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350 Topics: Famous Americans - Thelonious Monk; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps); pen name; tingling versus stabbing versus burning; gringo

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 350.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 350. 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. Go there, become a member, download a Learning Guide, win a million dollars. All of that available on our website – except the million dollars!

This Café continues our series on famous Americans, focusing on the jazz musician Thelonious Monk. We’re also going to talk about something known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known in the U.S. as food stamps. 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 someone who might not be famous to you; you may not have heard of him, but if you are a jazz fan – you like jazz music – then he certainly will be famous for you. That’s because we’re going to talk about one of the giants of American music in the 20th century, Thelonious Monk. A “giant” (giant) is someone who’s very important. The word “giant” is often used in children’s stories, where you have a very large, very tall person, sometimes with magical powers. But in this context, a “giant” is simply someone who has made a major impact or had a major impact in his or her field – in his or her area. In this case, the giant is Thelonious Monk, and his area is jazz music.

Thelonious Monk was born in 1917 in the State of North Carolina in the southeastern part of the United States. Monk began playing piano when he was just six years old; he was mostly “self-taught,” meaning he taught himself; he didn’t have a teacher. He was a self-taught “pianist,” or piano player. He also played the “organ,” which is a large musical instrument typically found in a church. And, as he got older, he began playing jazz music.

Monk worked as a piano player at a nightclub – at a bar that serves alcohol and has music – in New York City, in Manhattan, the downtown area, if you will, of New York City. And while working in New York, he met a lot of important artists and jazz musicians, such famous names as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Monk enjoyed “composing” or writing music with these people, although sometimes even though he helped write the music he didn’t get credit for his work. “To get credit” (credit) means that people recognize that you are the person who helped write that music. Because Monk was composing with other musicians – he was “collaborating,” we might say, with other musicians – he sometimes didn’t get the credit that he deserved.

Monk and some of his fellow musicians, such as Charlie Parker, helped create a new style of jazz in the 1940s, what we now call “bebop” (bebop), sometimes just called “bop,” but more commonly “bebop.” Bebop music was sort of the first major modern jazz style. It was different than the traditional jazz that you heard in the 20s and 30s; it had a different sound to it. If you know something about music you know what the 12-tone or chromatic music scale is. Well, bebop music was one of the first kinds of jazz music that broke away from the traditional musical harmonies and tried something different, tried to use a different approach and a different sound to music. It resulted in some very complicated musically and harmonically improvisation. Jazz is very much about improvisation. “To improvise” (improvise) means basically to make something up, to take some pattern in the music and then do something different with it, something that you invent right there as you are playing it so that each time you play it, it will sound different because you’re doing something different with the music. Well, all jazz has improvisation as part of its tradition. But the bebop music sounded very different, and a lot of people didn’t like the sound of this new jazz music that Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and others were creating.

Not only was Monk’s music different, his appearance – the way he looked was also different. He would wear a suit, but he would also wear a “beret,” a French-style hat, and he would have sunglasses on while he was performing. He also would stop playing to stand up and dance for a little while, while the other musicians in the band were playing, and then he would sit back down at the piano and continue playing.

He began recording his music in studios in the mid-1940s, in 1944. He had what we might call an “unorthodox” style of playing the piano. “Unorthodox” is something that is very unusual, something that doesn’t fit into the traditions, and we mentioned how his bebop style of music certainly was not the same as the traditional kind of jazz music that the public was used to, and that other jazz performers were used to. He didn’t sell a lot of records when he first started recording, perhaps because his music was so different. Monk worked with a couple of different record companies – a couple of different companies that produced records – produced albums – sold music. Eventually, bebop music became popular, at least among some jazz fans, and some of Monk’s songs – some of his compositions became what we might call “jazz standards.” A “standard” is something that everyone knows, and that everyone learns, perhaps everyone plays as part of their performance – not everyone, but it becomes very popular, and some of Monk’s compositions certainly were very popular.

Later in his life, Monk stopped recording music, and he even stopped playing the piano. Some people say he may have had some sort of mental illness as he grew older in life. He died in 1982 in New Jersey.

Monk’s work became popular again about 15 years after his death in the late 1990s when they discovered some unknown – previously unknown recordings of Monk’s music. What happened was this. There was a photographer who was a friend of Monk in New York City during the late 1950s-early 1960s, and Monk and some of his other musician friends would go over to this photographer’s apartment and they would record music. They would turn on the recorder and they would play music, they would talk, they would laugh, they would compose new songs; all of this was recorded. They were more than 1,700– one thousand seven hundred of these tapes that were discovered in the collection of this photographer. Now oddly enough, the photographer’s work was given to a university, the University of Arizona, and it was when the University of Arizona researchers were going through the collection of work by the photographer that they found these recordings. Some of the other performers on the recordings include Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and other famous jazz musicians in New York during that period of the late 50s and early 60s. There were, in fact, about 4,000 hours of material. This discovery, which wasn’t made until the late 1990s, renewed or helped people get interested again in Thelonious Monk’s music, and there have been portions of these recordings that have been released. Some of the conversation that you can hear on the recordings has been transcribed – has been written down and published. This collection of Thelonious Monk’s music, as well as the music of these other famous jazz artists, was an amazing discovery, and helped not only make Thelonious Monk more popular in the last 15 years, since the discovery of the music, but it also helped us understand more the history of jazz during this period in the 1950s and 60s.

Thelonious Monk was truly a giant in American jazz, and if you like jazz music I’m sure you’ve heard of Thelonious Monk, now you know a little bit more about him. If you’ve never heard any of his recordings, through the miracle of the Internet you can probably find some recordings and hear what kind of music Monk composed and recorded.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, though it’s more commonly known in the U.S. as food stamps. This program is a government program which is run by or organized by something called the Food and Nutrition Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program provides financial assistance – it provides money so that low-income families – families who are poor – can buy nutritious food. When we say something is “nutritious” (nutritious) we mean it’s healthy food. The program, as I said, is more commonly known as the food stamp program, I’ll talk about what that means in a minute here.

The first U.S. food stamp program began back at the end of the Great Depression in the 1930s, in 1939. It was established to encourage people to buy food that was being produced in surplus. When we say something is “surplus” (surplus) it means it’s extra, and when the farms would produce more food than people needed they would have surplus food, or more food, I should say, than they could sell easily at a good price.

The program, however, has been changed over the years, and it has had different names. The basic program that we have now was created by something called the Food Stamp Act (or law) of 1964. This was one of the programs that was begun by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law was supposed to help poor families – low-income families buy more nutritious food, and also to help farmers sell their food. It was part of a larger program of laws – a larger set of laws that President Johnson passed in the middle 1960s. His program was called the Great Society, and it was a series of government programs to help improve the lives of people who were poor in the United States.

After the law was passed, the food stamp program became very popular; many people wanted to be part of it, and because of this it became more expensive. And, so the government tried to make the law “stricter,” they tried to make it more difficult for people to become part of the program to get these food stamps.

The government doesn’t actually give people money – dollar bills or a check. It, instead, at least when the program began, it gave people pieces of paper and they could take those pieces of paper and bring them to a grocery store and the store would accept them as money. Of course, the paper would have a certain amount on it, and so they would use these not as stamps as like you are mailing a letter – we call those little pieces of paper “stamps” – but “stamp can also be used to mean something that is like money, but it’s not actual money; it can only be used for certain purposes. In this case, you could only use the food stamps for buying food. Nowadays, they don’t actually give out these food stamps as physical pieces of paper, instead you get a little what looks like a credit card – a little plastic card that you can use at the grocery stores to buy food. However, you can only use them, or are only supposed to use them to buy food.

As with any large government program, sometimes there are people who try to abuse the system. “To abuse” (abuse) means to try to take advantage of it, to cheat the government, to get these food stamps when you don’t really deserve them. Because of this abuse, there have been some changes in the program over the years. A lot of people criticize the program, especially in the 1980s and 90s.

In the year 2010, the food stamp program distributed about 65 billion dollars in assistance to low-income families in the United States. More than 45 million Americans have received food stamps, or did in the year 2010. Of course, the economy has not been very good in the United States or in many parts of the world in the last few years, and so there are probably more people on these programs than there were in the past.

The average person receives about 133 dollars each month in food stamps, which is not a lot of money to live on in terms of food for an entire month. Forty-nine percent of the people who receive food stamps are children. Of course, their parent get the actual food stamps – the actual cards; they don’t give them directly to the children. About 15 percent of those who receive food stamps are older; they’re more than 60 years old.

In order to get onto this program you have to be what we call near the poverty line. The “poverty line” is the official definition that the government has of when you are poor. In the year 2010, the typical food stamp family was making about 730 dollars each month, so the food stamp program obviously to them was quite important.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who don’t like this program and, once again, because some people have abused the program in the past, people sometimes complain that the government is spending too much on these programs, that the people who are buying food with the food stamps are not buying nutritious food – they’re buying junk food. They’re buying soda and potato chips and so forth. But others say that one of the reasons is that many stores in poor areas don’t have a lot of fresh vegetables that are sold at a reasonable price, and so there isn’t a lot of healthy food available for these families to buy.

The food stamp program is one of the many programs the U.S. government has to help people who are poor. One of the benefits of the program, some people say, is that it helps the economy. It’s another way for the government to put money into the hands of consumers – of people who buy things – and that helps the economy in general. It’s a difficult situation, because of course in order to give money to someone you have to take money from someone else, so not everyone sees this as a benefit. But some people say that the food stamp program is an example of government money that “trickles down,” or moves slowly from one part of the economy to another. Although this expression, “trickle down,” usually is used in talking about giving benefits or money to people who are rich, and eventually the benefits of that trickle down to people who are poorer. It’s not normally an expression we would use when dealing food stamps, though I suppose you could use it in a general way of saying that by giving money to poor people and having them spend that on food it will help other parts of the economy.

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

Our first question comes from Mehrdad (Mehrdad) in Iran. The question has to do with the words “pen name,” “nickname,” “appellation,” and “sobriquet.

A “pen name” is a name that a writer or an author uses instead of his or her real name. So, George Eliot, a 19th century writer, used that name although her real name was Mary Anne Evans. George is a man’s name; many people think of George Eliot as a man, but it wasn’t, it was a woman. Voltaire wrote his books using that name, although his real name was François-Marie Arouet.

“Nickname” is a name that anyone can use instead of their real name. It’s sort of an informal name that you might use with your family or your friends. Sometimes a nickname is a shortened form of your name. So instead of calling someone “Elizabeth,” they might call that person “Liz.” “Nickname,” however, can also be simply a word that you use to describe someone, and it becomes part of their – the way that you call them. So, you have a sister who’s always happy; her nickname might be “Smiley.” “Let’s ask Smiley. Smiley, do you want to go to dinner?” You use the nickname instead of their real name.

“Appellation” is a more formal word. It refers to the name of a place or of a person. It’s a very uncommon word, you might see it in a novel or in writing, but people don’t use the word “appellation” in normal conversation. “Pen name” and “nickname” are common words; “appellation” is not. Neither is the word “sobriquet.” A “sobriquet” is an informal nickname for a place or a person. Usually it’s meant to be sort of funny or humorous. We call New York City “the Big Apple,” which isn’t funny I guess, but it’s not a criticism. A “sobriquet” can be applied to a person or a place. But the actual word “sobriquet,” just like the word “appellation,” is not something you would say in conversation; it’s something you might read in a book – an old book, at that!

Our next question comes from Jefferson (Jefferson), originally from Ecuador, now living in Canada. Jefferson has a question about three words that we would typically use in describing pain – physical pain in your body. Those words are “tingling,” “stabbing,” and “burning.”

When you say you have “tingling,” or a “tingling pain,” you mean that it feels like someone is putting a lot of little pins or needles into your skin or into some part of your body, that they’re taking a small piece of metal and touching some part of your body in a lot of different places very quickly. That would be a “tingling sensation” or a “tingling pain.”

“Stabbing” is stronger. “Stabbing” it is like someone taking a knife and putting it into your neck or into your leg or into your side. A “stabbing pain” is a very sharp pain, just like someone taking a knife and stabbing you or putting it into you.

“Burning” refers to something that’s very hot, something that is almost on fire. So if you said you had a “burning pain,” it would be a kind of pain that you would associate somehow with fire, something that was very hot.

So, those are three kinds of pains, three ways of referring to pain: “tingling,” “stabbing,” and “burning.”

Finally, Rafik (Rafik) from Algeria wants to know the meaning of the word “gringo” (gringo). Well, the word “gringo,” which is a Spanish word used in many parts of Latin America, is a word that means something different in different situations. Generally speaking, it’s used to describe an American or an English-speaker, or sometimes a white English-speaker, in some countries in Latin America, or anywhere really. It’s often used as an insulting term to describe an American or a white American, but not always. It depends on where you are. In parts of Mexico where I’ve traveled, sometimes the word “gringo” is used just to describe an American, not as an insulting term. Other times, however, it is used as an insulting term for those who are from the United States or who are English-speaking or who are white English-speaking from the United States.

I use the word “American” here to refer to someone from the United States of America. The word “American” does not mean the same as “Americano” in Spanish. When we say “American” in English we’re referring to someone from the United States. We have other words for describing people from other parts of the North and South American continents.

But getting back to “gringo,” uh, “gringo” is a word, like the word “okay,” that has an unknown origin. Everyone has their own theory about why the word “gringo” is used; I’m not going to describe those. And, please don’t email me your favorite theory! There are many different theories, but like a lot of things in language it’s really impossible to say where exactly it got started. Some people say that it comes from the middle of the 19th century; but again, there are many different theories for where the word “gringo” comes from – where it originated.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. If you have a stabbing, burning, or tingling pain you should go see a doctor!

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.

giant – someone who has had a very important impact or who has made a very important contribution to a specific field

* Steve Jobs was a giant in the computer world.

self-taught – for someone to have learned something by him or herself, without receiving formal lessons or instruction from someone else or in school

* Belinda is a self-taught mechanic and can fix most cars.

to compose – to write or create, especially a work of art or music

* How long did it take Beethoven to compose his Fifth Symphony?

to get credit – to be recognized as the person who made or created something

* Balah is the best boss I’ve ever had. He makes sure that everyone gets credit for new ideas and good work.

unorthodox – something that is very unusual and shocking; something that does not fit with how things have been done in the past; nontraditional

* Our decision to go to the North Pole on vacation may be unorthodox, but we like to go places where few people have been.

record company – a company that works with musicians to produce and sell recorded music

* Several record companies are interested in signing Jeff to record his songs for sale.

nutritious – food that is good for one’s body; food that provides what bodies need to be healthy

* Schools are trying to give students more nutritious lunches that also taste good.

food stamp – a benefit given by the government to poor people so that they can buy food

* When Melissa’s father died leaving her mother to care for five young children, her family relied on food stamps for their daily meals.

strict – with many rules or laws that restrict what one can and cannot do

* Jaleel’s parents are very strict and don’t allow him to spend very much time with his friends having fun.

abuse – the improper use of something; the using or the receiving of something that one should not use or receive, according to rules or laws

* Our company used to allow employees to leave work early for doctor appointments, but so many people abused this policy that the boss changed it.

poverty line – the official definition of what it means to be poor and unable to pay for basic living expenses

* More and more people are falling below the poverty line as the economy continues to get worse.

to trickle down – for something, usually a liquid, to move slowly down from layer to layer, before it reaches the bottom

* Will the new school funding trickle down to improve school libraries?

pen name – a name used by authors instead of their real name; a false name used by an author on published materials

* The famous American author Samuel Langhorne Clemens used the pen name Mark Twain.

tingling – a feeling of stinging, like many small pins or needles

* I felt a tingling in my legs when I stood up after sitting for two hours.

stabbing – a painful feeling similar to someone pushing a pointed object into one’s body

* Bess gets terrible headaches with stabbing pain behind her eyes.

burning – a feeling similar to being very hot or as though one is on fire

* When Gelisse ran five miles for the first time, she felt burning in her legs.

gringo – an informal and insulting term for a white person from an English-speaking country, used in Spanish-speaking countries, especially Latin America

* There are too many gringos coming into this country and buying property.

What Insiders Know
Legendary Jazz Clubs

Jazz is a style of music that is very popular in the United States. Many people who are jazz “aficionados” (people very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about something) go to restaurants where jazz musicians go to play their music.

One of the most famous jazz clubs of all time is The Cotton Club. The Cotton Club was opened in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in the 1920s, and was the place where many famous jazz musicians got their start. Although many of the jazz musicians were African American, the club did not allow African American guests in to see the musicians play because of the “segregation” (separation of African Americans and white Americans) laws of the time. The Cotton Club closed in 1940, but later, another club was opened with the same name and is open to everyone today.

Other “notable” (interesting or famous) jazz clubs that are still open today are the Village Vanguard in Manhattan in New York City and The Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Village Vanguard was opened in 1935 and is well known for its African American heritage. While other clubs would not allow African Americans to enter during the 1920s and 1930s, the Village Vanguard always opened their doors to them. Many famous jazz musicians even “recorded” (played their music so that it could be put on tape or CD) some of their most successful “albums” (records, tapes, or CDs) there. The Crawford Grill has also been quite successful since it opened in 1943. It is also well known for the “memorable” (hard to forget) performances of famous jazz musicians.