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Debt Ceilings and ‘A Stitch in Time Saves Nine’

Jun 2, 2023

Last week, we looked at how investors were reacting to fears that the US government would reach its legally allowed spending limit, leading to spending cuts and loan defaults. The vocabulary we covered was: brace, debt-ceiling, and default.

Brace meant to hold on tight and get ready for impact, debt-ceiling was the limit of debt the US government could hold, and default is a verb to describe the action of not meeting your payment obligations.

In this podcast lesson, we go a little deeper into the topic and hear how Treasury Chief Janet Yellen had urged action earlier to avoid the drama of worried investors and choppy markets.

Today’s key vocabulary includes: “warnings went unheeded,” “fallout,” “spending cap,” and “contingency plan.” Listen to this headline that was published by The New York Times on May 27, 2023.

The headline reads, “Yellen’s Debt Limit Warnings Went Unheeded, Leaving Her to Face Fallout.”

Let’s break it down. The word ‘warnings’ refers to advice or caution given about potential future problems. ‘Went unheeded’ means that the advice or warnings were ignored. ‘Fallout’ in this context refers to the negative repercussions or consequences. So, the headline essentially means that the warnings given by Yellen about the debt limit were ignored, and now she is facing the negative consequences of that.

Let me introduce some other expressions that are useful for you to learn. ‘Spending cap’ refers to an imposed limit on the amount of money that can be spent. In this case, by the US government. The next expression is ‘contingency plan’, which refers to a plan designed to account for a possible future event or circumstance. In this context, Treasury secretary, Yellen, presumably has a contingency plan to handle the fallout of a default.

Since our topic today is about heeding warnings, let’s learn a related idiom: “A stitch in time saves nine.” This idiom means that addressing a problem immediately can prevent it from becoming a bigger issue in the future. If Yellen’s warnings had been heeded – or, using our idiom, if the stitch was made in time – then perhaps the fallout could have been avoided.

Remember, you can find all the show notes to this podcast on our webpage, If you found this topic interesting, I recommend you check out our last podcast #73 titled “Debt Ceiling.”

To wrap up, let’s quickly review the words and idiomatic expression we learned today: “warnings went unheeded,” “fallout,” “spending cap,” “contingency plan,” and “A stitch in time saves nine.”

Thank you for your hard work and dedication in learning English for economists. It’s not an easy task, but every podcast you listen to, every word you learn, takes you one step closer to your goal. Remember that, and keep at it! I’ll be back soon with another lesson.


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