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315 Topics: American Presidents: John F. Kennedy; Great Britain versus Britain versus England versus United Kingdom; who versus which versus that; hot shot

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 315.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 315. 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. Go there, become a member, download the Learning Guide for this episode, and your life will suddenly seem happy and good.

On this Café, we’re going to focus on only one main topic instead of two, as we normally do, because it’s a big topic. We’re going to continue our series on American Presidents, focusing on John F. Kennedy. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions at the end. Let’s get started.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy is often called by his “initials,” the first letter of each word in his name, so you’ll often hear him called JFK, and that’s how I will sometimes refer to him in this episode.

JFK was born in the State of Massachusetts in the northeastern part of the United States in 1917. He was the second of four sons and grew up in a large family with a total of nine children. His father, Joe, or Joseph Kennedy was a successful man in the business world, he was also a successful investor in the stock market and other businesses, and was a political figure. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom – to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940, two very important years, of course, leading up to World War II, or least American involvement in 1941. During this time, of course, the war had started, and the position of the United States and the position of its ambassador were very important to Great Britain.

Kennedy – John F. Kennedy, then, had a very famous and rich father, a father who had very high expectations for his children. He expected his sons, in particular, to do well in the world. We sometimes refer to the Kennedy family or the Kennedy “clan” (clan); that would refer to Joseph Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and his brothers and sisters, their children, their grandchildren, and so forth. The Kennedy family includes a lot of people, many of whom have become famous in American politics and American life in general.

Getting back to JFK, John F. Kennedy attended many private schools; he was clearly thought to be a smart student, but he was also something of a troublemaker. A “troublemaker” is a word we use to describe a student, for example, who does things to be funny, perhaps causes problems – creates problems. That, apparently, was the way JFK was in school. He was a student at Princeton, at Harvard, and at Stanford, three of the best schools in the United States, among the more respected universities, we might say. Of those three, he’s probably most associated with Harvard, which is located in Massachusetts just outside of Boston. JFK also had health problems, and he did spend time in hospitals, although he was a strong student.

When the Americans entered the Second World War in 1941, JFK joined the U.S. Navy, which like all of the armed forces – all of the parts of the American military – were soon embroiled in World War II. “To become embroiled” (embroiled) means to become deeply involved in a situation, usually a situation that is difficult, in this case a war. The United States and the Navy were embroiled in World War II. In 1943, JFK was made the commander or the head of a boat in the U.S. Navy; the name of the boat was the PT-109. The PT-109 during the war was rammed by a Japanese ship. The verb “to ram” (ram) is when two things hit each other with a lot of force, very powerful. You could ram your car into a tree, where the two would come together and crash. This was a case of a Japanese ship ramming the PT-109. After the ship was rammed, Kennedy, as the person in charge – as the commander of this boat, helped the other soldiers, his crew, get to an island – to swim to an island, including carrying, himself, one man who was injured. He was considered very brave in the way he reacted to the ramming of PT-109, and as a result the Navy gave him an award called the Purple Heart. It’s one of the highest awards you can get in the military. It’s an award given when you typically are injured or hurt during the war, doing something to protect your country. My father also served in World War II, not with John F. Kennedy, but he did receive a Purple Heart for an injury that he got during the war.

After the war, Kennedy became famous as a war hero, and in 1946 he was elected to the United States Congress as a Representatives from the State of Massachusetts. He served as a Representative in the House of Representatives for six years. He was elected and then reelected twice, because each term is two years that’s six years total. In 1952 he was elected U.S. Senator. Remember, in the American government, each state has two senators – two people it elects to the U.S. Senate to represent them. The number of representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives depends on the population of the state. So, Kennedy became a senator, serving for the State of Massachusetts.

While he was Senator, he continued to have more health problems, and he was often away from the Senate because of these health problems. But he tended to be very productive; he got a lot done during the time when he was recovering from his hospital stays and surgeries. We would call that period his “convalescence.” “Convalescence” is a period of time after you are sick or ill that you are slowly getting better. During one of his convalescences, JFK published a book called Profiles in Courage. A “profile” is a brief amount of information about some person or some thing. You might have profiles in social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter or other places. “Courage” is bravery, not being afraid to do things even when it is dangerous. So, JFK’s book, Profiles in Courage, was about U.S. Senators who risked their careers or did things that hurt their careers or their jobs because of what they believed in. The book won an important prize in the United States, the Pulitzer Prize, and we actually discussed this book way back in English Café number 42.

In 1953, Kennedy married a beautiful young woman named Jacqueline Bouvier. They had four children, beginning in 1956. Unfortunately, their first child was “stillborn” (stillborn), meaning that the baby was born dead. The fourth baby died when he was just two days old. So they experienced some very difficult tragedies, sad periods in their life. The two other children, however, grew up and became well known as well: John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Caroline Kennedy. John, Jr., sadly like his father, also died at a young age; he died in an accident.

Going back, then, to Kennedy’s career; we left him in the Senate, married, and in 1956 he was nominated – he was one of people they were considering to make as the vice-president candidate for Democratic Party in 1956 with a man by the name of Adlai Stevenson. Kennedy did not win the nomination, and in “retrospect,” looking back at that period, it was probably a good thing since Stevenson lost the 1956 election to President Eisenhower.

However, in 1960, Kennedy wanted and did in fact go back and try to get a national office, in this case not the vice-president, but the presidency. And in 1960 he was elected by the Democratic Party to represent them. We talked all about the nomination process in American politics for the presidency back in English Café number 53. One of the people that Kennedy defeated in the 1960 Democratic primary elections, as we call them, was none other than the senator from Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey, who was arguably the more liberal candidate. Kennedy was a liberal but had connections with more central political ideas, coming from his father as well as from his own political experience. In any case, Kennedy was successful at winning the nomination, and in fact he went on to win the presidency in 1960.

One of the problems that Kennedy had in getting the nomination, and ultimately being elected president in 1960 was the fact that he was a Catholic. His religious beliefs – his religious affiliation was with the Catholic Church. Many people questioned whether they wanted to have a Catholic president. Kennedy was not the first to Catholic to try to win the presidency. Al Smith from the State of New York back in 1928 was Catholic, but he lost.

Kennedy did something that some people say was very smart, other people say was somewhat cynical, but either case it was successful. What he did was say that he was a Catholic, but that he was not going to follow the positions of his church. The way he said it was, “I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.” In addition, Kennedy nominated a Southern politician, a very powerful one by the name of Lyndon Johnson, and that also helped his election campaign, especially in the South, where we might have expected more prejudice against a Catholic candidate. It was this speech by Kennedy in Houston back in 1960 while he was running for president that began a trend in American politics of people, especially Catholics, separating their religious views from their political views, and this has been controversial. Many people support it; many people have opposed it. But it was successful for Kennedy, and he won the election in 1960 although it was a very close election.

The person that the Republican Party had nominated was a man named Richard M. Nixon. Nixon was President Eisenhower’s vice-president, so he had been vice-president before getting the nomination to run against Kennedy. There was a famous set of debates between Kennedy and Nixon, and these were the first debates that were ever on television – the first debates that were televised, we would say. Nixon appeared very nervous and tired on the television appearance. Kennedy seemed young, fresh, energetic, and for those who watched the debates on television they thought that Kennedy was the better candidate. Some people say that if you just listened on the radio to the debate you would have thought that Nixon was the better candidate. Well, in either case the election was very “close,” there was a very small difference in the number of people who voted for Nixon and Kennedy. But Kennedy and his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, won the election. There were 49.7 percent of the voters who selected Kennedy and 49.5 that selected Nixon, so you can see it was quite close. When Kennedy became president officially in January of 1961, he was only 43 years old and was the youngest elected president in American history.

Kennedy began his administration, the time when he was president, as all presidents do, with an “inaugural address.” This is a speech that the president gives the first day they become president. That speech had many famous quotations in it. The most famous was “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

As president, JFK was a quick decision-maker, and was involved in many important international as well as national events and issues. It’s hard to summarize his presidency in a short period of time; a lot of things happened in three years. At the time that Kennedy was president, Communism, the Cold War, the Soviet Union, Cuba – all of these were important issues in American foreign policy. It was Kennedy who said okay – who authorized an attempt to overthrow or remove Fidel Castro from Cuba; this was known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Unfortunately, at least for Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs was a disaster. They had sent some Cubans to try to “depose” Fidel Castro, to get rid of him, but it ended up being a complete failure and it was an embarrassment for the Kennedy Administration.

In 1962, there was another problem in Cuba, where the Soviet Union had planned on putting nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy opposed this; this became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis in American history. Kennedy was successful in stopping the Soviet Union from taking its ships and bringing them into Cuba with these missiles. Many people say that we were very close to a worldwide nuclear war during that period. But Kennedy was successful in stopping the Russians from putting the missiles in Cuba and from starting a nuclear war.

As President Kennedy was very much interested in the space program, he in his inaugural address said, “We will go to the moon and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” He said that by the end of the 1960s an American would be on the moon. He died before that happened, but it did in fact happen in 1969.

Kennedy started many new programs. One of them was the Peace Corps, where American, usually, college graduates would go for two years and volunteer in other countries, helping them do things, especially countries that were poor. It was also Kennedy who began American military involvement in Southeast Asia, in particular in South Vietnam. There are some who criticize him in retrospect, looking back at those decisions.

Kennedy also gave a very famous speech in West Berlin, where he criticized Communism and the Soviet Union, and defended democracy and the people of West Berlin. Remember, at the time Berlin was a divided city between the Communist government of East Germany and the parts of the city that were at one time run by the Allies after World War II. Kennedy said in his speech, in what I believe is incorrect German, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which he thought meant, I guess, “I am a Berliner.” Someone told me that wasn’t actually correct German. Those of you who are German speakers I’m sure will let me know.

Kennedy is probably more known for his foreign policies than for his policies on things here in the United States, although he did have a very successful economic policy that helped the economy during the 1960s grow. He was also involved in advocating for the civil rights of African Americans, although he didn’t live long enough to see that dream realized.

Kennedy’s presidency came to an “abrupt” or very sudden end on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. He was driving in a car with his wife, and a man by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for shooting and killing the president. There’s a famous film of this shooting. A few days after Oswald was arrested, he was himself killed by another man by the name of Jack Ruby. Ruby died before he could be tried for that crime in court.

The government, in a special commission headed by the Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren – hence it is known as the Warren Commission – determined that Lee Harvey Oswald on that day acted alone. There are many people who think that he was part of some larger conspiracy. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of books and television programs and movies written. Oliver Stone had a movie called JFK, which put forward this theory. However, most historians believe if you actually look at the evidence that the Warren Commission was right. I happen to think they were correct, but there will always be people who believe that there was some secret plan to killed Kennedy. Some say it was Castro, some say it was the Russians. But the Warren Commission said, and many believe rightly, that it was one person, Lee Harvey Oswald, for his own strange political reasons who killed Kennedy on that day.

Kennedy died at the age of 46, and I think for most Americans he is one of the most popular presidents. He is remembered “fondly,” that is warmly, in a caring way. I was only six weeks old Kennedy was assassinated, so of course I don’t remember that. I do remember in my family we had an album – a record of some of Kennedy’s speeches and things about Kennedy. It was one that was one of the most popular records in the United States. People remembered Kennedy, especially those who came from Irish-Catholic families like mine; they saw Kennedy as one of their own, one of their heroes. Of course, had he continued to be president for a longer period of time, we might not think of him in such a high manner. But because he was “assassinated,” because he did, in a sense, give his life for his country, we honor him and most Americans respect him.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Farahnaz – I apologize for the mispronunciation of (Farahnaz) – from Iran. The question has to do with three terms – three or four terms that we often hear in English referring to a country – an island country just west of Europe: Britain, Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom.

These are, sometimes in American English anyway, used interchangeably. That is, we use one to mean the other. Many Americans really aren’t sure what the difference is among these terms, and so one is as good as the other in normal conversation and even sometimes in the newspaper, but there are differences.

Let’s start with Great Britain. Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales. They are three parts of what is called Great Britain. Sometimes Great Britain is used to refer to a fourth part of that country, Northern Ireland, which belongs to Great Britain. However, if you’re going to include Northern Ireland in addition to Scotland, Wales, and England normally we would – at least my understanding is that the correct term would be the United Kingdom. Now remember, I’m a dumb American so I may be getting these wrong, but I think this is correct.

Britain is the historical name for the island of Great Britain. It is often used to talk about the pre-Roman and Roman times before modern Great Britain. England, then, is the southern part of the island of Great Britain. I said there are three parts of the island: England is the southeastern part, Wales is the southwestern part, and Scotland is the northern part. So, we will often talk about England, Scotland, and Wales because at one point they were completely separate political organizations, or we would say political entities.

The more difficult part comes in the adjectives that come from these words. In the United States, anyone that comes from Great Britain or the United Kingdom would probably be called British. But, they might be preferred to be called by the particular area within Great Britain they are from. So, someone from England would want to be called English perhaps, someone from Wales might prefer to be called Welsh, someone from Scotland might want to be called Scottish, and so forth. Someone from Ireland is called Irish. Although again, there are two parts of Ireland; there’s the separate country of Ireland, and then there’s that part that belongs to the United Kingdom known as Northern Ireland.

So it is confusing, and it’s not surprising that you are confused since we are often confused as well.

Finally we have a question from Jacob (Jacob) in Poland. Jacob wants to know the meaning of a word he saw in one of my favorite novels, The Catcher in the Rye. The term he saw was “hotshot.” A “hotshot” (hotshot – one word) is a very successful or skillful person, who considers himself very successful and skillful. In other words, someone who often thinks very highly of himself, thinks he is the best or she is the greatest. Now, they may actually be the best or be the greatest, but most people don’t like it when other people lack humility. That is, they think very highly of themselves. So, we might call this person a hotshot.

It’s a compliment in a way. You’re saying yes, they are very good. And it could also be a criticism, saying that they are showing off, they are trying to show other people how good they are. So, it has a negative connotation, but it can also be something of a compliment to say that you are very good at what you do. You could be a hotshot singer, a hotshot dancer, a hotshot baseball player, a hotshot manager, a hotshot lawyer – any occupation really. Hotshot podcaster – nah, maybe not podcaster!

If you have a question or comment 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 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.

to become embroiled – to become deeply involved in a difficult situation

* The university president asked me for my opinion about the new proposal, but I don’t want to become embroiled in an argument between her and the professors.

to ram – to hit something with a lot of force

* The drunk driver rammed his car into a lamppost and was badly hurt.

war hero – a person who is very brave and extremely important in helping the nation win a war

* His sister is a war hero, earning several medals for bravery.

convalescence – the period of time when one is slowly recovering from an illness or injury, trying to become healthy again

* Bernice had a long period of convalescence recovering from her bad fall.

stillborn – for a baby to be born dead; for a baby to have died in the mother’s body before it was born

* Lynette and her husband were devastated when their baby was stillborn.

retrospect – looking back at the past; forming an opinion or coming to a realization as one looks at past events

* In retrospect, I’m glad I quit my job to stay home and raise my children.

close – for a competitor to be very near or to receive nearly as many votes or points as the person who won

* Our team has come close to winning the championship three years in a row!

inaugural address – the important speech that new presidents give when they first become president

* In his inaugural address, the President said that he would end the war and bring our soldiers home.

to depose – to force out a leader of a government; to remove a leader from office suddenly and with force

* The army deposed the president of McQuillanland and replace him with an army general.

abrupt – very suddenly and unexpectedly; occurring or ending with no warning

* Our party came to an abrupt end when we ran out of food and drinks.

assassination – the killing of an important person, often for political or religious reasons

* We remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. with great sadness.

fondly – in a good and caring way; with an affection or liking for something

* Max looked fondly at the photos of his new granddaughter.

Great Britain – the large European island that contains England, Scotland, and Wales

* We went on a tour of Great Britain, spending five days in England, three days in Scotland, and two days in Wales.

Britain – the historical name for the island of Great Britain, used by historians when talking about the pre-Roman, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) times

* In what year did the French invade Britain?

England – the southern part of the island of Great Britain, not including Scotland, Wales, and Ireland

* When you visit English, don’t only visit London. Try to see some of the other cities, such as York and Cambridge.

United Kingdom – the country that includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and some smaller islands

* The government representatives from the United Kingdom spoke on behalf of all its citizens.

hotshot – a person regarded by others or him/herself as an expert in some activity or as very important, aggressive, or skillful

* That new hotshot racecar driver thinks he’s the best even though he’s never won a race.

What Insiders Know
Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidences

John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. A year later, an article appeared in an American newspaper “purportedly” (supposedly) showing many “coincidences” (things happening at the same time and/or in the same way, without explanation) between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American President, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Since that time, this list has grown and many people still talk about some version of this list.

Here are few of the items on the list:

- Both presidents were elected to the presidency in ‘60: Lincoln in 1860 and Kennedy in 1960.

- Both presidents were elected to the United States House of Representatives in ‘46: Lincoln in 1846 and Kennedy in 1946.

- Both presidents were concerned with the problems of African Americans.

- Both presidents were shot in the head and from behind.

- Both presidents were shot “in presence of” (while they were with) their wives.

- Both presidents were shot on a Friday.

- Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre. Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford.

- Both of the “assassins” (murderers), Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth, were killed before they could be “put on trial” (brought to a court to decide if one is guilty or innocent of a crime).

- Lincoln and Kennedy each have seven letters.

- John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each have 15 letters and 3 words.

Most of the list that was originally published was “debunked” (shown to be false) in an article published in Scientific American. However, Americans continue to talk about what some people claim are “uncanny” (strange; mysterious) coincidences.