Conversational English, English Exams, Listening, Teaching Resource, Upper-Intermediate English

The Evolution of Beards

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Have you ever wondered why beards evolved or what is the point of them? Evolution may have decided they make a man more manly and can attract the opposite sex but many women are divided in their opinion of the beard. In some religions and cultures a beard is sacrosanct whilst some societies remain hair free.

Should you shave them, trim them or grow them to extraordinary length. Mike Williams from the BBC’s Why Factor podcast series visits the world’s oldest barber shop to find out the secrets of a close shave and a tidy beard and we here at Learning it, Loving it have put some questions together for you to practice your English with

Before you listen, have a look at the vocabulary below, it’ll help you understand the podcast better!


  • Something is backward – something is out of fashion, behind the times
  • trendy – in fashion, something is popular
  • to shave / shaving – to remove the hair with a blade
  • to keep cropping up – to reoccur with frequency
  • to add character – to make something more interesting
  • Insurrective – rebellious
  • Crude – primitive
  • A bushy mess – unkempt and looks like a hedge (small, wild, tree like plants that grow between fields / gardens)

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1. In the 1690’s why did Peter the Great ban beard in Russia? 0:55
2. According to Ola the barbor, since when were beards trendy in Egypt? 2:10
3. In which cultures are men encouraged to have beards? 2:45
4. How are beards treated differently in the Shia and Suni traditions? 3:44
5. What has shaving been a symbol of since the 20th century? 4:50
6. What is a poginaphobic? 07:23
7. Why does the poginaphobic say beards are like dogs?? 07:45
8. Sean mentions 2 reasons for growing his beard, what were they? 09:05
9. After the 1850s, what changed the fashion from a clean shaven face to having big beards, moustaches, side burns and whiskers all the rage ? 12:04

Russian troops in 1855 – Ghetty image

I find it fascinating that the trend for beards really took off after the Crimean War. Not really knowing much about the Crimean War I went googling and found this short video on it. There’s not vocabulary for this, just sit back, watch and enjoy 😉


1. The war had begun in October 1853 between Russia and the Turkish-based Ottoman Empire.

2. British fatalities in the war are said to have totalled 21,097, of which over 16,000 died of disease.

3. It is estimated that total fatalities in the war on both sides exceeded 300,000 soldiers.

4. The last survivor of the war was a tortoise: named Timothy, it was a ship’s mascot on HMS Queen which took part in the bombardment of Sevastopol. Timothy died in 2004 aged about 165.

5. Actually, Timothy the Tortoise was a girl.

6. Balaclava helmets, raglan sleeves and cardigans all take their names from a Crimean War battle.

7. That was the battle of Balaclava, where British troops wore knitted headgear later known as balaclavas to keep heads, faces and ears warm.

8. British forces in Crimea were commanded by Lord Raglan, who took to wearing ‘raglan sleeves’ after losing an arm at the Battle of Waterloo.

9. The leader of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava was the 7th Earl of Cardigan, whose men kept warm in garments later called cardigans.

10. James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, died on the 14th anniversary of Britain entering the war, March 28, 1868, after falling from a horse.

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1. Peter the great wanted to modernise Russia and beards were seen as backward
2. 10,000 B.C.
3. Orthodox Jews, baptised Sheiks the Ahmish (who only shave up until married!)
4. According to Shia traditions it is prohibited to shave the beard while some of the Suni views highly recommend it
5. A sign of a cleanly, co-operative, orderly man: someone who is appropriate to be trusted and hired in the business environment
6. Someone who is afraid of beards.
7. Like dog owners need to be responsible for taking care of their dog’s grooming, making sure it doesn’t smell and looks good, so beard owners need to be equally responsible of their beards.
8. As an adventurer it’s the thing to do, additionally, he really felt the need to be visually different from his old life in London.
9. The heroes who came home from the Crimean war had huge beards and this started off the fashion.

Featured Photo: Philippe Dumas

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