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307 Topics: Famous Americans: Booker T. Washington; things Americans believe are lucky; horribly versus terribly versus awfully; full tuition reimbursement; carbon copy

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 307.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 307. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for our current episodes that gives you all of the vocabulary, definitions, sample sentences, additional definitions, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and a complete transcript of everything we say on this episode. All of that, if you become an ESL Podcast member on our website.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on Booker T. Washington, who was an important African American leader and politician. We’ll also talk about some of the things that some Americans think are lucky, or that bring good luck or good fortune. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on famous Americans. Today we’re going to talk about Booker T. Washington, who was born into slavery in 1856, in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. The phrase “born into slavery” means that when he was born his mother was a slave, and back then even a newborn baby was a slave if his mother was a slave; you automatically became a slave of the owner of the mother. His mother was black and his father was white, but he never knew much about his father. It was not uncommon in some areas for the white men – the owners of the slaves to have children with some of their slaves. Most famously, Thomas Jefferson, our third president, is believed to have had children with one of his black or African American slaves.

The Civil War in the United States, as you probably know, ended legal slavery. That was in 1865, when Booker T. Washington was just a young boy; he was 11 years old. When Washington grew up he worked in West Virginia for several years. West Virginia is a state that was actually created during the Civil War from the State of Virginia. It’s located in the central eastern part of the United States.

Washington began, after working in West Virginia, his education at a place called Hampton Institute, which was a school created especially to teach what were called “freedmen” (freedmen), men who were free. In this case, they were blacks – African Americans who had been freed from slavery. In 1881, Booker T. Washington became the leader of another school, called the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute continues to be an important institution of higher education here in the United States.

Washington became an important leader in the late 19th century in the U.S. not only of the Tuskegee Institute, but also for the larger black community. He became especially well known for one of his speeches, the talks that he gave to a large group of people; it’s called the Atlanta Address of 1895. The word “address” here just means speech. In the Atlanta Address he talked about the importance of blacks becoming part of what was called, and still is, the “workforce”; that is, the people who are out working, the people who have jobs. Blacks were going to become part of the workforce, especially in the Southern states, and Booker T. Washington was speaking about that phenomenon – that event, that happening.

Booker T. Washington’s approach, however, was not one that all of the African Americans liked. He, in fact, was criticized by some of his own peers. A “peer” (peer) is someone who has a similar job, background, age, and/or education. So when I was at the university, as a professor, my peers were other professors. If you are a student, your peers are other students. One of Washington’s peers, as an African American leader, was W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois believed that African Americans needed to use activism to fight for their civil rights. “Activism” refers to the practice of trying to change your society in some way that uses many different techniques, such as protests, boycotts, letter-writing, and more. You’re trying to actively change something, not just waiting for the change to happen.

Washington disagreed with Du Bois. He thought that activism could lead to fighting, which would create more problems for blacks. Instead, Washington thought the key to civil rights and equal treatment was for blacks to become part of the larger society through education, responsibility, and hard work. He argued that blacks needed to cooperate with whites. Washington himself had strong relationships with many reach or wealthy white leaders and “philanthropists,” or people who donated large amounts of money to social causes or organizations trying to change society.

Du Bois and others thought that Washington was too accommodating. “To accommodate” (accommodate) someone means to be very willing and eager to do what the other person wants, or to help the other person, especially if that person perhaps doesn’t really deserve it. Washington’s critics said that he was too willing to accommodate white people by encouraging black people to be patient and work hard while waiting for their civil rights.

In public, Washington continued to seem to accommodate white people and society – white society. Secretly, however, he donated money for activism and desegregation. Desegregation is the opposite of segregation. “To segregate” means to separate, so “desegregation” is ending the separation, especially of blacks and whites, and allowing them to go to the same schools, use the same businesses, sit on the same buses, and so forth. So, while Washington had a public position, privately he was also doing some of the things that Du Bois had criticized him for not doing.

Washington supported many teacher-training schools, schools where African Americans would go to learn to be teachers. He also supported many programs to build more schools in Southern states, where the majority of the African Americans lived in the 19th century. He especially tried to build more schools in rural areas, areas that were outside of the large cities. He believed that the education of blacks was the most important key to civil rights.

Booker T. Washington was also an author – a writer. He, in fact, wrote five books. The best-known book, which is still read in many schools today, is his autobiography. An “autobiography” is the story of your own life; a “biography” is the story of someone else’s life. Washington’s autobiography was called Up From Slavery. The expression “up from” is used often in talking about a situation where you are trying to escape a difficult set of circumstances; you are trying to get free of something or someone who is preventing you from making progress – from going forward. The book Up From Slavery became a bestseller, meaning many people bought it; it was a popular book. It even caught the attention, or got the attention of then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who invited Washington to the White House. That visit received strong negative reactions from many white Southern politicians, but it was an important event in the history of American race relations. We talked about President Theodore Roosevelt back in English Café number 300.

Booker T. Washington died of heart failure – he had heart problems – in 1915, when he was only 59 years old. But he is still remembered as a great African American educator – African American teacher, and author. His work lives on at the Tuskegee Institute and other “historically black universities,” or schools that were originally created for African American students and continue to have mostly black students even today.

Today many schools are named after Washington, as well as a park; there’s a 50-cent coin, even a ship that is named after Washington. The house he was born in is now a national monument, meaning it’s a place that is protected, where you can go and visit. Booker T. Washington was also the first African American to be on a postage stamp – to have his image on a postage stamp.

The argument between Du Bois and Washington – between activism and trying to integrate into society through education is actually a very long one, and it continues today. Today, within the African American community, there is still this tension, these two positions: One that says there needs to be more activism to advance the interests of African Americans, another that says that integration through education is the best way, not the activism. So this debate, as I say, continues; it didn’t end with Du Bois and Washington.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is things that Americans believe are lucky. Something that is “lucky” brings good fortune; good luck, good things happen to you. These, of course, are superstitions; that is, they’re beliefs in magical powers that don’t really exist.

We, however, continue to believe in lucky things. For example, many Americans believe that a rabbit’s foot is good luck – the foot of a rabbit. When I was a child, I remember having a rabbit’s foot keychain. I don’t know if they actually killed a rabbit for it, chopped off their feet – you know, cut off the feet of the rabbit. I guess so, they must have. I remember it was, um, it was green; they had colored it green for some reason, probably because there’s another belief that Americans and others have about lucky objects, which we’ll talk about in a minute, which is also green. Anyway, the belief that the foot of the rabbit is lucky probably comes from the area now known as Great Britain around 600 BC, but you can still find people who carry a rabbit’s foot today. As I said, the rabbit foot is often put on a “keychain,” which is a small, round piece of metal that you put your keys on. And, as I mentioned, some of the feet are dyed.

Horseshoes are also considered to be lucky. A “horseshoe” (one word) is the U-shaped – that is, shaped like the letter “U” – piece of metal nailed to the bottom of the horse’s foot, what we call the “hoof” (hoof). The horseshoe is there to protect the horse’s hoof or foot. Some Americans believe that hanging a horseshoe on the wall, especially above a door, is lucky – can bring good luck. Apparently, it can sometimes bring bad luck, too; it depends on what direction you hang it. Some people say the horseshoe must be facing up; that is, the open end must be up like a regular letter “U” and the rounded part is on the bottom. The idea is that this will somehow catch all the good luck, like it was some sort of pot or cup. The idea, then, would be that if you turned the “U” upside down all the good luck would fall out. Other people believe the horseshoe is lucky when it is pointed down so that the good luck falls out of it onto the people below it.

Hanging horseshoes for luck seems to be more common in rural areas, areas outside of the large cities, where, of course, you would expect to find more horses. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horseshoe in a house here in Los Angeles; but I do remember growing up as a boy going into places out in the country – outside of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, back in my native Minnesota – where you would see horseshoes hung on the wall.

I mentioned earlier the color green. Many people believe that one particular kind of plant – a green plant called a four-leaf clover is lucky. “Clover” (clover) is a small plant that normally has three leaves. In fact, it was used by, apparently, St. Patrick in Ireland in explaining the Christian religion. He used the three leaves of the clover to describe the three persons of the Trinity in Christian belief: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, this is a four-leaf clover. As I say, normally the clover has three leaves, so if you find one with four leaves that’s unusual, and that is lucky. Some people say there is one four-leaf clover for every 10,000 three-leaf clovers. I used to, like many children, look for four-leaf clovers when I was a child; I don’t think I ever found one. Some people say that each of the leaves has a specific meaning; again, this goes back to the Christian connection. One is faith, one is hope, one is love; those are what we call the three cardinal virtues of Christianity. The fourth is for luck, which of course is not part of the religious system of beliefs.

So far I’ve talked about lucky objects, but there are also certain things you can do that people think are lucky. For example, you might hear the expression “knock on wood.” “To knock” means to use the part of your hand that is formed when you close your hand. Where the parts of the fingers join the hand and where they bend are called the “knuckles” (knuckles). You normally hit a door, for example, when you come to a house and you want to let the person know you’re outside, you would knock on the door [sound of knocking] – I’m knocking on the wood of my desk. The idea is that if you knock on wood that will give you good luck. In fact, sometimes people just use the expression: “I am going to be taking a big exam today. I hope I do well, knock on wood.” They may be asking you to knock on wood or they may be saying I’m going to knock on wood myself for good luck.

So those are some of the superstitions that Americans have about luck. We also talked about another set of superstitions back in English Café number 47 a long time ago.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Márcio (Márcio) in Brazil. Márcio wants to know the meaning of the words “terribly,” “horribly,” and “awfully.” This is a good question since these three words are used frequently in English, and it can be somewhat confusing as to their meanings, depending on the sentence. Let’s start with “horribly” (horribly).

“Horribly,” like “terribly” and “awfully,” is an adverb; it’s used to describe how something is done, especially how a verb is done. “Horrible” is the word it comes from, and like “terrible” and “awful,” it’s an adjective meaning bad. “Terrible” is something that is sad, same with “horrible” and “awful.” “Horribly,” then, means very badly. “How did you do on the exam?” “Horribly.” That means I got a very poor or bad score.

“Terribly” can also mean very badly. “How did you do on the test?” “I did horribly.” I got a very low score. “Terribly” can also mean very, very much, without meaning something negative – without being bad. So, it can have both meanings. “Terribly” can be used, for example, in the sentence: “Do you mind terribly if I turn on the radio?” It’s used here to mean do you mind very much. Or you might say, “It was terribly exciting last night at the game.” It was very, very exciting.

“Awfully” (awfully) means the same as the second use of “terribly,” very, very much. “Awfully” does not mean very badly typically when we use it in English, at least American English. It means very, very much. “It was awfully good of you to come to my party.” Or, “It’s awfully hot out today.” It was very good of you to come to my party. It was very hot today.

So, “terrible,” “horrible,” and “awful” as adjectives all mean the same thing: very bad. However, when you add an “ly” at the end and make them into adverbs they mean different things. “Horribly” and “terribly” can both mean very badly; “terribly” and “awfully” can both mean very, very much. But “horribly” does not mean very, very much, and “awfully” does not mean very badly; only “terribly” can mean both of those things.

It’s usually pretty easy to tell how “terribly” is being used, whether it means very badly or very much. You can listen to the sentence; how the person is saying it will often tell you which meaning is meant. When “terribly” is used to mean very, very much, just like “awfully,” it’s not a negative thing, or at least it isn’t necessarily a negative thing; it could be a positive or a negative thing.

Yasha (Yasha) in Iran wants to know the meaning of the phrase “full tuition reimbursement.”

“Tuition” (tuition) is the money that you pay a college or a university, really any school, to study there. In the United States, public schools for children do not have tuition; they’re free. But public colleges and universities, as well as all private schools, have typically some tuition – some money you have to pay. “Full” here means complete, so “full tuition” would be all of your tuition, the complete amount. “Reimbursement” (reimbursement) is the money that you use to repay someone after he or she has spent that same amount of money for something. This is especially done in companies. For example, you work for a company and you have to go and take a trip on an airplane and then stay in a hotel. You use your own money – your own credit card to pay for that, but then you take the receipts, the proof that you paid, and you give them to your company. Your company, then, reimburses you; it gives you that money back that you spent for the purposes of the business.

Some large companies will also reimburse their employees to go to college – to go to school. For example, I have a niece that works for a large company; her company paid her tuition – gave her full tuition reimbursement to go back and get her master’s degree in business.

So, reimbursement is something that businesses usually do for things that their employees spend money on that are helping the company in some way, and full tuition reimbursement is one of those things that some companies do. Some companies have partial (partial) tuition reimbursement, where they pay part of the money that you spend on tuition but not all of it.

Finally Nestor (Nestor) in Mexico wants to know the meaning of the expression “carbon copy.”

“Carbon” (carbon) is a type of material. Many years ago, before the invention of the copying machine – even after the invention of the copying machine – there was something called “carbon paper,” and this was paper that had ink on one side. You would take two pieces of paper – regular white paper for example – and put the carbon paper in between the two, so when you wrote on the first one the pressure of your writing or, if you were putting it in a typewriter, of your typing would transfer that ink to the second paper. So, it was a way of making copies of things. Sometimes they used three different pieces of paper with two pages of carbon paper – paper, carbon paper, paper, carbon paper, paper – put them together and then you would have two copies plus the original. That would be called doing it in “triplicate.”

Well, when the copying machine became popular in the 70s and 80s, carbon paper was no longer used as much. There are actually still some places where you will see not carbon paper, but the carbon will be put onto the back of the first sheet of paper so that there are only two pieces of paper. This is a slightly different process. The carbon copy, then, was that second piece of paper, the piece of paper that was printed on or typed on with the ink of the carbon paper. Of course, the carbon paper, when you were done with it, you would usually throw it away. Although, if you didn’t use a lot of it, it was often recycled – it was reused. And I remember as a child – well, not even as a child, back in the 70s as a older child and adolescent using carbon paper sometimes in order to make a copy of something. Now, of course, we have copying machines, and more importantly we have things like PDFs and emails, so carbon paper is not used very often. I’m sure you can still find it on the Internet.

“Carbon copy,” however, continues as a phrase in the modern Internet world, especially in email. When you send an email, in English anyway, you have the option of cc’ing someone. Well that “cc” stands for carbon copy. On the bottom of a formal business letter, sometimes you will see “cc” and then a colon, one dot above another, and then a name or a list of names. That means that this letter was also sent to these other people. They were carbon copied, because, again, in the old days that’s how you made a copy, with carbon paper. We continue to use those initials “cc” to mean sending the same letter, in this case the same email, to one or more people.

Now, we also have something called “bcc,” blind carbon copy, which I guess also existed in the old days but I don’t think it was called that. At least, I don’t remember this term. A blind carbon copy is a copy of an email you send to someone without the other people you’re sending it to knowing. “To bcc,” then, is a verb in English, just as “to cc” someone, and it means to send a copy of an email to people who are not identified on the email so that the other recipients – the other people getting the email don’t know.

Finally, the expression “carbon copy” can also mean an exact duplicate of something. You might say that, for example, two people who look alike are carbon copies of each other; they’re exactly alike. And again, you can understand where that expression comes from, from the carbon copy with paper.

Well today we had three awfully good questions. I hope that you will email us with some of your good questions. 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 here 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.

freedmen – blacks or African Americans who had been freed from slavery, or being owned by another person as property

* Many freedmen had little education and could not read nor write.

peer – someone who has a similar job, background, age, and/or education as one

* In English class, each student is supposed to give a speech in front of his or her peers as the final class assignment.

activism – the practice of trying to change society in some way by using many different techniques, such as protests, boycotts, letter-writing, and more

* Many universities are centers for activism, with students becoming involved in different causes.

accommodating – being very willing and eager to do what another person wants, or to help another person, especially if he or she doesn’t really deserve it

* Does being a good neighbor mean being accommodating, such as allowing your neighbor to borrow your lawn mower or other equipment?

desegregation – the efforts to end the separation of blacks and whites in many parts of society, such as in schools, at businesses, on buses, and more

* Desegregation meant that African American students could finally get a better education.

historically black university – colleges or universities that were originally created for African American students and continue to have mostly black students

* Gene attended a historically black university where he met several African American professors who became his role models.

lucky – having good luck or good fortune

* Manika is so lucky! First she wins money in Las Vegas and then wins the lottery.

keychain – a small, usually round piece of metal used to hold one’s keys together

* There are so many keys on my keychain that it takes me a lot of time to find the right key to open a door.

horseshoe – the U-shaped piece of metal nailed to the bottom of a horse’s hoof or foot to protect it

* Our horse is limping because he’s missing a horseshoe.

clover – a small, green plant that normally has leaves with three round parts

* Find a four-leaf clover and you’ll have good luck.

to knock – to hit something to make a noise with one’s knuckles or the pointed parts of the outside of one’s fingers when one’s hand is closed

* Is that a knock on our front door or is that just the strong wind blowing against the house?

knuckles – the pointed parts of the outside of one’s fingers when one folds the fingers in to make a fist

* Chuck’s knuckles were bleeding after he hit his brother in a fight.

horribly – very badly

* The meal turned out horribly and no one ate any of it.

terribly – very badly; very; very much

* Basha has felt terribly lonely ever since his best friend moved to another state.

awfully – very; very much

* Gene was awfully tired after moving boxes all day.

full tuition reimbursement – for the complete cost of what one pays for a course or a course of study to be given back to one; a sum of money used to repay someone after he or she has paid for a course or a course of study

* Our company offers full tuition reimbursement if you take courses related to your field of work and remain with the company for at least five years.

carbon copy – a copy of written or typed material made with carbon paper; an exact copy of something

* When I was young, I admired my sister and wanted to be a carbon copy of her.

What Insiders Know
Lady Luck and The Song “Luck Be a Lady”

When people talk about luck, they often mention “Lady Luck,” an “imaginary” (not real) woman who represents good and bad luck. If Lady Luck is with you, you’re lucky; if she’s not, you’re not. People may say, “I hope Lady Luck is with me tonight,” or “I don’t know where Lady Luck is this year because nothing good has happened to me in months.”

Nobody really knows where the term “Lady Luck” comes from. To “picture” (imagine) that luck is a woman may have its “roots” (beginnings) in “ancient” (very old) history. In ancient Rome and Greece, the gods Fortuna (Rome) and Tyche (Greece) are “depicted” (shown) to be a woman. Perhaps that’s why, in modern times, people think of luck as a woman.

In fact, there is a famous song called “Luck Be a Lady,” which has become associated with the famous singer and actor Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). The song was written in 1950 and was then “featured” (having a major part in) the “musical” (play with songs and music) Guys and Dolls. This musical is still popular today.

The song is sung from the “point of view” (perspective of; view of) a “gambler” (a person who plays games of chance) named Sky Masterson. He hopes to win a bet so that he can save his relationship with the girl he loves, the “girl of his dreams” (best girl he can imagine).

Frank Sinatra first recorded and released the song in 1965, and since then, many other singers have recorded their own versions of the song. However, “Luck Be a Lady” has become known as one of Sinatra’s “signature” (what one is known for or associated with) songs, and people still associate the song with him today.