Today's expression is "swept up." Before I tell you how I mean it in this context, I'm going to give you the literal definition of "sweep up." When you sweep, you push a broom over your floors. You collect the dust and debris all together in a dustpan and you throw it out. We use the phrasal verb "sweep up" to talk about the act of sweeping and cleaning a mess on your floors. After I get my hair cut, my stylist sweeps up around the chair to collect the fallen strands before I pay at the counter. Like that.
Earlier in today's lesson, I said that Jürgen Conings got swept up in far-right online extremism and conspiracy theories. I'm using the phrase to describe a person and I'm using it in the past tense. We always say a person was swept up in or got swept up in something.
In this case, what I mean is that he was carried by the momentum of something bigger than himself. He was online and got absorbed in some extremist politics. Many people see that stuff and reject it. Some people see that stuff and agree with it, or agree with just some of it, and they still live a normal life. But others get swept up in it, and that stuff dominates their life. These people see online conspiracies and they spend their entire day online reading and writing about them. They let it dominate their lives and their thoughts. They get swept up in it.
And that appears to be what happened with Jürgen Conings. He had a thirty-year career in the Belgian army. He was good at what he did. He wasn’t always involved in these sorts of things. But he got swept up in the extremist online lifestyle, so much so that he threatened government officials and was placed on a terrorist watch list before going rogue.
Let's think of some other examples where there's excitement, emotion, and we just allow ourselves to be swept up in something. After big sports championship games, the fans in the stadium sometimes storm onto the field to celebrate. That's not allowed; that's illegal. People who would otherwise not do things like that get swept up in the excitement and storm the field.
Outside the stadium, the same thing happens. It's normal for fans to celebrate, to honk horns, to maybe run into the street, to have a few drinks. But some people get swept up in the excitement and they lose their heads. They climb lampposts. They turn over cars. They get swept up in the excitement; they allow the momentum of the celebrations to take over. You can also say you got swept up in the moment. That just means you're swept up in the excitement of the moment.
You can get swept up in an argument. That has happened to me before. I mentioned that I'm the president of a condominium association. The arguments are as fierce as they are petty, let me tell you. And I have made the mistake of getting swept up in personal arguments between the neighbors in my building. Neighbors are having a passionate argument. I'm trying to stay out of it. I know it's not good for me to take sides. I'm supposed to be neutral; I'm supposed to be the leader. But somehow—and I'm trying not to—somehow, I get swept up in the argument. I get involved. It's a big, unstoppable force and I’m trying to avoid it, but despite my best efforts, I get swept up in the argument. I get involved in it somehow.
Kids can get swept up in the wrong crowd. That's true if there's a crowd of kids into drugs, illegal behavior, things like that. Other kids might not be able to resist getting involved. They weren't all brought up to be into drugs and illegal activity, but they got swept up in the wrong crowd.
You can also use "swept up in" if you accidentally got involved in something because of where you happened to be. I was walking around downtown Chicago a few weeks ago and got swept up in a parade downtown. I didn't know there was a parade. I wasn't trying to join it. I was trying to cross the street. But I got swept up in the parade; I was a part of it, whether I wanted to be or not.
When you use "swept up in," you are, in some small way, excusing the person for their behavior. You're assigning at least some of the blame to the external force. Jürgen Conings is definitely responsible for what he did. But, the momentum of the online conspiracy theories and extremism should share at least some of the responsibility.
JR’s song of the week
JR's song of the week is "Country Lanes" by the Bee Gees. Country lanes, in this case, means a quiet road, far from the city, usually through farmlands or the woods. Walking alone on country lanes is about having a quiet walk by yourself, with few cars, and no other people. That song is from 1975, toward the end of the Bee Gees' career. "Country Lanes" is today's song of the week, thanks to JR.
See you next time!
That's all for today's lesson. Remember, we're here every Monday and Thursday.
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We'll be back next week with two more lessons. See you then!