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The Debt Ceiling Crisis

May 24, 2023

Today, our topic is the debt-ceiling debate currently going on in the USA. Let’s dive right in!

In this episode, we’ll focus on three key vocabulary words: brace, debt-ceiling, and default. These words are essential for understanding the headline and sub headline we’ll be covering.

Listen to this headline: “Investors brace for a painful crash into America’s debt-ceiling.” This headline, published in The Economist magazine on May 10, 2023, reflects the anticipation among investors as they prepare for a potentially challenging situation regarding America’s debt-ceiling. This news is significant because it has far-reaching implications for the global economy.

Listen to the headline again: “Investors brace for a painful crash into America’s debt-ceiling.”

Now, let’s focus on the keywords from this section.

First, we have “brace,” which means to prepare or get ready for something challenging or difficult. If you have ever watched a movie where a plane full of passengers is about to make a rough landing, the pilot will always say “brace for impact”. So, to brace is to get ready.

Next, we encounter “debt-ceiling,” referring to the maximum amount of debt that a government can legally borrow.  You probably know the word ‘ceiling’. If you are unsure about the meaning, and you are inside of a room right now, just look straight up and what do you see? The ceiling of the room. Stand on your chair and jump straight up, you might just hit that ceiling with your head.

Listen to the headline one last time: “Investors brace for a painful crash into America’s debt-ceiling.”

Moving on to the subheadline, listen closely: “A solution will probably be found. But default is no longer unthinkable.” This subheadline suggests that while a solution to the situation is likely, the possibility of default is becoming increasingly conceivable. It emphasizes the potential seriousness of the issue.

Your key word hear is ‘default’.  ‘Default’ means to fail to meet a financial obligation or repay a debt. And that is the risk with the United States right now. If they can’t agree to lift their debt-ceiling, they would be forced to default on some of their payments. This is almost unthinkable, so hopefully cool heads will prevail, and the two opposing sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, will reach some sort of agreement.

Having said that, this is a good time to introduce you to an idiom that relates to the topic covered in the headline. The idiom is “walking on thin ice.” It means being in a risky or precarious situation, similar to walking on a thin layer of ice that could crack at any moment. In the context of the headline, investors might feel like they’re walking on thin ice, navigating the uncertainties surrounding America’s debt-ceiling.

Remember, you can find all the show notes on the web page It’s always useful to review what you have listened to. Also, if you found this topic interesting, I recommend listening to our podcast titled “Sovereign Debt and Default.“.

That wraps up today’s episode of “English for Economists”, we covered three key vocabulary words: brace, debt-ceiling, and default. We also explored the idiom “walking on thin ice.”  

Thank you for joining me, and remember to practice regularly to further enhance your English proficiency. Good work, and until next time!


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