Let’s Get to the ‘Root of the Problem

The roots of most plants grow below the ground. There, they have some very important jobs. The roots anchor the plant. They secure it in the ground. Roots also take in water and minerals to feed the plant. And in many plants, the roots store food and nutrients.

So, roots are the foundation of the plant: the supporting structures. And that gives us our first expression: “to put roots down.”

When you put roots down, you make a place your home by creating connections. You get a job and maybe buy a house. You also make friends and join activities. You might start a family. As your children start school, your ties to the school and other parents are also roots.

All these things connect you to a place. Each connection makes it harder for you to leave. Just like the roots of a plant, they ground you.

If you want to move a plant, you must be careful not to disturb the roots too much. If you do, you could kill the plant.

And that brings us to another way we use the word root. The root can also be the start or cause of something.

For example, I could say that my love of mystery stories is rooted in my childhood full of Agatha Christie books! Now, problems have roots too. So, people could say that a small town’s problems are rooted in a lack of good jobs.

That suggests our next expression: Get to the root of the problem. When we get to the root of the problem, we get to the cause of it. You can also strike at the root of a problem if you are looking for a way to solve it.

Sometimes we use the verb “dig” to go with some root expressions. As we said, roots are underground. You must dig to reach them. So, we could say, “A lack of jobs is just one issue. To get to the root of the city’s larger problem, we must dig deeper.”

Here’s an example:

A: I just heard that the city council is going to add more money to this year’s school budget.

B: That’s good news! But I’m not sure more money is going to fix high truancy rates and poor classroom behavior.

A: Well, it can’t hurt.

B: True. But to really help students, we need to get to the root of the education problem.

A: And what do you think the root of the problem is?

B: I think the “roots” to that problem are vast and complex.

Now for our final expression. There is a common saying in English that involves roots. You may hear people say that money is the root of all evil. That expression comes from the Bible: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

While it may not be root of all evil, I’m sure that greed has caused quite a few problems.

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories. Until next time, I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story
anchor –v. to hold something firmly in place

truancy –n. to miss school without permission

vast –adj. very great in size, amount or extent

greed –n. a selfish desire to have more of something (especially money)

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