Are You A Plain Vanilla Person Ep 231

Every Adept English lesson will help you learn to speak English fluently.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

💬 1754 words ⏳ Reading Time 9 min

Plain Vanilla Person

Today we talk about the use of Vanilla as an English idiom. However  Be careful what you say. You can say something hurtful in ten seconds, but ten years later, the wounds are still there. - Joel Osteen.

The words you use when you write or speak with others can leave a big impact and create a lasting impression of you. This can be good or bad. So be careful when using your English vocabulary and choose your words wisely. 

Over time, even innocent English words get incorporated into use, by groups of people, which may be a slur or meant as an insult or even just slang for an activity you might not even understand it’s so exotic or only insiders know the true meaning. 

Sound complicated? Well, yes, it can be if the words being borrowed are in mainstream conversational use, like Vanilla. It’s all about the context of the use of the word. If you hear an English word being used far out of the context of the conversation, so maybe you're talking about someone on TV and you hear the word “They have a vanilla personality” you should think hmm.. that's an odd word maybe there is a lot more implied meaning behind its use.

Do you really need to worry about this, well yes! People can use "Vanilla” to insult white people, suggest a sexual behaviour, call someone a bore. It can also mean you're talking about cooking, maybe suggest someone is not that interesting, or even about finance. It turns out Vanilla is the Swiss army knife of words. 

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

you can11
Adept English10
a bit9
English language7
a vanilla6

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The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Are You A Plain Vanilla Person

Hi and welcome to this Thursday short podcast from Adept English. Welcome to you whether you’re a regular listener to Adept English or whether you’re new and you’ve never listened before. Don’t forget to visit our website and have a look at our courses that you can buy. And don’t forget also you can use our new, quick podcast download service. Adept English has been going quite a while now, so we have a lot of podcasts.

You can find the full list on our website – but we’ve also got a service now, where you can download 50 podcasts at a time, yes that’s 5-0, fifty podcasts all at once onto your phone or your mobile device. There’s a charge for this, but having 50 podcasts on your phone will mean that you’ve always got some English language material to listen to. And there’s three lots of fifty to choose from.

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Remember Rule Three of The Seven Rules of Adept English – that’s our free course? If you’ve not done it yet, go and subscribe on our website. And Rule Three says ‘Use your dead time’ – time when you’re doing something else, but your ears and your brain are free, not occupied. That’s the time to listen to your English language. And if you do this, your language learning will progress much more quickly because you’ll be listening to spoken English a lot of the time. So go and download 50 of our podcasts. Just imagine – if each of the podcasts is around 10 minutes – that’s quite a lot of minutes listening time. Fantastic!

The Word ‘Vanilla’ - in Most Languages

Anyway, let me talk to you today about an expression, rather like -ish last week. It’s one that you might not come across on your English language course, but it’s very common. What about the word ‘vanilla’, that’s V-A-N-I-L-L-A? Well, if you think that sounds like a word in your language, then you may be right. Vanilla is one of those words, a bit like shampoo, which is more or less the same in most languages.

So vanilla is a flavour, a taste. It’s used in ice cream, cakes, custard – that’s crème anglais, if you’re French. And vanilla flavour comes from a seed or a pod of the vanilla plant. So you’re perhaps familiar with vanilla as something you might add to your sweets or puddings – and with vanilla as a flavour.


Meaning of ‘Vanilla’ Expanded

But the word vanilla has a more idiomatic use – in the beginning vanilla meant the plant itself. Then vanilla came to mean the seed pod, then vanilla came to mean the flavour as it’s used in food. But its use and its meaning now have developed beyond that, so vanilla now has an idiomatic meaning. So a meaning which is like an idiom. We now use the word vanilla to mean plain, dull, maybe a bit boring – certainly what’s expected, ‘nothing out of the ordinary’, nothing extraordinary. If you imagine taking a child into an ice cream parlour, a shop that sells all sorts of different types of ice cream.

People don't want just vanilla. They want 31 flavors. I couldn't do what Rihanna does. I couldn't do what Gaga does. They can't do what I do.
⭐ Katy Perry

And there’s a fantastic spread of ice cream, all sorts of colours, all sorts of flavours. And you say to the child that’s with you ‘What flavour of ice cream would you like?’. And they then reply ‘Vanilla’! You might feel a bit disappointed. ‘Really? Just vanilla?’ Maybe it would be a bit unadventurous? ‘Unadventurous’ – means that you don’t enjoy adventures, you don’t have much ‘spirit for adventure’. An ‘adventure’ means something exciting, something new, maybe something a bit dangerous even? So ‘vanilla’ means the opposite of ‘adventurous’.


A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.

©️ Adept English 2019

Examples of ‘Vanilla’ Used in this Way

So vanilla can be used as an adjective in all sorts of contexts. You can have a vanilla government – so a government which just governs, which isn’t known for having particularly new, or any exciting ideas. It just does what’s expected. You can have a vanilla person – that’s a bit negative – it means someone who isn’t very interesting, who’s perhaps a bit boring. A vanilla comedian is someone who’s very standard, doesn’t take any risks and probably isn’t that exciting.

Vanilla is also used to refer to sex – you can have ‘vanilla sex’. So that means no variation, it’s always the same and very predictable – just what you’d expect. Or you could even say something was a ‘vanilla relationship’ - so again, a bit negative. It was nice enough, but it was a bit predictable. ‘Predictable’ means no surprises, you know exactly what’s going to happen!

You can have vanilla writing, vanilla decorating, vanilla music. So it all means that it’s very standard, not going to upset anyone or offend anyone. People even say ‘Ugh, I have such a vanilla life, now I’m older’.

So there you have it. Vanilla as an idiom. So there’s nothing wrong with vanilla ice cream, but it’s nice to have a double chocolate chip caramel cookie sometimes.

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A word about how one of our courses can help you with other languages, as well as English!!

If you haven’t signed up yet for our free course, The Adept English 7 Rules to Learn to speak English Course, then I suggest that is a good idea to do. If you like video, there are videos associated with this course, or you can just listen to the audio, if you prefer. What this course does, is, it introduces you to our Adept English method of learning English. It instructs you, it tells you,[on] how best to use the podcasts, so that you get the best out of them. And the ideas in there? Some of them are probably new to you. And they apply, no matter what language you are learning, whether it’s English or a different language.


Some of you may be learning more than one language, so not just English. So you could apply The Seven Rules of Adept English whatever language you’re learning.

Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

PS: The 7 Rules Of Adept English

Here at Adept English we give English language learners a lot of useful, high quality, learning material. However, we still feel the most valuable thing we provide you is a new way of learning a new language. A different approach to traditional English language learning. The key ideas of this new learning system are all contained within the 7 rules of Adept English, a free English language course which you can sign up for here.

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