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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lump Sum

Idiom: lump sum; used as a noun

First Example:
Abel: Hey Sandra, I heard about you winning the lottery?
Sandra: Yep!  I won $10 million!
Abel: Wow, that's amazing!
Sandra: Yeah, I still have to decide if I'm going to take the annuity or lump sum
Abel: What's that?
Sandra: Well, taking an annuity means I get the whole $10 million, but it will come in payments over 20 years.  If I want everything at once, I can take a lump sum payment, but it will be a bit less than $7 million.
Abel: Oh, that is a tough decision.

Meaning: The term "lump sum" is used for large payments, usually made when some kind of payment plan is also an option.  These options are common with lottery winnings (like the example above) and retirement payments).  In the example above, Sandra is unsure if she should take a lump sum or annuity payment on her lottery winning.  The phrase can also be used when making payments, such as in the following example:

            Timothy owes $1500 in taxes.  He has the option of paying it all off in a lump sum, or he can make payments to the IRS, but if he decides to make payments, he'll have to pay an additional fee and interest.  It will end up costing him closer to $2000 in the long run.

Meaning: In this case, Timothy owes taxes, so the lump sum would be a payment he makes instead of receives.

This idiom is from LSI's new edition of "Reading Horizons," which will be used in the Level 6 Reading classes. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rule of Thumb

Idiom: rule of thumb; used as a noun

First Example:
Karla: How many pizzas do you think I should order for the party?
Dan: How many people are coming? And are you going to have anything else?
Karla: I'm expecting about 20 people. And no, just the pizza.  I want to keep it simple.
Dan: Well, I think a good rule of thumb is to get one large pizza for every three people, so I'd go with 7 pizzas. 
Karla: One pizza per three people; isn't that a bit too much?
Dan: Most people only take a couple slices, so you might end up with a bit left over, but it's better to have too much than not enough. And make sure you get a good variety, including a couple vegetarian pizzas.
Karla: Yeah, everyone always eats the veggie pizzas, even when they're not vegetarian!

Meaning: A rule of thumb is a general rule established by a person based on personal experience.  It's not an exact rule, but it's considered a good estimate.  In the example above, Karla is unsure of the number of pizzas to get, so Dan suggests a number based on his personal rule of thumb: one pizza per person.  It might be too many pizzas, but it's an estimate based on his own experience.  Here is another example:

       In general, gardens need about an inch of water per week.  Of course, this is only a rule of thumb, and some plants need less water while others need more.  Watch the leaves.  If they turn yellow (a sign of too much water), water less; if they start to wilt, water more.

Meaning: In this case, the rule of thumb is about how much water plants in gardens need.

Note: There are a couple theories about the origin of the phrase "rule of thumb," but most people think it comes from builders using the width of their thumbs to estimate an inch.  Try it.  Put your thumb against a ruler. Is it about an inch?

This idiom is from LSI's new edition of "Reading Horizons," which will be used in the Level 6 Reading classes. For more information, please visit