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332 Topics: Famous Americans: Michael Jordan; the Quakers; tag questions; the derivation of “okay”; to learn versus to study

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 332.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 332. 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. Become a member, download the Learning Guide, and improve your English – and your life!

This episode is going to continue our series on famous Americans; we’re going to focus on a famous athlete named Michael Jordan. We’re also going to talk about a religious group in the United States, the Quakers. 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 a very famous basketball player named Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1963, the same year I was born. He received a scholarship to play basketball at the University of North Carolina. North Carolina is in the southern United States. He did very well as a college basketball player, earning many awards. In 1984, without yet having earned his college degree, meaning he didn’t finish his university degree, he instead entered the NBA draft. The NBA is the National Basketball Association, that’s the main organization for professional basketball teams in the United States. The “draft” (draft) is the process through which the teams in professional sports pick the new players for their team; the NBA does it, the NFL – the National Football League does it, Major League Baseball does it. Almost all the big sports have, during the year sometime, something called a draft, and each team gets to pick new players, usually high school or college students. Well, Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984 into the Chicago Bulls team. Chicago is located in the central northern part of the United States, in the State of Illinois.

Jordan played very well for the Chicago Bulls. He got a lot of attention from the television and newspapers, what we would call the media. He also got a lot of attention from the “fans,” the people who like to watch, in this case, basketball. I’m not a big fan of basketball myself; I am a big fan of baseball, as you may know. I enjoy watching baseball games. Actually I played basketball – you may not know this – I played basketball when I was in seventh and eighth grade. That’s right! I actually was a basketball player, pretty famous – in my house I was pretty famous, everyone knew who I was, which was okay. I was from a big house, you see, so…

Anyway, Michael Jordan became much more well known at basketball than I did. In fact, he became very famous for a kind of play in the game called a slam dunk. A “slam dunk” (slam dunk) happens when a basketball player jumps very high into the air so that his hands are above the net, the place where the ball has to go into to score a point. He then pushes the ball down through the net to score, or to get points. That’s a slam dunk. Jordan often hung from the rim, or the top part of the basket, after making a slam dunk; he would grab onto the rim with his hands. He made slam dunks so often that people began to call him Air (Air) Jordan. Sometimes Airlines are called “Air (something),” like Aer Lingus is an airline or was an airline – I’m not sure if they’re still around – from Ireland. Well, Air Jordan was the name Michael Jordan was given because he was always up in the air. He was able to “leap” or jump up into the air to make slam dunks.

Michael Jordan also played on two Olympic basketball teams that won the gold medal or first place. He was on the team in 1984, when he was still in college, and then again in 1992. The 1992 Olympic basketball team from the United States was called the Dream Team. “Dream” is something that happens when you sleep, you have certain images that go through your mind. But when we say something is a “dream,” we mean it’s a wonderful or perfect version of that thing. A dream vacation would be a wonderful vacation, a perfect vacation. A dream girlfriend would be the girlfriend that would be perfect for you: beautiful and intelligent, rich. Rich is very important guys! Anyway, the Olympic Dream Team was very popular, had many well-known America players on it.

In 1993, Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls team, he stopped playing, and he actually went to play baseball. He tried to become a professional baseball player. That didn’t work out very well for him – that is, he wasn’t able to do that. So in 1995 he returned to the Chicago Bulls and he continued to play very well for them. He played another four years. He retired again in 1999, but it seems he still wanted to play more basketball after leaving the Bulls, so in 2001 he began playing for another team called the Washington Wizards, and he played for them for a couple of years and finally retired again in 2003. He doesn’t play professional basketball anymore, but he does own a large part of one professional team, the Charlotte Bobcats, another team in the NBA, which because I don’t follow basketball I’ve never really heard of. Here in Los Angeles, we have two professional basketball teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, which are the best of the two, and the Los Angeles Clippers. I don’t know that much about either team, although the Clippers have a building where they practice in not too far from where I live. I have never gone over and played with the guys. Maybe someday they’ll ask me to come and teach them a few things – you know! I was on a basketball team in seventh and eighth grade. Did I mention that?

Throughout Jordan’s career, he received many awards, including five MVP awards. MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, it’s like the best player. He, in 2009, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame is sort of like an organization where they honor and recognize the best players of the sport. When we say he was “inducted” (inducted) we mean he was officially invited and became a member of that organization.

Obviously, Jordan is a very talented athlete, but he is also one of the most successfully marketed athletes. He endorsed many products. When we say he “endorsed” something we mean he put his name on it; he said, “I use this product,” and the product uses his name in its advertising. For example Nike Shoes named a shoe after Michael Jordan, they call them Air Jordans. Michael Jordan endorsed this product, he said yes, this is a product that I like or that I use, and he often appeared in commercials and ads for the shoe.

Today, Jordan is a businessman, what we might call an “entrepreneur,” someone who starts his own business. He has his own line of clothing – his own set of clothing that he sells called Jordan Brand. He owns a motorcycle racing team. And he’s also a philanthropist, he gives money to many charitable organizations, organizations that try to help other people.

That, then, is the story of Mr. Michael Jordan.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is a group called the Quakers (Quakers). The real name of this group, or the full name of this group is the Religious Society of Friends, sometimes called the Friends Church, but members in this organization are referred to as Friends or, more commonly, as Quakers.

The Quakers can be traced back to the middle 1600s. The phrase “to be traced back” or “to be traced back to” means that we can follow their history all the way back to the middle of the 17th century.

In the mid-1600s, a man named George Fox and several other preachers, or religious leaders, decided to separate from the Church of England, primarily because they believed that the Church of England wasn’t practicing Christianity in the way they thought correct. They wanted to have a more direct relationship, they said, with God. However, the people in England – the government didn’t like the idea of groups separating themselves from the official church, and so sometimes those groups were persecuted. “To be persecuted” (persecuted) means that they were told that they couldn’t worship God – they couldn’t pray in the ways that they wanted to. So like other religious groups from Europe, they came to the United States, trying to have more freedom to practice the religion the way they wanted to. They came not to the United States, I should say to North America because the United States didn’t exist yet in the mid-1600s.

The Quakers are an interesting religious group. They’ve always been somewhat small, and are a small group in terms of their numbers today. They are known for having given women equal rights in their church, equal rights as men had. They also tend to be pacifists. “To be a pacifist” (pacifist) means that you will not fight in any war; you will not be part of an army. They also don’t drink alcohol. They did not own slaves when slavery was legal in the United States; they didn’t own other people as many other Americans did until we stopped slavery in 1865. Well, technically 1863, but when the war – the Civil War ended. They didn’t swear. “To swear” (swear) means to use bad words. The Quakers also tended to dress in very plain or simple clothing. They were often involved in what we might call social reform movements; they tried to improve the way prisoners were treated in jails.

Some of these statements are still true of the Quakers today, but now there are many different groups within the Quaker organization, so it can be a little difficult to generalize about them. When I say “to generalize” (generalize) – when I say “generalize” I mean to say things that are true about all the members of a group, not just part of the group. There are enough different kinds of Quakers now that I can’t generalize and say that none of them drink alcohol or all of them are pacifists, but it is true of many of the modern Quakers – the Quakers that are alive today.

Some Quakers have highly structured meetings for their worship. “Worship” (worship) is the act of praising God, of recognizing his power and importance. The Quaker leader – the Quaker pastor leads the meeting, and that is a very structured kind of Quaker group. Other Quaker groups have less formal meetings, what we might call unprogrammed worship. Much of the meeting is spent in silence, but people can also talk during these religious meetings to share their thoughts. In these less structured Quaker meetings there really is no leader, everyone is sort of the same.

As of the year 2007, there were about 350,000 Quakers in the world, many of them living here in the United States. The most famous Quaker in American history would probably be Richard Nixon, the President of the United States back in 1969 to 1974. We talked about President Nixon in ESL Café 280.

The Quakers were also involved in starting or influencing several colleges and universities in the United States. Richard Nixon himself went to a Quaker college called Whittier College, which is located, oh, about 30 minutes from where I live here in Los Angeles.

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

Our first question comes from Lucas (Lucas) in Brazil. Lucas wants to know about using what are called “tag” or “tag (tag) questions.” Well, I could probably do an entire Café on this question. I will give a very brief answer; you can probably find more information on the Internet.

Basically, a tag question is when you make a statement about something you think is true, you say a sentence, and then you add a little question on the end because you’re not entirely certain, you want to know if the other person agrees with you. That’s the most common use of the tag question.

Now, what’s interesting about a tag question is that it has both a positive and a negative part of it. If the sentence – if what you think is true has a positive in it, the part that has the question at the end has a negative in it. If the main statement has a negative in it the question is a positive one. A “tag” is something that comes at the end of something, and that’s why we call it a “tag question.” Let me give you an example: “I was a great basketball player, wasn’t I?” The first part, “I was a great basketball player,” is a statement. I’m saying that is what I think is true. The question has a negative in it. We have a positive statement and a negative tag question. “I was a great basketball player, wasn’t I?” You’re asking the other person if they agree or not, or if he or she agrees or not. “She isn’t a very good singer, is she?” “She isn’t” (she is not) is negative, so the question at the end has to be positive or affirmative. “She isn’t a very good singer.” That’s what you think is true. Then at the end, you add a question to make sure the other person agrees: “She isn’t a very good singer, is she?” “Is she,” is, if you will, a positive or affirmative question.

Tag questions always have some sort of what we would call a helper verb, a verb like “do” or “is” or “was.” For example, “You don’t like me, do you?” Or, “You play basketball, don’t you?” Notice the verb is “play,” but the verb in the tag question is “do.” “You run 10 miles a day, don’t you?” “She likes to go to the movies, doesn’t she?” The verb “do,” in one of its forms, is often at the end of a tag question. You could also use the verb “to be.” You could say, “I’m not a very good singer, am I?” Notice the “am,” which of course is the first person singular of the verb “to be” in the present tense. “I am” is used to both the main part of the sentence as well as in the tag question.

Now there’s one sort of strange use when we’re talking about the verb “to be,” especially when we’re talking about “I.” If the first part of the question – the statement part of the question is in the affirmative, if you say “I am (something),” “I am a great basketball player,” the second part has to be negative. And technically the correct way of saying that would be “am I not?” So, “I’m a great basketball player, am I not?” However, in normal conversational English no one says “am I not?” they say “aren’t I?” So, when using the verb “to be” when you’re saying “I am,” if the first part is positive, the second part is negative but not with “I am not,” although you could say that, but more commonly it’s “aren’t I?”

Our next question is also from someone originally from Brazil, but now living in France, Heloisa (Heloisa). This is also a question that I could talk about probably for an entire Café, and that is where we get the expression “OK” or (okay), it can be spelled either with the letters (OK) usually capitalized, or (okay).

Well, first of all “okay” can mean a couple of different things, you probably know. One is that you agree when someone says or asks you a question. “Can you give me that pencil?” You say, “Okay.” Or, “Let’s go and see a movie and then have dinner,” you might say, “Oh, okay.” You’re agreeing, you’re saying yes.

“Okay” can also be used to describe that isn’t bad but it isn’t good either. “How was that movie?” “Oh, it was okay.” It wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

You can also use “okay” as a verb to mean that someone said yes to something. Normally this is done when it’s someone in authority like your boss. “My boss okayed my raise.” I’m going to get more money next year; I’m going to get paid more money.

Now, where this expression comes from is a little more difficult to answer because there are several different theories. In fact, I think someone wrote an entire book recently on the expression “okay” and all the different theories about where it comes from. Some people say it comes from a Scottish expression, some people say it comes from a Greek expression, from an American Indian expression, from a French expression; everybody has their own favorite theory. No one really knows for sure.

One possible explanation is that it is an abbreviation for the words “all correct,” except “all” was spelled with an “o” instead. This apparently was popular in the 1830s in the United States. The oldest written reference we have to “OK” referred to President Martin Van Buren, who was a President of the United States. He was trying to get reelected in the year 1840. His nickname was Old Kinderhook, because he came from a town – a city in New York called Kinderhook, and the abbreviation “OK” meant Old Kinderhook. Unfortunately, Van Buren did not get reelected; he did not win that election, but perhaps that’s one of the places where we get this expression, or the place where we get this expression.

There’s another theory that “okay” comes from a language of West Africa that was used by some of the black slaves in the 19th century. But unfortunately, we don’t have very good evidence about what the exact origin or where this expression comes from. We just know it’s very popular and everyone who knows English and even many people who don’t know English know this expression and what it means.

Finally, Zureta (Zureta) from an unknown country wants to know the difference between the verbs “learn” (learn) and “study.” Are they the same? Well, no, not exactly. Let’s start with “learn.”

“To learn” something means to get new information, to understand new information, or to learn to do something. “I learned to play tennis.” Or, “The girl learned a new word.” Or, “I learned what the capital of Rhode Island is.” Those are examples where you get new information into your brain. “Study” usually means working at trying to get new information. You can study, you can try to get information, you can try to learn, but you won’t always learn just because you study. So, “study” and “learn,” you learn from studying, but just because you study doesn’t mean you always learn.

“Study” can also be used to describe the topic that you are studying, that you are going to college for. “I’m studying history.” That means that I want to get my degree in history. “Study” as a verb can also mean to examine something very closely. “I studied her face trying to see whether she was interested in me or not.” Not!

If you have a question or comment you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. You can also ask your question on Facebook, that’s okay with us. Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

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 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

draft – the process through which sports teams pick new players, where each team selects a player, one at a time, from a group of players

* If James isn’t picked this year in the draft, do you think he has a chance next year?

fan – a person who is very interested in something and becomes very excited about it

* Lenore is a big Star Trek fan and has seen all of the TV shows and movies many, many times.

slam dunk – when a basketball player jumps high into the air so that his hands are above the net, and then pushes the ball down through the net to get points

* Our best player ended the game with a slam dunk that gave us the winning points.

to leap – to jump a great height or a long distance; to jump high in the air

* The children were pretending to be frogs, running and leaping over each other.

MVP – most valuable player; the player officially recognized as having performed the best, usually during one game or one period of play or competition

* The league picked Molly as the MVP this year for her outstanding performance on the field.

to be inducted – to be officially invited and accepted into an organization through a ceremony

* In 1989, The Rolling Stones were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

to endorse – to publicly approve of something, usually a product, by a famous person

* If we can get a well-known celebrity to endorse our new candy bar, we’ll have a better chance of success with it.

to be traced back to – to be able to follow the history of something back in time and to know where something began

* The source of the disease can be traced back to animals, specifically apes.

to persecute – to treat someone badly, usually because of that person’s or group’s race or religious beliefs

* On our college campus, student groups sometimes feel persecuted because of their unusual political beliefs.

to swear – to use bad words; to use offensive language; to curse

* When Dimitri dropped the TV on this foot, he swore loudly enough for his neighbor to hear him in the next house.

to generalize – to say that something is true about all members of a group; to assume that something is true of everyone in a particular group

* How can you generalize about this school’s teenage students and their behaviors when their beliefs may be so different?

worship – the act of showing one’s feelings or beliefs in a god, recognizing the god’s power and importance

* In my family, Sunday is a day of worship and rest.

okay / ok – “I approve” or “I agree”; adequate or acceptable; mediocre (not very good, but not very bad)

* It’s okay to ask Grandma to tell you a bedtime story, but don’t be too disappointed if she’s too tired tonight.

to learn – to understand new information; to develop the ability to do something

* How did you learn to speak Hungarian when you’ve never visited Hungary?

to study – to work at understanding new information, usually for school or work; to have one main focus of coursework at a college or university; to look at something deeply

* No matter how much I study the chapters in this science textbook, I can’t seem to remember the information for the tests.

What Insiders Know
Bonnet Fiction

Romance novels “feature” (has as its main theme) love stories of many kinds. One recent trend is to “set” (place) romance stories in Amish or other close-knit (a group of people with very strong relationships and/or common interests) religious communities. Some of these books have become very popular and is “collectively” (altogether; combined) referred to as “bonnet fiction” or “bonnet books.”

A “bonnet” is a type of hat a girl or a woman wears that has strings that tie under the chin and a round piece that goes around the face. This type of hat is rarely worn in the U.S. today, but a type of bonnet is still worn by Amish women and girls.

Bonnet fiction authors tend to use several common “themes” (subjects). One common theme is the conflict between the Amish way of life and the life outside the community. For example, a common “plot” (storyline) is for someone outside the community to visit the community and cause conflicts, either “intentionally” (meaning to) or not. Another common plot is for the young people in the Amish community to question whether to remain with the Amish or to live a life outside of it. Bonnet fiction is known for the themes of “humility” (humbleness; modesty), “faith” (belief in God), and no “explicit” (clear and in detail) sex.

These books are controversial in the Amish community. The authors of bonnet fiction are not typically Amish and some believe that they do not “accurately” (correctly) “depict” (show; represent) the beliefs and behaviors in the Amish community. In fact, some leaders of the Amish community in some states have “banned” (officially not allowed) bonnet fiction. However, bonnet fiction authors say that they get “fan mail” (letters from fans) from Amish readers who say they read the books “under the covers” (in bed, under the bed coverings so no one will know).