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365 Topics: Movies - King Kong; Famous Americans - Lance Armstrong; its sounds versus it sounds as if; acting versus pretending; gobbledygook

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 365.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 365. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from – where else? – the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. Go there today to take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, with some interesting additional courses in business and daily English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about another famous American movie. Today, we’re going to talk about King Kong. We’re also going to continue our series on famous Americans, talking about the cyclist and somewhat controversial athlete, Lance Armstrong. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started!

This Café begins with a discussion of a well-known American movie, King Kong. The original King Kong movie was made in 1933. It was a black-and-white film. There have, however, also been some remakes. A “remake” (remake) means to make again. The prefix “re” (re) – in front of a word – usually means it’s done again, more than once. A remake is a movie that has already been made but then they make a different version with different stars. King Kong has been remade – past tense – in 1976 and again, more recently in 2005.

The plot or basic story of the movie is that there’s a film crew – a group of people who are working to make a movie – and a beautiful actress. And they go to a remote island – an island that is not close to anything else – and when they’re there, they find this huge, very large gorilla-like monster called “Kong” (Kong). Well, they are captured or caught by the native people who live on this remote island and they prepare to give the actress as an offering to Kong. An “offering” (offering) is something that is given to a god or some supernatural power, to make it happy, to protect the people. This idea is very, very deeply rooted – that is, it’s very much connected with many religious traditions in the world, the notion of an offering, the idea of giving an offering.

Well, the film crew offers this beautiful actress and Kong comes and he takes her away. The film crew follows Kong and the actress into the jungle. The “jungle” (jungle) is a forest with a lot of trees – a “tropical forest” we would call it. Eventually, they rescue the actress and they trap Kong – that is they put him in a cage, like a prison. Then they bring Kong back with them to New York City and he is shown to people. People come and see this strange, huge gorilla-like monster. But Kong is very strong and he breaks free of his shackles. “Shackles” (shackles) are the chains that are holding his arms and legs together. We usually use this term when we’re talking about slaves. When the slaves were brought, for example, from Africa to the United States, they were often put in shackles. They would have these chains on their arms and legs so they wouldn’t escape.

Well, Kong is so strong that he breaks his shackles and is able to go free. Well, I don’t want to tell you how the movie ends but eventually, Kong is on top of – at that time, the tallest building in New York City – the Empire State Building. It was the tallest building again after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The Empire State Building then is sort of a symbol of New York City. It’s been around for many years and King Kong was on the top of the building. I won’t tell you how the movie ends. You’ll have to go see one of the versions yourself.

In 1933, the original film starred a man by the name of Bruce Cabot as well as Robert Armstrong, and the beautiful actress was played by a woman named Fay Wray. It was very well received and in fact, is considered one of the 100 best movies in the last 100 years, according to the American Film Institute. In 1976, they made the movie again, this time with Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and the beautiful actress was the beautiful Jessica Lange. The 1976 remake was not as popular as the original, but it did receive one Academy Award. In 2005, they remade the movie again with Jack Black, Adrien Brody, and the beautiful Naomi Watts as the actress. The film was very expensive to make but it was also a financially successful – in fact, it was one of the highest grossing films for the movie studio that made it – Universal Pictures.

When we say it was “one of the highest grossing (grossing),” we mean it was one of the movies that got the most amount of money, people paid the most amount of money to see. When we talk about your “gross,” we’re talking about the money that comes in. Of course, that’s not the only thing that’s important in a business. You also need to look at your expenses. And the difference between what you bring in and what you spend is of course, the money that you can keep – what we call your “profit.” The 2005 movie won three Academy Awards. I’m not sure if they were for acting, however.

King Kong is an important cultural figure, you might say, in American 20th century history. The scene of King Kong on top of the Empire State building representing this danger to civilized society is something that you see in other movies, in other movies in other countries as well – the idea of the terrible monster who is, perhaps, just misunderstood. So, if you haven’t seen at least one of the versions of King Kong, you might want to watch it and find out a little bit about what we’re talking about – one of the great movies of the 20th century in the United States.

Now let’s turn to our next topic. We’re going to talk about another famous American. Today, it will be the cyclist Lance Armstrong. A “cyclist” (cyclist) is an athlete who rides bicycles very fast – very quickly – usually in races or competitions, to see who can ride the fastest. Lance Armstrong was born in the state of Texas, in the southwestern part of the United States in 1971. As a child, he was a swimmer but later he became interested in triathlons. A “triathlon” (triathlon) is an athletic competition, a sporting competition that has three different parts to it. One of it is running, another part is cycling, and a third part is swimming. A triathlon requires that you run, that you bike, and that you swim.

In 1992, Lance Armstrong represented the United States in the Summer Olympics and he won many cycling races there. He was often the youngest cyclist to win that race or the first American to do so. He won the Tour de France seven consecutive times. The Tour de France is the most famous bicycle race in the world and Lance Armstrong won it seven consecutive times. “Consecutive” (consecutive) means one right after the other. We might also use the expression “in a row” (row). So, he won in this year and then the next year and then the year after that and then the year after that and so forth – seven times.

In 1996, when Armstrong was just 25 years old, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. “Testicular” (testicular) refers to “testicles.” “Testicles” are the part of the man’s body that produces the necessary ingredients to make baby, shall we say. Most men have two of them. In the case of Armstrong, his cancer spread or moved into other parts of his body, including his lungs, his stomach, and his brain. He had surgery and chemotherapy – which are ways of trying to get rid of or slow down the spread of cancer. Doctors, however, did not give him a good “prognosis.” A “prognosis” (prognosis) is what the doctor thinks will happen to this person, to this patient. How long, for example, the person might live or what his chances of surviving for many years are. The doctor thought Armstrong had a 40% chance of surviving, but he recovered. He got better and he actually returned to racing after his surgeries and chemotherapy.

In addition to being a world famous cyclist, Armstrong, in 1997, decided also to become the founder or person who starts a foundation, an organization – The Lance Armstrong Foundation, modestly enough as it is known. The Lance Armstrong Foundation raises money or tries to get people to give them money for cancer research and to help people who have cancer. The foundation became famous in the late ‘90’s for selling these little yellow bracelets.

A “bracelet” (bracelet) is a piece of jewelry that is worn around your wrist. Your “wrist” (wrist) is where your hand joins your arm. So, a bracelet goes around your wrist. Women often wear diamond bracelets, for example, but men nowadays also wear bracelets. I don’t personally, but some men do. Bracelets were sold to support The Lance Armstrong Foundation and the name of the bracelet – there was actually a word on the bracelet – it was “Livestrong,” as one word. I guess that’s sort of like “Armstrong,” I’m not sure. “Livestrong” was the word that was printed on the bracelet. These bracelets were sold for a dollar each and over 80,000,000 bracelets were sold. It was common to see people wearing these bracelets. I never had one but a friend of mine had one. Many organizations, since that time, looked at the success of that and thought, “Hey, we should sell bracelets, too.” So, now you can buy bracelets for other important causes.

One of the most controversial things about Armstrong has been the allegations of “doping.” An “allegation” (allegation) is an accusation. It’s a statement saying that you have done something wrong, although there isn’t yet proof, perhaps, of that wrong doing. “Doping” (doping) is using drugs to help your body become stronger. Now, “doping” refers specifically to drugs that are not allowed in your sport – that are considered illegal. “Steroids,” for example, is a very common drug used for those athletes involved “doping.” Armstrong’s samples have been tested for doping many times. Most of the tests have come out negative, however.

In February of 2012, which is a few months before this episode was recorded, the U.S Federal investigators decided to drop their investigation, to stop their investigation into allegations of doping. Some people say he did, some people say he didn’t.

Today, Armstrong continues to cycle and defend himself against these allegations. He continues to compete in marathons. In 2005, he was so popular in his home state of Texas, some people thought he would become a politician and run for election or try to be elected as governor of Texas. Right now, he’s continuing his activity in his foundation. He’s trying to get more money for cancer research.

Lance Armstrong has received many awards in the United States. He has been named the “Male Athlete of the Year” by one organization. He was called the “United States Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year.” Sports Illustrated, a magazine popular here in the U.S, named him “Sportsman of the Year.” I don’t really have an opinion about Lance Armstrong. I’m not very interested, honestly, in the sport of cycling. I would rather just, I don’t know, get my car and drive there. But remember, I live in Los Angeles and everyone drives here in L.A.

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

Our first question comes from Mohammad (Mohammad) in Iran. Mohammed wants to know the difference between the expressions, “It sounds,” and “It sounds as if.” Well, the verb “sound” (sound) can mean to make a noise. However, when we say, “It sounds” followed by an adjective, typically, we mean it appears or it seems to us. “It sounds weird what you told me about your mother.” “It sounds strange.” “It sounds exciting – your new job sounds exciting.”

If you’re going to compare it to a noun, you have to add the word “like.” “It sounds like a very boring concert.” “A very boring concert” is the noun that you are talking about. You’re saying, “It seems like,” or “In my opinion, it is a very boring concert from the way you are describing it.” The expression “It sounds” is almost always used when someone else is telling you about some situation even though you don’t have personal experience with it - “It sounds” or “It sounds like.”

“It sounds as if” means it appears as if or it seems as if. “As if” can be used in a couple of different situations but here, when it’s combined with “It sounds” – “It sounds as if” – you’re sort of taking a guess about a situation that you’re not completely sure of. You only have a certain amount of information. “It sounds as if you might have a cough. You might be sick from what I can hear.” Or “It sounds as if your brother really needs money.” I’m not sure, but that’s my best guess. In most cases, “It sounds like” can be used in the same places where you would say “It sounds as if.” But if you’re going to follow it with an adjective, then you just say, “It sounds” and then the adjective – you don’t add any other words afterward.

From Iran, we travel to Turkey, where “Nurullah” (Nurullah) has the following question. “What’s the difference between acting and pretending?” “To act” as a verb – (act) – means to play a certain role. It could be in a movie or in a theater production, in a play – but it might also be in your everyday, normal life – to behave in a certain way, to behave in a special way. We might say, “Oh, he’s acting very strange today” – that means the way that he is behaving, the way he’s talking, the way he’s moving, the things that he’s doing – all of these things seem strange or weird to us. It’s possible that he is actually feeling that way or maybe he just wants us to think that he is that way.

And that leads us to the second word which is “pretending.” “To pretend” (pretend) means to act in a certain way or to do something that you know isn’t true or you know isn’t real, but you’re doing something so that people think something is true. So, someone says, “Oh, I saw your boyfriend last night at a party.” And you know your boyfriend was at the party and you say, “Oh, really? I didn’t know that.” Basically, you’re lying to that person. You’re pretending as if you didn’t know.

“To pretend” is always a case where you know that what you’re doing isn’t real – isn’t true. “Acting” could be used to describe someone who really is doing what he says he’s doing or the reality or the truth is the same as what he’s doing, or someone who’s acting could also be doing something just to make you think that it’s true – that is, pretending. Now, I’m not using acting and pretending the same way they might be used in a movie production or a television production. People who are actors would probably point out or tell me that there is a difference between pretending and acting and I do think that’s true, but in normal everyday conversation, that’s how these words might be used.

From Turkey, we move over to Belarus, where Grisha (Grisha) has a question about a word she read, I expect, somewhere. That word is “gobbledygook.” Although, there are at least some people, in the U.S who pronounce it “gobbleygook” without the “D” instead of “gobbledygook.” It’s spelled (gobbledygook) – one word. In either case, the more correct pronunciation would probably be “gobbledygook.” The word is what we would call a nonsense word. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s something that people use to describe language, especially technical language, that is difficult to understand.

So, when I say it doesn’t mean anything – well, actually it does mean something. It means that the language or the terms that you are using – the technical terms, the terms usually involved in, for example, machines, or computers or engines – that that language is impossible for you to understand. And the idea is that the person may be using that language to confuse you or so that you don’t understand. It could be used, really, in any area – in medicine, in education, in law.

We often think of it, as I said before, as something related to machines and computers. It’s an informal term. You wouldn’t see it very much in formal writing but you will see people use it. You may talk about the way a politician talks as being “gobbledygook,” or if you try to do your taxes in the United States every year and you actually read the instructions, the directions given by the U.S government, you will see all sorts of “gobbledygook” – things that were very difficult to understand. According to one website, the word comes from a politician, a congressman from Texas in the 1940’s, talking about language which he couldn’t understand or which wasn’t very clearly defined or expressed.

I guess the word came in part from the sound that turkeys make. In English the sound that a turkey makes is “gobble” – “gobble, gobble, gobble,” and for whatever reason, the congressman used that word, that sound, to make this word “gobbledygook.” So, now you know, Grisha, what the word means and how to pronounce it.

If you have a question about English and it sounds interesting, and it isn’t gobbledygook, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I am Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to use 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.

remake – a new and updated movie based on a previous film

* Have you seen the latest remake of the Spider-Man movie?

offering – something given to a god or to some supernatural power to make it happy and to protect the people

* The people in the village have a festival each year to make offerings to the sun god.

jungle – a tropical forest with many trees; an area of land with many trees and plants, that is difficult to travel through

* If you want to reach that river, you’ll need to find a way to travel through this dangerous jungle.

shackles – a set of chains used to fasten a prisoner’s hands or ankles together

* How did the prisoner break his shackles and escape?

to gross – to earn a certain amount of money, without considering the expenses that have to be paid from that money

* Our company grossed $200,000 this year, but we may not make a profit after our expenses are paid.

cyclist – a person who rides a bicycle; an athlete who rides bicycles very quickly, usually in races or competitions

* Cyclists avoid riding down this avenue because there are too many cars on it.

triathlon – an athletic competition that involves a combination of running, cycling (bicycling), and swimming

* Jeanine wants to participate in a triathlon next year, but first, she has to improve her swimming skills.

consecutive – in a row; without any years or time in between when an event did not occur

* Our neighbor has had noisy parties three consecutive weekends!

testicular – related to the part of a man's or male animal’s body that produces sperm (male sex cell)

* The doctor told Miguel that he did not have testicular cancer.

prognosis – a doctor's opinion about how a disease will change and affect a person's health over time

* The doctor told Miyoung that his prognosis is very good, with an excellent chance for a full recovery.

bracelet – a piece of jewelry or decoration worn around the wrist (the part of one's body that connects the hand and the arm)

* Jimmy gave his wife a gold bracelet as a birthday gift.

allegation – an accusation; a statement that someone has done something wrong, although there isn't clear proof

* If the allegations are true, our company accountant could be in big trouble.

doping – the use of drugs, especially to improve an athlete's performance

* Doping becomes a greater and greater problem as athletes feel the pressure to perform better each year.

it sounds as if – a phrase use to mean that based on the information that one has heard, one can guess the meaning

* It sounds as if it’s raining really hard. I don’t think we should go outside right now.

acting – behaving in a way that relates to a different character or personality; behaving in a special way; playing a role, especially in plays, TV, or films

* He’s acting like he’s the boss even though he’s just an employee like the rest of us.

pretending – doing something in a way that is not true or real

* Stop pretending like you’re sick so that you can leave work early!

gobbledygook – nonsense; something that doesn’t make any sense; something that is meaningless or that is not understandable because someone has used difficult technical terms

* Can you understand this research article? It’s full of gobbledygook that few people can understand.

What Insiders Know
Donkey Kong and Universal Studios

Donkey Kong, a large, angry ape, is one of the most well-known video game characters in the world, along with his “nemesis” (enemy; the person who fights against him), a character named Mario. The first Donkey Kong game was released in the 1980s as an “arcade game” (a game in a place where many games can be played, usually for the price of few quarters (25-cent coins)). This game introduced the world to both Donkey Kong and Mario, and it became wildly successful, “spawning” (inspiring; causing) many other games featuring these characters, most of which are still being played by video game “enthusiasts” (people who love video games) today.

However, the Donkey Kong “franchise” (business) had its problems. In 1984, Universal “Studios” (a movie-making company) took the creators of Donkey Kong to court, saying that Donkey Kong was a copy of “King Kong.” Nintendo, the company that created Donkey Kong, argued that their ape may have been similar to King Kong, but that it did not matter, because King Kong was considered “public domain” by this point, meaning that no single company could hold the “rights” (permissions) to use the character or its “image” (picture). Nintendo also defended their character by saying that there is no way that a video game player could possibly confuse Donkey Kong with King Kong, since they were very different characters and they appeared in two different entertainment “mediums” (type of entertainment).

The court agreed with Nintendo. The judge ruled that Donkey Kong was not a copy of King Kong, and that Nintendo should not have to pay Universal Studios any money because of this. Universal Studios tried to “appeal the case” (take the case to a higher court), but the court’s decision remained the same. After their success in court, Nintendo continued making video games that are still popular with American video game enthusiasts today.