seeming – appearing to be something, especially when this is not true
it was big in the 80’s – it was famous or popular in the 80’s
aforementioned – previously mentioned
dishevelled – (of people or their appearance) very untidy
scruffy – untidy
How are you today?
You’re listening to The Everyday Language Podcast for English Learners. I’m Mark, recording this episode in Akita, Japan.
In today’s episode, I’m going to talk about the idiom, “there’s a method to the madness.”
And, give you listening tip 2 of – how to be an active listener. To give you a heads up, I’m going to talk about paraphrasing.
So firstly, “there’s a method to the madness.”
So when you see something seeming weird or strange, and you think “What’s going on there?” “Like that’s just craziness, that’s just weird, or I can’t understand it.”
Someone might tell you, “There’s a method to the madness”. And they mean, it looks weird, but there is a reason for that, for that action or for why that is the way it is.
The the in “there’s a method to the madness” can be replaced with a determiner. Which is a word such as his, her, their, the boss or a name, like Jack, Jill, Bob, Frank.
There’s a method to his madness,
Or, there’s a method to her madness,
Or, there’s a method to the boss’s madness,
Or, there’s a method to Clare’s madness.
I’m going to talk about two scenarios where this idiom is used.
In the first scenario, quite often, “there’s a method to the madness” is used to advise someone not to clean up a messy room.
Imagine this scene:
You’re a cleaner working your first day in an office building. You go into the boss’s office and start to clean it up.
It’s very messy; there are papers scattered around everywhere. Pens, old drinks bottles, the computer is still turned on, the window’s open, the radio’s playing,
and there’s half-eaten takeaway lunch boxes on shelves and used paper cups perched on every available space.
Keen to do a good job, you are determined to make the whole office very clean. But as you are cleaning, your supervisor runs in and says,
“Stop! Don’t touch anything! The boss will get mad! He doesn’t like anyone cleaning and moving his stuff.”
“And despite appearances, he says, he knows where everything is and he likes it this way. There’s a method to the madness.”
What the supervisor meant was, like, you know, don’t touch anything even though it looks really messy, you know, that’s the way it should be.
You know, the boss wants the room to be messy. And the boss says he still knows where everything is and how to do things even if the room is messy. So “there’s a method to the madness.”
Another great example comes from the tv detective show Columbo. Did you ever watch Columbo?
It was big in the 80’s and 90’s, so younger people may not have seen it.
Basically, it centres around an unusual detective, the aforementioned Columbo.
He was a great detective; he usually caught the suspect despite looking like he didn’t know what he was doing.
Columbo had the appearance of a dishevelled, scruffy office worker who wasn’t too smart.
However, despite his messy appearance, there was a method to his madness, and he usually ended up catching the suspect, in a way, that made the suspect either confess to the crime or leave no means of escape.
So to summarise, if you ever come across a person who acts in an unusual way, but is effective at what they do, you can advise others who find that person strange, that there is a method to that person’s madness.
Or, if you have a very messy room and you like it that way, you can advise anyone who wants to tidy it up, there’s a method to the madness. You know, I know where everything is, it’s fine. Don’t tidy it up.
So that’s today’s idiom, please use it in your everyday life if you can.
Active Listening Tip 2
At the beginning of this week, in the episode – Advice, I asked the question – Do guys give advice when they should just listen?”
And my thoughts are – in general, yes, guys do tend to give advice, and then, I said I would give three listening tips to become a better listener [- me giving advice, ironic, eh?].
I gave my first listening tip in the previous episode “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
Which was about making sure the environment is quiet, and you are ready to listen and ready to give the person you are listening to your full attention.
If you didn’t listen to that episode and want to know more feel free to listen to it later.
Anyway here’s today’s listening tip.
Listening tip 2 for Active Listening
- Repeat back or paraphrase what you heard.
If you want to show someone you’ve heard them. You can do this by repeating or paraphrasing back to them what they said to you.
This achieves two things:
It shows the person you’ve heard what they’ve said.
And it allows you to check the meaning with them and show you understand. Or to correct your understanding.
For example, using today’s idiom:
Imagine we’re having a chat with each other, and you tell me what happened today.
So you say, “Today I went to work, had a tough meeting all morning, where we spoke English using a video call. There was no time to eat lunch, and then another meeting started at 1pm.”
“Suddenly, I heard shouting, and the office was crazy. The boss was been shouted at by a client, and a cup of tea got thrown over him. We were thinking of calling the police, but somehow the boss said something and the client became happy.”
“We ended up with a huge new contract. And it seems, there was a method to the boss’s madness after all.”
And, I reply, “Yeah, yeah, you were busy, right?”
And, if that’s all I say, as a listener, you don’t know whether I really heard you or not.
And you’re thinking, “Well I guess, you weren’t really listening, as I told you this story, you know, this kind of crazy experience I had, and you just said ‘yeah’.”
Well, this might be ok sometimes, but then there are occasions when you need to show you’re listening. Such as when someone tells you a good story (or an unusual story).
And you can do this by giving feedback. And feedback is either paraphrasing – repeating back what you’ve heard but changing some of the words.
Or simply repeating back exactly what you heard.
So imagine the chat again:
You say, “Today I went to work, had a tough meeting all morning where we spoke English using a video call,” etc., etc.
I reply “What happened? You had a video meeting and spoke English, then without lunch went straight to another meeting? And you said, ‘Suddenly the boss started shouting and kicking the customer, and you still got the contract?’”
Here even though I paraphrased the details wrong, at least I showed you that I was listening. I didn’t just say,
“Yeah, yeah, yeah so you were busy, right?”
I gave you, you know, more evidence that I was listening properly, and I gave you the chance to correct the things I didn’t hear properly.
As being a good listener, doesn’t mean you have to understand everything perfectly the first time.
Rather the aim is to show the other person, you are hearing them, and that you are with them.
It shows you care about what they said and it shows you care about them.
So it’s different from listening in the traditional sense, for English learners, for exams and tests, where it does matter what you, you know, what you hear and that you understand everything correctly.
What I’m talking about in this listening tip, and this week is about just listening to people, so you can communicate better.
You know, general [life skills] listening tips.
Ok, that’s it for today’s idiom and listening tip part 2.
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Remember to check out the transcript for this podcast episode, and you can download the audio for free. Ok, cheers, bye-bye, see you soon.
If you want an easy to use reference dictionary about English idioms this is my recommendation:
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Thank you, Setuniman, for use of your music.
Intro music: Happy by Setuniman, see his work on Pond5.com. Used here on a royalty-free licence.
Outro music: Right Wrong ‘Un by Me.
Photo from Pablo by Buffer.
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