Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If I asked you about... (Scene from GOOD WILL HUNTING)

In this post, we'll take a scene from the classic film GOOD WILL HUNTING in order to showcase how a language structure is used repetitively to prove a point.

In the scene we've chosen, a psychiatrist played by Robin Williams uses the following conditional structure repetitively in order to prove a point about his patient's (Matt Damon) predictable behavior:

If I asked you about.... you'd probably...


WILL (Matt Damon) is an unusually brilliant young man who's grown up in a very adverse environment. He's got a smart ass attitude about everything and this usually gets him in trouble. He starts getting help from SEAN (Robin Williams), a caring couselor who's been through his share of trouble.

In the previous scene, WILL assumes he knows everything about SEAN by just looking at a paining in his office. Needless to say, SEAN is no longer upset because he's figured out WILL's behavioural pattern. This is their next meeting.

(1) WATCH the scene once without reading the script (below) and try to identify the repetitive structure used by Robin Williams. Don't worry if you don't understand every single word. Go for the main idea.

(2) Then READ the script without watching and look for special vocabulary you are not familiar with. Remember, you've got a vocabulary list at the end.

(3) Now that you know what each character says, WATCH the scene again without reading. If you're a little more daring, you can PRACTICE role-playing the scene with a language group, a friend or even with your cat or goldfish.

(4) Try to WRITE more examples of what SEAN might say to WILL. If I asked you about ... (anything)... you'd probably (DO this, that or the other). Try MAKING SENTENCES with the vocabulary words. And SHARE it with us in the comments box.

Enjoy, English Users!

SCRIPT (vocabulary list below)

(Warning: contains strong language)

WILL: So what's this? A Taster's Choice moment between guys? This is really nice. You got a thing for swans? Is this like a fetish? It's something, like, maybe we need to devote some time to?
SEAN: I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep and haven't thought about you since. You know what occurred to me?
SEAN: You're just a kid. You don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.
WILL: Why, thank you.
SEAN: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.
WILL: Nope.
SEAN: So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written...Michelangelo? (beat) You know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that.....

If I asked you about women you'd probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid.

I ask you about war, and you'd probably--uh--throw Shakespeare at me, right? "Once more into the breach, dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap and watched him gasp his last breath, looking to you for help.

And if I asked you about love y'probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone could level you with her eyes. Feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you...who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it’s like to be her angel and to have that love for her to be there forever. Through anything. Through cancer. You wouldn't know about sleeping sittin’ up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term visiting hours don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you; I don't see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you're a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and you ripped my fuckin' life apart.

You're an orphan right? (Will nods) Do you think I'd know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don't give a shit about all that, because you know what? I can't learn anything from you I can't read in some fuckin' book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. And I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't wanna do that, do you, sport? You're terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief. (Sean stands and walks away.)

smart ass: (colloquial) someone who presumes to know everything about everything
Taster's Choice Moment: (pop culture) refers to a well-known coffee commercial about sharing special moments from the brand "Taster's Choice"
give the skinny on (something): (colloquial) provide a summary or short version of something
be / get laid: (colloquial) to have sexual experience
breach: a gap or rift that provides defense to a fortress or castle
gasp: to breathe convulsively or laboriously
cocky: (colloquial) arrogant
sport: (U.S. colloquial) a way of referring to someone suggesting they play fair and know how to win or lose (used ironically in the script above)
your move: (from chess) a way to say to someone, "it's your turn now" to act or do something
chief: (colloquial) if the person is not actually someone's chief, it's just a way for men to refer to one another when they wish to show a friendly attitude (used ironically in the script above)

Monday, August 23, 2010

MAY vs. MIGHT... a matter of degree

Some time back, we received a request from Maria Cecilia, a PLS English User, asking us to clarify the difference between MAY and MIGHT.

So here goes…

The fact is that the difference isn’t really all that big. Both MAY and MIGHT are used to suggest the possibility of something happening in the future.

However, MAY suggests the “possibility” as more likely, whereas MIGHT suggests that "possibility" as less likely. A matter of degree some would say.

Congratulations! Yes, you’ve been offered a job. Now depending on how much you really want it, you could use MAY or you could use MIGHT in reference to whether you're going to take the job or not.

Example 1:
You know, I really need a change so I may take that job offer.
(I am seriously considering the job offer)

Example 2:
There aren’t really any other openings, so I might take that job offer.
(I am considering it because I have no choice, but it's not really what I'd like to do)

So far, we’ve been referring to talking about things happening in the future. Yet of course, you may have seen some uses when referring to situations in the past. You don't need to get your eyes checked. You saw it right.

MIGHT is the past tense of MAY. Just like COULD is the past of CAN, or WOULD is the past of WILL.

Example in the Past:
If I had known about the party, I might have gone to it.
(Here there is no possibility of anything because you never knew about any such party... or so you say)

Bottom line. If you get an invitation to a place you really want to go to, but you’re not sure if you can, say you MAY go. On the other hand, if you get invited to a place you really don’t want to go to and you still want to be polite, say you MIGHT go. It all depends on HOW MUCH you really want to do something.

At the end of the day… it’s a matter of degree.

Thanks Maria Cecilia!