Subject Material

11 Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary

Published: 15.12.2009, Updated: 25.07.2013

I    Dirty tactics wheeled out as binmen go to war.

  1. Binmen are being investigated by police after residents who complained about rubbish
  2. collections in their local paper received threatening postcards.
  3. George Mower, 62, wrote to the Brighton Argus to say CityClean staff were “not
  4. doing their jobs properly”.
  5. The cards threatened to stop collecting rubbish and put cat excrement through
  6. letter boxes.
  7. The card addressed to Mr Mower read: “We didn’t like the letter what you wrote to
  8. the Argus. We don’t like been undermined. You might find we forget to collect your
  9. rubbish this week. Please don’t complain again Mr Mower.
  10. We would like to keep this amicable as you’re probably an old geezer.”

From The Daily Telegraph. May 2, 2009


  1. Explain the meaning of the heading.
  2. Why is the phrase wheel out appropriate in this context?
  3. The card shows a couple examples of non-standard English. Identify them and replace them by equivalent standard wordings.
  4. What is the meaning of an old geezer?
  5. How would you characterize the style of this piece?
  6. Write a two line summary of the article, using your own words as far as possible.



Dirty tactics wheeled out as binmen go to war.

  1. Tactics that are filthy are rolled out (in dustmen’s containers) as they threaten to respond to  people’s complaints. This heading is not easy to understand. It is almost like a poem because it needs to be interpreted at several levels.
  2. Wheeled out is a clever and appropriate verb because dustmen wheel out the rubbish bins when they come to collect people’s garbage.
  3. Correct and standard English would be: We didn’t like the letter that you wrote… In the next sentence correct English demands: We don’t like being undermined. In the next line it would be better to say: You might find that we will forget to collect your rubbish.
  4. Geezer is an informal word which means something like: ‘an old irritable man’.
  5. The style is fairly formal in the text written by the reporter, but becomes more informal -  and non-standard - in the letter probably penned by the dustmen. Geezer is definitely an informal word.
  6. No answer suggested.




II    A taxi firm’s biddies and codgers backlash

  1. A taxi firm’s attempt to create a humorous advertising campaign has backfired after
  2. the pensioners it was pitching to took issue with the wording.
  3. Retired people in the seaside town of Selsey in Sussex have expressed their
  4. dismay at the advertisement describing them as “biddies and codgers”. Chichester
  5. district council said it had started an inquiry after a complaint from Maribel French,
  6. 66, a widow.
  7. She said she felt “quite sick” when she picked up a leaflet from Area 24/7 taxis
  8. offering a “Biddies and Codgers” scheme for travel anywhere in Selsey between 9 am
  9. and 11 pm seven days a week for £2.50.
  10. One dictionary describes a biddy as an “interfering old woman” and a codger an “old
  11. eccentric man”.
  12. Mrs French said: “I phoned them up and asked them who they classed as biddies and
  13. codgers. I think the whole thing is disgusting. I might be an OAP or a senior citizen
  14. but I’m certainly not a biddy. It’s like being called an old hag. And if my husband,
  15. Alfred, was alive I would certainly not dream of calling him an old codger. I will not
  16. leave it. I feel really strongly about it.”
  17. Michael Ellerton, a partner in the cab firm, said: “We gave out around 7,000
  18. leaflets and out of all of them we have received only two complaints. It’s the talk of
  19. the village – they love it. They talk about it at bingo. It’s all good fun.”
  20. Gary Healy, the controller, added: ”To me, if someone says ’old codger’ they
  21. mean it in a nice way, not nasty. If we were trying to insult people we would be
  22. charging them £5 not £2.50”.
  23. Meanwhile, Selsey’s most famous resident, astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, was
  24. incredulous about the furore. He said: “Are you sure it’s not April 1?” He added:
  25. “You’d better put me down as an old coot.”

Based on text in The Daily Telegraph, May 2, 2009


  1. Look up the words biddy, codger, hag and coot in a dictionary – either a desk dictionary or an electronic dictionary - and write down its explanation of the meaning of these words. Does the dictionary add anything about possible offensive or old-fashioned usage?
  2. Mrs French mentions two expressions that she accepts as neutral descriptions of her status. Which?
  3. Rewrite the heading of the article in a way that makes it clear what it means.
  4. Who says that the “biddies and codger” phrase is merely intended as a good-humoured comment?
    1) Sir Patrick Moore, 2) the Chichester district council, 3) Gary Healy, 4) Michael Ellerton, 5) Mrs Maribel French
  5. Explain the meaning of pitching to (line 2), dismay (line 4), incredulous about the furore (line 25)
  6. Write a five-line summary of this article using yor own words as far as possible.



A taxi firm’s biddies and codgers backlash

  1. Biddy is an offensive slang word which refers to a woman who is a fusspot, who complains  
    a lot and tends to interfere.
    Codger is an offensive and insulting word for an elderly man who is eccentric and slightly  
    Hag is a very offensive slang word for a woman, often advanced in years, that the user  
    wants to insult.
    Coot; another informal and slightly offensive word for an old person who is weird and  
    often stubborn.
  2. Mrs French accepts the neutral terms senior citizen and old age pensioner (OAP).
  3. A taxi firm receives complaints after it innocently referred to potential customers  
    as ‘biddies and codgers’. This rephrasing would not do as a heading because it is too long  
    and does not have the snap of the original.
  4. Gary Healy
  5. pitching to means ‘aim at/direct at/ sell to’; dismay means ‘disappointment or discouragement’, incredulous about the furore means ‘regarded the uproar/excitement in  disbelief’.
  6. No answer suggested.


III         Qatari rulers snub Prince’s pleas to halt modern flats


  1. The Prince of Wales has been rebuffed/rejected by Qatar’s royal family in his battle
  2. to stop a £1 billion modern flats development in a historic part of London.
  3. The Qataries, who have been reported to be on the edge/verge of backing
  4. down, have instead recommitted/reaffirmed their commitment to the development
  5. on the site of the Chelsea Barracks.
  6. The Prince had written to the prime minister of Qatar, appealing/asking to him
  7. to scrap the modern steel and  glass development. But Qatari Diar, the development
  8. arm of the country’s royal family, issued a statement yesterday confirming its
  9. commitment/obligation to the scheme. The statement said: “The owner and
  10. developer of the Chelsea Barracks site is concerned that several recent reports in the
  11. media have either stated or inferred/implied that it is actively considering
  12. abandoning/leaving the scheme.  As a direct consequence of these reports, we have
  13. written to Westminster city council confirming wholehearted/fast commitment to the
  14. scheme.”
  15. The Prince may be regretting the timing of his intervention/invitation as he
  16. wrote to  the Qatari prime minister more than a week after the application was lodged
  17. with Westminster city council. He proposed a more traditional design by one of his
  18. favourite architects, Quinlan Terry. The Prince has described the design by Lord
  19. Rogers as “unsympathetic and unsuitable” for the area.
  20. The clash is a rehearsal/rerun of their battle over the proposed
  21. extension/width of the National Gallery 25 years ago, when the Prince described
  22. the design by Lord Rogers as a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and
  23. elegant friend”.
  24. The developers Nick and Christian Candy bought the 13-acre/acres site with
  25. Qatari Diar in May 2006 for £959 million. The brothers have since agreed to sell their
  26. stake to the Qataris.
  27. Lord Rogers drew up plans for 552 flats in 17 blocks, more than half of them
  28. nine stories/storeys tall. The development also includes a hotel and shops.
  29. After the Prince intervened, there were formal discussions between the
  30. developers and Sir Michael Peat, the Prince’s private secretary, but the talks did not
  31. address/involve members of the Qatar royal family.
  32. An influential figure in architecture attacked/assaulted the Prince for
  33. interfering. Paul Finch, the chairman of the 2012 Olympic design panel accused him
  34. of having “lurched creaking from his cultural graveyard” to attack the “old enemy
  35. modern architecture”.

From The Daily Telegraph, May 2, 2009


  1. Read the text above and explain the meaning of its heading.
  2. Choose the better of the two alternatives in the fifteen cases where alternatives are given.
  3. Who is the “old enemy” in Paul Finch’s quote (line 34)?
  4. Who reported that the Qataris were considering pulling out of the development plans?
  5. Who is the Prince of Wales’s favourite architect:
    • Paul Finch,
    • Quinlan Terry,
    • Christian Candy,
    • Sir Michael Peat?
  6. Write a five-line summary of the article.


Qatari rulers snub Prince’s pleas to halt modern flats

  1. The rulers in Qatar refuse to listen to Prince Charles’s strong request to stop building
    modern flats.
  2. rebuffed, verge, reaffirmed, appealing, commitment, implied, abandoning, wholehearted,
    intervention, rerun, extension, 13-acre, storeys, involve, attacked.
  3. The old enemy is modern architecture.
  4. We read in two places (lines 3-5) and (lines 9-12) that the Qataris may be pulling out of the
    scheme, but we do not get to know who exactly is the source of these reports. The reason is
    that the first one is in the passive voice (have been reported to..), and the other is a noun
    …several recent reports in the media…. Both constructions hide the identity of the source.
    of the report.
  5. Quinlan Terry
  6. No answer suggested.




Advanced Material!

IV     Read the long excerpt below and answer the questions at the end.


  1. There have been many controversial aspects to the presidential election of 2008, but
  2. one thing is uncontroversial: that Obama’s skill as an orator has been one of the most
  3. important factors – perhaps the most important factor – in his victory.  The sheer
  4. numbers of people who have heard him speak live set him apart from his rivals – and
  5. indeed, recall the politics of ancient Athens, where the public speech given to ordinary 6
  6. voters was the motor of politics, and where the art of rhetoric matured alongside
  7. democracy.
  8. Obama has bucked the trend of recent president – not excluding Bill Clinton – for
  9. dumbing down speeches.  Elvin T. Lim’s book The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric
  10. from George Washington to George W Bush, has analysed presidential oratory
  11. statistically.  He concludes that 100 years ago speeches were pitched at college reading
  12. level. Now they are at 8th grade. Obama’s speeches, by contrast, flatter their audience.
  13. His best speeches are adroit literary creations, rich in allusion, his turn of phrase
  14. consciously evoking lines by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Woody Guthrie
  15. and Sam Cooke. Though he has speechwriters, he does much of the work himself.
  16. More than once, the adjective that has been deployed to describe Obama’s oratorical
  17. skill is “ Ciceronian”. Cicero, the outstanding Roman politician of the late republic,
  18. was certainly the greatest orator of his time, and one of the greatest in history.
  19. Oratory was the supreme political skill, on whose mastery power depended.
  20. Unsurprisingly then, oratory was highly organised and rigorously analysed.  The
  21. Greeks and the Romans, in short, knew all the rhetorical tricks (and they put a name to
  22. most of them).  It turns out that Obama knows them too.
  23. One of the best known of Cicero’s techniques is his use of series of three to emphasise
  24. points. It is called the tricolon.   Here is an example: “Tonight we gather to affirm the
  25. greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of
  26. our military, or the size of our economy…” The most enduring example of a Latin
  27. tricolon is not Cicero’s but Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” – I came, I saw, I conquered.
  28. Obama also uses the technique of drawing attention to a something by saying that it is
  29. not important. In the example above he says that the size of their economy is not
  30. important for the greatness of the US, but in discounting it in this way, he manages at
  31. the same time to subtly remind us of its importance.
  32. Another of Obama’s favourites is the way he uses indirect references to well-known
  33. public figures. He used the phrase “a young preacher from Georgia” when he accepted
  34. the Democratic nomination in August 2008. He did not mention Martin Luther King.
  35. Another example of the same indirectness is when he used the phrase “a tall, gangly
  36. lawyer from Springfield…” in another speech. This indirect reference to Abraham
  37. Lincoln has the effect of flattering the audience. They are expected to understand the
  38. reference. At the same time, in the minds of his listeners it puts him on a par with
  39. people like King and Lincoln, two of his idols.
  40. Obama likes to use the specifics of American place to locate his references. From his
  41. Nov 4 speech ”Our campaign …began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living
  42. rooms of Concord and the front porches Charleston (another tricolon).  In this way he
  43. makes it easy for ordinary people to relate to what he is saying.
  44. The ancient Greeks stated that good rhetoric should involve emotion, argument and
  45. character (pathos, logos and ethos).  This passage of Obama’s combines all three: “I
  46. am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised
  47. with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s
  48. army during WW2 and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line
  49. at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in
  50. America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations.”
  51. All these references show that in a sense, he personally embodies the American
  52. dream. That is why his speech is all the more powerful. This excerpt from the speech
  53. refers to the facts of his family background, and indirectly to the strength of his
  54. character since he has risen from modest circumstances and they evoke emotional
  55. reactions in the audience. That is pathos, logos, ethos for you. If there is no convincing
  56. and truthful relation between the arguments in a speech and the character of the
  57. speaker, then the speech may degenerate into empty rhetoric – a negatively loaded
  58. word often associated with politicians.

Partly based on ‘The New Cicero’ by Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, Nov. 26, 2008


  1. Explain what is meant by the art of rhetoric (line 6). Does the phrase have a neutral meaning, or is it derogatory?
  2. What is the meaning of the word bucked at line 8?
  3. Give the meaning of the phrase dumbing down (line 9)
  4. What is the meaning of the phrase were pitched at (line 11)?
  5. How does the writer feel about Obama’s speech to judge from this wording: Obama’s speeches, by contrast, flatter their audience (line 12).
  6. What does it mean to say that a speech is rich in allusion (line 13)?
  7. Rephrase the formulation consciously evoking lines by Abraham Lincoln… (line 14).
  8. Who are/were Woody Guthrie and Sam Cooke (lines 14 -15)?
  9. Find a simple everyday word to replace deployed (line 16).
  10. At lines 24-26 there is an example of the tricolon. Expand the tricolon in such a way that you use a full clause for each of three elements but change nothing of the meaning. Which wording is the better, yours or Obama’s?  Give your reasons.
  11. Write a mini-speech, where you employ Obama’s technique (lines 28-31) of mentioning something which is said to be insignificant , but where the very mention of it serves a purpose.
  12. Invent an example modelled on material in lines 32-39 in which you refer to somebody important not by name but by some indirect characteristic.
  13. Why do you think Obama combines ‘backyards’ ‘living rooms’ and ‘porches’ with the geographical locations Des Moines, Concord and Charleston, respectively?
  14. Explain the three terms pathos logos and ethos. Check dictionaries if necessary.
  15. Go back to line 27. Why would it be odd to reorder the three elements in this fashion: I conquered, I saw, I came.
  16. Bill Clinton once said: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”  What did he mean by this?


President Obama as an orator.

  1. In this context the phrase the art of rhetoric has a neutral implication. But in other contexts the word rhetoric often has the negative meaning ‘grand, but empty talk’.
  2. Bucked here means ‘reversed, gone in the opposite direction’.
  3. Dumb down means ‘to lower/simplify one’s level of language in order to be understood by the less well-educated.’
  4. Were pitched at (college reading level) means that ‘the language was aimed at those who had gone to college’.
  5. This phrase means that Obama uses language which assumes a level of sophistication on the part of his listeners.
  6. Rich in allusions means that the language indirectly refers to/hints at other people or events.
  7. Consciously evoking lines by Abraham Lincoln….Sam Cooke means that ‘his language reminds us of or refers indirectly to what these other great speakers have said’.
  8. Woody Guthrie was a well-known American singer-songwriter who wrote songs about the average American worker and his place in the nation’s development. Father of Arlo Guthrie. Sam Cooke was a famous American gospel singer and songwriter.
  9. Used
  10. ….(we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation. We don’t do it because of the height of our skyscrapers, we don’t do it because of the power of our military, we don’t do it because of the size of our economy.This expanded version has the same tricolon. It is repetitive, but still effective.
  11. No answer suggested.
  12. No example suggested
  13. It is possible that he wants us to associate backyards with scenes in rural, agricultural Iowa, living rooms with the more sophisticated urban environment in Concord, Mass, and porches with life in a southern town like Charleston. So he covers several geographical regions, each with its specific features.
  14. Pathos means something that evokes sadness and pity, logos means words/ reason and ethos refers ethics/ moral values.
  15. There are two reasons why the original order must be used. One is pretty obvious: the sequence must follow the order of the events; secondly, the longest and heaviest word is best in end- position.
  16. Bill Clinton probably meant that governing is a mundane but rational activity (cf. logos), but campaigning is an activity that requires appeals to emotions ( cf. pathos) to be persuasive.