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Learn English with Singer Lily Allen

6 tips from the song ‘Friend of Mine’

by author on Canva, original image credit Wikipedia

Another day, and so it’s time for another song, my friends — or is it friends of mine? Well, we’ll talk about that and more in today’s article. “Friend of Mine” is from English singer Lily Allen off of her 2006 album, Alright, Still. Haa, it seems like it was only yesterday…

This song has some chill Caribbean vibes to it and a catchy piano riff that plays throughout. What stands out the most from the lyrics is the sense of betrayal the singer suffers from a friend — well, she was a friend, past tense.

Despite all the false friends and backstabbing, this song has some things to teach those of you English students out there. So, let’s learn some vocabulary and expressions from Lily Allen, shall we?

Yes, we shall…

***There are some topics in this article that discuss drugs and bad language. Nothing terrible, but just be advised.

from the Tube

Vocab

Background

This word is used to talk about objects or situations that are outside of the main view or point of attention. Some common situations are when talking about a “background singer,” “background noise,” something natural like a tree or mountain in the background, or when talking about a shot in a movie (one actor in the front, another in the background). Something in the background is probably not as important but is still noticeable.

An action can be performed in the “background” too. That means it is discrete, secretive, and away from sight.

But in the background, I can hear you chatting shite —

“Background” also gets used as an adjective, where it describes the past history or situation of a person. Think of it like a person’s “experience.” Ex: He has a background in musical arts and philosophy. A similar idea is with “background information”, information about a person’s history.

*Fun fact: The opposite of background is “foreground,” the front of attention.

Phrasing

(Object) of (possessive pronoun)

As opposed to saying, “You are my friend,” you can also express it in this way: “You are a friend of mine.” Or not a friend, in the case of this song. It’s formed using:

“friend (the object) + of + mine (possessive pronoun)”

Possessive pronouns are words like hers, his, theirs, ours, yours, and mine. You can change the words to match a particular situation. Ex: I am a friend of hers; She is a friend of ours; etc.

It is not super common to phrase sentences this way. Normally, we would simply say, “She is our friend.”

You’re no friend of mine, girl —

Of course, this sounds very weird for most situations talking about ourselves. You wouldn’t say, “Come to the house of mine,” or “I need to get the bike of mine.” No. But it is more common to talk about possession for other people. “She’s going to get that bike of hers,” and “That house of theirs is quite pretty,” do sound better and more natural.

The only difference is in the focus. “Sheila is my friend” simply tells who Sheila is, while “Sheila is a friend of mine” emphasizes that she is my friend. At the end of the day, it’s just another option. If this is confusing, you don’t have to use it in your English. Just know that people do this in their speech sometimes.

Expressions

Nervous wreck

Well, being “nervous” is having lots of anxiety, worry, and stress. If someone is a “wreck”, it means they are overcome by stress, fear, or even unfortunate life events. So, when we put these two together, you know what we get: A person whose life is completely run by stress, worry, and general madness.

Soon you’ll be a nervous wreck —

A literal “wreck” refers to a huge accident, like a car crash or boat accident (also called a “shipwreck”). The idea is of destruction and chaos.

The good old days

Take me back to “the good old days!” Most people look back on the past with some form of nostalgia, as if things were somehow always better in the past. This expression tries to capture exactly that idea.

What happened to the good old days? —

*Sometimes when asking about something from the past, we can say it like this: “What ever / Whatever happened to the good old days?” The word “ever” just adds more emphasis or emotion, but it doesn’t change the meaning. It’s probably grammatically incorrect too, but still used a lot.

Shite

This is an interesting one. “Shite” is another way to say “shit,” which I’m sure is a word you all know by now. Something to remember; “shite” is the spelling and pronunciation used in British English varieties (though, I’m sure they also say “shit”). I’m sure that Lily chose this pronunciation because it rhymed with “fight,” by the way.

We talked about a similar thing with “arse” from that Dua Lipa song.

I can hear you chatting shite

*A popular expression using this word is to “talk shit” or, I guess, “chat shit.” This means to speak badly about another person, usually to be mean or offensive.

**Remember that “shit” and “shite” are bad words, and should only be used in extremely informal settings. Use your discretion.

Line

No, we’re not talking about a queue at the bank. In slang (and in this song), a line can be used to talk about a “line” or row of cocaine. This is usually accompanied by the expression “do a line” or “bump a line”. This means to sniff the cocaine.

Why don’t you have another line, girl? —

In the song, Lily is basically telling her obnoxious ex-friend to go do some drugs. I know, what a toxic relationship!

One interesting feature of British English (to generalize) is that sometimes they use “have” when American English uses “do” or “take”. We see this with showers, baths, rests, or breaks.

  • American: Take a shower; take a rest.
  • British: Have a shower; have a rest.

In the same way, Americans would normally say “do a line”. These aren’t concrete “rules” by the way. They are just linguistic tendencies, and are broken all the time.

I’m no expert in British English obviously, so if anyone wants to clarify this for us, please, be my guest!

Wow, that got a little inappropriate today! I’ll have to choose some cleaner music — or not, if you guys like that. Some people have dirty minds. Either way, I hope you enjoyed this. Let me know what you think! And check out some other posts and stories on Culture Surf. Maybe you could be a friend of mine ;)

If you liked this story, consider becoming a member of Medium by using this link. You’ll get access to tons of amazing stories and articles, and you’ll help support my writing with a portion of your membership fee. Sounds like a win-win!

☮️ & 💜

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NEBOH

NEBOH

No Expert But Of Himself — aka Trystn Waller. Just writing what I know, a bit of what I think I know, hopefully I help others know a bit more than they knew.

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