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345 Topics: Famous Americans - Magic Johnson; the role of ham radio operators in the U.S.; understanding versus knowledge versus acquaintance; below the waist and below the belt; earth to (someone)

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 345.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 345. 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. Yes, you can download a Learning Guide when you go there just by becoming a member of ESL Podcast; you will also help keep this podcast alive – keep me alive! If you don’t become a member, I might not be alive next week, so go to our website and become a member.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on a famous basketball player, Magic Johnson. We’re also going to talk about ham or amateur radio operators in the United States. 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 man named Earvin Johnson, Jr., although if you’ve heard of him you probably know him better as Magic Johnson. He’s retired now – he is no longer playing basketball, but he was for many years a basketball player right here in Los Angeles for our professional basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you come to Los Angeles you may wonder where are all the lakes. If it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, how come there are no lakes in Los Angeles? Well, there are a couple lakes, but not very many. Actually, the team was originally from Minnesota – from Minneapolis, which is known as the City of Lakes, because, like Minnesota, there are many lakes in the area, and it was called the Minneapolis Lakers. Then they moved to Los Angeles, but they kept the name Lakers, and there’s your explanation. Well, Magic Johnson was a basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, which is part of the National Basketball Association or the NBA.

Obviously Johnson, if you’ve heard of him, you know he is a very good basketball player. As a young boy, he played basketball in Lansing, Michigan, where he was born. Michigan is located in the eastern central part of the United States. It’s between, say, Wisconsin and – well, Canada to the east, but Pennsylvania I guess – Ohio Pennsylvania, those states. It’s north of Indiana, if that helps. And it probably doesn’t!

When Johnson was young he played college basketball at Michigan State University. He actually was studying communications there. Communications is one of those college majors that no one really knows exactly what they do, but they have the major and people study it. I guess people who go into like journalism, some of them, study communications. Anyway, Johnson was drafted when he was in college into the NBA. “To be drafted” (drafted) means that you are invited to come and play for a team. Usually they give you lots of money if you will come and play for them.

In 1979, which was his first year playing for the Lakers, Johnson received the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. That’s an award given to the player who’s the most important on the team. He went on to help the team win “championships,” games where they were the best team in the entire league; the “league” would be all of the teams combined. His basketball stats are impressive. When we say “stats,” and we’re talking especially about a sports star, we mean their “statistics,” which is the numbers that represent how well they played: how many points they scored, how often they scored, how many games they played. All of those would be part of a player’s stats – their numbers.

In 1991 Johnson surprised everyone by retiring from basketball rather abruptly. “Abruptly” (abruptly) means unexpectedly. People didn’t expect that to happen. He was still a great player; he was still considered very valuable. Well later, he announced that the reason he was retiring is that he was HIV-positive. You probably know HIV, which is the human immunodeficiency virus, is a condition that can cause AIDS. You don’t automatically get AIDS if you’re HIV-positive. There are people who are HIV-positive who do not get sick with AIDS.

Even though Johnson was HIV-positive, he continued to be healthy, and so he played basketball again in 1992. This caused some problems. Some players thought that because he had the disease they might somehow catch the disease. They might become HIV-positive and get AIDS, though that would have been very unlikely, unless he was bleeding and they somehow got his blood into their blood. Anyway, Johnson was a very successful player again in 1992. He won the “MVP Award,” the Most Valuable Player Award.

In 1992, Johnson also played basketball in the Olympics. The American team, you may remember if you’re old enough, was called the Dream Team in 1992. It had some great basketball players of that time: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and, of course, Magic Johnson. Many people think that team was perhaps the best team of any sport anywhere that played together.

However, other NBA players continued to complain about having to play with Johnson, who was HIV-positive. So he retired again – he stopped playing – and began to do a lot of other things. He wrote a book about what we call “safe sex,” ways of having sexual relations without getting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, what we call “STD.” He was also a TV news “commentator,” a person who would be on the television broadcast of sports and give his opinion about what was happening. Here in Los Angeles, though, he’s really known now as a businessman. He began to start businesses and invest money in businesses, especially in poor areas of Los Angeles, especially in what we used to call South Central Los Angeles; we now called it South Los Angeles. He started a lot of businesses, he built a famous movie theater in that part of town, and is considered to be successful businessman now in Los Angeles, and someone who has helped the community by his business investments. He’s especially well liked in the African American or black community; he himself, you may know, is African American.

Well, in 1996 Johnson again surprised everyone, he returned to playing basketball. He started again to play for the Lakers when he was 36 years old. He retired for the third and last time, however, unless he decides to play basketball again. He’s now 52, that seems unlikely. He probably won’t start playing professional basketball again, but you never know, meaning no one knows, it’s hard to say.

Johnson continues to work as an HIV “activist,” someone who is working for a certain cause – for a certain belief. He has tried to get more money for AIDS research and to make people more aware – make people understand better what HIV and AIDS are all about.

Johnson says that he is continuing to take a combination of medicines – of drugs – to keep his HIV in check. When we say you “keep (something) in check” we mean you’re controlling it so that it doesn’t get worse; it doesn’t get so serious that it could kill you, in this case.

Well, we mentioned Magic Johnson majored in communications, and our next topic is about communications, but a different kind of communications. I want to talk briefly about amateur radio, which is sometimes called “ham (ham) radio.” “Ham” is normally the meat we get from a pig. But today, we’re going to talk about people who enjoy operating radios and communicating with people all over the world with a radio.

Ham radio was started in the United States after World War I. Throughout the 1920s, ham radio became popular, especially with people who were in the technical or engineering fields. Ham radio, just like all kinds of radio communication, uses different frequencies to communicate. On a ham radio, you can talk to someone who’s in your town, you could also talk to someone who’s in another part of the world. And, before the days of even telephones, at least common use of telephones and certainly long before the days of the Internet, one of the few ways that you could communicate with people at large distances – at long distances – was using radio waves. Just like we listen to radio in your car or wherever you are, well, you could also be the person who’s talking and communicating with someone else. And, although there are government and professional groups that have radio communication like this, there are also a group of people we call “amateurs,” people who are not professionals in the radio business, but like to communicate. Ham radio gives people an opportunity to communicate. Before the Internet, it was one of the few ways you could easily communicate with people all over the world.

I know lot about ham radio because I am a ham radio operator. I’m not very active, but back in the 1970s when I was in grade school, my father got interested in amateur radio – in ham radio. He wasn’t an engineer or someone with a lot of technical knowledge; he was a schoolteacher. But we decided, he and I, to take this up as a hobby – as something to do for fun. And so, back in, oh, I guess it was 1975-1976, I was 12 years old, and I was able to get a ham radio license, along with my father. A “license” is official permission from the government to have this radio and to use it to communicate with other people.

When you get your amateur radio license, or any radio license, you’re given what’s called a “call sign.” A “call (call) sign (sign)” is a series of letters and numbers that identifies you. Every country has a different set of letters that it can use as part of their official call signs. All television stations, all radio stations have call signs. In the United States we have W, we have K, and we have N; we also have part of the A’s. Other countries have different call signs. If you’re in Germany, Germany has DA to DR, I think. Great Britain has G, France has F, and so forth. And, if you’re not in the United States, your country also has call signs. These calls signs are assigned or given by the International Telecommunications Union, which is the international organization that regulates or controls radio transmissions – radio call signs throughout the world.

Well, amateur radio operators transmit or send out radio signals, and so they must have a call sign also. My call sign is K0BK; my original call sign was WB0VYN. And, in the United States, the area of the United States is divided into different sections. Zero is the area in the Midwest part of the United States, and since that’s where I got my license that’s my amateur radio call sign, even after – wow, how long has it been? 1975 – 25, 35, 37 years I’ve been an amateur radio operator, since the age of 12.

I was very active when I first started back in junior high school. I used talk to people all over the world: people in the Soviet Union – what was then the Soviet Union, people in South America, people in Africa. Of course, I only spoke English, and so I could only talk to people who spoke English. But it was an amazing opportunity for a young boy to go down into the basement and be able to talk to somebody in a different part of the world. Maybe that’s what I like so much now about the Internet and being able to communicate with people all over the world, as you can. In fact, this podcast, in a way I guess, is sort of an extension of that idea, part of that idea of communicating to people in hundreds of different countries. More than 220 countries, I think, receive our podcast or have downloaded it.

But amateur radio, then, is a way of communicating without the Internet, and in times of emergencies when there’s no telephone communications, amateur radio operators can still communicate, using their radios with emergency power. And, in fact, that’s the main reason why the government wants to have amateur radio operators, because when there is an emergency they want people who can communicate using their amateur radio equipment. Unfortunately, I don’t have any amateur radio equipment now; I haven’t been very active in the last few years, but I still have my license.

Now, to get a license – an amateur radio license in the United States, back in the 70s it was necessary for you to take a test of your electronic knowledge – of your knowledge of radios and communication devices or equipment. Back then you also had to know Morse code, the code that has dots and dashes that can be used to communicate when you don’t have voice communication. You’ve heard Morse code, I’m sure. “Da-da-da-dit-da-da-da-da,” that would be an example of Morse code. Anyway, amateur radio operators are licensed in part not just so they can have fun, but so they can help in emergency communication situations.

Sometimes the government has suspended amateur radio privileges, the right for people to use amateur radios. “To suspend” means to stop for a certain amount of time. During World War II, for example, you were not allowed to operate amateur radios.

There are probably amateur radio operators in almost every country – most countries. They “rise to prominence” or they become important, as I mentioned earlier, when we have unfortunately these natural disasters: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, things that tend to “wipe out” or destroy other means of communication. And, even in our day of cell phones, and iPhones, and iPads, and Internet, amateur radio is still a useful technology – a useful hobby for cases when you have these emergencies.

I mentioned that my father got interested in amateur radio back in the 70s, and got me interested. I was the only one in the family who became part of that hobby. When I was in high school and in college, I didn’t have a lot of time anymore for amateur radio. But my father continued to be active really for the next 20 years or so in amateur radio. His call sign was AA0X. Sometimes fathers and sons develop hobbies together that bring them closer, that give them an opportunity to know each other better, and amateur radio was that hobby – that activity that my father and I shared. And so, I keep my license even though I’m not active because it has that, I guess we might say, sentimental or emotional importance in my own life.

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

Our first question comes from Edward (Edward) in the Dominican Republic – la República Dominicana. The question has to do with three words: “understanding,” “acquaintance,” and “knowledge.”

“Understanding” can have a couple of different meanings; “understanding” can mean to know something, to really know something deeply, we might say. “Understanding” can also mean your own thinking about a certain topic. “It’s my understanding,” people will often say, “It’s my understanding that you want to go to Florida.” That’s what I understand. We often say this when we want to make sure that we understand correctly. Or you might say, “Is it your understanding that he doesn’t want to work here anymore?” Is that what you think; is that what you know?”

An “understanding” can also be an agreement. “We have an understanding,” meaning we have an agreement or we both agree about something, we think the same way about something.

Finally, “understanding,” as an adjective, can mean someone who is kind, who listens to others, who is patient. “The doctor was very understanding.” He listened to his patients, he was kind to them, and so forth.

So, those are all meanings of the word “understanding.” “Knowledge” is a little more specific; “knowledge” is when you know something. It’s hard to define “knowledge” without using the word “know.” “Knowledge” is, if you will, information in your brain that you possess – that you have.

“Acquaintance” is a very different word from both “understanding” and “knowledge.” “Acquaintance” is someone who you know – a person – but you don’t know very well, they’re not your friend. You know them; you may have met them a couple of times, but they’re not your friend, you just know who they are. They’re an acquaintance; you know their name, you know who they are, but you’re not particularly close to them. That’s one meaning of “acquaintance.”

There’s a second meaning of “acquaintance” that is related to the topic of understanding and knowledge, and that’s when we say that I have an acquaintance with some kind of knowledge. “I have an acquaintance with Irish history.” I’m not an expert, I know a little bit. In some ways, it is related to the first definition of “acquaintance,” where you know it but you’re not an expert at it; you know it, but you don’t know it deeply. “I have an acquaintance with that particular language, but I’m not an expert at it.” I know a little bit about it. Here, it’s almost always with the word “with,” “I have an acquaintance with (some type of knowledge).”

Our next question comes from Andrés (Andrés) from an unknown, mystery country. The question has to do with two expressions: one is “below the waist” (waist) and the second is “below the belt” (belt). Let’s start with defining “waist” and “belt.”

“Waist” is the center part of your body; it’s sort of what connects your legs to your torso – to your upper part of your body; we call that your “waist.” It’s where, if you are wearing pants, you put your pants on and they end, they cover your waist. A “belt” is a long, thin piece of leather or plastic that you put inside of the top of your pants to make them tight, so your pants don’t fall down.

Now, the expression “below the waist” just refers to everything that is from your waist to your toes. It’s not an expression, really, that we would use. I can imagine someone using it, for example, to refer to one’s sexual organs, like “he only thinks with the parts of his body below his waist,” as sort of a metaphor for someone who is overly controlled by their sexual desire. But to be honest, I haven’t really ever heard it used, so it’s not a common expression.

“Below the belt” is a common expression, and that usually means someone who is doing something in a competition or in a fight, especially in sports, that is illegal – that is not allowed. The expression comes from “boxing,” the sport where two people – men usually, but women also now box – they basically hit each other, and there are rules in boxing that say that you can’t hit down at the bottom part of the body, below the belt. You can’t punch someone in their sexual organs, for example. That would be – well, that would be uncomfortable! So, that’s against the rules. In general, the expression “below the belt” means unfair. When someone says something perhaps cruel or unkind about someone, even if it’s true, we would say that’s “below the belt,” that’s not playing by the rules, not being nice.

Another way of describing someone who – and we would probably use this expression – “hits below the belt” is “to fight dirty.” “To fight dirty” is to break the rules when you are competing with someone or when you are attacking someone.

Finally, our last question comes from Amimi (Amimi), once again from a mystery country; perhaps the, uh, same country where Andrés is from. I’m not sure, and we’ll never know! The question has to do with the expression “earth to (someone).” You may see this in a movie, you may read this, you may see it on a television. Someone will say, “Hey, earth to Lucy. Hello!” This is used when you are talking to someone who isn’t listening to you, even though they’re supposed to be; they’re distracted. Maybe they’re watching TV or checking their text messages on their phone and you are talking to them, and you may even ask them a question and they don’t even hear you because they’re not paying attention – they’re not listening to you. At that point, you would say, “Earth to (the other person).”

It probably comes from the 1960s and 70s, when the United States had an active space program. We were sending men to the moon, and in order to communicate, the astronauts – the pilots, the people who were flying these spaceships – would be using radio communication. And, of course, the people here on earth would have to communicate to them, and in order to get their attention they may say, or may have said things like, “Earth to Apollo 11,” “Earth to Apollo 13.” The name of the ships – the spaceships, at least some of them were Apollo: Apollo 1, Apollo 2, and so forth. Of course, the astronauts were far, far away from earth, and when people heard this expression – I heard the expression, probably also when I was growing up, in watching the television of these amazing events – they heard expressions like “earth to Apollo 13,” or at least we thought we heard that. And that expression, then, became one we used when someone wasn’t paying attention. “Earth to Jeff. Hello!” You’re saying pay attention, I’m talking to you, and you’re not paying attention to me. You’re like an astronaut who’s thousands of miles away, you’re not here paying attention to this conversation here on earth.

We may also use this phrase when someone isn’t really being realistic; they’re not thinking or saying something that is true – that is practical. You say, “Oh, I want to go out and buy a Rolex watch and a Mercedes-Benz,” and your wife may say to you, “Uh, earth to Andrés. We don’t have that kind of money, we don’t have money to buy those things.” Or, you may see a beautiful woman and want to go on a date with her, and you say, “Hey,” to your friend, you say, “I want to ask her out on a date. I want to see if she will go to dinner with me,” and your friend says, “Um, earth to Bill. She’s way too beautiful for you, she’ll never say yes.” That’s another example of what we might also call a “reality check.” A “reality check” is when someone says to you or you say to someone this is the real situation; you’re not being practical, you’re not being realistic.

If you’d like a greater understanding of some expression you’ve heard, 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.

drafted – selected to play on a sports team; invited by a sports team to become a member of the team; selected to serve in the military

* Jessina played well enough in college, but no professional teams drafted her after she graduated.

stats – statistics; pieces of information in the form of numbers, usually from research done on a large amount of data

* The city government is waiting for stats on the number of accidents in this area last year before deciding whether new traffic laws are needed.

abruptly – suddenly and unexpectedly; without warning or notice

* It’s unprofessional when Kevin abruptly leaves a business meeting to answer his cell phone.

MVP – most valuable player; an award given to the best player on a team, in a league (group of teams), and/or in a sport

* After scoring 52 points in one game, no one was surprised when Damon was voted MVP.

safe sex – ways to have sex while reducing the risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases

* The university doctor gave our college group a talk about safe sex.

commentator – a person who presents his or her opinions about the news; a person whose job is to comment on events as they occur or shortly afterwards

* As the ceremony began, the news commentator gave information about each member of the international committee.

to keep (something) in check – to control something so that it does not grow or so that it does not become worse

* Carl has to work in his garden at least once a week to keep the weeds in check.

ham radio – amateur radio; radio transmissions sent by people who operate radios as a hobby, often used for recreational or emergency purposes

* During the major disaster, the only form of communication available was through ham radio.

to suspend – to temporarily stop; to stop for a short time

* We need to suspend our newspaper delivery for the period of our vacation.

licensed – having official permission from the government or another organization to have or to do something

* All physical therapist have to be licensed to work in our medical office.

to rise to prominence – to become important and recognized for the work done; to become known to many people for good or important work done

* Diante’s novels only rose to prominence after his death.

to wipe out – to destroy all; to eliminate completely

* Doctors hope to wipe out this disease through medication and education.

understanding – knowing something deeply and seeing its significance; one’s personal thinking about a topic; an agreement, especially after a conflict

* I don’t plan to invest money in the stock market until I’ve developed a good understanding of how the stock market works.

knowledge – the state of knowing; the act of knowing something that has been learned or discovered

* Melissa has a lot of knowledge about gardening and can give us advice about how to improve the appearance of our yard.

acquaintance – general knowledge of a subject, not deep or specific knowledge; a person one has met but not (or not yet) made a friend

* Mo has little acquaintance with art and couldn’t tell you if a painting is by Picasso or Renoir.

below the waist – referring to the bottom part of one’s body, under one’s waist or stomach

* Jermaine has a strange body: thin above the waist, but fat below the waist.

below the belt – unfair; not according to generally accepted rules

* The politician said that the new TV commercials saying that he is dumber than a child are below the belt.

earth to (someone) – a phrase used when one is trying to talk to someone who is distracted (whose attention is not on one) and one is trying to get that person to listen to one; a phrase used when one feels the other person is not facing reality or is not being practical

* A: “Hey, earth to Peter!”

* B: “Oh, I wasn’t listening. I was watching that beautiful woman walk by.”

What Insiders Know
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Michael “Air” Jordan

Like Magic Johnson, many sports “figures” (famous people) are better known by their nickname than their “given” (real) name. Other sports figures’ names are “seldom” (not often) mentioned without also including their nicknames. Here are two “legendary” (remarkable and well known) examples.

One of the greatest baseball players who ever played the game was Joe Jackson (1887-1951). His nickname was “Shoeless Joe Jackson.” He got the nickname when, early in his “career” (years spent doing his job), he played a game wearing new “cleats” (athletic shoes with small, round pieces attached to the bottom, used for better running). The new cleats gave him “blisters” (bubbles on the skin filled with fluid (liquid)), so in the middle of a game, he took them off. He played the rest of the game in his socks. Someone sitting in the “stands” (area where people sit to watch a sporting event) noticed him playing without shoes and “heckled” (interrupted an event with a rude or unkind comment) Jackson by shouting “You ‘shoeless son of a gun’ (an insult)!” The nickname “stuck” (stayed with him) and he was called “Shoeless Joe Jackson” for the rest of his career.

Another legendary sports figure is the basketball player Michael Jordan (born 1963). His nickname is “Air Jordan.” Jordan was well known for performing “slam dunks” (a basketball move in which the player jumps in the air and pushes the ball down through the basket to score points) from the “free throw line,” a line that is 15 feet (4.6 meters) from the basket. “Air Jordan” was so popular during the “height” (highest point; best period) of his career that the Nike shoe company even used his nickname for a “line” (series of products under the same name) of very popular athletic shoes.