Lesson 1: Mars, Texting, and China’s Copycats

Elon Musk’s Mars Ambitions

By NASA/JPL/Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elon Musk, the man behind PayPal, Tesla, and Space X plans to have 1 million people living on mars within the next 50 to 100 years. A ticket runs about $10 billion per person right now, but the goal is to shave the price down to about $100,000 to $200,000 (USD) per head.

“…There will be an inevitable extinction event,” he said. “The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”

He’s certainly right about an eventual extinction. Science says there have been 5 mass extinctions on Earth.


  1. Inevitable (adj.) [In Ev Id a bul] : Certain to happen. “The end of their relationship was inevitable.”
  2. Space-faring (n. as a modifier) [space fair ing] : Traveling in space. “China is a spacefaring nation.”


  1. Shave something down: To slowly make something less expensive. “I’m trying to get him to shave down the price of the boat.”

Discussion: Could humans develop far enough to escape the seemingly inevitable?

Deciphering Texts: The Period

By Vox Efx (Flickr: 50 ways to leave your lover — VoxEfx) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a lot of subtle meanings in a text that might go over a non-native speaker’s head. Here’s a look at how a simple period can change the entire tone of a text.

Normal Response

Bob: Hey, I need the bag you borrowed. Can you bring it tomorrow?

Sandy: Okay, see you tomorrow! ~Or~ Sandy: Okay. See you tomorrow.

These are cordial responses with nothing to read into.

Short Reply With Period

Bob: Hey, I need the bag you borrowed. Can you bring it tomorrow?

Sandy: Okay.

For a non-texter or coworker, this may be fine, but a one word reply with a period usually implies the person is not too happy.

The Ellipsis: A Blank Stare


Bob: Hey, I need the bag you borrowed. Can you bring it tomorrow?

Sandy: Okay…


Bob: Hey, I need the bag you borrowed. Can you bring it tomorrow?

Sandy: …

This is bad news. An ellipsis (three periods) might mean, “What the hell? I just left work. Why didn’t you tell me before I left!?”

This is also used when somebody tells a bad joke. It’s the texting equivalent of looking at somebody with a blank stare.


  1. Ellipsis (n.) [ee lip sis] : The act of leaving something out of speech or writing, indicated by three periods. “Where is it? Oh… I found it.”


  1. Have something go over somebody’s head: To have someone not understand something. “That joke went right over her head.”

Discussion: What are some common confusions or strange situations you’ve encountered while texting in English?

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China’s Copycats

Photo: canyouactually.com

Everybody knows that China is the world’s epicenter for knockoffs, piracy, and copyright infringement. A simple Google search will lead to hilarious imitations of famous brand names.

Hollywood claims that 90% of American movies in China are viewed illegally, costing them billions in revenue. Big name brands like New Balance and Apple have tried to sue over copyright claims, but have had little or no success.

The latest scheme involves Kickstarter.com, a site used to raise money for things like inventions and art projects. One entrepreneur was seeking funding to make a phone case that morphs into a selfie stick. However, before he even started manufacturing, a replica of the product appeared on Alibaba — at a fraction of the price!

Photo: http://www.stikbox.com/

Legal action here is basically a lost cause. In China, copyrights are granted on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. Further, the plaintiff would have to file suit with each manufacturer, which could easily turn into a game of whack-a-mole. So, it looks like the copycats are here to stay.


  1. Epicenter (n.) [ep í center] : 1)The center of where an earthquake occurred. 2) The central location for something (usually bad). “Chicago is the epicenter of gun violence in America.”
  2. Infringement (n.) [in fring ment] : 1) The breaking or violating of something. 2) To undermine or limit something. “The artist committed copyright infringement.”
  3. Piracy (n.) [pie ra see] : 1) The action of attacking and robbing ships at sea. 2) Unauthorized use of something (copying DVDs). “Piracy has ruined the music industry.”
  4. Revenue (n.) [rev í new] : Income, usually of an organization. “HTC is looking for new opportunities for revenue.”
  5. Plaintiff (n.) [plain tiff] : Person who brings a case against another. (Opposite : defendant) “The plaintive won the case.”


  1. At a fraction of something: At significantly less than the other thing. “A bicycle costs only a fraction of a car.”
  2. A lost cause: Something hopeless or not worth doing. “Fixing the Middle East is a lost cause.”


  1. A game of whack-a-mole: This is a metaphor often used to describe a situation where if you fix one problem another problem will pop up somewhere else. It’s very similar to the game whack-a-mole where you hit a mall in one area and another mole pops up for you to hit in another area. “Fighting ISIS is like a game of whack-a-mole.”

Discussion: What can entrepreneurs and inventors do to protect themselves? What’s your opinion on copyright infringement in China? Do you find funny? Interesting? Disgraceful?

Print: Print a PDF of the lesson.

Listen: Download an audio file of this lesson here.

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