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355 Topics: American Presidents - Martin Van Buren; show business secrets; revenue versus profit versus turnover; limerick; how to address in-laws

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 355

This is English as a Second Language Podcast English Café episode 355. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. We really need a song for that, don’t you think? Because I say it every week. It’d be better if I could like sing it somehow.

You can visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide. What's a Learning Guide? Well, it's an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes, that’s what it is. You can take a look on our website at eslpod.com.

On this Café, we're going to continue our series on American presidents, focusing on the eighth president of the United States, the always exciting Martin Van Buren. We're also going to talk about some secrets in show business here in Los Angeles. Well, they won't be secrets after I tell you them. 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 eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren.

Van Buren, you may guess, was born into a Dutch family. His ancestors, his relatives, were originally from Holland. The word “Dutch” (Dutch) is related to Holland or what is now called the Netherlands. Dutch would be the adjective we would use and that is indeed what Van Buren’s background was. It was Dutch. His family lived in New York and he was born in 1782. The importance of that date will become clear in a few minutes. But he was born in the late part of the 18th Century in the early part of the history of the United States.

He didn’t have very much formal education. He didn’t study in a school for a long time, but he did study law and was admitted to the bar. When we say someone is admitted to the “bar” (bar), we mean that they are a lawyer who has passed a test and is allowed to work as a lawyer in a certain area in a certain state. A lawyer is the same as an attorney. Van Buren became involved in politics as a young man when he was just 17 years old. As he earned more money, he was able to focus on politics more, he was able to concentrate on politics more.

He was elected a state senator in the state of New York. That means he represented a part of the state in the state senate in New York. Later, he was elected as attorney general in New York. The attorney general is sort of the highest level lawyer or attorney for the government. The attorney general is in charge of making sure people are following the law in a certain area. After that, in 1821, he was elected a U.S. senator. Each state, you many know, has two senators that they can send to Washington, D.C., to represent that state, and Van Buren was elected one of the two senators from the state of New York.

He became very involved in the effort, the “campaign,” the organized effort to elect another man, Andrew Jackson, as president. In 1829, Van Buren was elected governor of New York. So, he was the attorney general, he was the senator, and then he became the governor. The governor is sort of like the president of the state, the leader – political leader – for that state. He was, however, only governor for three months, because in 1829 President Andrew Jackson, who he had helped get elected back in 1828, made him secretary of state. The secretary of state is the person in the U.S. government who is charge of foreign policy, of dealing with other countries. It's a very important position. It's the oldest to what we call “cabinet position” in the United States.

But Van Buren didn’t stop there. He later became ambassador to the United Kingdom, to Great Britain, in 1831, for just one year, year and a half. Then in 1832, Andrew Jackson asked him to be his vice-president. In the United States, we have a president, but we also have a vice-president in case the president gets killed. Or if there's some problem with the president being president, the vice-president can take over. That’s happened several times. Van Buren was vice-president for President Jackson from 1833 until 1837. Why did Van Buren stop being vice-president? Well, because in 1836 Van Buren himself was elected president of the United States, our eighth president.

Van Buren and Andrew Jackson were very closely related politically, the previous president and Van Buren. Van Buren said he wanted to continue the policies of Andrew Jackson. That was his intention, to continue the policies, the things that he was doing. One’s “intention” is what you plan to do in the future. Van Buren kept most of Jackson’s cabinet members. The “cabinet” is the group of people who help run the government and typically when a new president comes in, most of the cabinet is replaced. But when Van Buren came in, because he was such good friends with Jackson and his political ally, his political friend, he kept most of the cabinet members.

Van Buren’s presidency, the time that he was president, was not exactly the most exciting time in American history. Perhaps the most important thing that happened when Van Buren was president was something not very good. It was called “The Panic of 1837.” A “panic” usually, when we're talking about 19th Century history, is a time of great economic problems, when people get worried. “To panic” is to get very upset, to be very worried or concerned about a situation, often to do something stupid or not very good because you're so worried. Well, there was a financial panic when there was [were] economic problems in the country and this lasted for nearly five years.

There were a lot of people who didn’t have jobs. There was [were] a lot of economic problems and so forth. There was very little that Van Buren thought he could do to address or to take care of these economic woes. When we say “woes” (woes), we're talking about troubles, problems. It's kind of an old word for difficulties. Well, Van Buren became very unpopular and some of his enemies, some of his political rivals, people who also wanted his job, they made a little joke with his name. They what we would call “made a play” on his name. His name, remember, is Martin Van Buren. They started to call him Martin Van Ruin. “Ruin” (ruin) is to destroy or to make something so that it's worse, to do something wrong to something else, to harm something else. We can use it in economics. When someone says, “I'm ruined,” they mean I've lost all my money. I've lost my job. I've lost my house. So, they called poor Martin, “Martin Van Ruin” instead of Martin Van Buren as a joke and of course as a criticism.

Despite Van Buren’s political problems, economic problems, he was considered a very good politician, in fact, an excellent politician who really understood how to organize and get things done. He started a new political party. The Democratic Party was actually started in part by Van Buren. During his time as president from 1836 to 1840 – well, he was elected in 1836; he became president in the next year in 1837. That’s how it works in the United States. We have elections every four years, but you don’t actually start as president until the following year. So, he was president from 1837 to 1841. Not a lot happened other than the financial panic in Van Buren’s presidency.

Texas asked to join the United States. Remember Texas, which is a large state in the south central part of the U.S., had become independent of Mexico and then had asked to join the United States. Texas was its own country for a few years. Texas wanted to join the U.S. but Van Buren wasn’t interested. He said no. Eventually, Texas did join the United States. Van Buren was also involved in a war against some Native American or American Indian groups or “tribes” in Florida called The Second Seminole War. That war helped make Florida part of the United States. He was also involved in moving the Native Americans from Florida, moving them to a completely different part of country, something known as the “Trail of Tears.” “Tears” refers to the water that comes out of your eye when you cry, so it's a sad thing. We talked about the “Trail of Tears” back on English Café number 139.

Van Buren tried to become president again in the election of 1840, but he lost to another candidate, William Henry Harrison. He said, Van Buren did, that the presidency was very difficult for him. He says as to the presidency, “The two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office (meaning when he started to become president, the day he became president) and my surrender of it.” “To surrender” (surrender) here means to give something up, usually to give something to another person. So the two happiest days of his life were his first and his last days as president.

He, as I said, lost the election in 1840 to Harrison. He tried to run again for president in 1848 as what we would call a “third party candidate,” someone who is not associated with one of the two big political parties. That party, called “The Free Soil Party,” lost, and he never again had political office; he was never again in a public office. He returned to his home in New York. He died in the same town where he was born. He continued to travel, however. He went to Europe. He wrote his autobiography, the story of his own life. He eventually died in the middle of the Civil War in 1862 when he was 79 years old. He was married. He had four children: Chico, Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo. No. No. I don’t know what his children’s names were! Those were the Marx brothers that I just mentioned, famous comedians in the 20th Century.

Van Buren’s presidency, you can probably tell, was not very exciting, not very eventful, not a lot of things happened. However, he was, as I said, one of the first great political minds in the United States. He understood how to get money from people, how to organize not just for his own purposes, but also in starting the Democratic Party. He was also the first president to be born as an American citizen. Remember I said he was born in 1792. Well, that was just after the United States became its own country. Our first seven presidents were all born before the U.S. became an independent country.

Maybe one of the most interesting things for me about Van Buren was the fact that he did not grow up speaking English as a first language. He grew up speaking Dutch in his house. That was the language of his parents, and then he learned English as a second language, probably from listening to English Café episodes of ESL Podcast – probably. I'm not sure about that. I'll have to look that up in the history books.

Now let's turn to our next topic, which is show business secrets. “Show” (show) business refers to what we more commonly call here in Los Angeles simply “the Industry,” which is the entertainment industry. People who make television shows, movies, music, theatrical plays – all those would be part of the entertainment industry or “showbiz.” Notice sometimes we make “business” short, to “biz.” We say “showbiz” instead of show business. It's the same thing. Showbiz secrets would be things that are not commonly known about how the entertainment industry works. You may know them. You may not. We'll find out!

For example, let's consider how actors get paid here in Los Angeles and in other places. Usually, there are two possible payments. There is a “front-end” payment and a “back-end” payment. A front-end payment, sometimes called an “upfront” (upfront) (one word) payment, is where a big name actor, someone who is very famous. will agree to be in a movie or a television program and they’ll give him $5 million or $10 million. That’s a front-end payment. That’s what most actors get. However, there are some actors, especially the famous ones, the ones who have some power in this city, in this “town” we would say, who also get what are called “back-end payments.” These are payments especially for movies that are calculated based on how well the movie does, how many tickets the movie sells. They may get a certain percentage of the money that the movie makes. Sometimes the calculation, the way of figuring these out, can be quite complex, very difficult, but it's usually based on how much money the movie makes after all of the expenses have been taken into account – that is, after they, in this case, have been subtracted.

For certain types of films, actors can receive a lot of money also from “merchandizing” – not just the actors but more importantly and more commonly, the people who make the movie. This is the practice of making objects often toys and other things that are related to the movie. For example, the Star Wars movies have a lot of merchandizing. You can buy toys, books, calendars, clothing, games, dishes, just about anything with the characters from the Star Wars movie and, of course, this is true for hundreds of other movies as well, especially movies made for children.

Actors can also make money through something called “residuals.” This is true when we're talking about television shows or television movies. A “residual” (residual) is money that continues to be paid as long as the television show or television movie continues to make money. Residuals can be paid even after the actor has died. They can be paid to his what we would call “next of kin” – that is, his nearest relative, a husband, a wife a daughter or a son. There are television shows – I was just watching one this afternoon – that were made 50, 60 years ago, that are still being shown on television. Well, every time they're shown, the people who made those television shows or the people who own those television shows get money. In many cases, the actors who were in them or their next of kin continue to get money from those shows. Many of you have probably seen the show Friends. It's been around the world. It's been shown in many different countries. It was a comedy back in the ‘90s here in the United States, but every time that show is put on television in some country, including here in the U.S. of course, the actors will make a little bit of money from that show. They will get residuals.

The ways in which actors are paid can be very complicated. This is one reason why the actors have a union, an organization. It's technically known as a “guild” (guild), which is just an old word for a union. The Screen Actors Guild is the largest union for actors in the United States, I believe, certainly here in Los Angeles. One of my old neighbors works for what we call here in L.A. “SAG,” Screen Actors Guild. The Screen Actors Guild is not the only union. There's also the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The two groups actually, I think, recently combined, and together they have about 150,000 actors and other professionals in show business.

It's not easy to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild. You have to prove that you are a professional actor, that you have significant experience, and the union, the guild itself, decides if you can become a member, and if you do, you get what's called a SAG card. It's a piece of identification that says that you are in fact a member of the Screen Actors Guild. You also have to pay a fee. You have to pay money to become a member of the guild, more than $2,000 to join the organization. I don’t think there are any podcasters in the Screen Actors Guild. That’s not really what they do. It's more for movies and television shows, that sort of thing.

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

Our first question comes from Russia from Svyatoslv (Svyatoslv). I'm sorry I can't pronounce that well, I'm sure. My Russian is not as good as it used to be! The question has to do with the difference between “revenue,” “profit,” and “turnover.” All three of these words are business or economic terms. They have some similar meanings. “Revenue” is the income or the money that a business gets from selling whatever it does. It's all of the money it gets. It could be money from investments. It could money from selling things. It could be money from rent, anything that comes into the company, any money that comes into the company is “revenue” (revenue).

“Profit” typically is when you take the revenue, which might be called also the “income,” and you subtract or take away your expenses, how much it cost to pay your employees, how much your building cost, how much it cost to produce whatever product or service that you sell. When you take the cost away from the income or revenue, what you're left with is the profit. So, if it cost me $5 to make something and I sell it for $10, then I have a profit of $5.

“Turnover” is the amount that is gained or lost in a certain period of time. Sometimes revenue and turnover have the same meaning. However, turnover has some very specific meanings. For example, if we talk about “employee turnover,” we're talking about how long employees have stayed on their job, how long they have stayed working for that company. Turnover usually refers to some activity of the business, but more commonly I think people associate it with this other meaning of where you have an employee who stays for only a certain amount of time. The average amount of time would be the turnover. There are some places like restaurants and hotels that have what are called “high turnovers,” meaning the employees go for maybe a year, maybe two years and then they leave, maybe less.

“Andre” (Andre) from Brazil wants to know what a “limerick” is. A “limerick” (limerick) is a type of poem. It's a funny poem most often associated with the Irish, at least when I was growing up we would associate limericks with Ireland. There's a town, a city in Ireland called Limerick. Limericks are usually humorous poems. They have a certain form, a certain format, and they're often, how should I say, they're often a little vulgar, a little dirty. They're often meant as ways of perhaps criticizing something or making fun of someone. The format of the limerick is best understood by simply reading a limerick. It has a certain pattern in the way the words rhyme.

Most traditional limericks begin with something like “there once was a man” or “there once was a woman” or simply “there was a man,” something that happened in the past: “There was an old man with a beard.” A “beard” would be here on your face.

There was an old man with a beard

Who said, “It is just as I feared!”

Two owls and a hen,

Four larks and a wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard.

So, there was an old man with a beard. He says, “Oh, it's just what I feared.” “What I feared” – what I was afraid of has happened. “Two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren” – these are four kinds of birds – “have all built their nests in my beard.” A “nest” is a place that a bird builds where it can sleep and stay. So, of course, his beard was so big, the idea is that the birds built their nests in them.

Most of them, I must say, are much more vulgar and dirty than that. But I, of course, will not be saying any of those here on the Café!

Here in the U.S., one of the most common ways of beginning a limerick is “There once was a man from Nantucket” or “There once was a girl from Nantucket.” That is the first line. Why Nantucket? Nantucket is an island off of the coast of Massachusetts in the east part of the United States, and perhaps people who make the limericks found a lot of funny things that could rhyme with Nantucket.

Finally, “Yuanjun” (Yuanjun) from China wants to know what Americans call their mother-in-law or father-in-law. Do they call them “mom” or “dad”? Do they call them by their first names? Does it matter how old they are? And so forth. Well, these are all good questions. Once again, we can't mention all of the things that mother-in-laws are called here on the Café, but in general, your mother-in-law, which is of course the mother of your wife or mother of your husband – your father-in-law is the obviously the father of your spouse, your husband or wife – these two people, your “in-laws” we might say, really could be called a lot of different things, depending on the family. I think this really depends on the family where you grew up or the family you marry into. Everyone has their own custom.

They might be called Mr. and Mrs., especially when the young man or young woman is just recently married and there is, in fact, typically of course a difference in age. I would say that in-laws are often however called by their first names. So, I might call my mother-in-law by her first name. In my family, my wife calls my parents by their first name. So, my wife would call my father “Pat” and my mother “Mary.” That’s kind of the tradition in our family. It may not be the tradition in other families, however. It would also be possible to call your mother-in-law “mom” or “mother.” I don’t think this is common, though. It may be something that happens in some families, but I don’t think it happens in most. I think either you call them by their first name, which is probably the most common, or you would say Mr. Smith or Mrs. Smith.

“In-laws” can also refer to brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws. All of those are also or could also be called in-laws. They're the family of your husband or family of your wife- the immediate family, I should say. You can only have in laws after you are married. If you're just dating, we wouldn’t call that person your father-in-law or your mother-in-law, because “in-law” means that the two of you, you and your wife or your husband, are legally married. That’s what makes her parents your father-in-law and mother-in-law and so forth.

If you have a question or comment or some problem with your mother-in-law, you can email me. The email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. I'll be happy to try to answer your questions, but I'm not going to help you with your mother-in-law.

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

to be admitted to the bar – to have passed the test of knowledge needed in order to work as an attorney or lawyer

* As a single mother, it took Basilla five years to complete law school and to be admitted to the bar.

intention – what one plans to have happen and wants to make happen

* It wasn’t our intention to visit for more than a week, but our granddaughter wanted us to stay a few extra days.

woe – troubles; problems

* Do you believe in Charlie’s story of woe, or do you think he invented it to get sympathy?

to play on (one’s) name – to change one's name a little bit in a funny, meaningful way

* When Mark got a dog, his friend played on his name and started calling him “Bark.”

to surrender – to give something up so that the other person wins or gains the reward; to give something to another person

* Is surrender the only option for peace, or is it possible for the two sides to reach an agreement?

third-party candidate – someone who is not associated with either of the two main political parties

* If a third-party candidate is popular enough, votes for him or her can affect the outcome of the election, even if the candidate does not win.

eventful – exciting, with many things happening

* We expected a quiet weekend, but it turned out to be very eventful, with a surprise visit from my best friend.

show business – the entertainment industry; the field of work involved in making TV shows, movies, theatrical plays, and music

* Suzie gave up her dreams of becoming a big star in show business and is now a business owner.

merchandising – the practice of making objects that are related to something famous, such as a celebrity, film, band, or event, and selling it to make money

* Do you think that basketball team owners make more money from merchandising or from selling tickets to the games?

residual – money that continues to be paid for as long as a TV show or movie continues to make money

* Drew was an actor on a popular TV show in the 1970s and he’s still getting residuals every time it’s shown on TV.

next of kin – the next relative, often a husband, wife, daughter, or son

* After the serious car accident, the hospital tried to contact the women’s next of kin.

guild – union; group of workers in one field of work who get together to try to get better working conditions, more pay, or other worker benefits

* Hugh joined the writer’s guild and attends meetings once a month.

revenue – income or sales from doing business; money a business receives from work it has completed or items it has sold
* Our company had low revenues this year because it is only our second year in business.

profit – the amount of money that a business has after taking away money it had to spend as part of doing business

* Our organization earned a lot of money this year, but we won’t know if we made a profit until we take a closer look at our expenses.

turnover – the amount gained or lost in a period of time

* There is a high level of employee turnover in this factory because of the dangerous conditions.

limerick – a funny poem of five lines, three long lines and two short lines, that often includes funny comments about sexual matters and has a specific rhyme

* Patrick made the entire bar laugh by telling limerick after limerick all night.

in-law – a relative through marriage; a member of your family gained though marriage

* My in-laws are coming into town to see our new baby girl.

What Insiders Know
How to Become an Extra for TV or Films

When most people think about television shows or films, they think about the “stars” or the actors who play the main characters. But these are not the only actors who appear in the show. Often, there are many “extras,” also known as “background artists,” who play very small roles in which they usually don’t speak, in the show or film as well, and becoming one of these is actually possible for anyone.

To become an extra, you don’t always have to have acting experience. Most companies that hire extras are looking for people who can do things that normal people do in a normal way, because most extras’ jobs involve sitting or standing or other natural things in the background of a scene. “Casting companies” (companies that hire actors and extras) usually need to see a “resume” (list of acting or other work experience) from the person wanting to become an extra, and they also need a “headshot” (a photo of the person’s head, or head and shoulders) so that they can see if they have the right look or style for the job.

After being hired as an extra, actors can be paid anywhere from nothing at all to “minimum wage” (the very least amount of money that a company can legally pay a person for work). If an extra becomes a member of the “Screen Actors Guild” (SAG), however, they can get paid more. The Screen Actor’s Guild is a labor “union” (professional organization) that makes sure actors get paid fully for their work.

Whether an extra is a part of SAG or not, their work hours are usually long: sometimes the extra must stand or sit from 10 to 16 hours a day, with few breaks. However, many extras think the long hours are worth it when they see themselves on television or in a film.