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317 Topics: Movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Detroit and the Rust Belt; to knead versus to mash; the infinitive versus gerund form of a verb (to look for versus looking for); bona fide Words:

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 317.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 317. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English. Are you on Facebook? Well, so are we. Go to facebook.com/eslpod and like our new Facebook fan page.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about an old but popular American movie, called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. We’re also going to talk about American cities, this time talking about the City of Detroit, Michigan and the surrounding area, which is now sometimes called the “Rust Belt.” And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a discussion of an old American movie called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was released as a film in 1939. It’s about one man, whose name is Mr. Smith – Smith, of course, being one of the more common names in the United States traditionally. Mr. Smith is elected as a representative – as a politician in Washington, D.C. The film shows how many people didn’t trust the government or people who had a lot of money – people who had a lot of power at that time.

The basics story is this: When a U.S. Senator passes away, or dies, the governor of the state must name a replacement. To back up a little here, the U.S. at the national level has two different representative bodies – representative groups. One is the United States Senate, and there are two senators from every state. The other is the U.S. House of Representatives. There are 435 representatives right now in the House of Representatives. So, you have the Senate and the House. When a senator dies before his or her six-year term is over, in most states the leader of that state, the governor, will name a replacement for the senator. “To name (someone)” means to select that particular person, to say “you are going to have that job.” In this case, the governor has the ability to choose or select who will be the new senator.

So in the movie, the governor picks a young man named Jefferson Smith, even though he doesn’t have any political experience. Jefferson, of course, is the name of our third president, Thomas Jefferson. The governor believes that Mr. Smith is naive. When we say someone is “naive” (naive) we mean they’re not very sophisticated, especially in this case when it comes to politics. To be naive is to think the world is perhaps a better place than it really is, to be a little innocent about the world. The governor thinks, then, that Mr. Smith is naive, and therefore it will be easy to manipulate him. To “manipulate (someone)” means to control or influence the decisions that he or she makes, so the person isn’t really acting independently. They are being controlled by someone else; they are being manipulated. Your boss might manipulate you into working longer hours by telling you that if you do a good job you might get more money. That’s not always manipulation, but it could be. The term has a negative meaning; we normally don’t talk about “manipulation” as a positive thing.

So the governor believes that he’ll be able to manipulate Mr. Smith, and therefore names him as replacement for the senator who has died. When Mr. Smith goes to Washington, he proposes a bill. “To propose a bill” is to write to the text for a new law. Now he proposes this bill and he asks the other senators to vote on it. He proposes that the federal or national government loan money to buy a certain area of land and to use that land as a camp for boys, a place where boys can go perhaps during the summertime and learn how to fish and swim and do other things. The idea is that the young boys would send in money to pay the loan back eventually.

This idea is very popular with the public – with the people, but many of the other senators in the movie don’t like it because they want to use that land for one of their projects; they want to build a dam. A “dam” (dam) is a large construction that is used to hold back water in a river, usually to either generate electricity or to control flooding. “Flooding” is when the water from river goes over onto the surrounding area – the surrounding land, and can cause problems. There are many dams that are built to generate electricity. Here in the United States, the most famous is probably the Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River in Nevada.

In the movie, then, there are senators who are corrupt. When we say someone is “corrupt” (corrupt), we mean they’re doing something wrong, usually by taking money from someone in order to do something for that person within the government. In this case, the senators are going to be making money themselves from the dam, and that’s why they don’t want the land to be used for a boys’ camp.

The corrupt senators want to stop Mr. Smith, so they announce falsely – wrongly – that Mr. Smith owns this land, and therefore he will benefit and that’s why he wants the government to buy the land. This causes the people in his state to turn against him. When we say you “turn against (someone),” we mean that suddenly after supporting someone you oppose them, you try to stop what they are doing. So the people who were supporting Mr. Smith now change their minds because they think that he is corrupt, and they turn against him. Mr. Smith is very worried, and he becomes so worried he gets sick, and he “faints,” or collapses in the Senate.

Now, I don’t want to tell you the end of the story. I can say that it’s, like many American movies, a happy ending. I remember watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a child in the 70s. It was a very famous movie, and it was shown on television quite often.

The star of the movie was a famous American actor of that time, Jimmy Stewart. The movie was really the one that made Jimmy Stewart a famous actor. The film was directed by another famous American in the movie industry, Frank Capra. Now, the film was controversial. A lot of politicians criticized the film – attacked the film, saying that it was anti-American because it was showing that the U.S. government officials were corrupt. Some people thought the film was disrespectful to elected government officials, that it didn’t give them the proper respect.

The film was so controversial that it was actually “banned” or not allowed to be shown in several countries, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. But at the time, The New York Times called it one of the best movies of 1939. It won the highest award a movie can get, an Academy Award, sometimes called an Oscar, for Best Original Story, and it was nominated – it was put in the ballot for 10 other awards, although it didn’t win them. It did win Best Original Story and, more importantly, it was a very popular movie. If you have a chance to see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I think you will enjoy it. It’s certainly a movie that most Americans, at least of a certain age, have seen, and I think most have enjoyed.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, our continuing series on American cities. In this Café, we talk about Detroit and the area around the city – around the state where Detroit is located, the so-called “Rust Belt.”

Detroit is in the State of Michigan, which is in the north central part of the U.S. It is surrounded by the Great Lakes, and it is on the border of Canada. Detroit was started or founded by the French in 1701 and grew quickly as a military and trading center. It was the capital of Michigan for about 40 years in the early 1800s. It was sometimes called the “Paris of the West” because it had so many beautiful buildings.

In 1903, a man by the name of Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Other automobile manufacturers, those who made cars, soon came to the city as well. They included companies such as Durant, Dodge, Packard, and Chrysler. Soon, Detroit became known as the automobile capital of the United States – of the world, really. People began to refer to Detroit as “Motor City.” A “motor” is the part in the car that powers the car; we also call it the “engine.” So, Detroit was called “Motor City” or “Motor Town”; later this was shortened to simply “Motown.” “Motown” also refers to a type of music that grew out of the African American community in Detroit. We talked about that way back on English Café number 70.

Well, when you have a growing industry – a growing set of businesses as you did in the early 1900s in Detroit, you need a lot of workers – a lot of people. Many of the African Americans who were living in the southern states at this time migrated or moved to Detroit, in part to work in some of the new businesses there. This unfortunately created some racial tension. “Racial tension” refers to feelings of anger or fear because of someone’s skin color, usually between two groups of two different races or backgrounds. Neighborhoods that were once mostly white were suddenly mostly black, and this brought a lot of changes to the city.

Today Detroit is home to what we sometimes called the “Big Three.” These are the three largest surviving automobile companies: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Detroit is famous for its cars and its music, but it has also, unhappily, become famous with some problems that are associated with the changing economy over the last 40 years. During the 1970s and 80s the world economy began to change, and American companies started to send many of the manufacturing jobs – jobs that didn’t require as much education, jobs that were related to physically making things – to other countries: to Mexico, to South America, to Asia. The result was cheaper prices for the people who bought these products. But it also meant that the people who worked in the factories, the places where these things were built in the U.S., no longer had a job.

The states in that part of the country – Michigan, Ohio – had traditionally been the centers for steel production in the United States. “Steel” is a kind of metal that is used in cars and buildings. But as things began to change, many of those companies closed down or shut down, and the area began to be referred to as the “Rust Belt.” “Rust” is what happens to metal when it gets wet and begins to oxidize. A “belt” (belt) is normally a piece of leather or cloth that you use to hold up your pants. But, “belt” can also refer to a large area of land that has some similar characteristic. For example, we sometimes talk about the southeastern part of the United States as being part of the Bible Belt, because there are a lot of Christians, especially Baptists, in that area. The Rust Belt refers to states that were once big manufacturers of things like steel, but no longer are. That would include Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and my home state of Minnesota. The steel industry used to be very strong in these states, but no longer.

Just as the steel industry began to experience problems so did the automotive industry, both because cars were being made in other countries, and also because the Japanese car companies were producing smaller, cheaper cars – better cars, in many cases – and the number of Americans who were buying American cars began to decline or decrease. This was especially the case after the 1973 oil crisis, where the price of gasoline increased dramatically, and people were looking for smaller, more economical cars, cars that didn’t use as much gasoline.

What happened to the steel and car industries has happened to many different kinds of businesses that make things or manufacture things in the U.S. The cost of paying American workers, what we would call the “labor cost” is much higher than it is another countries. American workers earn more per hour than workers in some other countries, and therefore the companies have to pay higher labor costs and that, of course, makes their product more expensive.

The population of Detroit has declined dramatically in the last 50 years. In 1950, Detroit had more than 1.8 million people in the city; it was a huge city. Now, there are just over 700,000, so less than half of the population of only 60 years ago. In fact, I believe I read that Detroit’s population in the year 2010 is about the same as it was in the year 1920. It’s a city that has seen great heights in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and now is seeing some of its lowest points. Perhaps someday Detroit will become famous for something else, and the population will increase, rather than decrease as it is now.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent us.

Edison (Edison) in Brazil wants to know the difference between the word “knead” (knead) and “mash” (mash).

“To knead” is to mix two things together with your hand. It’s a word we use usually in talking about a kind of cooking, usually baking, where you are making bread for example. Before you bake the bread, we call the material – the ingredients that are put together “dough” (dough). You have to put the dough together; you have to mix it and squeeze it and press it with your hands. That process is called “kneading.” So, “to knead” is to do that kind of mixing and pressing with your hands.

“To mash” means to press hard on something until it becomes soft. We have, for example, at Thanksgiving a traditional dish – a traditional kind of food called “mashed potatoes.” “Mashed potatoes” are potatoes that have been crushed, that have been pressed down and made soft and smooth. “To mash” is the process of doing that.

The verb “to knead” is always something you do with your hands. The verb “to mash” can be done with your hand or it could be done with some other tool.

Keisuke (Keisuke) in Japan wants to know the difference between “we came here looking for something” and “we came here to look for something.” Both of these expressions, “looking for” and “to look for,” mean the same thing. They mean you are trying to find something: “I came here trying to find my book.” “I came here looking for my book.” “I came here to look for my book.”

The “-ing” form, like “looking,” is called, in this case, a “gerund.” A “gerund” is a form of a verb that acts like or functions as a noun. So in this example, “we came here looking for something,” “looking” is actually like a noun, but the meaning is that you are trying to find something; you are seeking something. When you use the verb in what we call the “infinitive” form, the “to” form, you have a slightly different sentence, “we came here to look for something,” but the meaning is the same.

There are some cases where the two things could be different. For example, the sentence “Jill forgot to look for her keys” means that she was planning to look in the past, but she didn’t do it because she forgot. However, the sentence “Jill forgot looking for her keys” means that she was looking for her keys, but then she didn’t remember perhaps to do something else while she was looking for her keys. Or it could have a third, perhaps more common meaning, which is she looked for her keys, but she forgot that she had looked for her keys. Jill forgot looking for her keys; she did it, she just didn’t remember it. But for the most part, these two forms are going to mean the same thing.

Finally Elena (Elena) in Russia wants to know the meaning of the expression “bona fide.” “Bona (bona) fide (fide)” means something is real, something is genuine. The opposite would be something that is fake. “This is a bona fide Rolex watch.” It’s a real Rolex watch. It isn’t a fake one that someone sells you for 10 dollars on the streets of New York; it’s an actual, bona fide Rolex.

“Bona fide” can also mean done in good faith: “The President made a bona fide attempt to negotiate with the Republicans.” He was doing it honestly and sincerely. “Bona fide,” which in Latin would be something closer to “BOna FEEdey,” means in good faith. But this is America, so we pronounce it as if it were an English word; we say “bona fide,” with the “e” silent and the “i” long on the second word.

If you have a question about English, we will certainly make a bona fide attempt to answer your question. Email us at eslpod@eslpod.com. We don’t have time to answer everyone’s questions, unfortunately, but we’ll do our best.

From Los Angeles, California, this is 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 name a replacement – to pick someone for a particular role when the person doing the job or filing the role leaves

* When the president of the company quit, the board of directors immediately named a replacement.

naive – not very sophisticated; showing a lack of knowledge, wisdom, or judgment

* Don’t be naive. Dan isn’t trying to help you. He’s trying to find out your secrets so he can use them against you.

to manipulate – to control someone or influence what decisions he or she will make, often without letting that person know what is happening

* Everyone was against the plan, but Eileen somehow manipulated each person into supporting it.

to propose a bill – to formally suggest a new law; to write a new law for lawmakers or voters to vote on

* Biyi proposed a bill to limit how tall buildings could be built in neighborhoods with a lot of houses.

dam – a large structure that is used to hold back water in a river, usually to generate electricity or to control flooding

* A large hole appeared in the old dam and it needs to be repaired immediately before it floods the homes around it.

corrupt – doing something dishonest in exchange for money or some other personal gain

* The football coach was corrupt, accepting money for his team to lose games.

to turn against (someone) – to begin to oppose someone whom one had previously supported or favored

* Carlos and Leona worked together in the competition until they were the only two competitors left, and then they turned against each other.

to faint – to lose consciousness; to feel weak and dizzy, and begin to fall asleep because one cannot get enough oxygen into one’s brain

* Roxana thought that her husband had been killed in war, but when he walked in through the front door, she fainted.

Rust Belt – a large area in the Northeastern United States where there used to be many factories for manufacturing, including parts of Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin

* When the factories began closing, homes along the Rust Belt stared losing their value.

rust – the orange, red, or brown powder that appears on metals when they get wet

* We left the old bicycle in the yard while it rained and now there is rust all over it.

racial tension – feelings of anger and/or fear based on people’s skin color and/or the cultural group they belong to

* Racial tensions were high when the new immigrant students began attending the high school.

labor – work; work that people are paid to do

* It took a lot of money and labor, but the bridge is finally finished.

to knead – to mix, squeeze, or press with the hands

* My arms are tired from kneading dough to bake 10 pies!

to mash – to press hard on something until it becomes a soft and almost a liquid substance

* We need to mash these potatoes until there are no more lumps.

to look for/looking for – to try to find/trying to find

* Jaime walked all over the neighborhood looking for his lost dog.

bona fide – genuine; not fake; done in good faith (with honesty and sincerity)

* Is that a bona fide Rolex watch or is it an imitation?

What Insiders Know
“Smith” – The Most Common Last Name in the U.S.

“Smith” is a very common last name in the United States. In fact, it is the most common last name in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia, and second most common in Canada. About three million people in the U.S. have the last name Smith.

The name originally came from Britain. It is most common among people of English or Irish “descent” (related to a person’s family or cultural background). However, many African Americans are also named Smith, because during the period of “slavery” (the owning of another person) in the U.S. before 1865, it was “common practice” (something commonly done) for slaves to “adopt” (take; call as one’s own) their owner’s last name.

When not used as a last name, the word “smith” is a term for a skilled worker. A “blacksmith,” for example, is a person who uses his or her hands to work with metal, heating and shaping it, usually into useful items. The term is used less commonly today because there are fewer smiths doing this type of work.

Because of the “prevalence” (being common in many places) of the last name Smith and the first name John, John Smith has come to be used by people who want a “generic” (not specific) name, or who is trying to hide his “identity” (who they are). In movies and TV shows, when someone wants to remain “anonymous” (not known to other people), he will give his name as John Smith. There is no real “equivalent” (the same thing) for women, although the name Jane is considered very common and you may hear women using the name Jane Smith for the same purpose.