Are You A Plain Vanilla Person Ep 231

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

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

🎈 Updated On:

💬 3051 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 16 min

📥 Download 5.7 MB ▪️ 👓 Read Transcript

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? 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. 

More about this lesson

I have a whole section on the website dedicated to British English idioms. They are still relevant and I want to introduce you to a variety of idioms that are used in everyday English conversation. Today we focus on idioms that contain the word "vanilla". While some of these idioms are used daily, some may not be used very often, it's still important for you to understand their meanings and how they are used in context.

The word "vanilla" is often used to describe something that is plain or boring, but it can also be used in other contexts. For example, "vanilla sex" is an idiom that describes conventional sexual practices, while "vanilla extract" is used in cooking to add flavour to a dish.

I don't like to play it safe, I prefer to take risks and be adventurous. I don't want a vanilla life..
⭐ Simon Cowell, British television personality and music executive.

In this quote, Simon Cowell uses the phrase "vanilla life" to refer to a life that is dull or lacking excitement.

It's also important to note that "vanilla" can be used in an insulting way towards white people, but this is not a polite or appropriate way to use the word. Similarly, "vanilla sex" should only be used in appropriate and respectful situations.

Overall, understanding the different contexts in which "vanilla" can be used as an idiom will help you to improve your English comprehension and fluency. While you don't need to memorize every single idiom, being familiar with a range of idioms and their meanings will help you to understand English language usage more fully.

Since posting the article we have had a number of emails asking us questions about vanilla idioms, so we thought it would be a good idea to update the article and share the questions and answers.

What is the meaning of a vanilla personality?

A "vanilla personality" is a term used to describe someone who is very plain and unexciting. This person may lack unique or interesting qualities, and may not stand out from others in a significant way. People use this term to describe people who are not particularly memorable or noteworthy in any significant way.

Why call someone a "vanilla guy"?

Calling someone a "vanilla guy" means they are seen as plain and unexciting, without much individuality or unique characteristics. It's a way of saying that they are not particularly interesting or remarkable.

What does "plain vanilla" mean?

"Plain vanilla" is an idiom that refers to something that is basic or unadorned, without any added features or embellishments. For example, you might say "I prefer plain vanilla ice cream" to indicate that you like the simple, classic flavour.

Can "vanilla" be used to insult someone?

Yes, "vanilla" can be used as an insult towards white people, but this is not a common usage and should not be used in polite conversation. It's important to use language respectfully and appropriately.

What does "vanilla job" mean?

"Vanilla job" is an idiom that refers to a job that is considered to be mundane or unexciting. It's often used to describe a job that lacks creativity or challenge. For example, someone might say "I need to find a new job, this one is just a vanilla job that doesn't challenge me."

What is "vanilla sex"?

"Vanilla sex" is an idiom used to describe sexual activities that are considered to be conventional or mainstream. It's often used to contrast with more adventurous or unconventional sexual practices.

Can "vanilla" be used in other contexts besides food and sex?

Yes, the word "vanilla" can be used in a variety of contexts, including finance, where it might be used to describe a plain or standard investment option. It can also be used to describe a person who is considered to be boring or uninteresting. It's important to understand the different contexts in which "vanilla" can be used so that you can use the idiom appropriately.

Are vanilla idioms worth learning, will I ever use them in real world everyday English?

According to Google Books, the use of the word "vanilla" has steadily increased in English language books over the past century, with a noticeable up tick in usage in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Google books does not specifically track the usage of "vanilla" as an idiom.

We're not going to be a vanilla nation.
⭐ David Cameron, former British Prime Minister.

David Cameron used this phrase to describe his vision for a more dynamic and innovative United Kingdom, emphasizing the importance of creativity and diversity.

It's not easy to track the use of popularity of idioms, counts can vary depending on the source material and the methodologies used. Especially as idioms are often used in spoken language, which is not reflected in written text. So it can be difficult to obtain an accurate representation of just how used an idiom is.

An example conversation using vanilla idioms

Tom: Hey, Sarah, how was your date with that guy from the dating app?

Sarah: It was a bit disappointing, to be honest. He was a nice guy, but the whole evening was just plain vanilla. He didn't seem to have any personality or interests beyond his job.

Tom: Ah, that's a shame. I know you were hoping for something more exciting.

Sarah: Yeah, I was hoping for a bit of flavour, you know? But it was like eating plain vanilla ice cream. Speaking of which, did you hear about that new ice cream place that just opened up? They've got some really interesting flavours like lavender and black sesame.

Tom: Oh, I haven't heard about that. I'll have to check it out. But speaking of jobs, how's your new position at the company going?

Sarah: It's going alright, but to be honest, it's a bit of a vanilla job. It's not very challenging and I'm not sure how much room there is for growth. I might need to start looking for something more exciting soon.

Tom: I hear you. I had a job like that once, it was so dull. But you know what they say, sometimes you need to start with vanilla to appreciate the more interesting flavours.

Sarah: Haha, I guess that's one way to look at it. Speaking of interesting flavours, have you tried that new cocktail bar that opened up in town? I heard they make some really creative drinks.

Tom: No, I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. But to be honest, I'm more of a beer guy. I know that's a bit vanilla, but I just can't get into those fancy cocktails.

Sarah: Ha, it's okay to be a bit vanilla sometimes. But you never know, you might find something you really like if you try something new.

Tom: Yeah, I suppose you're right. Maybe I'll give it a try next time we go out.

Most Unusual Words:


Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

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.

Buy an Adept English Mega Podcast Bundle

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.

🥊Unleash Your English Vocabulary With Boxing Idioms-Learn From A Native British Speaker❤️Ep 621

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 group of young people hiking. Is this a vanilla guy? Find out what this idiom means in todays English lesson.

©️ 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.

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, 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.

The point is, we offer English language learners a powerful, easier and faster way to learn to speak English. If you haven't signed up for our free course. You should do that now. It's free and you have nothing to lose!

Once you’ve gone through our course, you will maximise the benefits of all our audio lessons and transcripts.



The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
🔺Top of page

TAWK is Disabled

Created with the help of Zola and Bulma