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361 Topics: Ask an American – The global economy; insidious versus vile versus despicable; lock and load; fancy versus fanciful

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You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 361.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 361. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. You can visit our ESL Podcast Store which has some additional courses in business and daily English. You can also download a Learning Guide on our website for this episode that will give you additional words, vocabulary, a complete transcript of everything we say, cultural notes – there's so much, I can't even remember everything that’s there. Go to our website and download it today.

On this Café, we're going to have another one of our Ask an American segments where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal rate of speech, a normal speed. We're going to listen to them and then explain what they're talking about. Today, we're going to talk about the global economy and how it is doing these days – not very well, you probably know. And as always, we'll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

Our topic on this Café’s Ask an American segment is the global economy. “Global” means throughout the whole world. “Economy” means how businesses are doing, how the governments are doing in terms of their money. We're going to listen to someone talking about the global economy. The man you're going to hear from is Lee Howell. He’s the managing director, he’s the person who is the director or the leader, of the World Economic Forum. We’ll listen first. Try to understand as much as you can, then we'll go back and explain. Let's listen.

[recording]

“I think the Global Confidence Index, in terms of what you saw with the latest results, it’s good news, but it’s relative. Relative to really the great uncertainty and concern that were seen in the last quarter, which, as you know, if we look back in December and January, at the close of last year and the beginning of this year, you know, lots of uncertainty particularly around what was happening in the Euro zone.”

[end of recording]

Before I begin, you have to remember we're recording this in the year 2012. If you're listening to this in the future, it may not be the same. We hope the world economy will not be the same. Lee Howell – I'll call him “Lee” – my friend Lee says, “I think the Global Confidence Index, in terms of what you saw with the latest results, it's good news.” Lee uses this expression, Global Confidence Index. An “index” (index) is normally something you find at the back of a book. That’s one use of the word “index,” where it has all of the most important words and names, where you can find the exact page where those are mentioned or discussed. An index, however, can also mean, especially in economics, a measurement or a way of assessing or measuring the level of something, especially compared over a certain period of time.

So, you might have a “price index” that tells you whether prices of certain things are going up or going down over time. A confidence index is a measure of how confident people feel about something – in this case, how confident they feel about the economy. Is it going to get better? Then they would feel confident. Is it going to get worse? Then they would not feel confident. So, the Global Confidence Index would be some sort of measure, maybe a survey or a poll, where they go out and ask people how confident are you in our economy, and they may give them a scale of 1 to 10. Ten means you're very confident, one means you're not confident. That would be a confidence index.

Well, this is the “Global” or Worldwide “Confidence Index” that he’s talking about. He says, “I think the Global Confidence Index, in terms of what you saw with the latest results, it's good news, but it's relative.” “In terms of” meaning, if we talk about it in these terms or in this way, in this case, if we talk about the latest results (meaning the most recent results) of our surveys, the most recent data we have, he says it's good news, but it's relative. When you say something is “relative” (relative), you're comparing it to something else. I might say “Well, the weather is very hot today,” but you might ask “Well, relative to what?” Hot in Los Angeles is not the same as hot in Phoenix or hot in the dessert or hot in Alaska. Hot is relative.

When you say something is “expensive,” well, compared to what? Price is relative. It may be expensive here in the United States and cheap somewhere else, so that’s what we mean by relative. We are comparing it to something else. So, Lee says that the Global Confidence Index is good news relative to, really, the great uncertainty and concern that we're seeing in the last quarter. So, he’s comparing the good news now or the news now to the uncertainty and concern that we're seeing in the last quarter. Something is always relative to something else. That’s the preposition we use, to. Well, the “something else” here is the uncertainty, meaning when people aren't sure about something, and concern, meaning they're worried about something that we saw in the last quarter.

“Quarter” (quarter) is one-fourth of something. In this case we're talking about one-fourth of the year, so we can say the year has four quarters: January, February, March, that’s first quarter; April, May, June, that’s second quarter; July, August, September, that’s third quarter; October, November, December is fourth quarter. Lee is talking about the “last quarter” meaning not the three months we're in now, but the one before that. So, Lee says that the Global Confidence Index, in terms of what you saw with the latest results, it's good news, but it's relative, relative to, really, the great uncertainty or a lot of uncertainty and concern that we had in the last quarter, and then as happen sometimes when we're speaking, we don’t always speak in complete sentences, Lee continues the same idea, so it gets a little confusing.

He says, “If we look back in December and January,” if we look at the data from December and January, the information, the index, “at the close or the end of last year and the beginning of this year, you know, lots of uncertainty.” There's a lot of people who didn’t know what was going to happen with the economy. “Particularly” or especially around what was happening in the “Euro zone.” The “Euro zone” refers to the area in Europe where the euro, the currency of the euro is used, so places like France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, all of those countries plus many others use the euro. That’s the euro “zone” or area.

So, basically what Lee is trying to say, not very well, is that the Global Confidence Index is looking good, but it's only looking good if we compare it to how horrible or bad it was last quarter when everyone was really worried and concerned, especially about things that were happening in Europe.

Let’s listen one more time:

[recording]

“I think the Global Confidence Index, in terms of what you saw with the latest results, it’s good news, but it’s relative. Relative to really the great uncertainty and concern that were seen in the last quarter, which, as you know, if we look back in December and January, at the close of last year and the beginning of this year, you know, lots of uncertainty particularly around what was happening in the Euro zone.”

[end of recording]

Next, Lee is going to explain a little bit more about the global economy. He’s going to talk about some of the changes that have taken place and also he’s going to talk about what happened in the past, in previous, years. Let's listen.

[recording]

“We’re seeing at least in the industrialized world a real concern over structural issues, structural unemployment. And also an appreciation that the monetary and sort of fiscal remedies that were put forth in the 70s and 80s and 90s have maybe run their limits in that fact that we’re dealing with a period of major structural change, economic level.”

[end of recording]

Once again, Lee has a very long sentence here that is more than just one sentence. He’s mixing up several sentences into one long sentence, so it's a little difficult to understand Lee. Maybe the problems we have in our economy are because of Lee! Maybe Lee is the problem with our economy, our global economy – something to think about.

Okay, so Lee starts by saying, “We're seeing,” we are noticing, “at least in the industrialized world, a real concern over structural issues.” The “industrialized world” refers to the countries that have a lot of manufacturing, that have a lot of very well-defined businesses. We're talking about countries that have strong economies, that have modern economies. This would be the industrialized, we might say “developed,” world. He says, “We're seeing at least in the industrialized world a real concern over structural issues.” “Structural” (structural) refers to something that is part of a system, something that is part of the way something is made. We could talk about the structure of a house. That would be the walls and the ceilings and the roof and the floor – those are all part of the structure.

“Structural” refers to the way something is put together, the elements or the things that are used to put something together. In this case, the something is the economy. Structural employment is where companies have employees as regular, fulltime employees. We're not talking about employment just for a few months or for what we would call “seasonal employment,” employment only for the summertime or the wintertime. We're talking instead about the basic, long-term, fulltime jobs in an economy. Lee uses the term “structural unemployment” – when people don’t have jobs and that the reason they don’t have jobs is there's something wrong with the economy. It's not just a temporary problem. It's something that is related to how the economy is put together, how its structure is made.

In addition to this concern about the structural unemployment in the economy, Lee says there's also now an appreciation that the “monetary and sort of fiscal remedies that were put forth in the 70s, 80s, and 90s have maybe run their limits.” An “appreciation” is when people say, “Oh yes, that’s important.” It's an understanding of how important something is, or it could be an understanding of how much someone has done for an organization. To appreciate someone means to also to thank them, to say you’ve done a good job. Here, however, it means really an understanding of the importance of something.

It's an appreciation of the “monetary and fiscal remedies.” Well, these are economic terms. “Monetary” (monetary) refers to changes in the currency, the money that we use, dollars or euros. A government might try to print more dollars in order to solve a problem. That might be a monetary remedy. A “remedy,” I should say, (remedy) is sort of like medicine that fixes something. It's a solution to a problem. “Fiscal remedies” refer to things like taxes, how much the government spends, how much tax it gets from its people. So, “fiscal” (fiscal) remedies are taxes or government spending. Monetary remedies would refer to how much the government prints of its money or how it controls the amount of money in the economy.

Lee – remember Lee? – Lee says that there is now an appreciation or an understanding that the monetary and fiscal remedies or solutions “that were put forth in the 70s, 80s, and 90s have maybe run their limits.” “To put forth” means to propose or to implement, to start using. The 70s, 80s, and 90s, of course, are the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s. He says “maybe they have run their limits.” The expression “to run their limits” (limits) means they have done as much as they can, but they can't do anymore. He says, “We're dealing with a period or a time of major structural change, economic level.” What he means is that the economy, the basic economy and the way the economy works, is starting to change, and so that these old solutions, the monetary and fiscal solutions, aren't going to be as effective anymore because of these changes. Let's listen to Lee one more time.

[recording]

“We’re seeing at least in the industrialized world a real concern over structural issues, structural unemployment. And also an appreciation that the monetary and sort of fiscal remedies that were put forth in the 70s and 80s and 90s have maybe run their limits in that fact that we’re dealing with a period of major structural change, economic level.”

[end of recording]

Our final quote is also, yes, from Lee. Lee is going to try to explain what we can do to correct these economic problems we have. Let's listen one final time.

[recording]

“What is missing is the efforts of particularly of those who are in the leadership position sort of connecting the dots for the public and saying, you know, if we do this and we handle this policy issue, it is going to impact this other issue. Or if we actually focus purely on this from a national context, we’re going to miss the big story because globally this is happening. I think we need a much more of a holistic and systematic approach in framing these issues for the public.”

[end of recording]

Lee talks like a lot of politicians and sometimes business executives, where he likes to use a lot of words but it isn't always clear exactly what he’s saying. I think maybe that’s the way he likes it. Let's try to figure out what Lee was saying. Maybe Lee was drinking before he did this interview. It's possible.

Lee says, “What is missing,” what we don’t have, “is the efforts,” the attempts, “of particularly of those who are in the leadership position,” so that the people who are leading the economy aren't doing the right things. What they're not doing, he says, is “connecting the dots” (dots). The expression “to connect the dots” literally means to draw a line between two points on a piece of paper. Young children sometimes do this. They make animals by connecting the dots that appear in one of their playbooks or their activity books, but here the expression means they're not understanding the relationship between two different things or more than two different things.

He says the leadership is not connecting the dots for the public. So, they're not explaining the relationships in the economy to the public, to the average person. They're not saying, “You know, if we do this and we handle this policy issue or take care of this problem, it's going to impact this other issue. It's going to have an effect on something else.” So he’s complaining, Lee is, that our leaders are not explaining to us how one thing affects another thing. He says, “Or if we do actually focus purely on this from a national context,” in other words, if we think about these problems one country at a time, think about what France does, think about what Germany does, think about what Mexico does or whatever, “we're going to miss the big story.”

The “big story” here refers to what we may also call the “big picture” or the “larger story.” We're going to miss what's happening in other places. We're going to miss the most important points about the global economy. Lee says, “We're going to miss the big story because globally this is happening.” He says, “I think we need a much more of a holistic and systemic approach in framing these issues for the public.” “To frame an issue” means to present a problem, to have a certain way of presenting a problem. “Holistic” means comprehensive. Here it means including everything. We're not going to just focus on one country or two countries. We're going to include everyone. “Systemic” refers to addressing problems or solving problems in a very specific, planned, orderly way. We're not doing this and then running over here and doing that. We're doing everything the way it should be done, completely.

Let's listen to Lee one more time.

[recording]

“What is missing is the efforts of particularly of those who are in the leadership position sort of connecting the dots for the public and saying, you know, if we do this and we handle this policy issue, it is going to impact this other issue. Or if we actually focus purely on this from a national context, we’re going to miss the big story because globally this is happening. I think we need a much more of a holistic and systematic approach in framing these issues for the public.”

[end of recording]

Thank you, Lee, for explaining that to us.

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

Our first question comes from “Rocky” (Rocky). I'm not sure if that’s the same Rocky that was in the movie. Remember there was a movie about a boxer in the 70s called Rocky? It could be the same guy. Rocky who lives in New York City, so he’s here in the United States, wants to know the meanings of the words insidious, vile, and despicable. These are all very negative ways of describing someone.

Let's start with “insidious” (insidious). Insidious means that something is getting bad, but you don’t notice it. It's not seen – something that is bad that is happening to you or to a situation, but that you don’t realize it's happening. You could have an infection in your body that was insidious. It was getting worse, but you didn’t know it.

“Vile” (vile) means very unpleasant, very disagreeable, very bad. It's sometimes used to describe a bad smell from something. When it's used to describe a person, it's really saying this person is evil. This person is really really bad.

“Despicable” (despicable) is also a very negative way of describing someone. You're saying this person does not deserve to be liked, that you should really hate this person. You should dislike this person. This person is despicable or what this person did was despicable. It is something you should disapprove of.

All three of these words then, insidious, vile, and despicable, are adjectives. They're almost always used in a negative way. It has to be a pretty bad person or a pretty bad situation to use these words. So, there you go, Rocky. I hope that helps.

“Stanislav” (Stanislav) from Russia wants to know the meaning of an expression he heard, “lock and load.” “Lock (lock) and load” (load) is referring technically to what you do with a gun. To lock and load would mean to put a bullet into your gun and that would be loading the gun and then getting it ready to shoot someone, to kill someone. In general, the word “lock” means to do something so that something will not open, something will stay closed, like a door. We're going to lock the door. To load usually means to put a bunch of stuff into a car or a plane or some other vehicle in order to move it, but as I said, lock and load refers specifically to what you do with a gun.

But it's used more generally to mean, “Let's get ready!” Let's make the preparations so that we can do what we want to do. It's not used now, usually, in the military sense, in the gun sense that I mentioned. It's usually used when people are talking about getting ready for an event, although I have to say I don’t think I've ever used the expression in that sense. I've never used the expression, period. But it is something that you might read or hear, so thank you, Stanislav for asking the question.

Finally, “Tracy” (Tracy), originally from China, now living here in the U.S.A., wants to know the difference between two similar words “fancy” (fancy) and “fanciful” (fanciful).

Let's start with fancy. “Fancy” usually means something is not plain. It's not simple. When we're talking about, for example, a dress or a shirt, we might say that it is fancy. It's very decorative. It has very high quality. We could talk about going to a fancy dinner last night at a restaurant, an expensive restaurant. Fancy refers here to very high quality. Everyone was probably dressed in a very nice way. There was wine. It was expensive. These are all things that could be related to fancy. Or you might say the word in describing, as I did before, the design of something. That’s a fancy dress. It's very complicated or the design on it. The way it looks is very sophisticated or of a high quality.

“Fanciful,” however, refers to things that aren't real, that are imaginary, that are related to a third word, “fantasy” (fantasy). Fantasies are things that are not real, things that you can imagine, but aren't true. Fanciful can also mean a little odd, a little strange, not normal. We might talk about the writer of a novel or a book creating fanciful characters or a fanciful world for his characters, an imaginary one, perhaps a little strange, a little odd, almost as if it were some sort of fantasy. But you could also say that this man has a fanciful mind with many imaginative ideas. He has a lot of strange, perhaps slightly unusual ideas. It could also be used simply to mean creative.

We could say, “Oh, those flowers are arranged. They're put into the flower pot in a fanciful way, with a fanciful pattern.” There, fanciful is starting to mean a little like fancy. I think fancy might be more common in that situation because fanciful really refers to things that aren't real and is often used as an adjective to mean that this person doesn’t really have a good understanding of the real world. It can sometimes be used in a negative way; that is, it could mean unrealistic, someone who doesn’t understand the way the real world works. Fancy is usually a positive quality of something that is of high quality or that is not plain. Fanciful means either related to fantasy, the un-real world or sometimes odd or strange, not normal, not like the real world, not like reality.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. My 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 English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
index – a measurement or a way of assessing the level of something and comparing it to the level at other times

* Doctors use their patients’ body mass index to determine whether they are underweight, at the correct weight, or overweight.

relative – a description of how something compares to something else

* I think I’m pretty busy, but I know it’s all relative. Mary is doing the same job as I am, plus raising four kids on her own. I can’t imagine how busy she must be.

quarter – one-fourth of a year, usually spring, summer, fall, and winter quarters

* Why were our third-quarter sales so low?

close – the end of a day, week, month, or year, particularly referring to when businesses complete their accounting for that period of time

* Can you have this finished by the close of the day?

industrialized world – the developed world; countries that have strong economies and a lot of manufacturing and well-defined industries

* People in the industrialized world enjoy a higher standard of living, but they have to deal with more pollution.

structural – describing something that is built into a system and is difficult or impossible to change

* Problems with employee schedules are structural and a result of poor planning.

monetary – referring to changes in money or the currency, usually to affect the economy in some way

* Changing the interest rate is a good example of how governments can manipulate the economy through monetary policies.

fiscal – referring to taxes, or to how a government raises money and pays what it owes

* These fiscal policies are unfair for low-income families.

to run (one’s) limits – to have done as much as one can, but to no longer have anything to offer and to no longer be effective or useful

* The human resources officers have tried to get Keith to improve his performance, but they have run their limits and now they have to fire him.

to connect the dots – to draw a line from one point to the next; to provide a clear explanation of something so that other people can understand it and reach the right conclusion

* It can be difficult for people to connect the dots and understand how their personal behaviors can contribute to world poverty.

holistic – comprehensive and inclusive; including all the parts of something, not just focusing on one or a few parts

* Our teachers take a holistic approach in teaching students, taking interest in all parts of their life.

systematic – methodical; addressing things in a specific, planned, and orderly way, not jumping from one topic to another randomly

* Your study time would be more effective if you took a systematic approach and read one chapter at a time.

to frame (an issue/problem) – to control the way in which something is presented to someone, usually so that that person will be persuaded or reach one's conclusion

* Each political party frames the issue of unemployment according to its beliefs.

insidious – getting worse without being noticed, often having harmful effects; moving without being seen

* The new manager’s effects on company morale have been insidious, but it’s now clear that employees are increasingly unhappy.

vile – very unpleasant; disagreeable

* Quentin got in trouble for sharing vile jokes at work.

despicable – worthy of disapproval; deserving strong dislike; worthless

* People who hurt children are despicable!

lock and load – to get ready for an event; to make the necessary preparations to act

* The presentation begins in five minutes. Lock and load!

fancy – having great quality; decorative; not simple/not plain

* They had a very fancy wedding with gourmet food, a huge band, and beautiful flowers.

fanciful – relating to fantasy (an unreal, imaginary world); led by fantasy and not reason; odd; strange; not normal

* How do you think of such fanciful stories for your novels?

What Insiders Know
The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index

The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is an economic “indicator” (a sign of the current status of something) of how “optimistic” (believing that good things will happen) “consumers” (individuals who participate in the economy by buying goods and services) are about the economy. It assumes that economists can “assess” (evaluate) consumers’ confidence by “observing” (studying; watching; monitoring) their savings and spending “habits” (the things one normally does).

The Conference Board, an “independent” (not affiliated with the government, a political party, or any other organization) economic research organization, “issues” (presents) the CCI each month, as it has since 1967. The CCI is “benchmarked” (compared to a standard) to 1985, so the CCI in the year 1985 is assigned a value of 100. In years with a CCI greater than 100, consumers are said to be more confident or more optimistic than they were in 1985.

The CCI is calculated by “conducting” (performing) a “survey” (questionnaire; a series of questions) of consumers’ opinions. Each month, 5,000 consumers are asked to share their opinions about how the economy is currently doing and how they believe the economy will do in the future, or whether they think things will improve or worsen.

In general, the CCI is widely “accepted” (not questioned) by economists, the “press” (media; newspapers, TV, and radio), and the “general public” (most people). Businesses monitor the CCI and if they see “wide swings” (abrupt, significant movements) in the index, they may increase or decrease their “output” (how much of something one makes) “accordingly” (in a way that matches the changes in something else).