Active Vocabulary

Friendly classes in English as a foreign language


Listening Practice: BBC videos from YouTube: 3

It's not exactly brain surgery!

Videos from the BBC’s YouTube channel are a really good resource for learners and improvers of English. I often use them in my classes. Here is one example. As you can see, I’ve produced a transcript. I recommend that students watch the video once or twice, without using the transcript. Try to understand as much as you can, just by listening. Then, use the transcript to help with any difficulties.

Mouse over the underlined words and expressions for a quick explanation.

Speaker Dialogue
(Mouse over underlined expressions for a quick explanation)
Julie Lionel, glad you could make it. Can I get you a drink?

To make it is an idiom that means to be able to attend some event. For example, Can you make it to this afternoon's meeting?.

Lionel Yeah, something soft. I’m driving.

A soft drink is a non-alcoholic cold drink.

Lionel Parking’s an absolute nightmare round here, isn’t it? You have to reverse into the tiniest of spaces. Still, I managed it. I mean, parking’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? And I should know.

A nightmare is literally a bad dream. Idiomatically, we say it's a nightmare to describe a very unpleasant situation or process. For example, Filling in a tax form is a complete nightmare!

We say that something is not exactly brain surgery to say, sarcastically, that something is not difficult, because, of course, brain surgery is generally considered to be extremely difficult. For example, Anyone can make a paper aeroplane. I mean, it's not exactly brain surgery, is it? The expression is often used in a scornful way.

We say that someone should know, when we believe that that person is a highly appropriate person to have a certain type of knowledge. For example, My friend Harry says that it's going to be a very cold winter. And he should know – his wife is a meteorologist!

Karen Why’s that? Are you a doctor?
Lionel Careful. Not a doctor. I’m a brain surgeon. Big difference. Big difference. Yeah, I actually know a joke about this. What’s the difference between a doctor and a brain surgeon? One’s not exactly brain surgery; the other is brain surgery. So, what do you guys do?
Nigel I’m an accountant.
Lionel Oh, that’s good. Yeah, I could do with an accountant. Filling in those tax forms can get really confusing, can’t it? Still, it’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? I mean, brain surgery, believe me, is very complex. Are you an accountant too?

We say I could do with (something) to express that we need something or that, at least, it would be very useful or convenient to have this thing. For example, I've been working very hard. I could do with a holiday. Or, It's dark in here. I could do with a torch.

It's not exactly brain surgery: see notes above.

Karen No, I work for a charity.
Lionel Oh, that’s a very selfless job, isn’t it? I really admire you. I don’t think I could ever do what you do. I say that because it’s emotionally draining, not because it’s hard. I mean, it’s not exactly brain surgery, is it? Which, as a brain surgeon, is what I do.
Julie Lionel, here’s your drink. Lionel’s a brain surgeon, you know.
Karen Yeah, he mentioned it.
Julie Oh, Jack, did they keep you late at the space centre?
Jack As always, yeah.
Julie I’ll just hand the food round. Have you met Lionel?
Jack No. Hello, Lionel.
Lionel So, Jack, how do you earn a crust?

To earn a crust is an idiomatic version of to earn (or make) a living. It has a slightly humorous tone here. Crust is literally the cooked outer layer of a loaf of bread, which some people consider to be the poorest part of the bread.

Jack Oh, I’m a scientist. I work mainly with rockets. It’s pretty tough work. What do you do?
Lionel Well, I don’t mean to boast, but I’m a brain surgeon. We can use mean in the sense of to intend to (do something), i.e. to do something intentionally, or on purpose. For example, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you. Or, I don't think it was an accident. I think she meant to delete all my files!
Jack Brain surgery? It’s not exactly rocket science, is it?

It's not exactly rocket science has exactly the same meaning as It's not exactly brain surgery and is used in exactly the same way. Both brain surgery and rocket science are generally considered to be extremely difficult professions!