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335 Topics: Spy trials of the 40s/50s - Alger Hiss & Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; Johnny Appleseed; feeling versus emotion; expression versus term; drop dead

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 335.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 335. 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 of ESL Podcast; help us keep this podcast going. When you become a member you can download a Learning Guide for each of our current episodes that will give you a complete transcript of everything we say, along with some additional information to improve your English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a few of the most famous spy trials in the 1940s and 50s in the United States, specifically talking about Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Then we’ll talk about a famous person from the early part of our history, Johnny Appleseed. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café talking about two famous spy trials of the 1940s and 1950s. A “spy” (spy) is someone who gets information – secret information for his government, usually by going to another country, but sometimes by giving information to another government about your own country. Another word for spying is “espionage” (espionage). Spying and espionage are the same things, it’s the act of learning secret information about your country and giving it to another country, or about another country and giving it to your country. Sometimes people spy for money. Most spies work for their governments and try to get information about other governments. Sometimes spies work for other governments and get information about their own government. So if you are an American citizen and you work for the U.S. government and you give information to, say, the Canadian government, well then you would be a spy for the Canadian government.

During the 1940s and 1950s there was a great deal of concern about communism. People in the United States were concerned, especially about the military power of the Soviet Union. Now, of course, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. Russia, as a country, exists, but the other countries that were part of the Soviet Union – most of them – are their own separate countries. But back in the 40s and 50s, as you know, there was what we sometimes called a “Cold War,” not an actual war of fighting but a different kind of war between the Soviet Union and the United States, where each country was trying to be more powerful than the other. Some of this concern over communism in the United States became a little extreme. Back in English Café 299 we talked about something called McCarthyism and the Red Scare. I won’t to go into a lot of details; you can listen to that Café about that part of our history.

However, the fact that people were perhaps overly or too concerned about communism doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any affect of the communist movement in the United States, and today we’ll talk about two cases that most historians agree were actually cases of spies for the Soviet Union working in the United States. These were Americans who were giving information to the Soviet Union. These spies were arrested and put on “trial,” that is, they were brought before a court and found guilty of doing the espionage – of spying.

The first person we’ll talk about is Alger Hiss. Alger Hiss was a U.S. government official; he worked for the Department of State. The Department of State, or the State Department, is the part of our government – the U.S. government – that deals with foreign relations: talking to other countries, negotiating, and so forth. Hiss was accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union by another man by the name of Whittaker Chambers. Now Chambers, himself, had been a member of the Communist Party in the United States, but later he changed his mind and decided to leave the Communist Party; he became an anti-Communist. “Anti” means against. Well, after he left the Communist Party he denounced Alger Hiss. “To denounce” (denounce) means that you publicly say that someone else is doing something wrong. “To denounce” sometimes can just mean to criticize publicly, but here it means actually saying this person is a criminal – this person is a spy. Chambers said that Hiss was a secret member of the Communist Party while he was working for the State Department.

Now, Hiss denied the accusations, meaning he said, “No, I wasn’t.” He said he had never been a Communist, and said he didn’t even know Whittaker
Chambers, this other man who said he was a Communist. Chambers responded to Hiss’ denial by producing some documents that actually belonged to Alger Hiss, saying that Alger Hiss had given him these documents. They were documents from the U.S. State Department. They weren’t actual paper documents; they were actually rolls of film – photographs, if you will, taken of these documents.

The documents became known as the Pumpkin Papers. Chambers had hidden the film of these documents in a pumpkin. A “pumpkin” is a round orange plant, usually associated with Halloween in the United States. Of course, you also can make pie out of pumpkin; one of my favorite kinds of pie is pumpkin pie. But here we’re talking about the Pumpkin Papers. They were called the Pumpkin Papers because Chambers had hidden the film for photographs of these secret documents inside of a pumpkin. So when Hiss said that no, he wasn’t a spy, Whittaker Chambers was able to go to his own house and open up this pumpkin, and inside of it he had put these secret documents, and this proved that Hiss, himself, was lying. It also, however, showed that Whittaker Chambers was lying, because Chambers said that he wasn’t a spy. But of course, he wasn’t able to get these documents unless he was, himself, a spy. The difference between Chambers and Hiss was that Hiss continued to say that he was not a Communist, that he was not a spy, and that he had never even known Whittaker Chambers. Chambers had left the Communist Party, admitted that he had lied, and was able to prove that Hiss was also lying.

Hiss was eventually found guilty of perjury. “Perjury” (perjury) is when you lie in a courtroom, when you lie in front of a judge, when you say something in a trial that isn’t true. Hiss was not found guilty of espionage – he was not found guilty of being a spy. That’s because Chambers didn’t denounce Hiss until the mid to late 1940s, and the spying had taken place back in the 1930s, and in the United States for many crimes there is something called a “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations says that after so many years you can no longer be tried for certain crimes. So if you commit a crime, say you steal something 20 years ago, and finally someone says, “Yes, this person stole something 20 years ago,” it’s too late. The government can’t arrest you and try you for that crime because the statute – or law – of limitations has run out. You had to be caught in the first, say, five or seven years. Every crime is different. There are some crimes which do not have a statute of limitations, murder for example. You can be arrested for murder even if it happened 50 years ago. But spying, strangely enough, had a statute of limitations, so Hiss was never tried as a spy. He was, however, tried and found guilty of perjury, and he spent about four years – a little less than four years in prison. He didn’t die until 1996, and he continued to say that he was not guilty. However, Whittaker Chambers – who became a famous writer, he was actually a journalist who wrote for Time Magazine – is considered by most historians to have been the one who was, in the end, telling the truth about Hiss.

Another famous spy trial from the 1950s was the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were a married couple – they were man and wife, members also of the Communist Party. Now, Julius Rosenberg worked as an engineer for the U.S. government, specifically for the Army, and he was involved in research and doing work with electronics, with communications. When the Army found out that he was a Communist he was fired – he lost his job. Later, however, he was also accused of being a spy, of giving information to the Soviet Union relating to the nuclear bomb program – the atomic bomb program that the United States had. His wife was also accused of being a spy. Many people thought that Julius would try to protect his wife by saying, “Yes, I was guilty, but she was innocent.” And, some historians think that the wife may not have been, at least, as guilty as Julius Rosenberg. There was, for many years, a strong disagreement about the Rosenberg case. Many people thought they were innocent, many people thought they were guilty. However, as more and more evidence came out about the Rosenberg case in the 70s and 80s, it became clear to most historians that Julius Rosenberg probably was guilty of espionage, and some say that his wife, although she didn’t participate as much as her husband did, could also be considered a spy.

Well, in 1951, the Rosenbergs were put on trial, they were found guilty, and because their crime was considered very serious they were sentenced to death. Two years later in 1953, they were, in fact, executed; they were killed by the government for their crimes. An “execution” is death as a legal punishment. Many people thought that they should not have been given the death sentence, but again, there is not a great deal of doubt about the actual guilt, especially of Julius Rosenberg, from the historians that I have read.

Although most historians, both politically liberal and conservative, nowadays would agree that the Rosenbergs and Hiss were spies and were guilty, for many years they were what we might call a “cause célèbre” for the American left, those with very liberal political views. A “cause célèbre” is a French term meaning a famous cause, especially a legal case, something that motivates people to get involved in political discussion.

Our next topic doesn’t involve much political discussion; we’re going to talk about Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed’s real name was John Chapman. He was an American born in 1774 in the State of Massachusetts, in the northeast part of what is now the United States. He’s considered an American pioneer. A “pioneer” (pioneer) is someone who is the first one or one of the first people to do something or to go somewhere.

John Chapman, later called Johnny Appleseed, worked in an orchard. An “orchard” (orchard) is a place where you find a lot of trees to grow certain kind of fruit. You might have an orchard for oranges here in Southern California. You will find orchards around Southern California outside of the city of Los Angeles. Well, Johnny worked in an apple orchard, a place with trees where you grow apples. Nowadays, the State of Washington in the northwest part of the United States is famous for its apple orchards.

Well, Johnny Appleseed had a reputation; people thought of him as being very kind to animals. Apparently, the story goes, or so people say, he once noticed that “mosquitoes” – small, little, biting insects that were flying – started to fly into his fire, so he decided to put out the fire so that he wouldn’t kill any more mosquitoes. I’m from Minnesota; there are lots of mosquitoes, especially in the summertime, and I can tell you that I would kill all of the mosquitoes I could find if possible. But Johnny was different. Johnny didn’t like to kill animals – I don’t like to kill animals, I mean don’t get the wrong idea! Anyway, Johnny ended up bringing apple trees – seeds for apple trees, and planting them away from where he was living originally in Massachusetts. He began to plant apple orchards – apple trees – in other parts of the United States. He also became a missionary; in this case a Christian missionary. A “missionary” is someone who goes and tries to make other people or convince other people to become Christians as well.

Over time, Johnny Appleseed became something of a legend. Many people think of him as someone who walked barefoot. “Barefoot” (barefoot) means without your shoes. He walked barefoot, the story goes, and planted these apple seeds, as well, of course, trying to get people to adopt the Christian religion. There’s an unofficial Johnny Appleseed Day, some people celebrate that day on September 26th, the day he was born; some celebrate it on March 11th, which is during the springtime, the time of year you would normally plant things like apple seeds. Johnny Appleseed has appeared in many American movies and cartoons; there are even schools and parks named after Johnny Appleseed. Why did he become so famous? Well, perhaps because of his kindness to animals, perhaps because he was known to be a nice person – a kind person, someone who in some way improved the world around him by planting these apple trees.

There’s actually a song that some families sing before eating as a way of saying grace. “To say grace” means to pray before you eat something. When I grew up, in my family we would always say grace before eating our food; you are thanking God for the food that you are eating. And, someone in my family, one of my brothers and sisters, was always selected by my father to say grace before we ate, especially if we were sitting down for dinner. Well, there’s a special grace prayer that some people say that is related to Johnny Appleseed. I didn’t say this prayer, but some families do. The words of the Johnny Appleseed prayer are:

Oh the Lord is good to me (“the Lord” means God),
And so I thank the Lord,
For giving me the things I need,
The sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.

Interestingly, some historians have said that the kind of apple that Johnny was spreading by putting apple seeds into the ground wasn’t an apple that was really meant to be eaten. Rather, it was more commonly used to make alcohol, but most Americans don’t think of Johnny Appleseed that way.

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

Our first question comes from Samson (Samson) in a country unknown. Samson’s question has to do with the difference between the words “feeling” and “emotion.” This is a good question because “feeling” and “emotion” have some similarities; there are also some small differences however. Both “feeling” and “emotion” can be a mental sensation of being happy, of being sad, of being angry. You can say, “I’m very happy today,” that could be described as your “feeling,” or it could be described as your “emotion.” Both “feeling” and “emotion,” then, are mental or psychological states – psychological phenomenon.

“Feeling,” can also mean, however, a physical sensation. “Standing by the fire gives me a feeling of warmth (of heat).” Or, you could say, “I like the feeling of a warm shirt as I take it out of the dryer,” the machine that dries your clothes after you wash them. “Feeling” can also mean a belief, especially one based on your emotions. “I have a bad feeling about this interview.” That means I think things are going to be bad, I have a bad thought about this interview.

There’s also an expression, “to hurt (someone’s) feelings.” “To hurt (someone’s) feelings” – notice the “s,” it’s always plural – means to make someone sad or angry or embarrassed. To do something that will make the other person feel worse than they feel now, that is to hurt someone’s feelings. You cannot say, “to hurt (someone’s) emotions,” that doesn’t work; it has to be “feelings” in that expression.

Our next question comes from Lizhimin (Lizhimin), also from an unknown country – probably someone who knows Samson. This question has to do with two words: “expression” and “term.” I use both of these words when talking about and explaining English on the Café and on our regular podcast, so this is a good question. Both “term” and “expression” can mean a particular word or phrase. “Do you know the meaning of the expression ‘good luck’?” “Do you know the meaning of the term ‘good luck’?”

Sometimes “term” is used for just one word and “expression” is used for more than one word. I would say that “term” can be one word or a small number of words that are usually used to mean a single thing. An “expression” is usually more than one word and has, perhaps, a little broader use – can be used to describe a wider variety of things, of words. “To hurt someone’s feelings” would be an expression. “English as a Second Language” is a term.

Both “term” and “expression” have other meanings as well. “Term” can be a period of time. We talk about the President of the United States having a four-year term, that’s how long they can be president before they have to run for re-election or leave office. “Terms” (plural) can refer to the requirements of an agreement. You and I have a formal understanding – a formal contract, and in that contract there are terms, there are specific requirements that say what you have to do and what I have to do. “Expression,” in addition to being a collection of words with a single meaning, can also be the look on your face; we can talk about the expression on someone’s face: it might be happy, it might be surprised, it might be sad. “Expression” can also mean the act of communicating with someone else. “I’m going to give you this gift as an expression of my love.” It’s a way of showing – of communicating something to you.

Finally, a question from the Country of Myanmar, from (Soewinhan). I’m not sure how that’s pronounced; I won’t even try. This question has to do with the expression “drop dead.” “To drop dead” literally, actually means to die, usually to die very suddenly. “He was only 39 years old and he dropped dead,” he died suddenly. Used in this way, however, it’s rather informal and perhaps even a little disrespectful. You wouldn’t talk about your grandmother dropping dead, that doesn’t sound very nice.

“Drop-dead,” with a hyphen in between, can also be used as an adjective to mean amazing, incredible. Usually it’s used to describe someone who’s very beautiful. We often use it with the word “gorgeous.” “She was drop-dead gorgeous,” meaning, I guess, she was so beautiful that it would kill you, it would be such a shock, such a surprise.

If you have a term or an expression that surprises you, and you’d like to know what it means, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

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

spy – a person who gets secret information about another country or company and shares it with one’s own country or company, or the country or company paying one

* James was suspected of being an American spy and was not given permission to enter that country ever again.

espionage – the act of getting secret information about another country or company and sharing it with one’s own country or company, or the country or company paying one
* Most people thought that Carl had an import-export business, but he was really involved in espionage.

trial – a court case; an opportunity for a legal court and a judge and jury to hear arguments regarding why someone is or is not guilty of a crime

* When is the trial for the man accused of setting fires around the city?

to denounce – to publicly disapprove of someone or of a person’s actions, giving information to others about this person

* The government denounced the corrupt officials and sent them to jail.

perjury – the crime of lying in a court after one has promised to tell the truth

* I know you want to help your nephew when he goes to court, but don’t commit perjury when you tell the story of what happened.

statute of limitations – a limited period of time when someone can be arrested and/or brought to trial on whether he or she has committed a crime

* The statute of limitations on most crimes is 10 years, but there is no statute of limitations on murder.

execution – death as a legal punishment; killing a criminal as punishment for a crime he or she has committed

* At the last minute, the Governor sent a message to stop the execution of the woman convicted of killing the people she tried to rob.

cause célèbre – a famous cause, especially a legal case, or something that causes a lot of political discussion or action by the public

* The trial of the civil rights leader became a cause célèbre, and no one was surprised when he was not found guilty.

orchard – a piece of land where fruit trees are planted; an area of land where fruits and nuts are grown

* When we visit your grandparents this weekend, we’ll be able to pick apples in their orchard.

mosquito – a very small insect that flies and bites people

* Let’s get out of these trees! I’m being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

barefoot – without wearing shoes; wearing nothing on one’s feet

* In the summer, Elaine likes to walk around the park barefoot and feel the grass beneath her feet.

to say grace – to pray, often before eating a meal

* Every evening, my mother says grace before we eat dinner.

feeling – a sensation in your mind, such as happiness, sadness, anger, and more; a physical sensation; a belief based on emotions

* Sheila never overcame her feeling of guilt over her role in causing the accident.

emotion – a sensation in your mind, such as happiness, sadness, anger, and more; the part of people’s experience that involves feelings

* Don’t let negative emotions from your last relationship ruin your current one.

term – word or phrase; a period of time; requirements in an agreement

* What is the right term for someone married to your cousin?

expression – word or phrase; an act of communication using words, art, or action; a look on someone’s face showing emotions

* Laurent’s music is an expression of his creativity and genius.

to drop dead – to die, usually very suddenly; a phrase used informally to show hatred or dislike

* When the other children made fun of Jenny’s red hair, she shouted, “I hope you all drop dead!”

What Insiders Know
Mission: Impossible

Most people are familiar with the Mission: Impossible movies released in recent years “starring” (with the lead actor) Tom Cruise. However, Mission: Impossible had its beginnings on the “small screen” (television).

The original Mission: Impossible was an American TV show. In each episode, a team of secret American “agents” or spies worked together to complete a very difficult “mission” or job. This team was called the Impossible Missions Force, or IMF. These missions were always “covert” or secret and the team worked without the “acknowledgement” (recognition) of the government. In fact, throughout the “run” (continuous showing) of the show, it is never made clear which government department or agency the team got its “orders” (instructions) from or for whom they were working.

Like the movies, the team received its mission each week on an “audio” (voice or sound) recording that would “self-destruct” (destroy itself) after it is played. And also like the movie, the TV show was known by its “iconic” (well-known and easy to identify by most people) “theme song” (music associated with a television show that is usually played at the beginning of each episode). The original series “aired” (was shown) on American television between 1966 and 1973.

The original series was “shot” (filmed) almost “exclusively” (without exception) in Los Angeles and around Hollywood. There was a “revival” (bringing to life something popular in the past, but that had not been popular for a period of time) of the TV show from 1988 to 1990. The episodes for those “seasons” (periods when new shows are shown each year) were not shot at all in the U.S. They were shot “entirely” (completely) in Australia.