Today’s expression is “a dry spell.” This is funny—it’s one of those terms that we use frequently, but then when I look at it, when I look at the words, I think, “This makes no sense!” What is a “dry spell”? A dry spell is a time when you’re not doing something that you want to be doing.
The phrase originated to describe a drought, a long period with no rain. That’s where we get “dry” from. You want it to rain, at least sometimes, in order to grow crops or, maybe today, to grow grass or grow your vegetables in the garden. You need some rain. If you go for a long time without rain, you’re in a dry spell. Your grass is brown, your tomato plants are not producing red ripe tomatoes, everything’s dry. You’re in a dry spell.
We were in a little bit of a dry spell here in Chicago as summer started, but yesterday we had some pretty strong storms in the afternoon. The dry spell was welcome because our restaurants are open for outdoor dining only, so if you want to sit outside and have a meal, you don’t want it to be raining. The dry spell was good for restaurant owners. But the dry spell snapped—the dry spell came to an end—yesterday afternoon with some heavy storms.
We often use this when there’s any extended period without productivity or without activity. You heard earlier today that the US space program was in quite a dry spell. Yes, we sent astronauts to work on the International Space Station. But ever since our Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, American astronauts have had to ride on Russian spacecraft to reach the Space Station. The US had not launched an astronaut into space for nine years. That is a long dry spell for a country that is one of the world’s two leading space powers.
Companies can have a dry spell. Some say that Apple had a dry spell after Steve Jobs died. Yes, they introduced the Apple Watch, but the watch was never a big hit like the iPad, iPhone, and iPod that came before. But even though they haven’t introduced any revolutionary products, I do think the iPhone X, when it was released, broke the dry spell in new products. That, by the way, was the topic of the very first Plain English lesson in December 2017.
A drug company might have a dry spell. Drug companies try to maintain a good pipeline of new drugs. But you never know what drugs will eventually work out, and which will never get approved. A drug company might suffer a few years without any newly approved drugs. That would be a dry spell.
A person’s career can have a dry spell. We would usually say this for a creative professional. A painter, an actor, a moviemaker, a musician. This happens in the creative professions: you either don’t get inspiration or what you produce is just not as popular as you thought it would be. Whatever the reason, creatives can suffer from a dry spell. Pablo Picasso suffered a dry spell in the early 1930s.
Beethoven suffered a dry spell between about 1815 and 1820. He was in his 40s and was battling his own deafness and he had a custody battle for his nephew at the time. He didn’t produce very much for those five years—he was in a dry spell. He was productive before; he was productive after; but during those five years, he wasn’t as productive. He was in a dry spell. That doesn’t mean he didn’t produce anything at all; it just means, it wasn’t as significant.
JR’s song of the week
Time for the song of the week. It is, “Ahead by a Century” by the Canadian band The Tragically Hip. It was really popular in Canada when it was released in 1996. The song was nominated by Camila, a Plain English Plus+ member in our forums. We were talking about what shows we had watched in the quarantine. Camila said she was watching “Anne with an E” and suggested that we highlight this song because this is what plays during the opening credits.
The lead singer of The Tragically Hip was Gord Downie, one of Canada’s most influential musicians. He led that band from 1984 until he died of brain cancer in 2017.
“Ahead by a Century” by The Tragically Hip is JR’s song of the week. Yes, it was nominated by Camila, but JR always has the final say. And he gave his seal of approval to this song this week.
See you next time!
That’s it for today. Any takers for the space balloon? I’ve always wanted to go in a hot-air balloon. I don’t know if I’d do the space balloon.
Remember also our webinar coming up later this month, the best technology tools for learning English in 2020. We’ll have several times available to accommodate our friends in all the different time zones around the world. So that’s on the home page at PlainEnglish.com or on your dashboard if you’re a member.
That’s all for now. Thanks for being a huge part of Plain English. Keep up the good work and remember to join us right back here again every Monday and Thursday.