Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

348 Topics: American Presidents - Ulysses S. Grant; James Beard and the James Beard Foundation Awards; limit versus border versus confine; sound; life-affirming

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 348.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 348. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Download a Learning Guide on our website, you can do that by becoming a member of ESL Podcast. You can also buy one of our special courses in business and daily English by going to the website. And, why not follow us on Twitter @eslpod, or like us on Facebook, at Facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on American Presidents; we’re going to talk about our 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant. We’re also going to talk about a famous chef, someone who cooks, by the name of James Beard, and the James Beard Foundation Awards. 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 American Presidents. Today we’re going to talk about the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. He was born on April 27th, 1822 in Point Pleasant Ohio. His parents had named him Hiram Ulysses Grant. But when he was a young man, a Congressman sponsored his application for the United States Military Academy at West Point. I talked about that back in English Café number 293. Well, on his application to this oldest and most famous military college in the United States his name was written wrong. It was written as Ulysses S. Grant instead of Hiram Ulysses Grant. But Grant, who didn’t really like his name to begin with, decided to keep that as his name, saying that the “S” didn’t stand for anything.

Grant didn’t particularly enjoy West Point. When I say he didn’t “particularly” (particularly) enjoy it, I mean he didn’t enjoy it very much. When he graduated in 1843, he didn’t plan on continuing military service beyond the obligated duty, or the period of time he would be required to serve in return for having been allowed to study at West Point. What the military services still do, to this day, if you go to one of their colleges – one of their academies – you have to agree to continue to be a soldier in that military service for a certain number of years after you graduate. Or, if the military helps pay you to go to another college, you have to do the same thing. This is a way for, at least some people, of being able to go to college when they don’t have enough money to do so. The government – the Army or the Navy or one of the military services will pay your tuition, but you have to pay it back by being a member of the military service for a certain number of years.

Well, Grant didn’t do very well at West Point. He was 21st in his class of 39 students. He served in the military in the 1840s, in the Mexican-American War, a war he personally disliked. He wrote later he didn’t agree with the Mexican-American war. He was later sent to what is now the State of Washington, and then to California, which you have to understand back in the 1840s and 50s there wasn’t really a lot of people here. Some people say that he liked to drink too much, and that he started drinking heavily when he was living here in California.

Eventually he resigned from the Army – he quit the Army, and he tried to work as a number of different things. He tried to be a farmer, he tried to be a businessman, but he wasn’t very successful at these other things. He spent seven years as a civilian. A “civilian” (civilian) is someone who does not work for the military – I should say someone who is not in the military, who is not a member of the military. So the world can be divided into people who are in the military and civilians, people who are not in the military. Well, Grant was a civilian for seven years.

In 1860 he moved to a small town in Illinois to work in a business with his brothers. Now that small town, Galena, Illinois, is located in the northwest part of the state. Illinois, itself, is located in the central northern part of the U.S. It’s just south of Wisconsin, just east of Iowa, and just west of Indiana. I mentioned Galena, Illinois because I have a connection to that little town. The first McQuillans who came over from Ireland in the 1840s, the first place that they settled – the first place that they decided to live was Galena, Illinois. And so, to this day, I still have some distant cousins who live in Galena, Illinois. In fact I’ve been there several times, I know the town pretty well. There is a museum with the home of Ulysses S. Grant that you can visit if you go to Galena.

Well, Grant was living in Galena when the Civil War began, and he immediately began to recruit volunteers for the Northern, what we sometimes call the Union Army. Remember in the Civil War, the northern states fought against the southern states. The southern states were trying to become their own country, to separate themselves from the United States, in part so that they could protect their right to own slaves. Grant, through some political connections – through some political influence, was quickly made a general in this war, the war against the southern states, which we sometimes refer to as the Confederacy. Although he had some problems with alcohol, Grant was an excellent general in the Civil War. Eventually he became the commanding General of the Army, beginning in 1864. It was his plan that defeated, militarily, the southern army of General Robert E. Lee. And, it was his troops that defeated Lee in the final battles of the war. Eventually, the Confederacy surrendered, or admitted they had lost the war, and it was Grant, who many people called simply U.S. Grant, who was the winning general. Some people called Grant “Sam,” in fact that was one of his nicknames in college, from “Uncle Sam.” “U.S.” stands for Uncle Sam, who is sort of this representative figure of the United States.

In any case, Grant was now a war hero, someone who many people admired. When President Lincoln was killed – was assassinated, Grant went to Washington to be at the funeral. He was a very popular man in the country, and he continued to work in Washington, D.C. under the new president, President Johnson. He actually served briefly as the Secretary of War under Johnson, who we would now call the Secretary of Defense.

Grant, as I said, was quite popular. He became the presidential candidate for the Republican Party, that was the party of Lincoln, in 1868, and he ended up beating a former governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, in the elections. It was a close election, but Grant won the election and became president at the age of 46. He was, when he was elected, the youngest president to be elected to that office, at least until John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. This was also the first time that Grant had ever been elected to anything. It was his first public office; he had never been a senator, a representative, not even a governor or a mayor before he became president. He went from being general to being president. That has happened a couple of times in American history, most recently with Dwight Eisenhower, who was president during the 1950s and before that a famous general in the Second World War. Although he was not experienced, he was a fairly good president. He served two four-year terms. He won election again in 1872 against a newspaper editor, a man who is also famous in American history, Horace Greeley.

During his time as president, from 1869 to 1877 he played an important role in what we now call “Reconstruction.” “To construct (something)” is to build it; “to reconstruct” it is to build something again that has been destroyed. And in this case, what had been destroyed was the economy and the political structures in the southern part of the United States. We often talk, in American history, about the period of Reconstruction, focusing mostly on the south, although of course the northern states also needed a lot of help.

In general, Grant was kind to many of the southern Confederate soldiers, giving them “amnesty,” or forgiveness for what they had done, so they didn’t have to worry about being arrested. One of the great problems in any civil war is what happens when one side wins. Do you forgive the other side, or do you arrest them as enemies? Well, Grant wisely, many people say, decided to grant amnesty to Confederate soldiers, to say it was okay, they were forgiven if you will.

Grant did many things, also, to help African Americans, and Reconstruction was an important part of bringing the former slaves into the political and economic system of the country. He signed bills or helped pass laws encouraging voting rights for African Americans, especially in the south. He fought against the Ku Klux Klan, or the KKK as it is sometimes called, which is a violent racist organization I talked about in English Café number 308.

Grant was a fairly successful president, but he did have some problems. In 1873 there was an international economic crisis, a depression called the Panic of 1873. Many large American banks had problems. The New York Stock Exchange, where people buy and sell partial ownership in other companies – stocks, was closed for 10 days during this crisis. Businesses closed; there were a lot of people who lost their jobs. Grant didn’t have a lot of experience in finance, and some people say that his inability to help the United States, the fact that he didn’t have a lot of experience helped mar his reputation. “To mar” (mar) means to harm something or make something less attractive. It’s a verb we often use when someone’s reputation, what other people think of them, has become somehow hurt or damaged. And that’s what happened, unfortunately, to Grant. It happens to all presidents eventually.

His international policies were also sometimes not successful. He had the idea of annexing the Dominican Republic, an island south of the United States in the Caribbean. He failed. “To annex” (annex) means to simply take over part of someone else’s land and make it part of your country.

When Grant left office – when he stopped being president in 1877, he and his wife traveled internationally for almost two years. It was quite a trip they took, or a series of trips. He and his wife went to England and met Queen Victoria, as well as the famous British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. In Germany they met Otto von Bismarck, one of the great political figures of Germany in the 19th century. They also went to Japan and met the emperor. In all of these places they were, for the most part, warmly received. That is, peopled admired Grant for his victory in the Civil War, and they considered him something of a hero.

Grant came back to the United States and tried to become president again. At this time, it was possible to be president more than two times. It is no longer possible; you can only be president twice now, but that was not the law back then. Grant was not successful, however. He did not win the approval of the Republican Party, and so he was not their candidate. He was not nominated, we would say, for the presidency. Instead, that nomination went to James Garfield.

Grant needed money after his travels abroad. He tried to establish some businesses, but he, as we saw earlier, was not a very good businessman. He got involved in an investment partnership, but he lost all of his money; one of the people in the partnership stole a lot of money. Grant was basically destitute at this time. When we say someone was “destitute” (destitute) we mean they have basically no money. Because he was president, Grant did not get money for being a general; that was the law back then. However, Congress decided to give him a “pension,” that is money he could retire on. He tried to make money by writing; he wrote several articles and he also wrote his memoirs. “Memoirs” (memoirs) are books or a book about your life; we also call these “autobiographies.” He asked one of his friends, a man by the name of Mark Twain, the famous writer, to help them publish the books, and he did publish the books and it helped him make some money. However, Grant had gotten throat cancer and he died when he was only 65 years old, in 1885. A large memorial and tomb for Grant was built in New York City, you can still visit it. It’s quite large, quite impressive. It’s located in Riverside Park in Manhattan. The tomb was dedicated and finally used – that is, they put Grant’s body in the tomb in 1897. There were over a million people who came to the ceremony, including then-President McKinley.

Many people, I have to say, know about U.S. Grant as a general and as a president. But most of us growing up in the United States in the last 50 years or so also know of a famous joke about U.S. Grant and his tomb. The comedian Groucho Marx, back in the 1950s had a television show. It was a quiz show, where they asked people questions – knowledge questions, and one of Groucho Marx’s questions was “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Of course, the obvious answer is Grant. It’s supposed to be a silly, funny question that you don’t really need to think about to know the answer.

Let’s now turn briefly to our second topic, which is not a general, but a “chef,” someone who cooks food. This chef’s name is James Beard. James Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, in the northwest part of the United States, back in 1903. Beard started his own catering company. A “catering company” is a company that cooks food for parties and other special events. He published a cookbook with his recipes, the instructions on how to make his food, but he’s most famous for being on a television show in the 1940s. That show was called I Love to Eat, and on it he showed people how to make certain kinds of food. He was, in fact, the first person on national television – and remember television was very young in those days, it was just really starting – he was the first person to have a cooking show, and he became very famous because of his cooking show.

He also started his own cooking school, and he ended up influencing a lot of other chefs including Julia Child, one of the most famous chefs in 20th century America. Like Julia Child, he is associated with French cooking, bringing the French style of cooking to American cuisine. “Cuisine” (cuisine) refers to the food – the kind of food that people eat and how they prepare the food. He emphasized the importance of cooking with fresh ingredients, and became quite famous, as I say, for his work. It was really his television show which helped start a large number of large number of popular television shows later on, such as Top Chef, which is a popular cooking show in the United States.

James Beard died in 1985; he was 81 years old. But he’s probably more famous even now than he was in the 1940s and 50s. That’s because there is a James Beard Foundation, an organization that gives money to young chefs to help train them, for their education. More importantly, beginning in 1991 the foundation started to give awards to the best chefs in the United States, and in different areas of the United States, and for different kinds of cooking. Now if you hear someone described as a James Beard Award winner, you know this is one of the best chefs in the United States or in that area of the United States. I’m pretty sure I will never win a James Beard Award, but you never know! I can cook a pretty good hamburger.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Li (Li) in China. Li wants to know the meaning of the words “limit,” border,” and “confine.”

“Limit” (limit) can mean the point or the line that you should not cross. We might talk about the speed limit, that’s the speed that you should not exceed – you should not go faster than. “Limit” can also be used to describe the border that goes around a city. We sometimes talk about the city limits, we mean the area that is officially part of this city. Here in Los Angeles, the city limits are huge. We have a large amount of area that is part of the official City of Los Angeles. “To limit” can also be a verb, which means to restrict how much someone can do something: “I’m going to limit the number of drinks I give you because you already have had too much alcohol.”

“Border” (border) is the line – the hypothetical line, I guess we should say, that divides two pieces of land. There is a border between the United States and Canada; it’s the longest peaceful border in the world. That is, we don’t have military troops that are preparing for a Canadian invasion – not yet, anyway! We have a border between the states, we have a border between cities, and so forth. “Border” can also be used as a verb, just as “limit” can be used as a verb, to describe something that goes around the edge of something. We could talk about a garden that is bordered by trees; the trees go around the edge or the limits of the garden.

Finally, “confine,” or “confine,” is both a noun and a verb. When you say “confine,” accent on the second syllable, it’s a verb meaning to keep someone within a certain area. Often this is something that the police might do. Or if you’re in the military, they may confine you to your quarters – to your living area, so that you can’t leave your house or apartment or wherever it is you’re staying. “Confine,” with the accent on the first syllable, is a noun, typically heard in the plural “confines,” which refers, once again to the area that has a limit or a border around it. We may say, “Please stay in the confines of this house,” meaning don’t leave this area or this limit that we’ve put around an area. So all the words are somewhat similar.

Nima (Nima) in Iran wants to know how we use the word “sound.” Well, “sound” can mean a couple of different things. It can be a verb; we could say something sounds beautiful. Here we mean the sound that is made by whatever it is, let’s say a piano, is beautiful. We hear it, we listen to it and it sounds beautiful. I can say, “Well, that concert sounded wonderful.” The music sounded great.

“Sound” can also be an adjective. When we say someone has a “sound mind,” we mean that they are healthy, that it isn’t damaged, that it’s a good mind. “I have a sound mind.” Or, “I have a sound body.” Or you might say, “This board here, that you’re going to walk on, is sound.” It’s not going to break, it’s healthy, it’s not damaged.

“Sound” can also be a noun. “Sound” can refer to the noise or volume of something. We often talk about the sound of the television show or a film. Someone may say to you, “Turn the sound down.” They mean turn the volume down. Or, “Turn the sound up,” turn the volume up so that it’s louder.

So, “sound” is a verb, and when it’s used as a verb I should mention it’s always followed by an adjective: “that sounds good,” that sounds bad,” but you can never say “that sounds” period, you have to add some sort of adjective there. “Sound” as an adjective can mean healthy, undamaged. Finally, “sound” as a noun can refer to the volume level of something: a stereo, a television, a movie theater, whatever it happens to be.

There’s actually one other noun meaning for “sound,” at least one other, and that is it’s a thin body of water in between land and an island. For example, we can talk about the Long Island Sound, which is the water in between the island of Long Island and the main part of, in this case, the United States.

Finally, Norbert (Norbert), originally from Poland now living in Germany, wants to know the meaning of the expression or the phrase “life-affirming.” “Life-affirming” (affirming) means to have an attitude or to do something that emphasizes the positive parts of life, that is not sad or depressed but makes you feel better about living, makes you feel better about society and the place where you’re living and the people that you are living with. It’s a term that is sometimes used to describe a book or a movie that has a happy ending and you feel wow, that was…that was wonderful, that was emotionally moving, it made me feel good about life. Sometimes people use this term in a religious context to talk about a life-affirming week of prayer or a life-affirming religious retreat, where you go and separate yourself from other people and be with a small group of people or perhaps even by yourself in an area that allows you to think and have quiet time. No cell phones!

If you have a question and would like a life-affirming answer email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. You’ll feel better about your English, and better about life!

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.

particularly – especially; very much

* This restaurant serves pretty good spaghetti, but it’s not particularly special in any way.

civilian – a person who does not work in the military; someone who is not a soldier or officer in the military

* Many civilians were killed during the attack on the city.

to surrender – to admit defeat; to officially say that one has lost a battle or war

* This war will only end when one side surrenders and lays down its weapons.

Reconstruction – the period of time after the U.S. Civil War when the country had to work hard to rebuild itself and unite the northern and southern states

* The Reconstruction was especially difficult in the southern states because of the extensive damage to the land.

amnesty – official forgiveness for what one has done, so that one does not need to worry about being arrested or otherwise punished for one’s actions

* Those people who fled to Canada to avoid fighting in the war were finally given amnesty 50 years later.

to mar – to harm something; to make something less attractive

* This flaw in the diamond mars its beauty and reduces its value.

to annex – to make an area of land part of a country; to officially make a territory part of a country

* These demonstrators are protesting because they don’t want their land to be annexed by another country.

destitute – having little or no money; being very poor; being without the basic needs of life, such as food and a home

* Our organization helps destitute mothers who want a job, but have to care for their children, too.

memoir – a book one writes about one’s own life; autobiography

* Delores made costumes for movies for over 50 years, and after she retired wrote a memoir about her experience meeting some of the biggest film stars.

catering company – a company that provides food and service for parties and other events

* At our wedding, the catering company forgot to bring the champagne and we had to buy several bottles at the store for the first toast.

cuisine – foods people eat and how they prepare them; food cooked in a certain way; food found in a particular area or group of people

* Do you prefer northern Chinese cuisine or Chinese cuisine from the southern regions?

foundation – a nonprofit organization that gives money to individuals or other organizations working in a particular field, usually to improve social conditions

* The foundation that Matt works for helps out-of-work factory workers get training for other types of jobs.

limit – a point or line that can not or should not be crossed; the final end of time or space; the edge of the city, or the city border

* Karla reached the limit of her patience after waiting 20 minutes on the phone to speak to a bank representative about a mistake in her bank statement.

border – a line that separates two areas, usually between two pieces of land; a line that goes around the edge of something else

* It’s a good idea to bring your passport with you if you plan to cross the border into Canada.

confine – the area around where someone or something is being kept; someone or something within a defined border

* The prisoner was allowed to go outside, but he was not allowed to go beyond the confines of the military yard.

sound – the vibrations that travel through the air and reaches one’s ear; healthy and undamaged

* Aaron woke up when he heard a sound in the kitchen, but it was only his cat.

life-affirming – an attitude or activity that emphasizes the positive parts of life

* Have you read this book? It’s a life-affirming novel about the importance of family and close friends.

What Insiders Know
Popular Cook-Offs

A “cook-off” is a cooking “competition” (contest) in which a lot of people make the same type of food. The food is then tasted and “evaluated” (judged) by a group of “professional chefs” (people who are paid to cook) or by “the public” (regular people; not professional cooks). The food that tastes best to the judges or the public wins a prize that usually “consists of” (includes) money or a “trophy” (a small plastic or metal statue given to the winner of a contest or competition).

One of the most popular types of cook-offs is the “chili cook-off.” Chili is a type of thick soup or stew with meat, spices, and red peppers, and sometimes beans. Chili cook-offs are very popular in the summer, and are often held at outdoor “gatherings” (events where people get together socially).

Another type of cook-off that is popular in the parts of the United States near water, such as near oceans and lakes, is the “seafood cook-off.” In this type of competition, cooks make “dishes” (food) with things that one would find in the sea or the ocean, such as fish, shrimp, and crab. Louisiana is “famous” (well-known) for its seafood cook-offs, since it is located near the “Gulf of Mexico,” a body of water that is part of the Atlantic Ocean, with the U.S. to the north and Mexico to the west and south.

There are also other cook-offs that are called “barbecues” in which people cook their food on an outdoor “grill” (a device used to heat and cook food using fire and hot “coals,” black rocks that burn and can hold heat). Some of the things cooked in these competitions are hamburgers, “hotdogs” (long, thin sausages usually made with chicken, beef, and/or pork), or “smoked vegetables” (vegetables cooked using the heat and smoke that comes from the grill).