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364 Topics: The O.J. Simpson Trial; to major versus to graduate; to pry; technically versus practically

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 364.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 364. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Go there, become a member of ESL Podcast, download the Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a very famous person in the United States and a very famous criminal case. We’re going to talk about O.J. Simpson and the O.J. Simpson Trial, sometimes called the “trial of the century.” When it took place, anyway, it was sometimes called that back in the 1990s. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café is all about famous people and murder. Yes, we’re going to talk about one of the most famous murder cases of the late 20th century in the United States involving a very famous celebrity – a very famous person.

The person is O.J. Simpson. Now if you don’t know who O.J. Simpson is, let me tell you a little bit about him. His real name is Orenthal James Simpson, but people call him by his initials, O.J. O.J. is also what we call orange juice. So, one of O.J. Simpson’s nicknames – one of the names people used to use to describe him was “The Juice,” like the other kind of O.J., orange juice.

O.J. Simpson was a football player – an American football player. He went to the University of Southern California, right here in Los Angeles. He was a star. He was one of the great football players of his generation – of the time when he played. He became a professional football player during the 1970s. He played for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers. Later, he became something of an actor; he was in a few movies. He’s most famous probably for some television commercials that he did for a rental car company, a company that will rent you a car, and that was called Avis (Avis), which is still around. The commercials were popular back in, oh, at least the 1980s, maybe the 1970s, I don’t remember exactly. But O.J. Simpson became even more famous in the United States a few years later, after his football and television career. He became famous for being accused of murder. “To be accused” (accused) means someone says you did something wrong. We’re not sure, but someone says you did it. Well, O.J. Simpson was accused of murder. He became famous – even more famous, though some people would perhaps describe what happened to him as not “fame” (fame), which is when everyone knows about you – hears about you – but rather notorious. “Notorious” comes from “notoriety” (notoriety). “Notoriety” means becoming famous because you did something bad. So you can be famous for doing something good or bad, but if you’re “notorious,” that means you’re famous and bad. You’re definitely someone who did something wrong.

O.J. Simpson had married a woman when he became famous, and then he later divorced that woman. They had, I believe, two children. His ex-wife was called Nicole Brown Simpson; Brown was her name before she got married, what we would call her “maiden name.” She kept the name Simpson, so her full name was Nicole Brown Simpson.

On June 13, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife – his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson – and her friend, a man by the name of Ronald Goldman, were “murdered” or killed outside of Nicole Brown Simpson’s house. So his ex-wife and this other man were killed outside of Simpson’s house. O.J. Simpson was immediately a key suspect. When we say he was a “suspect” (suspect), we mean that the police thought that he may have committed or done the crime; he might have been the murderer. They weren’t sure; the police, however, thought that the case against O.J. Simpson was pretty strong, meaning there was a lot of evidence to show that O.J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife and this other man.

In the past, before this murder took place, the police had responded to domestic violence calls involving O.J. and Nicole many times. When we say something is a “domestic violence call,” we mean the police are called because usually the wife is complaining that the husband is physically hurting her. “Domestic violence” refers to when someone in a married couple or someone living with someone else is violent with the other person. Usually we associate the domestic violence as the husband – the man – hurting the wife – the woman. Because O.J. and Nicole had a history of domestic violence the police knew that O.J. Simpson in the past had been violent with his wife – physically violent, hitting her – they believed O.J. Simpson may have killed his ex-wife out of jealousy. “To be jealous” means to want something that someone else has, and in this case, O.J., the police thought, knew that his ex-wife was dating another man – was going out romantically with this other man, Ronald Goldman, at least that’s what he thought – and he then went and killed both of them. That was the theory the police had.

Now the police, especially with famous people, will sometimes tell that person that they can come to the police station and turn themselves in. “To turn yourself in” means that you don’t wait for the police to come and take you – to arrest you, you go to the police and say all right, I did this crime, or I realize that you think I did this crime so I’m coming here to you. The police gave O.J. Simpson that opportunity, but Simpson did not turn himself in. Instead he got into a car, a white Ford Bronco, and tried to escape the police, and he did so on a very famous freeway here in Los Angeles. The driver of this car, O.J. Simpson’s friend, told the police that O.J. had a gun, and that perhaps O.J. was going to kill himself. That was the idea, so the police followed the car, but very slowly. Normally when the police follow another car, a car that has a criminal in it, we call it a “chase” (chase). This is what we would call a slow or low-speed chase; the opposite would be a high-speed chase. It was a slow speed chase because O.J. was only going maybe 35 miles an hour. This chase was broadcast on television live.

One of the weird things about living in a big city in the United States, at least here in Los Angeles, is that there are a lot of car chases. There are a lot of cases where people try to escape from the police, and so they get in their car and they drive really fast, and then the police drive after them. There are helicopters – news helicopters that go around and they find these chases, and the local news stations, some of them, broadcast these chases live. So you could be turning on the television expecting to watch, I don’t know, your favorite comedy, and suddenly there’ll be this live chase – police chase, and that’s what happened in the case of O.J. Simpson. I remember it; I saw it on television back in June of 1994 here in Los Angeles. The chase lasted an hour and 40 minutes, and there were 20 police cars and more than 20 helicopters. So there was no way that O.J. Simpson was going to escape. Simpson returned to his house. He spent some time talking to his mother, and then he surrendered to the police. “To surrender” (surrender) means to turn yourself in, to say to the police okay, you can take me.

Now, almost everyone at this point believed that O.J. Simpson was guilty, based on the evidence. However, Simpson said he was not guilty. He, we would say, “pleaded (pleaded) not guilty.” “To plead” means to say whether you are guilty or not; it’s official, legal term. You can plead not guilty, which means you can say no, I did not do this crime. In fact, he said he was absolutely, 100 percent not guilty. He was trying to use some emphasis there. People normally when they’re asked whether they are guilty or not guilty are supposed to just say one word – well, two words: “not guilty,” or if you’re guilty, “guilty.” But O.J. Simpson – remember, he was an actor – knew that he could make an impression on people by emphasizing the fact that he was not guilty.

The trial – the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which took place I think the following year, lasted almost eight months. It was one of the longest criminal trials – not the longest in history but one of the longest, certainly, that I can remember. Actually, I think it lasted nine months. The most interesting thing about the trial was that it was on television, so you could watch the entire trial every day, just like a television program. You could turn on your TV and you could watch the entire trial, and many people watched many parts of that trial. I watched some parts of the trial, not very many.

The people in the trial became famous – not just O.J. Simpson, but the lawyers also became famous; the judge became famous. The name of the judge in that case was Lance Ito. He was responsible for making decisions in the case. The “prosecutors,” the attorneys for the government, they also became famous: Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.

O.J. Simpson, because he was a very rich man, put together a group of – a team of some of the best lawyers in the United States; they called it the “Dream Team.” The “dream team” here meant it was the best possible team you could have. That expression became popular back in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, when the United States for the first time had some its best professional basketball players on the Olympic team, and that team, which won the gold medal, was called the “Dream Team.” O.J. Simpson’s lawyers were also called, a few years later, the “Dream Team.” They included a lawyer who became famous – he wasn’t famous before the trial, but he certainly was afterward, Johnnie Cochran. There were other famous lawyers, including Robert Shapiro and a man by the name of Robert Kardashian. If you know anything about American celebrities, you’ll know that the word “Kardashian” has become famous again because his daughters have become famous – famous for doing nothing, as far as I can tell! But we won’t talk about the Kardashians, we’ll talk, instead, about O.J. Simpson.

All of these lawyers – and there were other famous lawyers also who worked for O.J. Simpson – were quite famous and quite expensive. Some people said that Simpson may have spent as much as six million dollars on his legal defense.

Initially, when the trial began, almost everyone, as I said, thought that O.J. Simpson was guilty. But as the trial continued there were some people who began to doubt whether Simpson was guilty or whether the police had enough evidence to prove he was guilty. A lot of this evidence revolved around or was concerning DNA. “DNA” is your genetic code; everyone has a certain specific DNA. Some people call it the “building block of life.” The prosecutors – the government said the DNA evidence, the blood that was found on the murder scene, or the place where the murder happened, was linked to or connected to O.J. Simpson. But DNA evidence was not as common in the 1990s as it is now, and so there were still a lot of people who had doubts about what the DNA evidence really meant, and there are some people who said well, maybe, maybe he’s not guilty.

There were other problems with the government’s arguments – with the government’s case. The police, for example, had not always followed the proper procedure – done the right things with other physical evidence. The blood of O.J. Simpson was not stored properly in the laboratory; it wasn’t kept in the right place. There were questions about whether all of the evidence was available, whether some of it removed or stolen.

A lot of the case revolved around or concerned what was a glove – a golf glove that had blood on it. The attorney for O.J. Simpson goaded the prosecution team to ask O.J. to try the glove on to see if would even fit his hand. “To goad” (goad) means that you are provoking someone to do something. You are saying things to them so that they will do something you want them to do. The defense team of O.J. Simpson wanted O.J. to try on this glove to see if it would fit. Now, if it did fit it would be very damning evidence for O.J. Simpson. When we say something is “damning” (damning) we mean it is very bad; it will make that person look guilty. However, Cochran said that the glove didn’t fit O.J. Simpson’s hand, and he used a little rhyme: “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” “To acquit” (acquit) means the jury, the group of 12 people who decide whether you are guilty or innocent, say no, you are innocent, you are not guilty. “It doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” that’s what Johnnie Cochran the lawyer said. So of course, when O.J. Simpson tried on the glove – he tried to put the glove on the hand – it looked like it didn’t fit. Now if you actually watch the video it seems pretty obvious to me that he is pretending it doesn’t fit. But many people said oh, look see, the glove doesn’t fit.

After nine months of this long trial – and there are many other parts to the trial that I’m not talking about here, I could talk another 20 minutes about this trial. But at the end of this nine month trial the jury, the 12 people who decide the case, went to consider whether he was guilty or not. And after only a very short time, only four hours, they came back to the courtroom and said he was not guilty; they acquitted him.

It’s important to realize that there were millions of Americans who were watching this trial, and when they heard the verdict, which is the decision of the jury, they were rather shocked. The government was shocked. But many people were very happy about this verdict. You see, O.J. Simpson is an African American. He was a hero in the African American community, and historically the police, especially here in Los Angeles, have not always treated African Americans fairly, or at least that was the perception. So, the African American community was largely or mostly happy with the decision of the jury – the verdict. The reaction definitely divided along racial lines, or racial lines, meaning blacks thought one thing and whites thought something else.

After the criminal trial, there was a second trial, what we would call a “civil trial.” This was not about sending O.J. Simpson to jail for what he did, but for making him pay money to the families of the two people who were murdered. In this second trial, O.J. Simpson was found guilty and ordered to pay 33.5 million dollars, although through a variety of means he was able to escape almost all of that payment.

However, several years later in 2007, he got involved in more legal problems. He tried to steal something from someone in Las Vegas. He was found guilty of that crime, and right now, in 2012, he is still in jail, not for murdering someone but for trying to steal something.

If you’re interested in this fascinating bit of American and Los Angeles history, there’s a wonderful book by Dominick (Dominick) Dunne (Dunne) called Another City, Not My Own.

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

Our first question comes from Matheus (Matheus) in Brazil. Matheus wants to know the terms “majored” and “graduated.” Both of these terms are used in, among other things, talking about education and college – universities.

“To major” (major), when we’re talking about a school or university, means to have a focus of study. It’s the one specific area you’re studying. For example, when I was at the University of Minnesota I majored in history. That means that especially my last two years I spent a lot of time taking only history classes, and I got my degree – my bachelor’s degree in history. You could major in English; you could major in art; you could major in engineering, in mathematics, in business. Every college offers a number of different majors – areas of study.

“To graduate” means to complete your studies, to finish college or university and get your degree. So when I said I majored in history and I got my degree – my bachelor’s degree, that means I graduated. It took me a very long time to graduate. I’m not very intelligent so I was in college for many years, but I finally graduated. I finally obtained or got my degree. We might also call it a “diploma.” The “diploma” is the actual piece of paper you get. “Graduate” can also be a noun to describe the person who graduated. “Graduate” can also be used to describe a student who has finished their bachelor’s degree is getting a higher degree. We would call that person, using it as an adjective, a “graduate student.” So, “graduate” can be a verb meaning to finish your studies, a noun describing a person who has finished his or her studies, and as an adjective to describe someone studying a higher degree, a master’s or a doctorate level degree.

From Brazil, we fly over the ocean to South Korea, and answer a question from Tae-kyo (Tae-kyo). The question has to do with the verb “to pry” (pry).

“To pry” is a verb that usually means to ask someone questions about something that is secret or that isn’t really any of your business. “I don’t mean to pry, but isn’t that your girlfriend over there kissing another man?” It’s not really, perhaps, appropriate or right for you to ask that question, or to try to get that sort of personal information from another person.

“Pry” can also be used in a, shall we say, physical way. If you have something that has a top on it that you’re trying to open, you might try to pry the top if the top won’t come off, use some sort of instrument, a knife or what we call a “crowbar” to try to get the top off of the box or the container. That’s also “to pry.” Or if a door won’t open we might take a piece of metal and try to pry it open, try to get it open even though it is difficult.

And from South Korea we go to Russia, where Dmitry (Dmitry) has a question about a couple of different adverbs: “technically” and “practically.” I use both of these words frequently on the podcast, and Dmitry wants to know exactly what they mean and how they are different, if they are different.

Let’s start with “technically” (technically). The “ly” at the end tells you usually in English that this is a verb. It’s not always true that a word that ends in “ly” is a verb. The word “dolly” for example (dolly) is not an adverb; it’s a noun. But usually, when you take an adjective and you add an “ly” to it, it becomes an adverb, meaning it describes the verb. It modifies, we say, the action of the sentence.

“Technically” can mean according to the facts or based on an exact meaning. For example, I might say, “We don’t have to be here until seven o’clock technically, but it’s always good to be early.” Here, “technically” means actually, factually, in reality, if we look at the very specifics of the situation. Let’s say you work in a store, and the store closes at five o’clock in the afternoon, and someone comes up to your door at one minute after five – 5:01 – and wants to come in. You could say, “Well, technically the store closes at five o’clock, but because it’s only one minute after I’m going to let you in,” and you let the person into your store.

“Practically” (practically) means pretty much, almost. “The food was practically gone when we arrived at the party.” It wasn’t completely gone; it was almost gone. “Practically” means something very different than “technically,” they’re not similar. In this instance, “practically” means almost but not completely. We often use an expression, “practically speaking,” to mean almost, something that is almost in a certain situation. “Practically speaking, he is a student here at our college even though he doesn’t pay any money.” He comes to all of the classes, he talks to the professors, he’s practically a student but he’s not actually a student. He’s sort of almost a student.

“Technically,” when used at the beginning of the sentence, usually means according to the rules. It is often followed by something in the sentence that goes against those rules, like technically you’re supposed to do this but no one does. “Practically” means almost or pretty much. “He and that friend of his are practically brothers. They’re so close, they talk to each other so often.” Oh, wait a minute. If they were brothers they probably wouldn’t be talking to each other so often! Anyway, you get the idea.

If you have any questions or comments for us, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

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

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

notoriety – being well-known by many people for something bad; being famous for something negative that one has done

* Germaine doesn’t mind his notoriety for never arriving early to work.

key suspect – the person whom the police believe has committed a crime, although they do not have (enough) proof yet

* The key suspect in the burglary showed that she was out of town at the time of the crime.

domestic violence – violence or harmful and angry behavior such as hitting, between a husband and wife or any two people who live together

* The days when police ignored domestic violence because it was a private family matter are over.

to turn (oneself) in – for a criminal to go to the police and admit what he or she has done, without waiting to be caught and arrested

* The teacher wants to know who stole the test out of her desk. She said she would be less angry if the person responsible turns himself in today.

to surrender – to stop fighting and agree to go with the police; to stop competing and admit that the other person has won

* I didn’t believe it when Jake said that he was the best chess player in school, but after playing a game with him for only a half hour, I surrendered.

to plead not guilty – for the person accused of a crime to officially say in court that he or she did not commit a crime

* The man pled not guilty to trying to get a bomb onto the airplane.

dream team – a collection of people who are very good at doing something, or who are the best in their fields; a group of people believed to be the best combination for a specific purpose

* Louise wants to compete in the next Olympics and has assembled a dream team of trainers to help her reach her goal.

DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid; the genetic material that is considered the building block of life and is different for every person

* We’ll need a DNA test to find out if Jeb or George is the father of her baby.

to goad – to annoy someone in order to get them to do something; to bother someone until they agree to do something

* The boy didn’t want to jump into the lake, but the older boys goaded him into it.

damning – something that clearly shows that someone is guilty; something that clearly shows that something bad is true

* Quinn didn’t want to believe that his partner had betrayed him, but he found damning evidence on her computer.

to acquit – to determine that someone is not guilty; for a judge or jury to officially say in court that someone did not commit a crime

* Kyle was acquitted in court of stealing from the company.

divided along race lines – for people of different races (white, black, Asian, etc.) to have different opinions or behaviors

* Supporters for each presidential candidate are not divided along race lines, but are instead divided along class lines.

to major – to have as a focus of study during a student’s time at school; to have one specific area of study that a student focuses on in college or at the university

* Why did Neal change his major from accounting to psychology?

to graduate – to complete one’s studies; to obtain a degree or diploma

* Li hopes to find a job when she graduates from college.

to pry – to get or separate; to get something not easy to get; to open with difficulty

* The old garage door was in such poor condition that it took three people to pry it open.

technically – according to the facts; based on the exact meaning

* Our tax returns aren’t technically due until April 15th, but it’s best to mail them early so they arrive before the deadline.

practically – from a reasonable perspective; in a way that makes common sense

* Fiona hates her job and wants to quit right now, but she has to think practically, which means waiting until she has another job offer.

What Insiders Know
The Heisman Trophy

“The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award,” better known simply as “The Heisman Trophy,” is given to the most “outstanding” (very best) college football player of the year every year. The award was first given in 1935 and was called the “Downtown Athletic Club Trophy” (named after the business that awarded it), but the name was changed the following year to honor the death of John Heisman, who had been the Downtown Athletic Club’s director. John Heisman had also been a great football player himself, as well as a “coach” (athletic instructor) of many college teams, such as Auburn University, Clemson University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Heisman Trophy is one of the oldest awards in football, and it is different from many of the other awards because it is given to the “most outstanding player of the year,” and many players consider the Heisman to be the very best award that a sports player can receive in their career. The winner of the award is chosen by a combination of fans’ votes and the opinion of “journalists” (people who write or report about sports events), who are thought to be “impartial” (unbiased; not a supporter of any one person or team).

The Heisman Trophy is presented every year near the end of the football season, usually in late winter or early spring. Many football players have become quite famous after receiving it. O.J. Simpson, for example, was the “recipient” (the person who received it) in 1968. Archie Griffin won the award two times in a row, in 1974 and 1975, and Tim Tebow, one of the most talked-about football players of the 2000s, won it in 2007.