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354 Topics: American Authors - Ernest Hemingway; the United Nations; you lost versus you’re lost; expert in versus expert on versus expert at; geez

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 354

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 354. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California – not just any Los Angeles, beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. You know what to do there, download a Learning Guide after becoming a member, of course.

On this Café, we're going to continue our series on famous American authors, American writers, focusing on Ernest Hemingway. We're also going to talk a little bit about the United Nations and, as always, we'll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

We begin our café with a discussion of another famous American author. Today, we're going to talk about Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest 20th Century writers in American literature. He was born at the end of the 19th century in 1899 in the State of Illinois near the city of Chicago in what we would call a suburb of Chicago. Illinois is in the central northern part of the United States right next to Indiana and Wisconsin and Iowa among others. Hemingway was the oldest son of a doctor and his wife, so the family was never poor. Hemingway, when he was 17, however, didn’t want to continue on with his education after he graduated from high school. He went to work as a journalist at the Kansas City Star. Kansas City is another city in the central part of the United States.

He worked as a journalist, but he really wanted to join the war effort - in World War I, we're talking about here. In 1918, he became an ambulance driver in Italy. While he was driving his ambulance, he was injured, he was hurt. He won a medal or an award for his bravery, for being courageous.

He was seriously hurt, however in this fighting in the war, and while he was in a hospital in Milan in Italy, he fell in love with a nurse and hoped to marry her. But she did not want to marry Hemingway and ended up marrying someone else. And this event really affected Hemingway, a young Hemingway. (He was 19 or so at the time.)

He returned to the United States in 1919 and continued to work as a journalist and then as an editor. But Hemingway was never one to stay in one place for very long. In fact, when we look at his life, we can see him constantly moving to a different and perhaps for him more exciting place. So, soon after returning to the United States, he went to work as a foreign correspondent (a “correspondent” is another word for a reporter or a journalist), this time in Paris. Paris in the 1920s was full of American writers, people like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others. Hemingway joined this group of writers and began writing novels himself.

He continued however to write as a journalist, and many of his travels in the next 30 years were related to wars and writing about wars. He was also divorced three times. He married four times. As I said, he moved around a lot. He was in Paris, but at the outbreak of World War II, he went to London and started reporting on the war. He actually flew with some of the members of the Royal Air Force. He was there at the invasion of D-Day in Normandy in 1944. He was there for the liberation of Paris. He liked to be in the excitement. He liked to be where the action was, you could say.

His experience in war as well as in love certainly shaped much of his writing. When we say it “shaped” his writing, we mean it had a strong influence or effect on his writing. For example, his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, which was published in 1926, is about a group of expats living in Paris. An “expat” (expat) is short for “expatriate” (expatriate). An expatriate or expat is a person who chooses to live in another country, often for many years. Hemingway was an expat in Paris as were many of the characters of The Sun Also Rises, his first novel. But war is a theme that we most often associate with Hemingway, and several of his best stories and novels were about war. Hemingway published seven novels, six short story collections, and two books of non-fiction – two books that were more of reporting. I want to talk just about three of his most famous book that you might be interested in.

The first is A Farewell to Arms. A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929 about an American soldier who falls in love with a British nurse. That should sound familiar, of course, since Hemingway himself fell in love with a nurse, the nurse that didn’t marry him. “Farewell” (farewell) means goodbye, and “arms” here refers to weapons like a gun. So, A Farewell to Arms refers to what happens when the fighting ends, when the war is over.

Another one of Hemingway’s great novels, perhaps some people say his best novel, was For Whom the Bell Tolls. That was published later in 1940, 11 years later. For a bell to “toll” (toll) means that the bell rings or makes a loud noise. The word “toll” is usually used for a large bell that you might find, for example, in a church in the outside of the church where you have what are called “bell towers,” tall structures on the top of which you will find a bell that rings, that tolls. A bell could toll for a lot of reasons. One reason may be the death of someone. The book is also about an American fighting in a war, this time the Spanish Civil War in the middle of the 1930s. Hemingway himself was present during the Spanish Civil War. He reported on the war as a correspondent. Hemingway spent a lot of time in Spain in the 1930s. He loved the sport of bull fighting and wrote about that as well.

After World War II, Hemingway moved to Cuba and began to write there and was influenced by his experiences there. Perhaps the most important novel from that period of his life was The Old Man and the Sea, published in 1951. It was Hemingway’s last “major” or last important novel. It's about an old fisherman who tries to catch a very large fish. It was one of the reasons why Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature a few years later, in 1954.

The Old Man and the Sea as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls and other Hemingway writings can be described as having a very “pithy” style. When we say something is “pithy” (pithy), we mean it's very forceful, it's very strong, but it's also very concise. It uses very few words. He, being a journalist, wrote in a style with very short sentences, very short paragraphs, and this was unusual for novels at the time and it was the style of Hemingway that influenced “subsequent” writers, writers in later generations.

Hemingway focused often on the themes of death and emasculation. “Emasculation” (emasculation) is when you lose – when a man – loses his power or his dominance. Masculine refers to a man. Feminine refers to a woman. So, emasculation is about a man who perhaps is no longer able to be powerful, to be dominant. In many of Hemingway’s novels, you see men who have been emasculated by war, by love, in such a way that they can no longer function in society as they used to.

Hemingway was recognized during his own lifetime as an important author very early in his writing career. Not everyone liked his writing, however. His own parents called his books “filth” (filth), which is very insulting. “Filth” is something like dirt or garbage, something that’s too dirty or too disgusting to touch. Obviously, there were some issues there that we won't go into here between Hemingway and his parents. Most people, however, recognize him as being one of the U.S.’s most important authors of the 20th century. Many writers have tried to “emulate” (emulate) or imitate, mimic, copy that style that he used in his own writing to make their own writing more concise, more pithy.

After Castro came to power, Hemingway was forced to leave Cuba and he ended up going to a state in the western part of the U.S. called Idaho. It's right next to Washington and Oregon. Throughout the 1950s, during his time in Cuba and afterwards, Hemingway became depressed often. He drank very heavily. He drank too much alcohol, especially towards the end of his life. He was so depressed that he was placed in a hospital, one of the most famous hospitals in the United States, the Mayo Clinic, which is located in my own state of Minnesota. However, the treatment for depression didn’t work, and after being released from the hospital, he committed suicide. He killed himself in Idaho in 1961. Walker Percy, another great 20th century writer, says that Hemingway simply ran out of places to go to. He kept moving around his entire life – to Paris, to Spain, to Florida, to Cuba, to Idaho. Finally, he had nowhere left to run.

Hemingway had three sons: Jack, Patrick, and Gregory, and they also became famous in their own ways. Jack Hemingway was a writer who helped his father finish his autobiography, his story of his life. Patrick was an editor of one of the novels that his father never published, and Gregory became a medical doctor. He also wrote a book about the life of his father. Hemingway’s grandchildren also became famous in their own way, as actresses and models in some cases. Muriel Hemingway was an actress. You might remember her from an old Woody Allen movie called “Manhattan.” Margaux Hemingway was a very famous model in the 1970s. Tragically, sadly, she also committed suicide at a young age.

Our next topic is one that many of you probably already know a lot about, the United Nations. Normally, we talk about things that are somewhat unique to American life and culture, but we'll mention briefly today the most important international organization, the U.N. The United Nations or U.N. was started – it was “founded” – in 1945, after the end of World War II. It was in part to replace a previous organization, the League of Nations. When it was started, the U.N. represented the hope that this new world organization could help prevent another large world war. The organization over the years has faced a lot of resistance from countries that did not want to join it, as well as skepticism, doubt from countries who didn’t think it would succeed. Some people say it has. Some people say it hasn’t even to this day.

The U.N. has a 193 members as we speak in 2012. The most recent addition was South Sudan in 2011. These member states include every sovereign nation in the world except one, Vatican City, where the Pope is in Rome. The word “sovereign” describes a country that has power over itself and is independent of any other country. There are many different groups within the United Nations, groups of countries. There's the Group of 77, which is a group of developing countries, countries who are not as rich as, say, the United States or Russia or China or other nations.

The Security Council has five permanent members: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom or Great Britain, and there are 10 non-permanent members that change every two years. The U.N. tried to encourage international cooperation. It tries to promote world peace. To do that, it has six main sections, what are called “bodies,” parts of the United Nations, parts of the organization. They focus on specific areas such security, economics, justice and other aims or other goals. There are many different agencies of the U.N., including the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, and the United Nations Children’s Fund or what is more commonly known as “UNICEF” in English.

The U.N. is “funded,” is given money, by contributions from the member states, the member countries. It has six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. The U.N. also has offices around the world, but the headquarters is here in the United States, in New York City. Not everyone wanted the headquarters in the United States, but John D. Rockefeller, a very rich businessman, “donated” or gave $8.5 million to buy the land in Manhattan, in the downtown section of New York City, and so that’s where the United Nations is now. Of course, there are other political considerations. It wasn’t just that John Rockefeller gave money to buy the land. If you go to New York City, you can visit the headquarters of the United Nations, I believe. I've never actually gone. I've been to New York City several times. I don’t know why I've never gone to the U.N. but I never have – maybe next time.

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

“Fabio” (Fabio) from Italy wants to know the difference between “you lose” or “you lost” and “you are lost” or “you're lost.”

“Lose” (lose) has as its past tense lost, so: I lose now, I lost yesterday, I will lose tomorrow. It's kind of the story of my life, losing. Anyway, “lose” as a verb means to fail. It's the opposite of winning. When your favorite soccer team loses a match, it doesn’t win. It's the opposite. “Lose” can also mean to be unable to find something. You had a pen and now you lost it. You can't find it.

“Lost” can also be an adjective meaning you don’t know where you are or you cannot be found. “Where is your dog? I don’t know. He’s lost. He is lost.” We don’t know where he is. There “lost” is an adjective. As a verb, “lost” means to fail, not to win, or it means that you’ve put something down and you can't find it. As an adjective, it means that that thing cannot be found.

So, for example, I can say “I lost my pen” or I could say “My pen is lost.” “I lost my pen” is I did something, I put it somewhere and now I can't find it. If I say “The pen is lost,” it doesn’t mean I lost it. It just describes the situation that the pen is in. We can't find it. If someone says “I'm lost,” they mean “I don’t know where I am,” “I don’t know how to leave this place” or “I don’t know how to arrive to the place I want to go.”

But if I were to say “I lost my friend,” you would mean you were with your friend and now suddenly you can't find your friend. Actually, if you say you lost your friend, you could also mean something more serious, which is that your friend died. “I lost my father a few years ago.” That means my father died a few years ago. But if you say “I lost my friend at the baseball game because there were so many people and I couldn’t find him,” that’s very different.

Our next question comes from “Ibrahim” (Ibrahim) in Egypt. Ibrahim wants to know the difference between an expert in, an expert on and an expert at. In other words, what are the differences between “on,” “in,” and “at” when we use them with the word “expert”?

Well first, “expert” is as a noun a person who knows almost everything there is to know or a lot about a certain subject or topic. “He’s an expert in Chinese cooking” – that means he knows a lot about cooking Chinese food. “To be expert at” something also means to have professional skills or knowledge. “He is an expert chef” – he knows a lot about cooking, about being a chef.

Now, let's look at these three prepositions. Let's start with “expert at.” When you say someone is an expert “at” cooking or something else, we mean that they are very knowledgeable about how to do something. If you do a lot of gardening, if you like to plant flowers and trees and such, you will become an expert at gardening, at that topic. “At” is always followed, when we use it in this expression, an expert at, by what's called a gerund, which is a verb with the -ing form at the end which actually serves as a noun. Remember “at” is a preposition, and so it starts a prepositional phrase, in this case, and the object of a prepositional phrase is always a noun.

The gerund, the -ing form of a verb like to garden, “gardening.” is actually in that case working as a noun even though it looks like a verb. To be expert “on” something means that you know a lot about the subject, but the emphasis is more on intellectual knowledge. “I'm an expert on gardening” means that I've perhaps read a lot of books or watched a lot television programs about gardening, but I may not be someone who’s very good at actually going out and doing things. So, there's a slight difference between being an expert “on” gardening (you have a lot of knowledge) and an expert “at” gardening (you actually know how to do something in the garden).

Expert “in” is similar to expert “on,” and you can usually use them interchangeably one for the other. “He’s an expert in language acquisition.” “She’s an expert in construction.” “He is an expert in psychology.” Expert “in,” expert “on” really mean the same thing. But expert “at” tends to be when we are describing some action, something you actually do. “He’s an expert at negotiating a good business deal” – he’s good at talking, he’s good at getting people to agree to things. That would be expert “at” something.

Finally, “Dominique” (Dominique), from France, of course, wants to know the meaning of an expression which was quite common in conversational English, “geez” (geez). “Geez” is an interjection, one of those words that you say that sort of stand by themselves, are often used to express some strong emotion like “”Wow!” or “Cool!” “Geez” is used to express surprise, often pain, sometimes joy, sometimes happiness, but I think usually it's negative, at least when I hear it. “Geez” probably comes from the word “Jesus.” However, many people avoid using the word “Jesus” as an interjection, as an exclamation of joy or pain or surprise. Some people use the word, but many people don’t, and I would say it's probably best that, as a second language speaker, you don’t use that word. You might offend someone. You might make someone angry, especially those who are more religious, so it's probably best not to use that word.

Instead – in fact, probably because of that – we have this word “geez” and that’s much more common and certainly considered acceptable by most people. So, you might say something like “Geez, that’s a huge animal” or if someone surprises you and you're not very happy about it, you may say, “Geez, you really scared me.” It's much more likely you will hear this word in an informal setting among friends or family members. There are some other forms of “geez” that are somewhat comical. “Geez Louise!” Why “Geez Louise”? Well, “Louise” rhymes with “geez.” It doesn’t really add anything to the meaning of the expression. Louise is a woman’s name, of course.

Some people just say “gee” without the z sound at the end. A few people, not very many nowadays, might say “gee whiz,” but “gee whiz” sounds very old, like something from, oh I don’t know, the ‘30s or the ‘40s. You might see it in an old movie, but not something that someone would say nowadays. However, people do still say “geez” as an interjection or an exclamation of surprise, pain, and sometimes happiness.

We want you to be happy, so email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com and ask your question. We won't have time to answer everyone’s questions and, honestly, it might take awhile, but we try to answer as many as we can.

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

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.

foreign correspondent – a reporter or journalist who reports on the news from another country

* Christiana worked in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for a large national newspaper.

to shape – to give something shape; to influence the way something appears or the form it has

* Previous court decisions helped to shape current judges’ views on privacy.

expat – expatriate; a person who has chosen to live in another country for a long period of time

* Nick lived as an expat in Bangkok and taught at the university there.

to toll – for a bell to ring; for a bell to make a loud noise

* Living next to a church means that you can clearly hear the bells toll on the hour.

pithy – for speech or writing to be forceful and expressive, but using few words

* The slogan “We want higher pay!” is a pithy reminder to the protesters and managers of the reason for the protest.

concise – using few words to express meaning; giving a lot of information clearly in a few words

* Can you make this report more concise? Nobody will read a 300-page document!

emasculation – the loss of male power or influence over others; taking away a man’s role or his identity

* Losing a job and not being able to support a family can cause feelings of emasculation in some men.

filth – something that is too dirty or disgusting to touch or otherwise deal with

* We have never seen more filth than what was in Jaime’s dorm room!

to emulate – to mimic or copy because one admires the original; to try and behave like or achieve what someone else has achieved

* Louisa plans to emulate her mother and to become a doctor working in poor communities.

to commit suicide – to kill oneself; to take one’s own life

* In the movie, the main character was so upset about his wife’s death that he tried to commit suicide.

sovereign – a country that has power over itself and is independent; a nation that is fully independent and makes its own decisions

* How many states have tried to gain independence from the United States by establishing sovereign nations?

body – an organized group of people with a common purpose; a group doing something together to achieve a goal

* The student body agreed that the school needed better facilities and books.

to lose – to fail; to misplace something; to be unable to find something because you don’t know where it is

* We’ll lose the contest if we don’t find the instructions that David lost.

expert – a person who knows a lot about a certain subject or area of study; having professional skill or knowledge

* Do you know much about plumbing or should I call in an expert to fix that toilet?

geez – an informal exclamation of surprise, pain, or joy

* Geez! Who left this soccer ball by the door? I nearly tripped and fell on my face.

What Insiders Know
Justice League of America

Justice League of America is a “fictional” (not real; imaginary) group of “superheroes” (people with powers that ordinary humans do not have) who work together to fight against “crime” (actions that are illegal) and “injustice” (unfair treatment). They first appeared in “comic books” (books that tell a story with many drawings and very few words) published by DC Comics in 1960.

The six “founding” (original, from the beginning of an organization) members of the Justice League of America were Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The group originally formed when “aliens” (creatures from another planet) tried to “invade” (enter an area of land without permission) Earth. Since that time, many other superheroes have joined the “ranks” (membership) of the Justice League of America.

The Justice League represents many of the most popular superheroes, so it has been popular with “fans” (people who like something very much, especially celebrities) for a long time. Many comic books have been produced about the Justice League and it has “spawned” (brought about; created; resulted in) similar series.

The original Justice League of America comic book series has won four Alley Awards, including the 1961 award for “Best Comic Book.” Some of the books are now “collectors’ items” (objects gathered by people because they have a lot of sentimental value and/or are worth a lot of money because they can be sold to others). Today, there are many fan clubs and websites where fans of the Justice League can discuss the series and their favorite superhero characters.