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343 Topics: Famous Americans - Mary Tyler Moore; Famous Songs: “Dem Bones”; to straighten up versus to straighten out; (you’re) tripping; to get/fall into the groove

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Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 343.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 343. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. That’s right, I said Los Angeles, California. Not San Francisco, California or San Diego, California. No, Los Angeles, California, thank you very much.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download a Learning Guide for this episode. First, however, become a member, and then you can help support this podcast.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, talking about a well-known actress, Mary Tyler Moore. We’re also going to continue our series on famous songs; today, we’ll be talking about the song “Dem Bones.” That’s right, I’m going to sing again! Some of you, I know, really hate that. I’ll try to sing as best as I can. Actually, you’re going to hear me sing two different songs. And, as always, I’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We continue our series on famous Americans talking about an actress who’s famous here in the United States; I don’t know how famous she is in other countries. Her name is Mary Tyler Moore.

Mary Tyler Moore was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, New York – New York City. Brooklyn is a part of New York City. Her family, however, moved to Los Angeles when she was a little girl, and as a teenager she wanted to be a dancer. A lot of kids who grow up in Los Angeles, I’ve discovered, want to be in one of the entertainment industries, either music or dance, usually acting. It seems to be a common thing here, which is why a lot of musicians and actors are actually from Los Angeles – not all of them, but many of them.

Anyway, Mary Tyler Moore wanted to be a dancer. She actually danced in a few television commercials. But then she began acting, usually in small, mostly unimportant roles or characters; we would call them “parts” on television. But in 1961, she had her big break. A “big break,” when we talk about anything really, any kind of job, is when you are suddenly successful, especially in the movies or television when you have some sort of role that makes you famous, that everyone says, “Wow, you’re a great actor or actress,” and that’s what happened with Mary Tyler Moore.

She got a big break when she was cast in The Dick Van Dyke Show. “To be cast” (cast) means that the actor or actress is selected to have a part in that movie or that play or that TV show; you are going to be one of the actors. That is what we mean “to cast” someone. And as a noun, a “cast,” in this context, refers to the people who are in the movie or the play or TV show. Mary Tyler Moore was cast as one of the stars, one of the “lead” actors we would call them. The Dick Van Dyke Show was a sitcom. “Sitcom” (sitcom) stands for situation comedy; it’s a kind of humorous show that has the same main characters every week, and they usually are part of some story that is continuing every week. Friends is an example of a sitcom, or Seinfeld is an example of a sitcom. In The Dick Van Dyke Show, the sitcom was about a writer. The main person, whose name was Dick Van Dyke – that was the name of the actor – he was a writer in the show, and he had a wife, and his wife was played by Mary Tyler Moore.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was like Friends or Seinfeld, nowadays I guess The Office. These were shows that everyone knew about, were very, very popular. The Dick Van Dyke Show was a very popular show in the 1960s. I remember watching old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show when I was a child. And, eventually, after The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Mary Tyler Moore got her own television show, which was called The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was popular back in the 60s and 70s, if an actor was very famous, to have the show named after the actor; we might call this an “eponymous” sitcom. “Eponymous” (eponymous) is when a television show or a book or whatever takes the name of the person who wrote it or the person who stars in the, in this case, sitcom as part of the title. Well, Mary Tyler Moore was the star of this sitcom. It began in 1970, and in it Mary Tyler Moore was a single woman who was working in a newsroom, specifically in the newsroom of a television station in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Now, this show was popular in the 1970s, from 1970 until 1977. That’s when I was growing up, and of course, our family watched this show every week, and it was very famous not just in Minnesota but in the entire country. It sort of introduced Minneapolis, in some ways, to the rest of the country. The sitcom was very popular, especially during its first six years or so.

The show had a very popular or memorable – something that you remember – opening sequence. When the show first began it showed Mary Tyler Moore driving in a car, and showing important moments in her life in the City of Minneapolis. The opening sequence ended with her in downtown Minneapolis, in a place called Nicollet Mall, where she took her hat off and she threw it up into the air. In fact, if you go to downtown Minneapolis there’s now a statue on that street of Mary Tyler Moore. I believe it shows her throwing her hat up into the air. I haven’t actually seen it, I remember watching a news story about it.

Anyway, like a lot of popular television shows, it had its own song, and the lyrics or the words of the song related to the main idea of the story, of this young, single woman going and working on her own. Remember, in the 1960s and 70s there were a lot of women who began to work for the first time in businesses. It became more popular for women to have full-time jobs during this time period, and the show was a reflection of that new social and economic reality, you could say.

The lyrics of the song begin by saying, “How will you make it on your own?” That is, without anyone helping you. How will you be successful? How will you survive? “This world is awfully big.” This world is very big. Later it says, “But it’s time you started living / It’s time you let someone else do the giving,” meaning instead of you giving, you are going to have to work for yourself. “Love is all around, no need to waste it.” “To waste (something)” is not to use it well, or to use it on something that you shouldn’t. “You can have a town (you can have a city; you can be successful, I guess), why don’t you take it? / You’re gonna make it after all.” “You’re going to make it” means you’re going to be successful. “After all” means after, perhaps, some difficulty or some sort of struggle: “He had difficulty in 9th grade, but in the end – after all – he ended up going to the 10th grade.” So, this song also became popular. [Jeff sings]

Love is all around, no need to waste it.
You can have a town, why don’t you take it?
You’re gonna make it after all.

That was the song, in case you care.

Well, in the song we’re trying to encourage this woman; the song is meant to be “encouraging,” meaning supportive of her as she goes and tries to make it on her own in Minneapolis in this newsroom.

Like a lot of television shows – successful television shows, there were several spin-offs from this show. A “spin-off” is when you take one of the characters in the show and they go and have their own show. The person that Mary Tyler Moore worked for – Lou Grant was the name of his character played by an actor named Ed Asner – he had his own television show. There was also another female character on the show, named Rhoda, who was, I think, a friend of Mary Tyler Moore. Anyway, she had her own television show later on, as well. That happens sometimes we you have a popular TV show; they take a character from the show and they make an entirely different show. With Friends, for example, I believe they tried to make a show called Joey, which wasn’t very successful.

Anyway, after The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977, Moore tried acting in other shows – other TV shows, but they were never very popular, never as popular as The Mary Tyler Moore Show. However, she did eventually start acting in movies. The most famous movie she was in was called Ordinary People, in, I guess, 1980. She was the lead actress in this very depressing movie. I remember I didn’t like it very much at all – Ordinary People. Anyway, she was quite good in it as an actress, and she was nominated as one of the best actresses of the year for an Academy Award. She also won another award, a television award for a TV movie called Stolen Babies in 1993. I’ve never seen that. Again, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a lot of fun; it was a comedy.

Over Mary Tyler Moore’s career she has received many different awards, and just in 2011 she received what’s called a lifetime achievement award, where you give someone an award not just for one movie or one television show, but for their entire acting career.

Moore had difficulties in her private life, many famous people do. She had problems with alcohol; she also had “diabetes,” a disease that makes it difficult to process food and can sometimes be very dangerous. She was twice divorced. Her son committed suicide. So, she has had a lot of tragedy – a lot of sad things in her life, as well.

Moore, as we record this episode in 2012, is 75 years old. She uses her name to promote or help organizations, or groups called “charities,” which help people who need help, for diabetes research, for animal rights, and other causes. She is very much into pet adoption, where you go and you find a dog or a cat that no one wants and you bring them home. She has adopted more than 130 cats. So, wow, I would love to go to her house!

Our next topic is also another one of our series, this time not on famous Americans but on famous songs. Today, we’re going to talk about a traditional spiritual. A “spiritual” (spiritual) is a religious song. Usually, when you say “spiritual,” you’re referring specifically to songs that were sung by the black or African American community, in particular the African Americans who were slaves back in the 19th century.

The spiritual I want to talk about today is “Dem Bones.” “Dem” (dem) isn’t a real word in English. It is how many of the slaves, however, pronounced the word “them,” and the title really means those bones – “Dem Bones.” Sometimes people call this song “Dry Bones” or “Dem Dry Bones.”

The lyrics or words of the song come from the Bible, specifically one section of the Bible: Ezekiel chapter 37, verses 1 through 14. Ezekiel was one of the prophets of the Jewish people in what Christians call the Old Testament of the Bible. A “prophet” (prophet) is someone who told the people – the community – the will of God, what God wanted from them. In the verses of the song, the prophet visits somewhere called the Valley of Dry Bones. A “valley” is a space – a place in between two mountains. This is called the Valley of the Dry Bones, and God’s command – God’s will – will make those dead bones come alive. In other words, God, and here in the Christian religion, Jesus Christ will come down on Earth and bring these bones alive. Of course, the central belief in the Christian religion is that God came down to Earth as Jesus Christ, and it was because of Jesus Christ’s own death that we will continue to live after we die in another world. The dead will “rise,” that is, they will come alive again at the end of the world when Jesus returns.

Although this song was originally a spiritual, at least when I was growing up, it was only the second part of the song that was used with children, and taught to children, and it was really taught as part of a game, where children would touch different parts of their body and identify them. But the song begins with a very religious or spiritual meaning.

Here’s the chorus, or main part of the song. It’s very simple. [Jeff sings]

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

It just says, “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,” and then ends with, “Now hear the word of the Lord.” Again, a prophet is telling people to listen to him because he’s giving them the word of God – the word of the Lord.

The second part of the song is the part that I was familiar with growing up, and it is a song that talks about the different bones of the body and how they’re connected. For example, it might be something like: [Jeff sings]

The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone,
The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone,
The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

When we were singing it as children, though, we never said the “Now hear the word of the Lord,” we just named all the bones in the body. So, the toe bone is connected to the foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the leg bone, the leg bone is connected to the knee bone, and then you would have the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone connected to the hip bone, the hip bone connected to the – I don’t know – backbone, and so forth, until you get to the top, where you have your head bone. That was the song that we learned, without the part “Now hear the word of the Lord.” But the original song did have that because it was, again, a spiritual song with religious meaning. I’m guessing there are a lot of people like me, who never knew there was a religious aspect – a religious part of this song. Or maybe I’m just stupid? Don’t answer that question!

The song was written by James Johnson in the late 19th century – the late 1800s, or perhaps in the early 20th century. It has been used in many different places. Many different musicians have recorded it or used it as part of their songs. It even appeared on the show The Simpsons. We talked about the animated TV show The Simpsons back on English Café 59 and again on Café 205.

Most of the other cultural references – most of the other times you will hear references to this song will probably be the children’s version, not the spiritual version.

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

Our first question comes from Manuel (Manuel) in Mexico. Manuel wants to know the difference between two phrasal verbs: “straighten out” and “straighten up.”

“Straighten (straighten) up (up)” usually means, or can mean, to behave better, to do things in a better way, to stop acting bad. Or, if you’re doing things wrong in your life, to start doing them right: “I want you to straighten up. I want you to stop being so lazy and do your homework.” “The student decided to straighten up.” You could also say, in the same instance, “straighten out.” “The student had a lot of problems, he was going to straighten out his life.” I would say that “straighten up” is perhaps a little more common when we’re talking about a person reforming – that is, changing their life for the better, behaving better.

“To straighten up” can also mean to clean up, especially when we’re referring to a room in the house: “I need to straighten up my bedroom.” I mean I need to clean it up; I need to make it so it looks nicer. Once again, you could also say “straighten out” here. But “straighten out” usually means you have a bunch of things that are perhaps connected together in ways that aren’t very clean or that are very confusing. We might use it in talking about, for example, a telephone cord or an electrical cord that is wrapped around something else or is in a bunch of little circles, and you want to make it so that it is flat and long: “I’m going to straighten out this cord.” You wouldn’t say “straighten up” there, you would only say “straighten out.”

“Straighten out” is also used when we talk about fixing a problem, or telling someone who’s confused about something what the real story is. “I’m confused about this. Could you straighten me out?” Could you tell me where I am wrong? Could you make things less confusing for me? That’s “straighten out.”

“Straighten up” can also mean to physically stand up straighter. If you are perhaps bending your body a little bit forward, and someone says, “Straighten up,” they mean to make sure that your head is as high as it can be, straight up into the air.

So, “straighten up” or “straighten out” can have the same meaning when we’re talking about behaving better or cleaning something up. I should mention, though, that when we talk about straightening up a room or straightening out a mess in a room, we don’t mean cleaning the whole room completely and thoroughly. We mean just doing very light cleaning, so that things that perhaps had fallen on the ground are picked up and put back where they belong. “Straighten out” can mean to fix a misunderstanding or a problem, or to make something straight that has become twisted or wrapped around another object. “To straighten up” can mean to physically stand taller, to stand straighter.

Our next question comes from Anastasiya (Anastasiya) in Belarus. The question has to do with the meaning of the word “trippin’” or “tripping” (tripping). “Tripping” can mean a couple of different things. Well, let’s start with “trip” (trip). A “trip” is a journey; it’s when you travel somewhere, usually for something fun. “We’re going to take a trip to Japan. We’re going to visit Tokyo and Kyoto, and eat a lot of good fish, sushi, and Japanese food.” We’re going to take a trip.

“Trip” can also mean something very different; it can mean an experience caused by some sort of drug that causes what we refer to as “hallucinations,” when you experience or feel things that aren’t real, that aren’t really happening. So for example, if you take certain kinds of drugs, like LSD, that would cause you to probably have some sort of “trip,” some sort of hallucinations, where you perhaps think something is happening to your body, or that someone is eating your leg, or something strange. I don’t know; I’ve never actually taken any drugs that would give me hallucinations. Although in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, I did go to a Pink Floyd laser light show. This is where you would go to a movie theater late at night, like midnight, and they would play the music of the rock band Pink Floyd, usually from The Dark Side of the Moon album, and they would have these weird laser lights that would be on the screen. It was kind of like a drug trip, I guess, I don’t know. I think you would enjoy it more if you, in fact, had taken drugs before going to the laser light show! But, I digress – that is, I’m getting off our main topic here.

Back to Anastasiya’s question. So, a “trip” can also be this strange drug experience you have. “Trippin’” or “tripping” – if you say “trippin’” usually you spell it without the “g,” that’s an informal way. “Tripping,” pronounced that way, with a “g,” is the correct way. “Tripping” means having one of these drug experiences. Sometimes people say “tripping out,” it means the same thing.

However, when we use this now in common conversation – not like when it was used back in the 1970s, but now in the 21st century – we usually mean that we think someone is wrong; we think that they are mistaken, that they’ve made a big mistake after they tell us something we think is wrong. So, someone says, “Oh, I’m rich. I have a hundred dollars,” and you say, “You’re rich? You’re tripping! You don’t even have enough money to pay your rent this month. That’s not very much money.” Or you might say, “You like that terrible movie?” or “that horrible song by Andrea Bocelli? Oh, you’re trippin’! Something wrong with you!” It’s sort of like you must be taking drugs if you think that that was good.

Finally, Leonardo (Leonardo) from Italy, of course, wants to know the meaning of a phrase in a Madonna song, which is “to get into the groove.” [Jeff sings] “Get into the groove / You make me…” how’s that go? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s from some terrible Madonna song. The question it is about the meaning, of course, not about my opinion of Madonna songs.

“To get into the groove” (groove) is an expression meaning to do something well, usually something you’ve done before, so that you start doing things automatically, without thinking about it, because you’ve practiced it so many times. “To get into the groove” can also mean to start listening to music and dancing to the rhythm of the music. It’s that second meaning that Madonna is using when she says “get into the groove.” She’s inviting someone to dance with her, and perhaps do something more, I’m not sure. However, “get into the groove” usually is not referring to music or anything related to Madonna, but more the first meaning I gave, which is to be performing something well that you’ve done before that you practiced a lot.

There’s another expression related to this: “to get your groove back.” “To get your groove back” means to get back to a place where you’re performing better than you are now. You used to be very good, for example, at playing tennis. But then you stopped playing for several years, and now you want to start playing again. You want to get your groove back; you want to get back to where you were before, where you were a good player. There was a book called How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan that was made into a movie I believe in the late 90s that has that same meaning, “to get your groove back.”

If you have some confusion in English you’d like us to straighten out, 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.

Glossary
big break – the moment when someone suddenly finds success and fame; the moment when one receives an important opportunity for success and fame

* Jeremy got his big break when two of the team’s players got hurt and he was asked to play in the most important game of the season.

to be cast – for an actor or actress to be selected to act in a particular role for a movie, show, or play

* Leonora is often cast as a teenager because of her youthful appearance.

sitcom – situation comedy; a series of humorous shows using the same main characters in each episode

* Which is your favorite sitcom: Friends, Seinfeld, or MASH?

eponymous – for someone to give his or her name to the title of something, such as a show, book, or film

* Jeff’s eponymous CD of his original songs is number one on the music charts.

newsroom – a business that produces news for a newspaper, magazine, or television show

* The entire newsroom was working on articles about the fires near the city.

opening sequence – the series of images viewers see and the music viewers hear each time a television show begins

* I never get tired of watching the opening sequence of The Simpsons because I like seeing my favorite character, Homer Simpson.

encouraging – giving someone hope, support, or confidence; to give support and advice to someone so that they will be able to continuing doing something

* The encouraging words of Ki’s teacher made it possible for him to finish high school despite his difficult home life.

awfully – very; very much

* It’s awfully nice of you to help me move this sofa to my sister’s house.

diabetes – a disease where the body has difficulty changing food into energy, which results in having a dangerously high amount of sugar in the blood

* Her entire family has diabetes, so Jenny is very careful about the foods she eats.

spiritual – a religious song sung by African American slaves

* The church was filled with the sound of spirituals during the church service.

prophet – a person who is able to know and to tell others what God wants, or what God wants to see happen

* We all believed in the prophet Jeremiah and followed his instructions about how to please God.

to rise – to become alive again; to be restored to life

* Do you believe that after death, you will rise and go to heaven?

straighten up – to behave better; to reform; to clean up; to tidy up; to stand up straighter

* Bethany’s father told her that if she didn’t straighten up and do better in school, he would take away her cell phone.

straighten out – to behave better; to reform; to clean up; to tidy up; to make a twisted, wrinkled, or knotted thing straight; to fix a problem or misunderstanding

* Monique and Bo’s argument was based on a misunderstanding. They straightened it all out.

tripping – having a drug experience, especially if it includes hallucinations; imagining something that isn’t there

* When Caroline was tripping, she thought she saw a giant elephant in her room.

to get/fall into the groove – to be performing or doing something well, especially after a period of getting used to or learning how to do something; to find a pattern, routine, or method that works well, usually after some period of practice or trying something out

* At first, Lamar had trouble with his new duties as manager, but after a couple of weeks, he got/fell into the groove of his new job.

to get into the groove – to listen to and to start moving/dancing to music

* The party started, the music played, and people got into the groove.

What Insiders Know
Nicknames for Doctors

Americans like to give each other “nicknames” (a familiar name that someone is known by other than their real name), so it’s not surprising that the most common “professions” (fields of work; jobs) also have nicknames. One profession that has “inspired” (caused others to create) a lot of nicknames is the doctor.

Common nicknames you’ll hear for medical doctors are “MD” or “GP.” “MD” is short for “Doctor of Medicine” and doctors with this “degree” (academic qualification, having completed medical school) list these two letters after their names to show that they are medical doctors. Some doctors are also “GPs”. “GP” stands for “General Practitioner,” which means that he or she is a family doctor, “treating” (giving medical care to) anyone of any age. Both “MD” and “GP” are commonly used when talking about doctors.

More informal nicknames for doctors include “sawbones” and “white coat.” The nickname “sawbones” is an old-fashioned nickname for “surgeons,” who are doctors who specialize in cutting into the body to perform operations. Sometimes this nickname is shortened to just “bones,” as in the original Star Trek television series. On that show, the “spaceship’s” (vehicle used for flying in space’s) doctor, Dr. Leonard McCoy, is sometimes called “Bones.” The nickname “white coat” comes from the long white coats doctors traditionally wear while “on duty” (working).

Less “complementary” (expressing praise or approval) nicknames for doctors include “pill-pusher” and “quack.” A “pusher” is someone who sells illegal drugs, urging people to try and to become “addicted to” (reliant on; can’t live without) those drugs. If someone calls a doctor a “pill-pusher,” he or she is “implying” (meaning) that the doctor recommends medication unnecessarily or gives treatment that isn’t necessary. A “quack” is someone who pretends to have medical knowledge that he or she does not possess. A quack may be someone who pretends to have medical degrees or qualifications they don’t have, or simply claims to be able to cure an illness but cannot.