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275 Topics: American Presidents: George Washington; SeaWorld; power versus force; The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds; How bad can it get?

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 275.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 275. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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On this Café, we’re going to start a new series – yes, a new series, this one on American Presidents. Today we’re going to talk about the United States first President, George Washington. We’re also going to talk about something completely different, SeaWorld, which is a very popular amusement park, a place where families go to have fun. This one is about the fish and animals that live in the ocean. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin with this Café our new series on American Presidents. Today we are going to talk about the first President of the United States, George Washington.

George Washington was born in the year 1732 in what was then the Colony of Virginia. The British government – Great Britain had colonies in North America. These were areas that they said were theirs, but they weren’t official parts in terms of being vote back for elections in Great Britain. They were colonies; they were owned by Great Britain, but didn’t really have a lot of freedom.

So, George Washington was born in the colony of Virginia, in the central eastern coast of the United States – of the present-day United States. As a young man, George Washington “served,” or worked in the British military (in the army) during one of the wars that Great Britain had here, in the what was then called the New World in the American continent, with the French. In fact, in United States history it’s called the French and Indian War. The French, you may remember, had come into the northern part of North America, what is now Canada. They also had taken land of a lot of the central part of the United States, and so there were conflicts between the British and the French, and there was a war called the French and Indian War; it’s also called the Seven Years War.

Washington, in this war, became a colonel (colonel – notice the strange spelling). A “colonel” is a military leader responsible for other soldiers. There are different levels of soldiers – different “ranks” (ranks). There’s the lowest rank, which is typically the private, and then there’s ranks above them all way up to general.

Washington was not a general in the French and Indian War; he was just a colonel, a lower-level military leader. However, in 1758 he decided to resign from military service. “To resign” means to leave your job, and that’s what Washington did; instead of being a soldier he became what we would call a “civilian” (civilian). A civilian is anyone who’s not a soldier. I’m a civilian.

Washington married a woman named Martha, and became a farmer, a what was then called a “planter,” for about 16 years. He was also active in politics; he was interested in government. Now when Washington married Martha, Martha already had two children, and George helped “raise,” helped bring up the children. George and Martha did not have any children of their own. They lived in a place called as Mount Vernon, which is in the state – the now state of Virginia, and you can visit George Washington’s home as I did many years ago, back in the early 1970s. You can visit their home in Virginia.

Now, it turns out that George was a pretty smart guy. You see, Martha was a very wealthy widow; she had a lot of money. A “widow” is a woman whose husband has died. If it’s a man whose wife has died, we would call him a “widower,” with an “er” at the end. When George Washington married rich Martha, he himself, of course, became very wealthy. He enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle, going to parties, hunting foxes for fun. But he also worked hard on his “plantation,” his large farm.

In the 1760s, as people became increasingly unhappy – dissatisfied with the British government, George Washington continued to focus his life on Mount Vernon. However, when the British enacted the Townshend Act, which was a law that created a new tax for Americans that they had to pay to the British government, Washington became upset. Remember, he’s a rich farmer. If you’re going to start taxing people more, he’s going to have to pay more money to the British government. Well, Washington became a leader in having the people from his colony of Virginia – we would call them Virginians – “boycott” British goods, meaning people wouldn’t buy British products, things that came from Britain, until the laws were changed. When the fighting began between the Americans and the British in 1775, George Washington decide to return to military service, to put on his “uniform,” the clothing that a soldier would wear, and became the “commander,” or leader of the army that was fighting the British; it was called the Continental Army.

When the fighting ended, Washington went back to Mount Vernon, but soon he was asked to go to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. This was the set of meetings where after having tried an unsuccessful kind of government the now independent American States decide to write a new set of laws – a new constitution for the U.S. As leader of the Revolutionary or Continental Army Washington was very popular and he was asked to be president of the convention. He was later elected President – the first President of the new nation of the United States in 1789.

Now, Washington we say was the only president who was elected unanimously in something called the Electoral College. When something is done “unanimously” we mean that everyone agrees; everyone votes for the same person in this case. The U.S. has a rather strange way of electing presidents and vice presidents. You vote in the state where you live for the person you want to be president and vice president. They have to be one team; you can’t vote for a president separate from the vice president. Then, there are a group of people who represent your state. The number of people you get to represent your state depends on how big your state is, how many people live there. These people then get together about a month later, in December, and form what is called the Electoral College. It’s not a college where you go to school and learn things; it’s just a group of people getting together, and they then decide who becomes president officially by voting for whomever the majority of people voted for in your state. That’s the way it typically works; there are a few exceptions – a few states that do things a little differently, but that’s basically the idea. Washington, then, was the only unanimously elected president at the Electoral College level.

Almost everything George Washington did, because he was the first president, set a precedent. A “precedent” (precedent) is some action that people in the future will follow; they will do what you did, and that’s exactly what happened with George Washington. He decided, in some ways, what the presidency was going to be like. He tended to have a lot of meetings; he listened to the opinions of other people; he asked people to call him “Mr. President,” and did not expect to be treated like a king. Still, we call our president “Mr. President.” He served as president for two “terms,” two four-year periods, a total of eight years. He refused, however, to be president for a third term, and that has been the pattern which was only broken once by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1930s and 40s. Before Roosevelt, there was no law that said you could not be president three or four times, but that was the custom, that tradition. Later, after Roosevelt’s presidency there was a law passed – a change to the Constitution, what we call a Constitutional amendment, that limited the president to two terms, eight years in office. So, Washington was president from 1789 to 1797 and then spent most of the last two years of his life at Mount Vernon. He died in 1799 at the age of 67.

Washington played an obviously important role – an important part of American history and American culture. People still tells stories about Washington that they learn in school or that are part of a certain tradition. There two stories that most American children learn about George Washington. One is that when George Washington was a young boy he had chopped down his father’s cherry tree. “To chop down” means to take a sharp instrument, an axe, and cut the tree down. However, young George did not ask his father if it would be okay for him to cut down or chop down this cherry tree. They say that when he was asked by his father “Did you chop down the cherry tree George?” Washington responded “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” A “hatchet” is a small axe for cutting wood. People share this story to show how honest George Washington was. It’s probably, however, not true. But like a lot of the early leaders of our country – of any country – there are stories that are told about good they were, how moral they were, how honest they were, and so forth.

The other story told about Washington was that he had wooden teeth – that his teeth were made of wood. This however is not true, either. Washington did have bad teeth, as many people did before there were good dentists. He lost his first adult tooth when he was 22, and by the time he was president he had only one real tooth left. He had to use fake teeth or false teeth, what we call “dentures” (dentures). If you don’t have your real teeth you have to use false teeth, which are dentures. They were not made of wood, however. They were probably made from real human, horse, or donkey teeth.

Of course, many other stories about George Washington are true; he is, after all, an important part of our history. That’s why there are so many schools, streets, and buildings named after him. Our national capital is called Washington, D.C. The state of Washington, in the northwest part of the U.S., is also named for George Washington, and his picture – his portrait is on our one-dollar bill and on our 25-cent quarters.

Now we’re going to talk about a different topic, and I’m going to ask Lucy to come and do that for us. Lucy.

Thanks Jeff, for letting me come and visit you here on the English Café.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is SeaWorld. “Sea” (sea) is another word for ocean, and SeaWorld is a theme park or amusement park all about the sea and the animals that live in it. For example, Disneyland is an amusement park with a lot of rides and games to entertain people. Another theme park, Dollywood is all about the singer – the country singer Dolly Parton and her music. But SeaWorld is a combination of these two types of parks. It’s a theme park all about the sea, and it’s an amusement park that entertains people at the same time. So, you can have a lot of fun at the same time you’re learning about the sea and the animals and other creatures that live there.

SeaWorld opened in San Diego, California in 1964. It was originally going to be an underwater restaurant, meaning it was going to be a restaurant that was under the water but it ended up being an amusement park and theme park instead. In the first year, more than 400,000 people went there. Since then, it has grown a lot; these days millions of people visit this location in San Diego and the other two SeaWorld locations in San Antonio, Texas and Orland, Florida, each year.

As an amusement park, SeaWorld has a lot of “rides,” or things that people sit in and move around in very exciting and entertaining ways. Many of these are “roller coasters,” or vehicles that look like a train that move on a track and go up and down and even upside down very quickly, often splashing people who are sitting in them with water. That’s part of the fun!

Other “attractions” (attractions), or things that people want to see when they go to SeaWorld, are related to “marine” (marine) animals, or animals that live in the ocean. For example, Shark Encounter is a ride that lets people ride through a large tube inside a shark “tank” (tank), or a large pool of water, where sharks are kept. This way, you can see the sharks up close – without becoming their lunch! People can also see many different kinds of animals including polar bears, whales, walruses, penguins, and manatees. People who visit SeaWorld can also see special shows where dolphins and other animals perform for the audience, jumping in special ways when trainers ask them to.

I remember going to SeaWorld when I was a little girl and before the dolphin show the announcer tells you that if you don’t want to get wet you should move back and not sit in the front rows. I must have not heard that, or I was too little to realize what they were saying, but I got very, very wet that first time I went to SeaWorld and saw the dolphin show.

SeaWorld also has a lot of scientists who work with the animals and promote wildlife “conservation” (conservation), or the need to take care of wild animals. The people at SeaWorld help animals that have been hurt and they try to tell visitors and make them more aware about how our actions can help protect animals.

But not everybody thinks SeaWorld is a great place. Several organizations think that SeaWorld doesn’t take very good care of its animals. And other people and organizations believe it’s wrong to keep animals “in captivity” (captivity) or to keep animals in cages, especially when we’re talking about large sea animals like sharks and whales that normally swim far, but can’t do that in the small pools that they’re kept in at SeaWorld.

Some of the animals have become aggressive in captivity; some of them attacking each other and even killing their “trainers,” or the people who train them to do tricks. When this happens, people begin asking a lot of questions about how animals are being cared for and whether it’s a good idea to have parks like SeaWorld. But despite these criticisms, the park is still very, very popular with millions of visitors each year.

That’s all I’ll say about SeaWorld for today. Thank you Jeff for letting me come and visit you here on the English Café. Now, here is Jeff again, who will answer some of the questions that you’ve sent to us.

Our first question comes from Seungjin (Seungjin) in South Korea. The question has do with the difference between “power” (power) and “force” (force). Both words have several meanings, and sometimes they mean the same thing or similar things. Let’s start with “power.”

“Power” can mean the strength of your body or your mind. We describe someone as having a mind that is very powerful, we mean that it has a lot of intelligence. “Force” can also mean strength of body and mind, but usually it’s a strength that someone else is trying to stop or resist. “The police used force on the criminal who tried to run.” “They used force on the criminal,” they used some sort of strength of their bodies or perhaps of their guns to stop the criminal.

The word “power” can also mean the ability to control people or to control a situation: “The president has the power to control the army.” “Power” can also means ability or talent: “Jessica has wonderful powers of concentration.” “Power,” finally, can mean energy, especially electrical or mechanical energy. When we say “the power went out” we mean that there was no more electricity. The lights died, the computers turned off because there was no power – there was no electricity.

“Force,” I mentioned, can mean strength of mind or body. It can also mean strength referring to something that causes change. “Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches were full force.” There was something there that was strong about them that helped change things. “Force” can also be a person or a group that causes change. “People over the age of 65 are an important force in American politics.” They can cause changes as a group. And one more meaning for “force,” “force” can also refer to a military group, usually in the plural. We talk about the “armed forces,” that refers to the army, navy, air force, and marines. Those are the armed forces, the military of a particular country.

Our second question comes from Monsa (Monsa) in Italy and Danielle (Danielle) in France. They both asked about the meaning of certain movie titles in English.

Monsa wanted to know about the title The Hurt Locker. The term “hurt locker” is informal or slang phrase used by the soldiers – the men and women in the U.S. Army. When they get hurt in an explosion they are said to get sent to the hurt locker. A “locker” is a container typically, where you put something into to store it – to keep it for a long time. But, “hurt locker” was used and is used especially by American soldiers in Iraq to refer to what happens if someone gets injured or hurt in an explosion. The phrase is not common; it’s not used outside of that context. I had never heard of it, and I had to look it up on the Internet.

The second question, from Danielle, has to do with the meaning of the movie Inglorious Basterds. Something that is “inglorious” is something that is shocking, something that is shameful; it’s a negative way of describing something. A “bastard” technically is a child born to a mother who is not married. However, it’s used in English now as a general insult for any person, especially a man, you don’t like, no matter who that person’s mother was. So, to call someone a “bastard” is a vulgar term. You would never use it in front of children or in formal setting, and perhaps never at all.

The director Quentin Tarantino used “bastards” in the title, but he spelled it wrong. Instead of (bastard), which is the normal spelling, he spelled it (basterd), although I don’t know why he did that. In any case, “inglorious bastards” would be people who were not necessarily nice, people you didn’t like that did things that were shocking or shameful.

One more quick question: this one from Wislei (Wislei) in Brazil. The question has to do with the meaning of the expression “How bad can it get?” “How bad can it get?” means what bad things might happen because of this situation or this action. It can also mean can things get any worse than they are now. “Many Americans are unable to find jobs. How bad can it get?” meaning will it get worse, is it even possible.

Usually the expression is not a question that you expect an answer to. It’s a way of indicating how bad things are, and you’re expressing how upset you are that things are so bad.

I hope things aren’t going badly for you! You can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.

colonel – a military officer with a high-level position; a high-ranking military officer

* It took Elizabeth 30 years to become a colonel in the U.S. Army.

to resign – to quit one’s job; to leave a position

* Bo was forced to resign from the Board of Directors when they found out he was using his influence on the Board to help his family’s company.

to boycott – to stop buying a company’s product to show one’s displeasure with or to punish the company for something it has done

* This store won’t hire any women as managers. Let’s boycott them!

unanimously – for all votes to be for one person or one proposal; for two or more people to agree

* The children voted unanimously to get a dog instead of a cat as their new pet.

to set precedent – to take an action that will be used as an example or guide for actions in the future

* Mark taking leave from his job after his wife had a baby set precedent for other fathers to take time off after the birth of a child.

hatchet – a small axe; a tool used for cutting wood

* These pieces of firewood are too big to use to start a fire. Can you use that hatchet to cut them into smaller pieces?

dentures – false teeth worn when one's real teeth have fallen out or been removed

* If you don’t brush and take care of your teeth, you’ll be wearing dentures when you’re 30 years old!

sea – a smaller ocean; a large area of salt water

* Can we sail this boat on the sea, or only on this lake?

ride – a large machine that people can sit on and move around in that is exciting, used for entertainment

* When the children saw the rides at Disneyland, they became very excited.

roller coaster – a vehicle like a small train that moves on tracks and goes up and down and even upside down very quickly, used for entertainment

* Manny cried because he was too short to go on the roller coaster with his older brothers and sisters.

attraction – something that people want to see; something that brings people to a place because it is interesting or entertaining

* Which attractions should we see first – the ones near the beach or the ones near downtown?

in captivity – the keeping of an animal in a cage so it is unable to live in its natural home

* The researchers were careful not to keep the birds in captivity too long so that they could not adjust to living in the wild again.

power – strength of body, mind, or spirit; the ability to control people or situations; energy, especially electrical or mechanical energy

* The man who wrote this book claims that he has the power to move objects with his mind.

force – strength of body, mind or spirit that someone or something tries to resist; strength, especially strength that causes change, action, or amazement; a group that can do a certain job

* If the bank robbers won’t come out on their own, the police may have to use force to get them out.

hurt locker – an informal phrase used in the U.S. Army for people who have been injured, usually in an explosion

* Luis was sent to the hurt locker when his truck ran over a bomb in the road.

inglorious – shocking; shameful

* Losing over $1 million in its first year of operation, this company is off to an inglorious beginning.

bastard – a child born to an unmarried mother; an insult for any man one does not like

* You’re a bastard if you won’t help me when I need you the most.

How bad can it get? – Can things get any worse?; a question usually asked rhetorically (without the need for an answer) to mean that the current situation is very bad and one hopes that it will not get worse

* My car was stolen and my girlfriend broke up with me. How bad can it get?

What Insiders Know
The White House Press secretary and White House Briefings

The media – newspapers, news magazines, television and radio news, and Internet news websites – are an important part of a democracy. The media or press is expected to act as a “watchdog” of the government, finding any “wrongdoing” (crime; wrong actions) and reporting it to the “general public” (people).

One way that the president and “White House staff” (people with high-level positions and/or who work directly or closely with the president) keeps contact with the press is through the White House press secretary. The job of the press secretary is to collect information about what is happening within the president’s “administration” (those who work for him) and communicate that information to the media. This is often done in a daily “press briefing,” a meeting in which information is shared with reporters and reporters can ask questions. The information communicated to the media includes the president’s activities and the administration’s official “position” (opinion; thoughts) about important news of the day.

“Fielding” (answering; addressing) questions is a major part of what the press secretary does. Some of the briefings are “televised” (shown on television), while most are not. However, “transcripts” (written versions of what is said) are made available for any “on-the-record” (official) briefings.

Media “outlets” (newspapers, magazines, websites, etc.) have “assigned seats” (seats that only that media outlet is allowed to have someone sit in), and the more “prestigious” (respected and important) news organizations have the seats in the front rows or near the front of the room. The relationship between White House reporters and the press secretary is a “delicate” (difficult to balance or handle) one. A reporter must have a good relationship to get his or her questions answered or to gain access to important people within the administration, but the reporter must also do his or her best to stay “impartial” (without bias; without favoring one side or another).