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Phonetics with M-E

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Little boxes (Walk off the earth)
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An old protest song from the 60's is given new life by Walk off the Earth, the group that had a smashing success in 2012 with their own cover of the song "Somebody That I Used to Know". This amazing video was filmed in a set entirely made of cardboard.

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same

There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same

And there's doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same
And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school

And the children go to summer camp
And then to university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same

Boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

LITTLE BOXES= A metaphorical way of referring to little houses.

THE HILLSIDE= The side or slope of a hill, situated between the foot and the summit.
The author of the song may be thinking of a city in particular or maybe she chose “hillside” just randomly, but there is a strong psychological factor to make an American person think of the suburbs as an area on the hillside. In England, the city centre is called “city centre”, but in America the city centre is called “downtown”. That name evokes the idea of a city which is funnel-shaped (see funnel), so if the centre is down, at the bottom of it, then the image for the rest of the city is up the hill; the suburbs, being on the outskirts, on the edge of the city, must be on the hillside too, going up, just to make the unconscious downtown image valid.

TICKY-TACKY= 1) Building material of poor quality. 2) Marked by a mediocre uniformity of appearance or style.
The meaning intended here is most probably 2, but of course, as it often happens when a word has more than one meaning, the meaning 1 also rings in your mind when you hear the song, so both meanings have an impact.

THEY CAME OUT ALL THE SAME= In the university, they all suffered the same influences and changes and when they finished they were all identical (same way of life, same way of thinking, same behaviour, same likes...). Here is a criticism of the supposed uniformity of American middle-class society. Of course, people from many countries in the world would be shocked at the thought of considering American middle class as something uniform, but everything is relative and the author certainly did (probably because they were all very different from herself, so distance unifies features).

THE GOLF COURSE= The green field with holes and sand pits where people play golf.

DRINK THEIR MARTINIS DRY= Here, “dry” functions an adverb (-how do they drink their martinis? – dry), but it is actually an adjective (-what kind of martini do they drink? –dry martini).
A “martini” can be either of two things:
1- An Italian brand of vermouth (a kind of wine with herbs) which comes in two main varieties: sweet and dry. A dry martini is more bitter, less sweet, than a sweet martini. Since the most popular vermouth is Martini & Rossi, people often use the word “martini” for any kind of vermouth, especially in Europe.
2- A popular cocktail made with vermouth and gin. A dry martini is a cocktail with less vermouth than usual (and so, more gin).
Since this is an American song talking about clichés, when they say “a dry martini” they most probably mean number 2 here.

SUMMER CAMP= A place, usually in the countryside or in a forest, where children go to have fun in the summer. They usually live in wooden cabins or tents and have lots of outdoor activities and games, supervised by counsellors.

RAISE A FAMILY= If you raise a family, you marry, have children and bring them up (and also educate them, but that’s optional). If you raise an animal you have an animal and feed it so it grows up (probably to sell it or eat it or get derivative products such as milk or eggs).

"Little Boxes" is a song written by song-writer and political activist Malvina Reynolds in 1962. The song is a political satire about the development of suburbia (the suburbs) in American cities of the time, and also the conformist middle-class attitudes associated with people who moved to those developments. It refers to suburban rows of similar houses as "little boxes" of different colours, "all made out of ticky-tacky" (cheap building materials), and which "all look just the same."

THE SUBURBS= A residential area around a city with nice houses (often with a garden) inhabited by rich or middle-class people.
THE SLUMS= An area (often bordering a city) heavely populated and with substandard houses (a shanty town) inhabited by poor people.

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