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November 19, 2021: Adjectives and Phrasal Verbs: "Bad back, called off and called in sick"

Yesterday's article from Slipped Disc, a classical music news website, features some "everyday English." Specifically, we’re going to look at a common expression and 2 phrasal verbs:

· Common expression: a bad back

· Phrasal Verbs: call off, call in (sick)


The article is about Daniel Barenboim, the well- known pianist and conductor. He was part of a recent concert series called “Jewish Culture Days Berlin.”

In the headline and first paragraph of the article, notice the expression “a bad back” and the phrasal verbs called off and called in.

A Bad Back

Barenboim Cancels Synagogue Concert with Bad Back

In English we tend to call a part of the body “bad” if that part has suffered an injury or gives us chronic pain or trouble. This might sound negative, so if you like, instead of “I have a bad back” you can say “My back has been hurting" to indicate an ongoing problem. I might also say “I have a bad ankle” after falling on a hike in the mountains, or I might say “my eyes are bad!” if I need thick glasses to see. In any case, Maestro Barenboim has back pain that's serious enough to cancel a concert. So, let’s hope that Maestro’s bad back improves!

Called Off

Called off is next. Tonight’s closing concert of the Jewish Culture Days Berlin has been called off after Daniel Barenboim called in sick with a bad back. What does this mean? We have a clue in the headline: Barenboim cancels Synagogue Concert with Bad Back

Called off is a synonym (a word or phrase with the same meaning) for cancel. Called off is a phrasal verb: it’s made of a verb + a preposition in this case. So, the concert was called off, or cancelled, because of Barenboim’s bad back. Look at the article again. What else was called off? Think about how many concerts were called off during the Covid 19 pandemic. Have you ever called off a rehearsal or concert? What happened?

Called in (sick)

Called in is next, and most often collocates with “sick.” Called in sick means to tell your boss or supervisor that you’re sick and can’t come to work. The article states that Barenboim called in sick; he told the concert organizers that he couldn’t perform because of his back pain. Have you ever called in sick to tell your employer that you can’t come to a rehearsal or performance? What happened?

** Notice the pronunciation of called in sick. It’s connected speech and sounds like one word: “calledinSICK” with the emphasis on sick.

So, let’s review: You’ll likely come across the common expression “bad + (body part)” (bad back, bad leg, bad wrist, etc.) and phrasal verbs called off and called in sick as you read and listen to English. Choose one this week and try to use it in a conversation, email or text. Let me know your experiences!

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