this will be EXTREMELY obvious.

Unsurprisingly; something that is a natural result, and therefore, should not be surprising (even if it is surprising to someone).

Making people upset; causing frustration and, more broadly, unsettled emotions.

Support a website; to sustain a website so that it remains operational, or idiomatically, remains “up.”

“I don’t think X”; it is not my opinion that…

Handling something well; to handle something well is to avoid costly and often unnecessary mistakes. To not handle something well is to commit costly and unnecessary mistakes.

Completely rethink; to abandon current plans, and all tangible steps taken to implement these plans, and from that point on, to plan how to address a need from the very beginning (“from scratch”).


Unfortunate timing; a polite way of saying, damaging timing (something that will cause damage because of when it takes place). Calling this “unfortunate” is downplaying (playing down, reducing the tone of) the natural and unsurprising anger caused by this timing.

Scrambling; hurrying.

To finalize; to finish/ complete.

Declined to comment; this expression is used when the Public Relations (PR) department of a corporation refuses to speak to a news media organization. This is a polite reference intended to appear to be non-judgmental (that is, not a sign of anything bad), though English readers often assume it to be a bad sign anyway. Journalists understand this, too.

Gurus; experts. Regardless of the origin, that is what the word has come to mean in English.

A symptom; this is an important idiom that is a reference to medicine. A symptom is a sign of the presence of an illness. When used figuratively, it is a sign of anything – but tends to be used only for signs of something bad.

A broader problem;this suggests a problem that is far larger and broader than a single instance of it.

Let’s put the last two together.

Apple treating its Xserve business customers badly is the symptom of a broader problem.

Apple’s broader problem is Apple’s communication gap.

That’s All, Folks

Cultural reference: This is the traditional closing phrase for Looney Tunes cartoon episodes, and dates back to 1930 (!). Due to the popularity of Looney Tunes cartoons throughout the 20th century, most Americans will understand that this is a closing phrase.

This is as much as I can write on this subject for one morning.

I’d like to take a moment of your time and explain what I am doing.

I am demonstrating idioms in the context of a news article. These idioms are in their natural habitat. It’s like bird-watching.

Second, I am showing you what kind of high quality content that I am capable of writing on a daily basis.

I don’t think many people are out there on the Internet actually explaining what these sort of terms mean in a specific context of real value to English language learners.

Of course, I can’t do this for free over the long term. That is why I am strongly considering beginning a premium content subscription system through Learn Out Live.

Premium content simply means having to pay a small amount of money every month over a service like PayPal (or something very similar). In return, it means I treat you as my valued customer; I shower you with high quality educational content that helps you master the English language.

So, you could consider these longer, but still completely free articles as test runs for how premium content would work.

Direct lessons are nice, but this way, time is irrelevant and you can obtain the content at whatever time is good for you. No scheduling; no worries.

Anyway, what’s important is that this material actually helps people learn and master English. If it isn’t doing that, nothing else matters.

Thank you for your time! – Jeremiah