All Ears English Podcast - 1911: Was Traffic a Total Nightmare? How to Complain with Personality in English

This is an All Ears English podcast, episode 1911.

Was traffic a total nightmare?

How to complain with personality in English.

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With your American hosts, Lindsay McMahon, the English adventurer, and Michelle Kaplan,

the New York radio girl, coming to you from Colorado and New York City, USA.

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When a situation is not ideal, you want to make sure people know what you think.

In today’s episode, get five new ways to emphasize your complaints when you talk about

things happening around you in English.

Hello, Michelle.

Good morning.

How’s it going today?

Good morning to you.

Lindsay, thank you for recording with me.

So early in the morning, guys, we’re in different time zones and Lindsay is up bright and early

and she’s so nice of her.

Oh my gosh, yes.

I’m a morning person, Michelle.

I actually don’t mind at all, but maybe our listeners can hear that my voice is a real

morning voice.

You know, sometimes you can really hear the difference in someone’s voice in the morning

versus the evening versus the afternoon.

Do you get that too?

I always feel like I have a morning voice, but I feel like it’s worn off.

I don’t know.

In the past few years, I don’t notice my morning voice as much.

And I have to say, Lindsay, I don’t really hear that you have a morning voice.

I’m so glad to hear that.


It might be having kids that you’re up all the time with the kids, right?

Every time is the morning for me.

Oh my God, what are we talking about today, Michelle?

What are we getting into?

Well, we spoke recently, I believe it was episode, I think it was episode 1904 about

the word buzzkill.

And actually, it’s so funny, like sometimes this stuff happens with the show, Lindsay.

We were talking about how Obama said buzzkill.

And then like the day afterwards, I was watching a show, and they used buzzkill.

And they used wet blanket, which we also spoke about.

Oh, I love that.

Guys, I hope that’s happening to our listeners too, right?

Because now they recognize those words, and they’re finding them out in the world.


And that’s how I’m like, okay, like, you know, we’re teaching the right stuff here.

Because I mean, I literally the next day after we recorded, so guys, this really I mean,

these are the stuff that we teach you is stuff that you will hear.

So really listen for it, because you never know when you’re going to hear something.

Let us know in like a review or email us or however, let us know, maybe like a fun thing

would be to let us know of funny times where that’s happened to you with the show.

Like have you ever listened to an episode and then like the very next day, you know,

that like, you heard it, I’d love to hear if you guys have had those experiences.

Yes, guys, let us know.

And you know, while you’re at it, write in your question request, right, your episode

topic requests, send them to lindsay at all ears,

We love getting your episode ideas.

So send it right in.

All right.

So but that was kind of off of this episode, because we were saying the word total.

So we called something a total buzzkill.

And we were saying like, well, I mean, Lindsay, what’s the difference if I just say something

is, oh, it was a buzzkill and or if I say, oh, it was a total buzzkill?

What does that word do?

Well, first of all, it makes it sound more natural.

For me, sometimes it’s, it’s a filler word a little bit.

You know what I mean?

It kind of helps me to feel more natural and what I’m saying, emphasize it.

It softens it a little bit, but it also makes it more extreme, right?

Yes, it was a total buzzkill.

It was really, really a buzzkill.



Hey, Michelle, are you there?




Can you hear me?

Yeah, now I can.

Oh, I don’t know what happened.

Let’s keep going.

Let’s keep going.


We lost each other for a second, but here we were.


So, yeah, I feel like it sounds more emphatic, like more extreme, but in a way, like what

you said, in some ways, it’s just kind of a filler.

Which is really interesting.

Actually, a lot of words are like that.

You know, we think they mean something, but sometimes they’re just put there to take up

a space to feel more rhythm in what we’re saying.


It just kind of sounds good.

It sounds cool.

It sounds zippy.

It sounds cool.

Yeah, zippy.


I love it.

Zippy basically means complete.


Like, let’s do some examples.

So what’s the first one?

Let’s see.

All right.

So it was a total bummer that he couldn’t make it to the party, or that commute was

a total nightmare.


It just makes me sound more convincing, in a way, you know?

Right, right, right.

Here’s another one, guys.

I’d let you in, but my house is a total mess right now.


Or he’s a total cutie.

So, yeah, it can be used to emphasize, but sometimes it’s just for the rhythm.

And, Lindsay, do you think that, I mean, this can be used in, like, do you think it’s formal,

informal, or either?

I think it’s pretty informal, you know?

I don’t know if I would use this in a job interview or a professional situation, right?

Maybe talking with my colleagues in a friendly way, but probably not in a presentation.

This is not presentation language, right, Michelle?


Right, right, right.

I mean, this is different, guys, than saying, like, oh, if you’re saying, like, oh, the

total numbers for the quarter were, you know, like, that’s about, like, an amount.

Oh, yeah.


So that, and we could do something like that, you know, on total another time.

But this is, this is different.

So, like, yeah.

Yeah, that’s a good point, Michelle.

Guys, we’re not talking about adding up sums of numbers and quantities here, right?

We’re talking about making something more interesting, more extreme.



And I was trying, when I was coming up with my examples, I mean, yeah, like, he’s a total

cutie or sometimes you would hear someone say, oh, he’s a total hottie, right?

Like, yeah.


That’s very 90s.

That’s very 90s, Michelle.

Yeah, exactly.


But, but, but, but, I was realizing that when I kept on coming up with examples, I feel

like it was more for negative things.

And I don’t know if that’s just the examples I was coming up with, or do you agree with,

like, I feel like we use it more to emphasize something like, oh, a total nightmare, a total

mess, like, rather than, like, a total, I don’t know.

Total delight or something.

Oh, it was a total delight, right?


You might have a point there, Michelle.

You know, I think sometimes when something is negative, we want to show people how we


I mean, obviously, the cutie is an exception, right?

My house is a total mess.

I mean, just look at the examples that you came up with.

My house is a total mess.

It was a total bummer.

Yeah, I would, I would say that’s probably true because we’re dramatic.

American English is a little dramatic.

It’s a little over the top, isn’t it, compared to other, you know, British English.

I think they under-emphasize.

We’ve talked about this on the show before.

We over-emphasize things, you know?



And so, like, that’s just what I noticed because I kept on, I was like, okay, example, example,


And then I said, let me think of some, like, positive ones.

And I was having much more trouble than with the negative ones.

So that was kind of interesting to me, what I realized.


So let’s look at the other ways to say this and see if maybe that’s true, if we see that

same thing going on here, right, Michelle?




So yeah, I looked, I looked this up in the dictionary.

Got some, some of these were inspired by the dictionary, but let’s go through a few, let’s

go through a few of them.

So, well, this one is fun, like utter.



Like, not like U-D-D-R.

That’s another.

No, that’s a cow.

That’s a cow.

That’s the body part of a cow.

So we’re talking about U-T-T-R, and you should have the transcripts, guys, if you’re using

the Iowa.



Isn’t that what I said?

No, that’s not what I said.

I think you said U-T-T-R.

Oh, no.

Maybe not.

Well, whatever.


So again, how do you spell it, Michelle?

Tell us one more time.



Got it.

And if you were right, I’m sorry about that.

No, no, that’s okay.


I love it.

So guys, if you, by the way, you know, if you want to see how everything is written,

Michelle, where can they go?

How can they see that?

Automatically while they listen.

Oh, to our transcripts, guys, on our app, right?



And we do have that for iOS and Android now, which is super cool.

So go to slash app, and it will redirect you to where you need to

go to get the iOS or the Android app.

So good.

So good.



So, for example, with utter, you could say, that speech was an utter disgrace to our family


I don’t know if you hear it with like utter disgrace or utter nonsense, but like, I feel

like it sounds very, very formal.


It’s almost like literature-y, you know what I mean?

And we talked about E, putting E on the end of a word.

It’s like, it’s something you might see written in a poem or literature, or it’s just not

really something your everyday person would say, utter, but it does sound somewhat intellectual

and sort of well-read, I guess.

Right, right, right.

The other one you can use that is, you know, is complete, which we also already mentioned.

You know, that’s, you know, that’s more so interchangeable with total.

Not always, like there will be times when like total would sound better than complete.

And you know, that stuff you might just have to listen out for and get used to it.

But yeah, you can say, oh, my place is a complete mess, or my place is a total mess.


You know, as I’m seeing these examples, I think you might be right.

You know, using these words in front of other words to describe things.

Usually those things are negative.

Yeah, that’s what it’s funny how like, it’s something I never thought about until I started

planning the episode.

It’s interesting.

Like I thought, okay, this is a complete disaster would be another chunk we might hear a lot

of times, right?

Like, you don’t say like, this is a complete, I don’t even know, like, yeah, you just don’t

say it like, and then there’s absolute, right, like, I mean, you know, you can say it’s an

absolute mess, or it’s an absolute disgrace.

But I feel like that one also sounds a little bit more formal somehow.

Yeah, I think the function here, like what we’re trying to do, what native speakers are

trying to do is just get their point across.

And again, be dramatic, describe how like, kind of dire a situation is in a way is why

we’re using these, right?


And then we have one more, which I like this one.

This is, I mean, this is, I don’t know, I think this one sounds cool.

What is it?



So downright.

I like that.

So, you know, downright terrible, that is downright terrible.

It’s a downright shame.

I imagine the use of this word in like a small town, an old man sitting in a bar.

It’s a downright shame.

I don’t know why I imagine that.

That’s just how I see that.


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Okay, Michelle, so should we go ahead and do a role play?


So here we are.

We are at a work happy hour and the place is not a nice place.

And I’m also late on top of everything.

Oh no, Michelle.

All right.

Here we go.

Let’s dive into it.

All right.

Here we go.

All right.

Hi, Lindsay.

So sorry I’m late.


This place is a total dump.

Oh, I know.

I feel so bad that Jill picked it.

She had no idea it was downright awful.

Well, whatever.

It’s still fun.

Oh my gosh.

Traffic was a complete nightmare.

I figured you got stuck in traffic.

What an utter disgrace that traffic is here.


An absolute mess.

Oh wow.

We are just complaining and complaining.

We’re having a rough night.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

I know.

It is hard to be around people that complain all the time.


We talked about this before on the show.

It’s tough.

There are people out there that just always kind of see that negative side of things.


You know.

Uh huh.

Uh huh.

And it can get exhausting.

It’s exhausting.


But let’s go through this.

So I said this place is a total dump.


And guys, it’s all about the intonation here.

Right, Michelle?

Oh, yeah.

So a total dump.

You’re not just saying a total dump.

You really want to communicate what you think.


Uh huh.

Uh huh.


And then what’s the next one?


You said.

I said she had.

I can’t believe Jill picked this.

She had no idea it was downright awful.

And again, this one’s a little outside of my like common use.

Something that I would use every day.

But you’ll hear it in music.

More movies.

You’ll hear it in stories.

You will definitely hear it and see it, guys.


Uh huh.

And then you said traffic was a complete nightmare.

That’s I mean, that what is a more used sentence than that?

Yeah, that’s really good, especially if you live in a place like New York, New Jersey.

The traffic’s pretty bad there, isn’t it, Michelle?

LA, right?

I think that’s.

Oh, my gosh.

Forget about it.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in LA this year, this past fall, spent a lot of time

in California traffic.

It’s just incredible.

I don’t know.

I don’t know how they handle it.

I just don’t know.

It sounds terrible.

Yeah, I know.

It’s downright terrible, Michelle.

It’s downright terrible.

It’s downright terrible.




And then you said what an utter disgrace the traffic is here.

Very formal sounding, but we had to throw it in there as an example.


And then you said, seriously, an absolute mess.


So this conversation is obviously a little elevated in terms of our enthusiasm.

Like we are really going after it here.

But guys, this is just an example.

Grab one of these and use it when you feel truly passionate, kind of in a negative way

about something.




And we talk on the show all the time about like, oh, we teach you all sorts of ways to

express yourself.

Like we say, oh, like it would be silly if we were like, oh, we don’t want to teach the

words that are used to complain because we don’t like to complain.

I mean, it’s just a part of life.

Like we got to give you all the materials.

Sometimes we’re complaining.

Sometimes we’re happy, whatever it is, but we want to give you those tools.

Yeah, because we know that you guys, what you want to be able to do is connect, right?

That’s our ultimate goal together is to help you connect.

And the only way you can actually have true connection is if someone sees the real you,


And those people, the right people in your life are going to see you and love you for

who you really are.

Right, Michelle?

Oh, such a deep thought.

That is.

That is.

I love it, Lindsay.

Well, this was fun.

This was really fun.

And yeah, well, hopefully we don’t have too much to complain about today.


Well, we’ll skip the complaining for today.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.

And we are up early recording the podcast, guys.

Go ahead and hit follow if you want to make sure you don’t miss a single episode of All

Ears English.

And Michelle, we have another new podcast right now that we just launched a few months


What is that podcast called?

That’s Business English from All Ears English.

Yeah, guys, these episodes are really specific, focused on business English, and they’re also

a lot of fun.

They’re like the All Ears English format, right?


It’s you and me on the microphone, occasional guests.

It’s hand curated for you guys just based on episodes that are only for business English.

Things like meetings, presentations, small talk at the office.

So guys, go over and find that podcast and subscribe to that too.

Just type in All Ears English into the search wherever you’re listening now, and you will

find that.

It will pop up.

Business English.

And hit follow.



Go and listen.

Well, Lindsay, this was fun.

And yeah, I will see you in the next one.

All right.

Talk to you soon, Michelle.


Thanks for listening to All Ears English.

Would you like to know your English level?

Take our two minute quiz.

Go to forward slash fluency score.

And if you believe in connection, not perfection, then hit subscribe now to make sure you don’t

miss anything.

See you next time.

With MyFreddy’s Rewards, it’s easy to get lower than low prices for the win.

Earn fuel points on every purchase and save up to a dollar a gallon at the pump.

MyFreddy’s Rewards, all you do is win big, big savings.

Sign up now at and start saving.

Fred Meyer, fresh for everyone.

Savings may vary by state.

Fuel restrictions apply.

Save more on natural and organic items.

Just clip your digital coupons on our app and use them up to five times in one transaction

with your card.

Fred Meyer, fresh for everyone.

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