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338 Topics: Famous Americans - Ansel Adams; Ben & Jerry's; to find out versus to figure out versus to seek; “too” constructions; dummy versus idiot

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 338.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 338. 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.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on a man named Ansel Adams, who was perhaps the most famous photographer of his time. We’re also going to talk about Ben & Jerry’s, which is a popular brand of ice cream, and a company very well known in the U.S. As always, we’ll also answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about Ansel (Ansel) Adams, who was an American photographer, perhaps the most famous photographer in American history so far. He was born in San Francisco, California, in 1902. In 1916, when he was just a boy, he visited Yosemite National Park, a National Park located here in California. I talked about Yosemite back in English Café number 238. Adams visited the park, and he fell in love with the beauty of the area. It is really a beautiful part of the world. If you have a chance to come to California, you should go there.

During Ansel’s Adams visit, his father gave him a camera, and Adams began taking photographs. From that point on, he became increasingly interested in photography. The phrase “from that point on” means beginning at that time or since that time. He began to be interested in photography during his visit to Yosemite, and it continued to interest him – photography, that is – throughout his lifetime. He began to get better cameras to use. He learned how to develop photos, or photographs. “To develop” is a process where, in the old days before digital cameras, you would take certain chemicals and put the photograph into those chemicals in order to bring out the image. When I was in high school, I was in the photography club, or group, and we learned how to develop film and produce pictures using these chemicals. Now, of course, almost everything is done digitally – electronically, so you don’t need those old chemicals.

When Ansel Adams was still a teenager, he joined an environmental organization called the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is still active today, many years later. When I say it was an “environmental organization,” I mean they had as, and have as one of their goals to protect the natural environment. Well, Ansel Adams worked in the Sierra Club’s visitor center at Yosemite and he later became one of the leaders of the organization, being a member of its Board of Directors. For the rest of his life, he continued to be what we now call an “environmentalist,” someone trying to protect the natural environment. But, it was Adams’ photographs that made him famous.

He began to publish his photographs in 1921, when he was just – oh, what? – 19 years old. He also began to experiment with different photographic techniques, different ways of taking the photos and of developing them. He took a lot of risks to get his photos; he would often climb up very high in the mountains in order to get the perfect photo – the perfect shot, we might call it. A “shot” is, when we talk about photography, a particular picture, it’s a photo. “I want to get a shot of you smiling.” I want to get a photo of you smiling. When we talk about about making movies or films, a “shot” is a particular sequence or part of the film. In any case, Adams wanted to use his photographs to show other people the beauty of these areas that they may not be able to visit themselves.

In 1927, at the age of 25, Adams was more confident of his work, and he published his first portfolio. A “portfolio” (portfolio) is a collection of your work, usually your artistic work: your paintings, your drawings, or in this case, your photographs. Adams’ portfolio was mostly taken in and around Yosemite. The portfolio became very “profitable,” meaning a lot people wanted to buy this collection of photographs.

He then began to do a lot of different commercial products or projects; he began to sell his photographs to companies like Kodak and AT&T. He became editor of an important photography magazine, called U.S. Camera. He published several books of his photography, including the Illustrated Guide to Yosemite Valley. “Illustrated” just means it has either pictures or photographs. A “guide” is information to show you either how to visit a place or how to understand a certain thing. Yosemite Valley is the area where Yosemite National Park is located. His work began to be displayed in museums and art galleries. Adams also taught photography. He had workshops – classes – every year from 1955 to 1981.

If you have ever seen any of Ansel Adams’ photographs – and now you can easily find them on the Internet – you’ll see how beautiful and inspiring they are. When we say something is “inspiring,” we mean it gives you some motivation, or it helps you want to do something or become something. In this case, perhaps, it may motivate you to protect the beautiful areas that Adams photographed. His photographs were used by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations to promote what is called “conservation,” to keep safe these natural areas from development and from people going in and ruining them. But Adams’ main interest in photography was the artistic aspect, the beauty that he felt he was capturing, or he was recording in his photographs. I should also mention that when you think of Ansel Adams, you usually think of black-and-white photography. Adams preferred black-and-white photography even after color photography was introduced in the 20th century.

Adams’ photographs are still very popular today. If you go to Yosemite, you will see lots of them in the gift shop. A “gift shop” is a small store, usually at a museum, at a theater, or a park where you can buy things that will help you remember your visit to that place. We would call these “souvenirs,” things that help you remember places you’ve traveled. So for example, my mother, when she would travel, would collect spoons. Now, you may think this is a little strange, but many places sell little spoons, and the top of the spoon has something related to that area. So, when you go to New York City and the Empire State Building you could buy a spoon that would have a picture of the Empire State Building on it, or the Statue of Liberty. Well, that’s what my mother used to do when we would visit places when I was a child, she would buy these little spoons. That’s a souvenir, to help her remember where she had visited. You can buy souvenirs with Ansel Adams’ photographs, especially if you go to Yosemite National Park.

Adams received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Jimmy Carter, back in 1980. I talked about the Medal of Freedom in English Café number 303. It was a very large or big honor. It was given to Adams for his photography, but also for his work as an environmentalist.

Adams died a few years later, in 1984, at the age of 82, but his photographs remain very popular, and most Americans – well, many Americans, I guess, would recognize Ansel Adams’ photographs and certainly recognize his name.

Now let’s turn to our second topic, which is what we might call a very yummy topic. When we say “yummy” (yummy) we are describing something that tastes good; it’s often used in describing sweets or desserts. Someone says, “Oh, that looks yummy,” they mean it would be good to eat. Sometimes we just say “yum” (yum) when we like the taste of something. You have a piece of apple pie that your friend makes for you, you take a bite – you take a little piece, you eat it, you say, “Oh, yum!” That means it tastes very good.

Well, we’re going to talk about ice cream, which I think is yummy. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the most famous ice cream company now in the United States, Ben & Jerry’s. Ben and Jerry are both first names; they are the first names of the two men who started this company. Ben & Jerry’s is located in the State of Vermont, which is in the northeastern part of the United States.

Back in 1977, two friends named Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took a correspondence course to learn how to make ice cream. “Correspondence” usually refers to written communication, such as letters. However, when we say “a correspondence course,” we’re talking about an educational course or class that you take in the mail, by receiving information, books, tests, and you fill out the tests and you send them back to the school, and the school looks at them and sends them back to you with comments and so forth. This used to be a common way of taking university classes, or classes for adults who didn’t have the time or the money to go to college or to go to a special school. I took a correspondence course in electronics when I was in high school, and they were still popular up until fairly recently. Now, most people who want to take something like a correspondence course will take an Internet course. Correspondence courses have pretty much disappeared, but they used to be very popular.

Ben and Jerry took a correspondence course in learning how to make ice cream, which is a somewhat unusual topic for a class. After they finished this course, they opened an ice cream parlor. A “parlor” (parlor) here refers to a small restaurant that serves ice cream. There used to be lots of ice cream parlors in America when I was growing up, back in the 60s and 70s. There was one just four or five blocks from where I grew up, Bussman’s Ice Cream Parlor – I remember it very well – on the corner of Snelling and Minnehaha in St. Paul. I think the building now has a beauty shop, a place to get your hair done. But when I was a child, that’s where you went to get ice cream.

Well, Ben and Jerry opened an ice cream parlor in 1978. And in 1980, they began to sell their ice cream – they called it Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – in a small, pint containers. A “pint” (pint), you might know, is a unit of measurement in the English system; it’s equal to a half a quart, or 16 ounces. For those of you who use the metric system, which is most of you, a pint is about half of a liter. People loved the ice cream that Ben and Jerry were selling, and so they opened a franchise; they opened another store called Ben & Jerry’s. A “franchise” is often where you have someone who pays for the right to use your name and your materials and your method of doing something. So, here in the United States, and throughout the world, there are McDonald’s franchises. Different people own the specific restaurant, but they have to follow the exact rules that McDonald’s has if you want to own one of their restaurants.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is, as I said, very popular; people liked it. But that’s only one of the reasons why it became a popular company. Ben & Jerry’s became known for supporting community-oriented projects. For example, they might give money to local organizations that are helping the environment or that are doing good things for the people in that area – in that community. They sometimes buy from companies – buy their materials from companies that are doing good for the community. The company gives money to these organizations as well.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is also sold in what are called environmentally friendly containers. So when you buy their ice cream, they use containers – the things that hold the ice cream – that are made from recycled paper or that somehow are better for the environment. They also try to use all natural ingredients; they try not to use a lot of chemicals, or even milk from cows who have been given a lot of additional chemicals.

The company tries to help families who need money, who are what we would call “low-income,” meaning they don’t make a lot of money. They try to pay their employees a good wage, at least as good as they can.

In the year 2000, another company bought Ben & Jerry’s, a large company called Unilever – I think that’s how it’s pronounced. Some people said that that Ben and Jerry were selling out when they sold their company. “To sell out” is a phrasal verb meaning to do something that is only good for you financially or is only good for you for your reputation, but forgets about the most important things about what you are doing. Someone who’s a sellout might, for example, decide that the quality of their work is not important as long as they get a lot of money. If you’re a singer, for example, or an artist, people often talk about selling out; they’re referring to an artist or a singer doing things just to make money rather than to produce good art or good music. Some people thought that Ben and Jerry were selling out by selling their company, meaning that they just wanted to make more money, that they no longer cared about helping the community. But the company that bought them says they are hoping to continue the community support that Ben & Jerry’s gave when it was a separate company.

Once a year, Ben & Jerry’s celebrates something called Free Cone Day, where they give out free ice cream cones. A “cone” (cone) is a shape; here it refers to the shape of something that you put ice cream in in order to eat it. A cone is something then you can hold in one hand. It’s sort of like a triangle, but it’s a circle – it’s round; it has space in it for the ice cream. It holds usually one or two scoops of ice cream. A “scoop” (scoop) is a little ball of ice cream that you put into a dish or into a cone. Well every year, Ben & Jerry’s gives away a free – small – cone of ice cream if you go to one of their stores, and you get a chance to taste their wonderful ice cream.

There was a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store not too far from where I live, but I think it’s closed. So perhaps with the economy, fewer people are going out and buying ice cream. But in any case, you can buy a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream not just in one of their stores, but also in a grocery store. So if you have an opportunity, you’re here in the United States, you can try some of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and see if you think it tastes as good as I do.

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

Our first question comes from Denny (Denny) in Brazil. Denny wants to know the meaning of the phrases or words “figure out,” “find out,” and “seek.” Let’s start with “find out.”

“To find out” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to discover or to learn something, to get knowledge about something or to get information about something. “Did you find out the name of your teacher for your class?” Did you learn it? Did you get that information? Usually, “find out” means to learn because someone tells you, or you simply go and look up the information – you find the information.

“To figure out” is a phrasal verb meaning to solve a problem, to find the answer to some puzzle or some problem. It’s the same as getting information, but you get it in a different way. So for example, “I figured out the answer to this math problem.” I used a calculator, I thought about it, and I figured it out; I came to discover the answer.

“To find out” would be, usually, the teacher tells you, or your friend says, “Oh, the answers 27.” “I found out the answer.” You didn’t figure it out, meaning you didn’t try to solve it as a puzzle or discover it on your own.

So, “figure out” is always when you are trying to fix a problem, or find an answer to a problem or a solution to a problem. So for example, if your girlfriend tells you that her old boyfriend’s name was John, you could say, “Oh, I found out my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s name was John.” But if you are looking through your girlfriend’s letters because you think that she’s communicating with her ex-boyfriend, and you want to figure out who he is, you might find the answer and say, “Oh, I figured out who your boyfriend is” or “your ex-boyfriend is.”

Sometimes they’re used to mean the same thing. Someone might say, “Find out yourself,” or, “Figure it out yourself.” But generally speaking, “to figure (something) out” is to actively solve a problem; “to find out” is to get the information usually because somebody tells you or it was very easy for you to find.

“To seek” (seek) means to search for, or to look for. You can seek a lot of different things; you could seek an answer, which means you are looking for an answer. Usually a process that may take a long time, when you say, “I’m seeking” something. “To seek” can also mean to try to obtain or reach a certain objective or goal. “I am seeking to do good work at the hospital.” I want to obtain that goal; I want to reach that objective. Or you might say, “I’m seeking a university degree in physics.” That’s my goal; that’s what I’m trying to do.

The word “seek” is a little more formal; it sounds a little, perhaps, more important when you say, “I’m seeking an answer” versus “I’m looking for” or “I’m searching for an answer.” Some people use this verb when talking about looking for a job; they may say, “I’m seeking employment.” “Employment” is another word for having a job – having work. I’m looking for a job; I’m seeking employment.

Francisco (Francisco), also from Brazil, wants to know how we use the word “too” (too), especially when we say, “too much of (something).” When you have too much of something you have more than you need, more than you want sometimes. “She sleeps too much.” That means she sleeps more time than is good for her. “I want to buy that car, but it costs too much.” It’s too expensive; it’s more money than I can afford, more money than I have.

Sometimes we use “too much” in the expression “too much of a (something).” You might say, “He is in too much of a hurry.” That means he’s going too fast, he’s hurrying too much; it’s not good for him.

Finally, we have another question from Denny (Denny) in Brazil. I’m not sure if it’s the same Denny, maybe there are two Dennys in Brazil. That’s certainly possible. It’s a big place after all – Brazil. The question Denny has relates to something called the Dummies guides, which are a series of books here in the United States. There are all sorts of these: you could buy a book called Tennis for Dummies, or Podcasting for Dummies, or Zen Buddhism for Dummies. What are these books about, and why do we say they’re “for dummies”?

Well, a “dummy” (dummy) is a term for a stupid person, someone who is not very smart; someone who is not very intelligent, like my neighbor for example. Nah, just kidding! It’s an insulting term; it’s a negative way to describe someone to say someone is a “dummy.” In these series of books, however, the word “dummies” is saying that they are books that will explain things at a very basic, simple level, that even if you don’t know anything about the topic of the book – tennis or podcasting or Zen Buddhism – it will explain those things to you very simply and very clearly. So when you buy one of these books, you will see that they are written in a very easy to understand way.

I have read several of these books, because I am a dummy when it comes to most things – in terms of most topics. I’ve read the Gardening for Dummies guide. I’ve read several of the Dummies guides because they provide very clear information, and it’s often very entertaining; It’s kind of written to be sort of funny.

There are actually a couple of these different kinds of book series available; there’s another one called The Idiot’s Guide to…whatever the topic is: cooking or tennis or whatever. An “idiot” (idiot) is the same thing as a dummy; it’s someone who is not very smart. It is someone who is stupid; it’s an insulting term.

Both the Dummies guides and I think the other one is called The Complete Idiot’s Guide(s) – “complete” idiot just means very stupid, it’s a word for emphasis. To say, “He’s a complete idiot,” means he’s even dumber than an idiot; he’s really, really stupid. Well, these books are what we would call “how-to books,” that’s another way of describing them. They explain how to do something, although not always. Many of the books are simply about different topics, from art history to gardening to gambling, to almost any topic you can think of they have one of these guides, either The Complete Idiot’s Guide or the For Dummies guide. They’re very popular. You can buy them that almost any bookstore. And, if you’re interested in learning more about a topic I can recommend them – as a dummy!

If you have a question – even if your name is not Denny! – 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.

from that point on – since that time; ever since

* When Liam was eight years old, he almost drowned in a swimming pool. From that point on, he was afraid to go into the water.

to develop – to make photographic images appear on special paper

* When will you have the photos from the wedding developed?

portfolio – a collection of someone’s work, especially of an artist’s work

* Jennifer is a talented architect with an impressive portfolio.

inspiring – giving people hope and motivation, helping them want to become something or to do something

* The conference speaker gave an inspiring speech about his own life of growing up in poverty then becoming a successful pilot.

gift shop – a small store, usually inside a museum, theater, or popular tourist location, where people can buy souvenirs (objects to help them remember their experience at that place, such as coffee mugs, calendars, or pens)

* Let’s stop in the gift shop so I can buy a t-shirt with the university’s name on it.

yummy – tastes good; delicious

* When Benoit’s son tasted chocolate for the first time, he yelled, “Yummy!”

correspondence course – a course that does not meet at a school or college/university, but requires students to read written materials and then mail completed assignments to the teacher

* In the 1970s, colleges offered correspondences courses on many subjects for students who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend regular courses in the classroom.

ice cream parlor – a small restaurant that serves ice cream and other ice cream-related desserts

* The ice cream parlor was busy on Saturday, with many families there to enjoy ice cream desserts.

pint – a unit of measurement for the inside of a container, equal to 16 ounces (473 milliliters)

* The deli restaurant sells its famous soup by the pint for people who prefer to eat it at work or at home.

to sell out – to forget or dismiss what is important because one has an opportunity to make money

* Do you think a rock musician is selling out when he or she allows his or her songs to be used for TV commercials?

cone – a folded cookie that is used to hold ice cream; a shape made from a folded circle, where one end is open and round, and the other end comes to a point

* The girl’s ice cream began to melt through the end of the cone, dripping down her shirt.

scoop – a ball of food, often used for ice cream

* I can only eat one scoop of ice cream after that big meal.

to find out – to learn; to learn about the true nature of a person or situation

* When will we find out who will get the college scholarship?

to figure out – to solve; to find the answer to; to come up with an answer or a solution

* I can’t figure out how to operate this complicated television remote control.

to seek – to search for; to try; to try to reach a goal

* Our company is seeking an opportunity to form a partnership with your company.

What Insiders Know
The Ice Cream Sundae

Americans love ice cream and several ice cream desserts have a long tradition in the United States. Perhaps the most popular and common one, “aside from” (except) the ice cream cone, is the ice cream sundae.

An ice cream sundae includes one scoop of ice cream with a sauce or “syrup” (thick sweet liquid) on top. People can put many different types of “toppings” (food placed on top of other food to enhance its flavor) on a sundae, including nuts, “sprinkles” (small, colored pieces of sugar), “whipped cream” (a thick, sweet substance made with milk that has been beaten until it is a light foam) and “maraschino cherries,” small red fruit in a thick, sweet alcoholic liquid.

How the ice cream sundae got its name is unclear. However, some believe that “sundae” is “derived from” (comes from) the German name for Sunday, Sonntag.

Although no one really knows if it’s true, many believe that the ice cream sundae was created to “flout” (openly go against) the blue laws in the late 1800s in the U.S. “Blue laws” were laws created to enforce religious beliefs and behavior. For example, blue laws in many states still “prohibit” (make illegal) the sale of alcohol on Sunday.

Although most blue laws have been “repealed” (for something to no longer be the law), in the late 1800s in many states, it was not acceptable to have ice cream on Sunday, perhaps because people believed that it was an “indulgence” (allowing oneself to have pleasure) on a day for “worship” (expressing feeling toward God). Many places selling ice cream desserts simply gave those desserts names that did not include the words “ice cream,” such as the sundae. Today, most people call this dessert the “ice cream sundae.”