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352 Topics: Movies - E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; The MacArthur Fellows Program; important versus significant versus critical; tough; navel-gazing

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 352.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 352. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Has a nice beat to it, doesn’t it?

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on American movies, talking about E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. We’re also going to talk about the MacArthur Fellows Program and Genius 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 movies. Today we’re going to talk about E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which is normally just called E.T. The movie title is an abbreviation. An “extra-terrestrial” is a creature – a being from another planet, usually the idea is that the extra-terrestrial is an intelligent being. “Terrestrial” comes from the Latin word for Earth, the planet that we are on, so “extra-terrestrial” means not on this planet, not on Earth. Another word we use for this idea is “alien” (alien). In this context, “alien” means the same thing, someone who is not from Earth. Of course, no one has ever actually met anyone who is an extra-terrestrial. We talk about it, we write books and make movies about it. But to my knowledge no one has ever actually met an alien, although my neighbor, he’s a little strange, a little different, he’s possibly from another planet – or maybe just from New York City, I’m not sure!

Anyway, in the film, an alien known as E.T. becomes stranded on Earth –stranded on our little planet. To be “stranded” (stranded) means to be abandoned or left behind, usually accidentally by other people – or in this case, other aliens. Well, this poor little extra-terrestrial, E.T., is discovered or found by a young boy – a young human boy named Elliott, and Elliot lures E.T. with a kind of candy called Reese’s Pieces, which are small pieces of candy that taste like peanut butter. After the movie was released – after it came out, this particular candy became very popular. I don’t like peanut butter myself, but apparently it became popular. Anyway, Elliot lures the alien with this candy. To “lure” (lure) means to attract someone or something, usually by showing them something they might want and getting them to follow you or come with you. Fishermen who go out into a lake or into the ocean and try to catch fish try to lure the fish with worms or flies. I was watching an old Alfred Hitchcock movie the other night, a very good movie called Lifeboat, based on a story by the American novelist John Steinbeck. In the movie, they try to lure the fish with some diamonds, because they don’t have any worms or anything else that the fish would be attracted to.

So this young, 10-year-old boy named Elliott becomes friends with E.T., as does his 5-year-old sister, and they discover that E.T. has special powers. He can move objects – he can move things without actually touching them. Elliot and E.T. themselves form a psychic connection. Something that is “psychic” (psychic) relates to our thoughts and feelings and what is happening in our minds – in our brains. Elliot and E.T. have a psychic connection, so Elliot begins feeling whatever E.T. is feeling. That word “psychic” is sometimes used as a noun to describe a person who says they can predict the future – they can see the future.

Well, E.T. and Elliott have a psychic connection and Elliott, as I said, begins to feel what E.T. is feeling. Soon, poor E.T. begins to get very sick and, of course, Elliot begins to get sick too, and in fact so sick that they are both dying. The young boy’s mother – Elliott’s mother and brother find out and, more importantly, so does the United States government. The government officials “invade,” or enter, the house. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s an exciting ending if you haven’t seen the movie.

The most famous line from the movie is “E.T. phone home.” “To phone” means, of course, to make a telephone call; “to phone home” would be to call your house, where you live. E.T. says this phrase many times during the movie, describing the purpose of a device – a little machine he has built so he can send signals to the other aliens, who accidentally abandon him. Another famous line of the movie is at the end where E.T. holds out his finger, which is very long, and he touches Elliott, the young boy, in his chest and he says, “I’ll be right here” to comfort the boy so he doesn’t feel sad, meaning he’ll be in his heart I guess.

The movie, which came out way back in 1982 – well, that’s 30 years ago, wow, I’m old, I remember that movie. Anyway, the movie was directed by Steven Spielberg, who was already a very popular and successful movie director by this time. It was, of course, a huge hit. It earned more money than even Star Wars and it was the highest-grossing film of all time until it was replaced by another Spielberg film, Jurassic Park. When we say it was the “highest-grossing” (grossing) film, we mean it was the film that had the most money – that made the most money. Technically, when we use the word “gross” we mean how much money the movie made not counting the expenses. So “gross” refers to “revenues,” how much money people paid to see your movie. It doesn’t include the money that you had to spend – your expenses – in order to make and sell the movie. The difference between how much you make in terms of revenue – your gross sales – and how much you spend is what we would call “profit.” Even though it probably wasn’t the highest profit movie, it was certainly one that made Spielberg a lot of money.

The film was also nominated for nine Academy Awards. Really? I don’t remember that – nine Academy Awards. The Academy Awards are also called the Oscars, given to the best movies and actors and actresses of the year. E.T. won four of them. It also won many other awards. Many people believe E.T. was one of the best science fiction movies ever made. I say “many people,” I am not among those people! If you have a chance to see E.T., I think you’ll enjoy it. I was in college at the time that E.T. came out. I saw it; I can’t say I loved it. I didn’t think, “Oh, wow, that was an incredible movie.” It was okay; it was kind of fun; it was cute. If you have children – young children I think they would enjoy seeing the movie, I don’t know. It wasn’t the most amazing movie I’ve ever seen, but it was a good movie, certainly now considered a classic American movie, especially a science fiction movie.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is the MacArthur Fellows Program. The MacArthur Fellows Program is part of something called the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In the United States, a “foundation” is a nonprofit organization that gives other groups and individuals money to help them to improve education or to help with research on healthcare, to protect the environment. These are all things that a foundation might give money to hospitals and schools and individuals to do.

The MacArthur Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States, and they created a program, which has become famous in the U.S., called the MacArthur Fellows Program. A “fellow” can mean just a man. “Fellow” can be used as an adjective to describe someone who has similar characteristics or is part of a similar group as you are. “My fellow teachers” would be teachers who are like me; the idea is that I am part of that group. “Fellows,” as a noun, here describes usually someone who is involved in some sort of research, scientific research, or some sort of special program. The fellows receive money to do their work; we call that a “fellowship.” This is very common at the university. When I was at the university studying I had received some fellowships. They’re kind of like scholarships, they’re money that a specific organization gives you to help you with your studies, to pay for your studies in this case.

Well, the MacArthur Foundation has its own fellows program, and they give away money, special awards that have been called Genius Awards; they’re sometimes called the Genius Awards or the Genius Grants. A “grant” is money you give someone that they don’t have to give you back; it’s not a loan. A grant is a gift. A “genius” is someone who’s very smart, somebody who’s very intelligent, or someone who’s very good at what they do. The Genius Awards are given every year to somewhere between 20 and 40 people. The recipients must be U.S. citizens or U.S. residents. “Recipient” (recipient) is a person who receives something, so the recipients are the people who are given these Genius Awards – these Genius Grants. They must be people who show, according to the foundation, “exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” Well, what does that mean? “Exceptional” means unusually good. “Merit” (merit) means that you have a talent for something or that you have an ability to do something, that you, in fact, have done something – something very good, something exceptional, and that you have promise for continued and enhanced creative work according to the foundation. In other words, not only have you done something in the past that is good, that is amazing, you will probably continue to do good things at whatever you do. The program is interesting because it also makes awards not just on what people have done but what on they might do, their future contributions.

Now, when I say these are “awards” or “grants,” I’m not talking about a couple thousand of dollars or even 10 thousand dollars. Recipients now receive a half a million dollars – 500,000 dollars. The money is given to them quarterly, four times, divided into four payments, and they can do anything they want with the money. There are no strings attached, we might say. That expression, “no strings (strings) attached,” means you can, as I say, spend it on whatever you want; there are no restrictions, there are no limitations. Often when you receive a grant or are given a fellowship you have to use the money for certain things. When I had a fellowship at the university, I could not take that money and buy myself a new car; I had to spend it on my tuition, the money I had to pay to take my classes. MacArthur Genius Grants, however, can be used for anything you want to use it for.

Now, you may be wondering who gets these Genius Grants. Well, the first Genius Awards were given out back in 1981, which is also the year I graduated from high school. I did not receive one; I was somewhat surprised, but you know, I was young, although I’m still waiting. Hello, MacArthur Foundation, you can find me here at eslpod.com! As of September, 2011 there had been more than 850 fellows that had received the Genius Grants. The youngest was 18; remember, I was 18 in 1981 – 18? Um, so yeah, I was 18. The oldest was 82. Let’s see, I’m, uh, 48 now, so I still have time – I still have time. You can’t apply for this award; you can’t call someone up and say, “Yes, I’d like a MacArthur Genius Grant please.” You have to be nominated; you have to be suggested by someone else, and then a very small committee – a small group of people chooses who will receive these awards.

The interesting thing about the MacArthur Genius Grants or Genius Awards is that they’ve been given to people with all sorts of different kinds of abilities in different fields – in different areas, everything from poetry to surgery to military history to dance. Artists, scientists, politicians, people of all different kinds of backgrounds have received these awards. Some of them are famous people, but most of them are not. The newspapers always publish a list of the grant winners. I always read the newspaper hoping to find my name there. Usually, the people who win these awards are not famous.

In the most recent year, in 2011, the award was given to 22 people. The recipients included scientists, medical researchers, a physicist, a geneticist, a biologist, and a chemist. Recipients in music have included, in 2011, a conductor; a “percussionist,” someone who, for example, uh, plays drums in an orchestra; composers; a “cellist,” someone who plays the cello. Other recipients included poets, historians, a journalist, a radio host – not a podcast host, but a radio host, an architect, and a psychologist. Probably the most unusual recipient last year in 2011, at least from my perspective, was a “silversmith,” someone who makes objects from silver.

You can imagine how difficult it must be for this committee to select recipients from so many different areas and fields. But it’s always interesting to read about who wins these Genius Grants and the sorts of things they win them for.

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

Our first question comes from Muhammad (Muhammad) in an unknown country – Country L we’ll call it. Muhammad wants to know the difference between the words “important,” “significant,” and “critical.” Let’s start with “important.”

“Important” is an adjective – these are all adjectives – that means something is more than just ordinary, something that has some sort of interest for a certain group of people; something that is “important” is something that you pay attention to or that you need to know about. “Significant” is an adjective which means something has a lot of meaning, something is important, so there’s obviously a connection between these two words. We often use both of them to describe the same idea or the same concept. “Significant,” however, can also mean large or huge. “I gave him a significant amount of money” means I gave him a lot of money, a large amount. You couldn’t say “I gave him an important amount,” it doesn’t mean the same thing. I might, however, describe him as “an important politician, a significant politician for his generation,” something like that.

“Critical” has a couple of different meanings. “Critical” can be something that is needed right away, something that is so important that it cannot wait. If someone is dying of thirst, they haven’t had any water in three days, getting them water is critical. It’s extremely important, but it’s extremely important right now; it has to happen immediately. That’s one meaning of “critical.” “Critical” can also be someone who is seriously sick or hurt. We, in fact, usually use the word “ill” after “critical,” or “injured, in using the word to mean very sick, very hurt. “He’s critically ill.” It means he’s so ill, he’s so sick he could die, that’s how serious his sickness or injury is. “Critical” can also mean to think negatively about someone or something. “He’s very critical of this movie.” He’s very negative about it; he says things he doesn’t like; he gives a negative opinion.

That’s “important,” “significant,” and “critical.”

Ron (Ron) from Brazil wants to know how we use the word “tough.” Well, we’ve talked about this word, uh, in other podcast episodes, but we’ll do a little review here. “To be tough,” as an adjective, can mean to be strong; it can mean the opposite of “weak.” “She’s a tough girl.” She will not cry easily, even when she’s feeling pain. “She’s very tough.” Or, “He’s a tough man.” He can put up with pain or difficulty. He’s strong; he’s difficult to break. “Tough” can also mean, simply, difficult, hard to do. “This is a tough exam.” This is a difficult exam; this is an exam that I will have difficulty getting a good grade on.

We have a couple of expressions that are used with “tough” in addition to using them as adjectives in the way I’ve described. One expression is “tough luck” (luck). “Tough luck” means bad luck, not good luck. In general, it means things did not work out or things did not happen as you wanted them to happen. Your mother says to you, “Do you like the salad?” and you say, “No,” and she says, “Well, tough luck. That’s all you’re going to get to eat for dinner.” The idea is that it’s too bad for you, but I don’t really care. It’s often used – either “tough luck” or simply the word “tough” – in this sense when someone is perhaps complaining about something they don’t like, and the other person who’s listening to them is not sympathetic, doesn’t really care, or thinks that it’s the person’s own fault that whatever bad that has happened to them has happened. So if you steal something from a store and the police catch you, you may say, “Oh, I don’t want to go to jail, I don’t want to go to prison,” and someone may say to you, “Tough. You stole something, now you have to go to jail; you have to be punished. Tough luck.” It’s bad for you, but really it’s your own fault, that’s the idea.

There are other expressions with “tough.” Sometimes we use it as a verb. You can say “to tough it out. “To tough it out” means that you are in a difficult situation, but you’re going to continue working or have to continue working and wait until the difficult situation is over. Sometimes the first year of college can be difficult for a student; we may say, “Well, just tough it out.” We encourage them to continue working hard even though it is difficult. A similar expression is “to hang tough” (hang). “To hang tough” means that you have to continue doing what you’re doing, you can’t give up. You can’t stop doing what you’re doing even though it’s difficult.

Eugene (Eugene) from – well, we don’t know where Eugene is from. I think he’s an extra-terrestrial; I think he’s an alien! That’s just my guess, I could be wrong. Eugene, if you’re out there, phone home!

Eugene wants to know the meaning of the phrase “navel-gazing.” Your “navel” (navel) is what we also call in English your “belly button.” It’s that part in the lower middle part of your stomach – your middle part of your body where the “umbilical cord,” the line that connects a baby to its mother inside of the mother which gives it food and other nourishment – when a baby is born they cut the umbilical cord and it leaves a little small, round hole in the middle – front middle of your body. We call that a “belly button,” that’s the more common word in English, but technically it can be called a “navel” (navel). “To gaze” (gaze) means to look at, usually to look at something for a long time when you’re thinking about something serious, or perhaps you’re simply admiring something: “I was gazing at the beautiful statue of David in Florence, Italy.”

“To navel-gaze” means not that you’re actually looking down at your belly button – at your navel, but that you’re thinking about yourself or perhaps some very small, unimportant issue without seeing the more important things around you. It’s usually a negative way of describing someone who is thinking about themselves too much. We all know people like this, who seem to be always concerned about their own feelings and their own experiences, and not worried about or thinking about the things or the people around them.

If you have a question or comment – an important question, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

extra-terrestrial – a creature from another planet; a living being not from Earth

* Do you believe that there are extra-terrestrials living among humans on Earth?

alien – a creature from another planet; a living being not from Earth

* Many people believe that those strangely shaped mountains were made by aliens who visited Earth long ago.

to be stranded – to be left without transportation; to be left behind and to be without a way to travel to where one wants to go

* Danielle called and said she couldn’t give me a ride home after all, so I’m stranded here until my husband can come get me.

to lure – to attract someone or something and to cause it come closer

* The girls tried to lure the frightened cat out of the tree with a plate of fish.

psychic – relating to the powers of the mind, such as knowing others’ thoughts or moving objects without touching them

* Some scientists believe that we only use a small amount of our psychic energy in our daily lives.

highest-grossing – with the greatest amount of money received or earned, before expenses are subtracted

* Animated movies are some of the highest-grossing family films of all time.

foundation – a nonprofit organization that gives money to other groups and individuals for some particular purpose, often to help society in some way

* Our foundation gives money to centers that help the poor find jobs.

genius – a very intelligent or creative person in a particular field

* Leonora is a genius at fixing cars and motorcycles.

merit – being very worthy and deserving, especially of recognition or reward

* All of these proposals have merit, but we can only choose one.

no strings attached – a benefit that is given without limits on how it will be used; without restrictions or limitations

* Paulo is extremely generous and gives others help with no strings attached.

percussionist – a musician who plays instruments that are struck or shaken to make sounds, such as drums and bells

* The orchestra needs a percussionist who is familiar with modern classical music.

silversmith – a person who makes objects from silver

* Maria comes from a family of famous silversmiths, and she learned the craft from her grandparents.

important – something that matters; more than ordinary

* This is a very important letter that needs to arrive at headquarters today.

significant – having a lot of meaning or importance; more than normal

* Being asked to meet with three of the company’s top managers is a significant indication that Julia will get the job.

critical – necessary; required; seriously sick or hurt; thinking negatively of someone or something

* It’s critical that we get this loan from the bank for us to stay in business another three months.

tough – strong; hard to break; not weak; difficult; hard

* - I really wanted to use the car today to go shopping.

* - Tough! Dad said I could have the car to go to the movies.

navel-gazing – thinking about oneself or about a small issue, without seeing the wider, more important things around one; thinking about oneself too much

* Students are frustrated that the university administration is spending time navel-gazing instead of taking action about violence on campus.

What Insiders Know
Famous Hoaxes: The Cardiff Giant

There have been many “hoaxes” or tricks played on people throughout history. One of the most “famous” (well-known) of these hoaxes is “The Cardiff Giant.” In 1869 a 10 foot-tall “giant” (extremely tall man) “statue” (figure made to look like a person or thing) was found underground in Cardiff, New York by a group of workers who were digging in the backyard of a man named William C. Newell. As soon as the statue was pulled out of the ground, the “public” (the people who lived in the area) began trying to guess what it was. Most thought it was a “petrified” (wood turned to stone) giant like the ones that were mentioned in the “Bible,” the Christian holy book that tells the story of God and Jesus Christ.

The giant became so “popular” (well known) that some businessmen paid Newell a lot of money to get the statue so that they could “in turn” (then) sell it to a “museum” (a place where people can go to see artwork) in Syracuse, New York. P.T. Barnam, a famous “showman” (man who produced shows) known for his “circus” (traveling show with performers and trained animals), then offered to buy it to put it in his own museum. The Syracuse museum owners said “no,” so Barnam made a copy of the giant and said that his was the real giant. The Syracuse museum then tried to “sue him” (take him to court) to force him to pay money for lying.

What people didn’t know was that the first giant was not really a giant at all. It was a huge piece of stone “carved” (cut with special tools) by Newell’s cousin, George Hull. Hull had had an argument with a religious man about whether or not the Bible should be taken “literally” (every word considered true). Hull did not think so, but the other man did. To prove him wrong, Hull decided to build the giant to trick him into thinking that there really had been giants on Earth once, just as the Bible said.

In the Syracuse museum, some workers noticed that the giant was “fake” (not real) because they could see the marks from where it was carved out of stone. Hull had to “confess” (admit that he lied), and the Syracuse museum had to stop trying to sue Barnam because neither of them had a real giant after all.