English Reading SkillsVocabulary in English

25 Advanced English Phrases (Plus 5 Things That Surprised Me About Cambridge)

25 Advanced English Phrases (Plus 5 Things That Surprised Me About Cambridge)

Today, you’re going to learn 25 new advanced English phrases while you read about my experience in Cambridge. Also check out 3 Things That Surprised Me About British Culture (With 23 Advanced English Phrases).

It’s funny how places can surprise you.

Last week I was in Cambridge — you know, the city famous for its very, very prestigious university, which has produced some of the world’s greatest minds:

Famous Cambridge alumni

What’s more, as an academic and a teacher, I’ve spent my whole career looking at books, certificates, posters, websites, stationery and T-shirts, all emblazoned with the University of Cambridge logo.

You’ll recognise it. Here it is:

University of Cambridge logo
image

I had a strong idea of what Cambridge would be like, but there were a few things that still surprised me.

Here’s why this post is a bit different.
In this post, instead of me telling you how something works, you’re going to read some very high-level English with lots of advanced idioms, phrases and words.

You can find out what these new words and phrases mean at the end of the post, but don’t check immediately! Try to guess the meaning of any new words first.

If you think you can figure it out, tell me in the comments. I’d love to see how you do.

Free test - Gymglish with Clark and Miller

1. There are bikes everywhere.

Stick figures on bikes

The first thing I did when I woke up on my first morning in Cambridge was take a look out of the window.

It struck me immediately.

Bikes. There were bikes everywhere.

Bikes and bike lanes — the roads were absolutely full of them. In fact, the bikes outnumbered cars by about four to one. It was fantastic.

I went out to find some breakfast and walk among this cycling frenzy.

I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times — a city with a well-earned reputation for being quite into their bikes. But there was a big difference here.

If you find yourself walking around Amsterdam, you need to be careful. Not because of pickpockets or mad, drunk English guys (though you do need to watch out for them, too), but because of the cyclists. They own the city! And they make sure you know it.

They don’t stop for anyone, and if you find yourself in the wrong part of any of the vastly complicated network of pedestrian crossings, pavements, cycle paths and roads, prepare to get shouted at and almost knocked over by someone on a bike.

But not in Cambridge. While Amsterdam has a well-earned reputation for green energy and bicycles, England, for better or worse, has a well-earned reputation for excessive politeness.

I remember having a chat with a Turkish friend of mine who had lived in the UK.

He was telling me that England is the only place where you could be walking in the street without looking where you’re going, bump into someone and THEY’D be the one saying “sorry.”

So if it’s common to apologise for someone bumping into you, then it’s really not done to shout at someone from a bike.

2. Everyone’s really young.

OK. Fair enough. I should’ve expected this one, right?

I mean — it’s a university town, after all.

Also, the older I get, the more anyone younger than me looks like a kid. People who I think are 12 years old turn out to be in their early 20s. And teenagers? They just look like they should be watching Teletubbies and certainly not capable of doing all the weird and terrifying things that teenagers are capable of doing.

Clever stick figure child talking

But that still didn’t stop me from being completely shocked by how young everyone (almost everyone) was.

Have you ever seen the film Logan’s Run?

It’s one of those 1970s dystopian sci-fi flicks. It’s set in a future where everyone lives indoors — the whole world basically looks like a shopping mall. What’s more, once you reach the age of 30, you have to die in a bizarre ceremony that involves wearing a cool mask and flying into the air. Except that they don’t call it “death.” In this reality, it’s called “renewal.”

What all this means is that everyone in the future is under 30.

It’s seriously weird — check it out here, if you dare.

That’s what Cambridge feels like (minus the weird masks and the flying).

There’s a bright side to it, though. I was called “sir” several times.

So that’s nice.

3. There are independent shops everywhere.

I mentioned before how institutionalised the UK is and how the high streets are dominated by chain stores and brand names, leaving no space for the little guy.

This is a general trend in the UK, and you’ll be lucky to find a high street in the country with at least half of the stores independently owned.

Except in Cambridge.

I was impressed — some parts of the city seemed to consist entirely of independent shops. There was a shopping mall area, but that was nicely tucked away from the picturesque streets of the old town.

I guess it’s a strong indicator of how wealthy the city is. Independent shops are usually pushed out by their fierce multinational competitors in other cities.

However, if you’ve got a city full of people with a large disposable income, they’re more likely to be happy to splash out on something for a more individual and less sanitised shopping experience.

Also, the stuff you find in small shops is always way more interesting than in the big chain stores.

4. The uni is the city.

Unlike Oxford, the City of Cambridge was built around the university. The uni came first and the city later. Apparently, the idea was to copy the style of the University of Oxford, so a lot of the architecture is actually the same.

But how weird, right? A city that’s built around a university?

It basically means that the university IS the city.

It means that everything is for the students: the shops and restaurants and bars and cafes — all aimed at the students.

I saw several posh tailors making custom-made tweed suits at exorbitant prices, specifically marketed to students.

Even the churches, with their questionable punctuation skills, wanted a piece of the action.

"Student's looking for a vibrant church? Then you've just found one."
Can you spot the mistake? Answer in the comments.

5. Power in the making

When I was in Cambridge, I spent some time with an old school friend who’s now a lecturer at the university.

I also met one of his protégés — a go-getting, ambitious young woman.

Normally, because I’m kind of a smart guy, I feel quite comfortable in intellectual company, talking about big subjects and pondering the deeper meaning of things. I enjoy it — it’s fun!

But with this person, I simply couldn’t keep up. She was thinking and talking at about a million miles an hour, covering lots of territory in a small period of time.

So I listened.

Clever stick figure talking

But it wasn’t just her. I spent a lot of my time walking around town among the young and intelligent there eavesdropping on their conversations.

I was struck by how confident and smart everyone was. Everyone seemed so sure of themselves. What’s more, I realised, these were some of the world’s future leaders.


OK — there you have my rather random impressions of one of the world’s most famous cities.

But what about all that new vocabulary?

Here are all the advanced English phrases in bold again. Could you work out the meaning from just reading the post?

  1. It struck me.
  2. Bikes outnumbered cars by about four to one.
  3. cycling frenzy
  4. have a well-earned reputation for something
  5. vastly complicated
  6. excessive politeness
  7. bump into someone
  8. It’s really not done.
  9. dystopian sci-fi flicks
  10. bizarre
  11. general trend
  12. nicely tucked away
  13. fierce multinational competitors
  14. disposable income
  15. splash out on something
  16. sanitised shopping experience
  17. exorbitant prices
  18. marketed to
  19. a piece of the action
  20. go-getting
  21. in intellectual company
  22. keep up
  23. covering lots of territory
  24. eavesdropping
  25. sure of yourself

If you think you know what they mean, tell me in the comments!

Or if you want to cheat, click here for all of the definitions.

It struck me. – I had a strong reaction to it.

Bikes outnumbered cars by about four to one. – For every car, there were four bikes.

cycling frenzy – people on bikes moving around in a chaotic and energetic way

have a well-earned reputation for something – everyone knows you for this thing — and for good reason!

vastly complicated – very, very, very complicated — like you couldn’t imagine!

excessive politeness – so much politeness that it’s kind of ridiculous

bump into someone – accidentally walk into someone in the street — maybe they dropped their coffee

It’s really not done. – This is not the polite way to do something.

dystopian sci-fi flicks — science fiction films about a future gone wrong

bizarre – really, really weird, strange, unusual

general trend — the direction something is generally changing towards

nicely tucked away — in a place that is hidden and not too obvious

fierce multinational competitors — the big, aggressive companies that will stop at nothing!

disposable income — the money you have left after you’ve paid the rent, bills, etc.

splash out on something – spend more than you need to — as a treat!

sanitised shopping experience — a shopping experience without any individuality or creativity

exorbitant prices — really really high prices, unreasonably expensive

marketed to — advertised to

a piece of the action — a part of a big opportunity

go-getting — able to adapt to new situations and determined to succeed at any cost

in intellectual company — with smart, intelligent people

keep up — to follow what’s going on

covering lots of territory — talking about lots of different topics

eavesdropping — listening to other people’s conversations without them noticing

sure of yourself — confident

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9 thoughts on “25 Advanced English Phrases (Plus 5 Things That Surprised Me About Cambridge)

  1. i have enjoyed reading this passage so much. it was really sweet and interesting. BTW i could not get what these phrases mean: dystopian sci-fi flicks , sanitised shopping experience and nicely tucked away.

    1. Hi Vahid,

      Good work and thanks for the compliment!

      Here’s what these phrases mean:

      dystopian sci-fi flicks — science fiction films about a future gone wrong
      sanitised shopping experience — a shopping experience without any individuality or creativity
      nicely tucked away — in a place that is hidden and not too obvious

      Hope that helps!

  2. That was fun, thank you Gabriel.
    Student’s instead of students is the mistake.
    My children and I knew most phrases but had to look up dystopian… looking forward to the next challenge!

    1. Well spotted! And you’re the first to get this answer right!

      Also, good work with knowing the vocabulary. That’s some high level stuff, right there! Keep up the awesome learning! 🙂

  3. Excessive politeness ; what a definition!
    A friend of mine, I liked to say “the British say ,good morning ,please!”
    Thank you!

  4. As to the mistake in the advertisement: ‘student IS looking… YOU HAVE found…’ There is an obvious lack of correspondence, isn’t I?

    1. Hi Maria,

      Good answer. But I would say that the advert should read “Students looking,” meaning “Students who are looking.”

      I think the poster is trying to speak out to those students. Like saying: “Hey you! Are you a student looking for …?”

      Good thinking though and to be fair, it’s not entirely certain what the poster maker had in mind.

      Keep up the good work! 🙂

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