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358 Topics: Movies – Guess Who's Coming to Dinner; Famous songs – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald; to go on versus to keep on versus to move on; the suffix “ship”; to blow a raspberry

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 358.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 358. 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. 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 famous movies, talking about a film called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. We're also going to continue another series – we have a lot of series here – on famous songs focusing on a modern song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and as always we'll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

We begin this Café with a continuation of our series on American movies. Today, we're going to talk about a 1967 film or movie called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The verb “to guess” (guess) means to estimate or to say what one thinks the value of something is when you don’t really know it. For example, I might have a jar of candy and ask you to guess how many pieces of candy are in it. When we start a sentence with “Guess who…” or “Guess what…” we're introducing something surprising. We don’t think the other person will know what we're going to say. Often we use this to tell some exciting news.

So, guess how many years I've been recording episodes for ESL Podcast? Well, some of you know that, but if you didn’t, you might be surprised if I said more than six years. Wow! Can you believe it? No? Well, it's true. Well, in the movie title Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, we're trying to guess who will be coming over to your house or to someone’s house (not your house!), to someone’s house, in the movie, and we expect it to be something surprising, perhaps something exciting, but we're not sure, we're not certain who it is.

This particular film is about interracial marriages. “Interracial (interracial) marriages” are marriages between people of two different races or two different skin colors: an African American marrying a White American or a Caucasian American, an Asian American marrying an African American. Those would be examples of interracial marriages. Well, the film was very controversial in the late 1960s because there were some states in the United States that still had laws against interracial marriage, at least when the movie was being made. These laws were known as anti-miscegenation laws. We talked about that back on English Café 179.

“Miscegenation” is people of different races getting together. “Anti-miscegenation” would be laws that would prevent people from different races from marrying each other. In 1967, the same year the movie was actually released, when people got to see it, the United States Supreme Court, our highest legal body, our highest legal court, decided that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. They were against the basic law of the United States, which is our Constitution.

So, the movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was very controversial in itself. The movie confronted the controversy, or dealt with the controversy, “head-on.” When we say we do something “head-on,” we mean we do it directly, in a very straightforward way. You're not being subtle. You're not trying to be too careful. You're just going to talk about it or deal with it in a very direct way. In the movie, there's a young white woman and a young black doctor who fall in love and they decide to get married. Well, the woman brings the man, the doctor home to meet her parents and to have dinner at their parents’ house, but she doesn’t tell them that her fiancé, her future husband, the man she’s going to marry is black, is African American.

Now, she was raised in what we would call a liberal family. In this context, when we say someone is “liberal” (liberal), we're not talking so much about politics as their view of the world, and perhaps willingness to consider new things. Her parents were liberal. They taught her that blacks and whites should be treated as equals, but when they actually have a black man coming to their house and wanting to marry their daughter, there are some problems. There are some difficulties. Later in the movie, the opposite situation happens. The doctor’s parents meet the young woman and they don’t know that she’s white.

This movie “depicts” (depicts) or shows what happens with the woman’s parents on that day. I won't tell you how the movie ends, but it is a very emotional movie, a very interesting movie. I think you will enjoy it. It certainly helps you understand a little bit about what we might call “race relations” in the late 1960s. “Race relations” would be how the different races, blacks and whites and Asian Americans and others, got along, how they were able to deal with each other. The movie has some strong themes or main ideas, but it also had some amazing actors.

There were three Academy Award winners in the movie. The Academy Award, of course, is also known as the Oscars. It's the award given to the best actors in movies of the year in the United States. There were three Academy Award-winning actors in the movie: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Sydney Portier, who was the first African American to win an Oscar for Best Actor. While Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were experienced veteran actors – Tracy was old and somewhat sick when the movie was made, but the other actors really wanted to finish the movie, so they worked around his schedule and his abilities. He’s perhaps one of the best actors of his generation.

Spencer Tracy also had a romantic relationship with the other star of the movie, Katherine Hepburn. Spencer Tracy was so sick that he died just 17 days after they finished making the movie. Hepburn apparently never watched the movie. It was too sad for her to see Spencer Tracy in the movie after his death. The movie was very successful, even in the Southern states where people didn’t expect the movie to do very well. The film was also criticized, however, for perhaps making the African American doctor too perfect of a character, too good of a character. I'm not sure if that’s true, but that’s what some people said.

The people who made the movie, the “filmmakers” we would call them, said that they made the Sydney Portier character perfect so that the woman’s parents could only object to the marriage, could only say they didn’t approve of the marriage, because of the man’s skin color. The film was nominated for many Academy Awards. It won two of them for Best Actress and for Original Screenplay. The “screenplay” is the script that is used for the movie. Although Portier did not win Best Actor that year, 1967 was an important year in his career. He was the star of three successful or hit movies, not just Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but also In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, with Love. This movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is included in the American Film Institute’s list of 100 best movies. I talked about that in a couple of different ESL Podcast episodes.

Now, let's turn to our next topic, which is a continuation of our series on famous songs. We have movies and songs today. Today, I'd like to talk about a song called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The word “wreck” (wreck) can be a verb, meaning to destroy something, especially a boat, ship, plane, train, car or other kind of vehicle. When two cars have an accident, run into each other, we could say there was a “car wreck,” or when two trains hit each other, we could say that was a “train wreck.” When a ship in the ocean sinks, we might say that there was a “shipwreck.”

Well, “wreck” can be a verb meaning to destroy but it also can be a noun meaning to describe what basically remains after the accident, and that’s what the meaning is in the title of this song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It's about a ship that sank, a true story, a real story, of a ship that sank. That ship would be called a “wreck.” This particular ship was called a “freighter” (freighter). It's a kind of boat that is used to carry a lot of what we would call “cargo,” which would be a lot of things that you are moving from one area to another. In other words, it's not a ship for a lot of people. It's not like a cruise ship. It's not like a ship that would carry 500 people from London to New York or well, from England to New York. (You can't go directly from London, I suppose.)

This was not a passenger ship, in other words. A “passenger” is a person on a plane or a ship, a person who is taking that plane or ship to get from one place to another, not a person working on the ship. This was not a passenger ship. It was a ship for cargo, what we would call a freighter. The name of the freighter was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Well, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. When we say something “sank” (sank), we're using the past tense of the verb to “sink” (sink), which means it goes down into the water. In this case, it fell to the bottom of a lake called “Lake Superior,” one of the five large, what we call ‘”Great Lakes” in North America.

There was a huge storm in 1975 on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the lake closest to the state of Minnesota, where I'm from. Well, during the storm, unfortunately it was such a violent storm that the entire ship sank. This was quite unusual because it was a very large ship. All 29 members of the crew were killed. The “crew” (crew) are the people who are working on the ship. You have crew and you have passengers. It's the same when you take a plane. If you are in the plane working for the airline flying the plane or if you're a flight attendant, someone helping inside the plane, you are part of the crew. If you're not part of the crew, you are one of the passengers.

Well, all of the crew members of the Edmund Fitzgerald, sadly, were killed in this boat wreck, in this shipwreck. The story of the Edmund Fitzgerald was “national news,” we would say, when it happened in November of 1975. I remember it very well, not just because it was in the national news, but because the ship had been in Wisconsin, the state right next to Minnesota, when it left on its final trip, its final “voyage,” we might say. Now, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, as I said, was well known in the United States, but it became even more well known when a Canadian singer by the name of Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1976.

The song became very popular. Lightfoot thinks it was one of his best songs, and I tend to agree with him, although I don’t know any of his other songs. For me certainly it was his best song! He wrote the song as a tribute to the men who died. A “tribute” (tribute) is something you do to honor and to remember someone who has done something important, often but not always someone who has died. I'll sing you a few lines of the song. One of the things I like about the song is it really tells the story of what happened to the poor ship.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

The actual song is sort of like an old folk song, an old song that you might hear someone singing to tell a story about something that happened many years ago. It begins by saying, “The legend lives on.” A “legend” (legend) is a story that is told over and over again. Sometimes a legend is exaggerated. Sometimes not everything in the story is true. Here, however, everything is true. “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down.” The “Chippewa” is a tribe, a group, of Native Americans near Lake Superior, including living in the state of Minnesota, many of them.

When Lightfoot sings, “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down,” he means that the legend continues not just from the Chippewa, but everyone who lives south of the Chippewa. The Chippewa live in the north. Everyone who lives not just there but further south, away from the lake, tells this story, tells this legend, of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee. “Gitche Gumee” was what the large lake, Lake Superior, was called by the local Native Americans. That was the name in their language. He says that the “lake never gives up her dead.” By this he means that there are often dead bodies in the water, but Lake Superior is so cold that the bodies tend to stay underwater. They don’t come up to the surface. I'm not sure if that’s true. The lake never gives up its dead, sort of means it never reveals who has died there. It never shows you. It never tells you.

“The lake it is said never gives up her dead/When the skies of November turn gloomy.” The “sky” of course is what is above us, where the clouds are. “The skies of November turn gloomy” means that the skies are dark and gray. When we say something is “gloomy” (gloomy), that’s what we mean. It's sort of like when there are dark, gray clouds above you. Later in the song, we learn that the ship was destroyed by the gales of November. “Gales” (gales) are very strong winds that you will find in a large storm, and that’s exactly what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald. Because of the large winds and the difficulty, what we would call the “rough water,” the ship, we believe, actually broke in half and sank into Lake Superior, although we don’t know the exact cause for the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

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

Our first question comes from “Pick” (Pick) in Thailand. Pick has a question about three phrasal verbs ending in “on”: move on, go on, and keep on. Let's start with move on. “Move on” means to move or go from one place to another. It can also more generally mean to change, to go from your current situation to a new situation, maybe a new place but also maybe a new job, a new relationship. “To move on” is sometimes used when people need to change. They need to forget about what happened in the past but they don’t, so you say, “Well, you need to move on,” meaning she’s not going to come back to you. She found another man that she loves more than you. You need to move on. Kind of sad, really, but hey, we say in English “There are many fish in the sea,” many fish in the ocean. She’s not the only fish – move on!

To “go on” means to continue. I'm going to go on even though it's difficult. “To go on” could mean to continue a story. It could mean to continue an action. Somebody is telling you what happened to them today and then they stop. You may ask them a question or for whatever reason, and then you say to them, “Okay, go on” meaning continue your story. But if someone says, “Well, he goes on and on,” not just “go on” but he “goes on and on,” they mean that this person is talking too much, that they keep talking and talking and they’d never stop or they keep doing what they are doing and they don’t stop. That’s to go on.

To “keep on” also means to continue doing what you are doing without stopping, so in this sense it really means the same as “go on.” If the teacher says to you, “Keep on reading the book while I leave the classroom,” he or she is asking you to continue reading the book, to go on reading the book. “Keep on” is often followed by what's called the gerund. We've talked about “gerunds” (gerunds) a little bit before. It's a verb with the -ing form that actually works like a noun, and of course, “on” (on) is what we call a “preposition,” and prepositions typically start a part of the sentence called the “prepositional phrase.” And what we would call the “object” of the prepositional phrase is always a noun. So, when you say “keep on studying,” the word “studying” is a gerund – it acts like a noun even though it is formed from, or it is created from, if you will, a verb.

“Yoshio” (Yoshio) in Japan wants to know what a word that ends in “-ship” means (ship). Well, “-ship” is what we would call a “suffix” (suffix). We're doing a lot of grammar terminology today. A suffix is something that you add to the end of a word that usually changes its meaning somehow. A “prefix” (prefix) goes before a word. It's connected to the word, but it goes at the beginning of the word. English has prefixes and suffixes. There's a third kind of “ix” called an “infix” but English doesn’t have infixes, where something goes in the middle of a word. We just have prefixes and suffixes.

Well, -ship is a suffix. It can mean a couple of different things. Let's take a few examples. You can say “this is a membership in an organization.” A membership is someone – it's the status of someone who is a member. It's a noun. It means being part of this group or organization. So, when we say you can have a membership in ESL Podcast, we mean you can become a member. You can have the status or the situation of a member. That’s what a membership is. We also have words like friendship. Friendship describes the state or the situation of two people being friends. “Our friendship is very important to me,” meaning the fact that we are friends is something that is important to me.

“Ship” then generally means a state of being. It could also, however, be a position in an organization. He is an intern. He’s somebody who’s working temporarily for the company, usually training and learning things. The intern has an “internship.” The internship is the position that that person has in the organization. Notice that we do not say she is an internship. No. That’s not possible. She is an intern who has an internship. Friendship is similar. You can't say “Julie is my friendship.” No. Julie is my friend. We have a friendship.

“Ship” is also sometimes used to describe a group of people who have a similar interest or do something similar. We could talk about the “readership of the New York Times newspaper.” The readership would be the group of people who read that newspaper. I could talk about the “listenership of ESL Podcast.” That would include all of the people – and I'm talking about you – all of the people who listen to ESL Podcast.

Finally, a question from “Sevada” (Sevada) in Armenia. We don’t get a lot of Armenian questions, so thank you, Sevada, for writing. Well, let me read your question before I thank you. The question has to do with the expression “to blow someone a raspberry.” “To blow someone a raspberry (raspberry)” means to make a sound of disapproval, usually by sticking your tongue in your mouth out and blowing air through your lips so that it sounds a little like – well, it sounds like this [makes sound]. Not a very nice sound, right? That’s to blow a raspberry. Why a “raspberry”? Well, I think it comes from a slang term. I don’t really have the exact explanation.

There's a similar explanation, a little more common one, called the “Bronx Cheer.” “Bronx” (Bronx) is one of the boroughs or sections of New York City. The New York Yankee baseball stadium is in that particular section of the city called the Bronx. The Bronx is kind of a tough area. It has the reputation for people perhaps being a little difficult, and a Bronx cheer would refer people who didn’t like what the umpire, the referee, the official in a baseball game, has decided, especially a Yankees baseball game, and so they might give them a Bronx cheer, which sounds just like blowing a raspberry.

If you have a question or comment (I promise not to give you a Bronx cheer), you can email us at 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 English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

to guess – to estimate; to say what one thinks the value or type of something is when one doesn't really know it

* The storeowner told the children that if they can guess how many pieces of candy are in the jar, they get the entire jar of candy!

interracial – between two people or two groups people of different races or skin color

* This used to be an all-white university, but it is now interracial.

miscegenation – for people of different races or skin colors to have a romantic relationship or to marry

* Anti-miscegenation laws made it impossible for mixed-race couples to marry and live openly.

head-on – directly; in a straightforward way, without being delicate, subtle, or secretive

* Our new manager takes cares of problems head-on and solves them quickly.

liberal – open-minded and willing to consider new things; willing to ignore or reject traditional values

* Aaron comes from a very conservative family, so I’m surprised by his liberal views.

to object to – to not approve; to show one’s disapproval or disagreement

* My roommate doesn’t object to loud music and frequent parties.

wreck – what remains after an accident when a vehicle or other object has been mostly or completely destroyed; a vehicle or building that is badly damaged

* The large car crash on the freeway left a wreck of cars.

freighter – a ship that carries a lot of heavy cargo; a ship or an airplane that transports large items or a large number of items

* Every morning, large freighters carrying goods leave this port for Europe and Asia.

to sink – to fall below the surface of water; for a boat or ship to fall to the bottom of a body of water, usually because of damage

* If you don’t know how to swim, you might sink to the bottom of the swimming pool!

tribute – something that one does to honor and remember someone or something important

* This TV show is a tribute to great thinkers around the world.

legend – a story told over and over again; a popular traditional story about something that happened in history, but that may or may not be accurate or true

* When I was a child, my grandmother told me about the legend of King Arthur.

gale – very strong winds, usually in a storm

* The fishing boat was lost temporary in a gale, but no one was hurt.

to go on – to start doing or taking something; to go ahead; to continue

* Go on, take a bite and tell me if you like my cake.

to keep on – to continue doing or taking; to not stop

* You can’t keep on running from the police. They will catch you sooner or later.

to move on – to go from one place to another; to change from one’s current situation or position

* At the site of the accident, the police officer told the crowd, “Move on. There’s nothing to see here.”

to blow a raspberry – to make a sound that shows disapproval, made by sticking out the tongue and blowing air through the lips, intended to sound like flatulence or gas

* The naughty boy blew a raspberry at the babysitter when she told him that it was time to go to bed.

What Insiders Know
The Acting Team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

One of the most popular acting teams in American movie history is that of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. As well as having a “real-life” (real; true) love affair that lasted over 26 years (even though Tracy was married to another woman the entire time), Tracy and Hepburn also “starred in” (were the main actors in) nine movies together that were made over a period of 26 years.

Most of the movies that the couple starred in involved a “battle of the sexes” plot, in which the main male and female characters struggled against each other to have the “upper hand” (control or respect). Many of the movies could also be considered “romantic comedies,” or movies about the “romance” (love) of the two main characters told in a way that is meant to be amusing and entertaining.

The first film that Tracy and Hepburn made together was Woman of the Year in 1942. The movie told the story of two writers who worked for the same newspaper. They were married, but the husband (Tracy) wished that his wife were more feminine (more traditionally like a woman) and that she would do more things that were considered “wifely,” such as cook and clean the house.

Many of the other films they made included a similar theme. In Adam’s Rib, made in 1949, for example, the two once again played a married couple who argued, this time because they were on opposite sides of a “lawsuit” (court case). Hepburn was a lawyer defending a woman who had “shot” (used a gun to hurt or kill) her “unfaithful” (cheating) husband, and Tracy was on the other side, trying to get Hepburn’s client put in jail.

The other films that the couple made together were Keeper of the Flame (in 1942), Without Love (1945), The Sea of Grass(1947), State of the Union (1948), Pat and Mike, (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). Although almost every one of these films featured the “pair” (couple; two people) fighting, they actually got along very well in real life, which is one of the reasons why they are considered a “legendary” (extremely well-known) “on-screen” (in films) couple.