Tricks with English Words – Horse Show or Horror Show?

By Robby

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Hello boys and girls, and welcome back to English Harmony video blog!

I just wanted to let you know guys that today I got an invitation to Dublin Horse Show; but what did I just say?

Was it Dublin Horse Show or Dublin Horror Show? You see, I said it quite fast: “I got an invitation to Dublin Horse Show!”; it could have actually been either, horse show or horror show. There is no sure fire way of telling which one it was. It all depends on the context my friends, and this is one of those things that so many foreign English speakers just won’t accept.

Sometimes when you don’t really understand what the particular word means, people start getting all confused and complain about double meanings in the English language and how can they possibly understand all the meanings of a single word, but the answer is the context my friends, obviously. Just the first time around when I mentioned Dublin Horse Show, you probably would be a little bit doubtful what show I meant but then in the conversation that would quite naturally follow that, you would realize what I’m talking about.

If I say, “I got an invitation to Dublin Horror Show and I’m going to bring a zombie mask with me”, obviously I’m talking about a horror show, something like a horror walk, something like a Halloween’s day parade where I want to put on some different masks and go trick and treating around town and knocking on people’s doors and getting sweets, and sometimes getting some abuse as well.

If I was to say that I’m going to a Dublin Horse Show and I’m going to watch how horse riders are show jumping then obviously it’s all about horses.  It couldn’t possibly be horror show, right, so as I said, context explains everything.

Context clarifies everything and I suggest you check out this link if you haven’t already done so previously while watching my videos and browsing my blog, and in this article, there’s a video as well.  You can perform a test and see how these words co-locate, how they go together and that’s all about the context you’re learning basically. You acquire a vocabulary contextually. A word is never on its own, and even if there’s a few words together, such as Dublin Horse Show, there’s always some more context to follow. It’s never just a single phrase on its own!

That was the first funny phrase with the double meaning, and here’s another one. Imagine yourself working in a knitting factory, that’s my current job, right, and someone shows you a jumper and you tell them, “That’s a nice jumper”, so how to understand this sentence, “That’s a nice jumper”. Is that definitely a nice, as in “nice” jumper, a good looking jumper? Not so my friends!

You see, in my knitwear factory… well, it’s not my knitwear factory but I hope you get the drift – it’s the factory where I work, there’s a color, a specific fabric, a color called ‘ice’ so sometimes I might say, “Did you get the ice jumper?” meaning, did you get the ice colored jumper. That’s what we would be typically asking each other. I would be talking to my colleague and I would be asking him, “Listen, have the ice jumpers come through yet?” meaning if the order consisting of all the ice jumpers has gone through the production floor, right.

Well, in this particular instance, you can actually tell that I’m talking about some ice jumpers – “Did you get the ice jumpers?” – there is no letter ‘n’ in front of ‘i’. The ‘n’ sound comes into play when it’s singular, however: a single ice jumper – an ice jumper, in which case it sounds the same as a nice jumper!

It’s an ice jumper, so “an” could be the indefinite article in front of ice, in which case it would be ‘an ice jumper’. “Have you seen an ice jumper?” – that’s, for example, what our secretary would be typically asking us to do, to find a specific jumper whenever she needs a jumper of a specific color to send out to one of our customers as a sample and she would be asking questions such as, “Have you got an ice jumper, by any chance?” so you could understand it differently; have you got a nice jumper or an ice jumper but obviously we know the context.

We know that she wouldn’t be looking just for some random nice jumper. It’s always the color that is being specified, right. This is probably not as good of an example as the previous one with Dublin Horse Show because an ice jumper isn’t something that people would be typically saying, but anyway, this is another one of those tricky English sentences that could be interpreted differently.

Here’s another one – I was watching a football game and all the players in my team were on the fence. What did I just say?

Did I say – they were on defense, as in they were a defending team and the opposite team were offensive and constantly attacking them? No, I just said, they were on the fence, meaning that they were very indecisive. On the fence is a very valid idiomatic expression describing this indecisiveness, if somebody’s indecisive so when you say that those players were on the fence, it means that they weren’t really sure what to do, whether to lead an attacking game or being on defense, so they were on the fence, meaning they were somewhere in the middle, right.

Very indecisive, so this can be interpreted in two different ways as well. There’s no sure fire way of telling whether the person meant ‘on defense’ or ‘on the fence’.

But in case you’re going to point out that in words “defense” and “the fence” they’re two different sounds – well, actually, in Ireland, people say ‘de’, they don’t say ‘the’. There is no typical ‘th’ sound as in ‘the’ used in Ireland. That’s where I live, and even in America when people speak very fast, sometimes the ‘the’ sounds as if it’s ‘de’, right, so on defense, on the fence, it could be both – on defense, as in defending or on the fence, meaning indecisive, right. So, this was the third example.

Here’s another one. This position. What did I just say? Did I say ‘this position’ or did I say ‘disposition’ as in a very friendly disposition towards someone?

Disposition means your attitude basically. If a person is of a good disposition then that means that they’re being friendly toward you, right, so again, this could be interpreted in two different ways. When you say disposition, it could be this position or disposition, right, and again there’s this ‘th’ sound.

Obviously, when you clearly pronounce the word ‘disposition’, it’s quite clear that you wouldn’t be saying ‘this position’ but when you don’t really stress the first syllable of the word when you say ‘this position’, you could be meaning both, disposition and this position, right. So, again, it’s all depending on the context of the words that follow the ‘this position’ or the words that proceed ‘the disposition’.

Here’s another example – thirteen year old dies. Did I just say that a thirteen year old person dies or thirteen year old eyes – as in “I’m seeing the world through thirteen year old eyes”, it’s as if I haven’t aged ever since I was thirteen and I’m still experiencing the world as if I were thirteen, meaning I’m seeing the world as it is through a thirteen year old eyes.

Again, everything depends on the context. When you just look at the sentence, not look at it obviously, if you look at it you will actually see what’s written but when you just hear someone saying, “Thirteen year old eyes”, you can’t really say what they just said. You can’t really understand what they just said. It could mean both, thirteen year old dies, which is a very tragic occasion obviously when a young person passes away, or world seen through thirteen year old eyes, right.

That’s about it for today my friends. These are the tricky English expressions and sentences that can be interpreted in two different ways unless you obviously know the context.

This video was meant just to be a recreational video, just for fun basically, but there is also a home take lesson, which is:

“You can’t really be 100% sure about the meaning of specific word or you can’t be sure what a person says unless you put that bit in a larger context!”

It’s still something that so many people struggle with. There are a lot of people who ask me, “Robby, what does this word mean in English?” and I always tell them, “Listen, give me the full sentence. Give me more context!”

It’s only the context that really reveals what that word means in this particular situation. You can’t really tell anything about just an individual word unless of course that word is very simple and self-explanatory, like a cat or a dog or a mouse or some very simple concepts, things, beings or creatures, but when it comes to a little bit more complicated, abstract concepts, you can’t really tell exactly what it means unless you hear the entire sentence, just like with these funny phrases.

I hope you’ve enjoyed watching this video and I hope that you probably use one of these phrases to amuse someone you know! Okay, my friends, thanks for watching and check out my English Harmony system, which is the best product if you’re anything serious about your English and want to see real improvement in the way you speak.

EH System contains hundreds of phrases, not like these ones I used to confuse you and make fun of the whole situation, right, but very important phrases that are used in everyday conversations and over the course of six months, or you can actually choose shorter study plans, more intense study plans, which is the three or two month study plan, right, and over the course of the two, three or six months, you will definitely improve your spoken English fluency just like thousands of my customers have already done.

So, check it out and I’ll see you on the other side! Alright, my friends, thanks for watching this video and talk to you soon again. Bye bye!


Robby 😉

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P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

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  • Hi Juhapekka,

    Finally my response to your question has been recorded, edited and published!

    Please find it here: and please post any further comments on the new blog post.

    I hope the video is helpful, and thanks a lot for being a great contributor to my blog!!!!


    The podcast download button has started working, must have been some sort of a glitch with the WordPress plug-in or something…

  • Please check out the Accent Improving course Accent Genie – I created it for those foreigners who want to sound like native English speakers!

  • Hi Mikael,

    “it will take me pretty longer to do it” doesn’t sound like native English speech, here’s a better way of saying it:

    “It’s going to take me a while” or “It’s going to take me quite some time”

    the opposite of that would be:

    “I’ll have it done in no time”



  • s anand

    i am from india…i want to change my accent and im pretty conscious about it but every time i speak to people i get back to my original accent as people here in india arent used to this accent and they think its just showoff….but i really want to change it…how to gather the confidence to start speaking with the accent i want to…please help me on this…

  • mikael jack

    hi robby
    i wanted to ask about something…
    like we say ”it will take me pretty longer to do it”
    how to say the opposite of it…i mean will it be correct to say” it’ll take me pretty shorter to do it” (it doesnt sound right somehow although shorter is the antonym of it)

  • Juhapekka

    Thanks for the entertaining article, Robby! Although it was rather for entertaining and fun purposes, it clarified, too.
    Maybe there can be quite a lot of misconceptions between similar words because when I heard thirteen year old dies, I immediately thought for some reason or other that you spoke about thirteen year old dice, i.e. you’d have spoken about those cubes which are used when playing or gambling. Of course, the context revealed my misconception right away but it only shows that there are many possible interpretations for words. But anyway, I have also questions considering the schwa-sound. I checked the phonetic transcriptions of the words “horror”, “horse” and “show” from and I think “horse show” and “horror show” can be confused each other because of schwa [ə] is always unstressed. I tried to pronounce “horse show” and “horror show” fast according to their phonetic transcriptions but I didn’t do it correctly because I was stressing schwa too much all the time. Generally speaking, I have always problems to pronounce schwa correctly. I read your article about equating English sounds to one’s native language sounds but I didn’t get the schwa right. The problem is that we don’t have schwa-sound in my native language Finnish but we have similar ö-sound in Finnish. Ö is somewhat schwa-like but the problem is that ö is strongly stressed and I have big problems to pronounce ö as unstressed. If I managed to pronounce ö as unstressed, then unstressed ö would be perhaps at least sufficiently similar to schwa for my ears. So theoretically my problem is quite solved but practically I have big problems. I know that I could omit schwa in some cases altogether because schwa is so weak sound but can you help me to get the schwa right?

    I also tried to click the Download-button under the podcast but it didn’t work and it didn’t work in other pages in your site, either. It seems to be dead link.