Today’s expression is a somewhat easy one: “over the years.” You probably understood it in the original context, but I wanted to spend some time show you how and when to use this expression. Earlier in the lesson, I said, “Over the years, Wikipedia's editors have worked hard to ensure the accuracy of its articles.”
This simply means, “for a long period of time.” That long period of time has to be several years long. Wikipedia’s editors have worked hard to ensure the accuracy of its articles for a long period of time.
We usually say, “over the years” when reflecting back on something. You might reflect back on how something has changed, on a long-term effort, or just on how something has been for a long time. The key is that the change took a long time to be complete. It’s 2021; you would not say “over the years, TikTok has become more popular.” That change happened pretty quickly. We reserve this for changes or developments that took a longer time.
Over the years, Austin, Texas, has grown from being a small university town to being a tech powerhouse. That’s a change. Austin has grown in importance. It’s the capital of the state of Texas and it’s home to the University of Texas. But these days, it’s much more than that. About a million people live there now and a lot of companies have their corporate or regional headquarters there.
There was a furniture store near my house growing up called Bob’s Discount Furniture. Just a couple of locations. The owner would go on local TV stations in Connecticut and declare, “Come on down!” to see discounted furniture. I had forgotten all about Bob’s Discount Furniture until I saw a commercial for it here in Chicago. I couldn’t believe it! That can’t be the same Bob’s Discount Furniture, I thought. I grew up about 800 miles from here. Over the years, Bob’s Discount Furniture has grown from just a couple of stores in suburban Connecticut to over 125 stores in 20 states, as far away as Los Angeles. That’s a long-term effort and it took many years to happen. It’s a great business story—but I’ve still never been inside.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about many kinds of businesses. You might know that my day job is in business consulting, which means that I get to see many different types of businesses—banks, manufacturers, food companies, retail, tech companies, you name it. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to learn about a lot of kinds of businesses through my job. Why would I say that? I would say that if I’m reflecting back on my career. If I’m thinking about the many years I’ve been in the consulting industry—I think it’s up to almost 14 years now. Thinking about those 14 years, I’ve had many experiences. So I say, over the years, I’ve had the privilege to get to know many types of companies.
The Super Bowl is coming up. That’s the championship game in American football. Over the years, the Super Bowl has become more than just a football game: it’s a massive cultural event. It’s always the biggest live-television event on the calendar; about a hundred million people watch it. There’s a concert during halftime; there’s an entire week of media festivities in preparation.
The first Super Bowl was in 1967. The cost of a 30-second television commercial was $42,000. Over the years, that figure has ballooned: in 2020, a year ago, a thirty-second commercial cost over $5.6 million. Over the years, during many years, the cost has increased to over five million dollars.
Quote of the Week
Here’s a quote about Wikipedia. It’s by the writer James Gleick. He was describing the ways Wikipedia articles were constantly being changed in a tug-of-war between conflicting editors. He said, “Experts differed, and everyone was an expert.” That captures the essence of Wikipedia back then. “Experts differ” is what you say when there’s no real consensus on something complicated. In this case, when James Gleick said, “Experts differed, and everyone was an expert,” he meant to capture the chaos on Wikipedia as many users—all of them with permission to edit—rapidly changed articles to suit their own objectives.
See you next time!
That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed today’s audio lesson. My family had a traditional encyclopedia when I was a kid. It was upstairs and took up two whole shelves on the bookshelf. It was one book for every letter, I think, maybe 20 in total. I think P and Q shared a book. That’s how I’d research things for my homework. I’d sit on the floor up there and look things up in the encyclopedia. Now you can just look it up on your phone, or just ask Siri or Alexa.
If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then you’d love being a member of Plain English Plus. In each lesson, we offer a step-by-step video walkthrough, showing you how to express a more complex idea in English. And we have practice exercises to help you with verb tenses and prepositions. This is a great way to upgrade your English for 2021. To read all about it, just visit PlainEnglish.com/Plus.
Coming up on Thursday: Starbucks experiments with a new store format. See you then.