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369 Topics: Ghost towns of the Wild West; dime novels and pulp magazines; kidding versus joking versus teasing; television show versus television series; phrase

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 369.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 369. 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. Become a member of ESL Podcast and get access to our Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide that will help you improve your English as fast as possible.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about what are called “ghost towns” in the United States. We’re going to focus on one particular ghost town here in California, called “Bodie.” We’re also going to talk about dime novels and pulp magazines. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café begins with a discussion of “ghost towns” in what was known as the “Wild West.” I talked about the “Wild West” back in English Café 231. Basically, it refers to the western part of the United States during a certain period in the 19th century – in the 1800s – where, as the United States was growing and expanding, there were a lot of people living in areas where there wasn’t any law – that it, there weren’t any police officers, there weren’t large towns or established police forces and so, there was a lot of, well, I guess we could say crazy things going on in the Wild West.

There were a lot of men with guns because, of course, they needed to protect themselves against other men who might rob them. There was a lot of alcohol and there were relatively few women. This is a very dangerous combination, of course – men, guns, alcohol, and not very many women. You’ve probably seen movies about the Wild West in the United States. In fact, we have a whole genre or a whole collection of movies in the U.S called “Westerns” and most of these Westerns are about the Wild West – which is basically, the United States, from say, the middle of the country – say, the Mississippi River, all the way out to the Pacific Ocean here in California.

The Wild West had a lot of “boomtowns.” A “boomtown” (boomtown) is a town that grew very fast. “To boom” means to grow quickly, and “boomtowns” were towns that grew very quickly – many, many people arrived in a very short amount of time. Usually, this happened because people were trying to find gold and someone would discover gold in a certain area. And, of course, people wanted to get rich. So everyone started to go to that area to find gold for themselves and this created what was called a “boomtown.” “Boomtowns” could be described as “bustling.” “Bustling” (bustling) means very busy. You could also describe a city like New York as being “bustling” or Tokyo as being “bustling” – it’s very busy.

The “boomtowns” were very much bustling towns back in the Wild West era. But many of them, after the gold went away, after there was no more gold, many of these boomtowns very quickly were abandoned. People moved from those towns to another town and what happened was these towns that were built to hold maybe 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 people or more, suddenly only had a few thousand, maybe even a few hundred. And these abandoned towns were called “ghost towns.” A “ghost” is supposedly the spirit of a dead person. The idea is that nobody is living in these towns anymore, just ghosts, just the spirits of dead people. Most of them had a few people living in the actual town but the towns were basically empty and buildings were empty. We sometimes use this expression when you go to some place and there doesn’t seem to be anybody there – a neighborhood, or if you went for example to a place where people go skiing in the winter but you went in the summertime, there might be no one there. You might say, “It’s like a ghost town” – there are all these buildings but there aren’t any people.

One of the best examples of a ghost town is here in California (we have several). But this is a place that you can actually go and still see the old buildings. It’s a town called “Bodie” (Bodie). Bodie is located in Northern California. It became a “boomtown” in 1877 when gold was found there. The population exploded – that is, it increased rapidly, very quickly, as men came to seek their fortune.

That expression “to seek (seek) your fortune (fortune)” means to try to become rich, to try to get a lot of money. “To seek” is to look for. There’s a famous saying from the Bible, “Seek and ye shall find.” “Ye” (ye) is an old way of saying “you.” “Seek and you will find.” If you look for it, you will find it. Well, people were seeking their fortunes. A “fortune” is a lot of money. And that’s exactly what people wanted when they went to these boomtowns.

Bodie became a boomtown very quickly. Almost 10,000 men and women moved to the town – mostly men. There were more than 60 saloons in the town. A “saloon” (saloon) is an old word for a “bar.” Someone may say, “We’re going to go down to the saloon.” They’re probably saying that to be funny. It’s an old word for going to a bar, or rather an old word for a bar – a place where they serve alcoholic drinks.

There was also a lot of prostitution in these boomtowns, including Bodie. “Prostitution” is when – usually women – sell their sexual services, shall we say, for money. Boomtowns also had a lot of murders. Bodie became known as one of the most dangerous towns in the United States. We might even call it one of the “baddest” towns. Normally, when we say something is the “baddest” – which isn’t really a correct word – we should say the “worst.” But when we say something is “baddest,” we’re talking about – in this case, the fact that there wasn’t any law in this town, especially in towns like it in the Wild West - that’s where you might that word “baddest.”

The normal, correct word would be: bad, worse, worst – worst being the superlative. But “baddest” is an informal English word that we use to describe a place like Bodie that had no laws. We might also describe a person. There was a song back in the 70s, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” [singing]:

“Well, he’s bad, bad Leroy Brown,
Baddest man in the damn town.
Badder than old king King Kong,
Meaner than a junkyard dog.”

You see, Leroy Brown – the name of this man in the song – was considered the baddest man in the whole town – in the whole city. “Baddest” once again means someone who you wouldn’t want to argue with because they don’t respect the law. Leroy Brown was the baddest man in the “whole damn town.” “Damn,” of course, is a somewhat vulgar swear word. “Badder than old King Kong” – notice also the use of the word in that song “badder.” It should be “worst than” for the comparative but instead we use “badder” informally. Leroy Brown was badder than King Kong. “King Kong,” of course was the big large – what was he? A gorilla? An ape? – I think he was an ape – in the movie “King Kong,” back in the 1930s.

“Badder than old King Kong, meaner than a junkyard dog.” A “junkyard” is a place where you bring old cars that don’t work anymore. “Junk” is something that is like garbage. A “junkyard” is often protected by big dogs. Anyway, getting back to Bodie, we’ve been talking about Leroy Brown – getting back to Bodie…

Bodie was one of the baddest towns in the Wild West, for sure. But after Bodie boomed, it was abandoned – only a few years later, in fact, in 1881. Just four years after the big boom, people weren’t able to find very much gold and so they started leaving. By 1892, the town had even fewer people and there was also a bad fire that destroyed many of the buildings. In 1932, there were still a few people left in Bodie, but another fire destroyed almost the entire town. However, about 5 or 10% of the buildings in Bodie were saved and someone had the idea that we should take this old ghost town and protect it and make it into like a living museum or a museum. In fact, this is exactly what happened.

Bodie became a California State Park where people try to preserve it, to make sure that you can still go and see these old buildings, to give you an idea about what it was like in the Wild West. No one lives in Bodie anymore, but when you go there, you can look at the old buildings, you can look though the windows to see what the buildings look like. There is an old schoolhouse where kids went to school that’s there. You can see other places in Bodie that show you what life was like in the 19th century in the Unites States in these Wild West towns.

So, if you’d have a chance to go to Bodie – again it’s in Northern California, closer to San Francisco than Los Angeles – you might be interested in experiencing a little of the Wild West or at least, what’s left of it in this ghost town.

Our next topic is dime novels and pulp magazines. A “dime” (dime) is a coin in the United States; it’s a coin worth ten cents. When we talk about a dime novel, however, we’re talking about a novel – a fictional book – that used to be sold for a dime. In other words, it was very cheap, it was very inexpensive, and as you can imagine, if you’re selling a book for only a dime – the quality of the book might not be very high. Dime novels were very popular in the 19th and 20th century – we’ve been talking about the Wild West. Well, you could at least, in some of the cities of that time, buy these dime novels.

Dime novels were popular. They were usually stories of adventure, of excitement, of romance. They were inexpensive ways for people to entertain themselves. The term “dime novel” is still used to describe books that are written very quickly, that are not of a very good quality, and that sell a lot of copies. But it isn’t as popular a term any more. Mostly we use it to describe these books that used to be actually sold for 10 cents back in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The other thing we’re going to talk about today are “pulp magazines,” and pulp magazines go together in some way with these dime novels. They’re magazines but they often had stories of adventure or murder stories and so, they, like dime novels, were popular among people who didn’t have a lot of money but who wanted some cheap entertainment.

The word “pulp” (pulp) is actually one of the things that you have when you make paper. You take wood and you make it soft and wet by crushing it, and one of the parts of the process of making paper is to have pulp. In this case, pulp refers to very cheap paper that was used to print these pulp magazines. You might have heard of the movie with John Travolta, “Pulp Fiction.” Well, “Pulp Fiction” refers to stories that were sold in these pulp magazines – these magazines that were made on very cheap paper that have not very high quality stories in them.

A lot of dime novels and pulp magazines used what we might call “sensationalism” – that’s a tough one to say. “Sensationalism” (sensationalism) are ways of telling stories that seem very exciting or perhaps even shocking but not a very sophisticated or complicated or intellectual story. People with educations, people who had gone to school, often look down on dime novels. “To look down on something” here means to disapprove of it, to think that’s not good enough for you.

One of the first dime novels that was written was back in 1860 by a woman named Anne Stevens. It was called “Maleaska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter.” The Indian or Native American wife of the White hunter – this of course was a common theme in literature during many parts of the United States’ history, the notion of a white man marrying an Indian woman or an Indian man marrying a white woman – that wasn’t as common, but, of course, as the United States grew and took over the land from the American Indians – the native Americans, the indigenous people here in the North American continent – you had some cases of men and women marrying whites and Native Americans or Indians. This dime novel was, like most novels, part of the series. They would do one book and then another book about the same character and then another book. This particular book had 321 issues or 321 books in that series.

“Series books,” of course are wonderful for helping you improve your English and your language because you get familiar with the characters, you know something about the story, and that makes the language easier to understand. This is true not just for people learning English as a second language, it’s true for any language, learning your first language, which is one reason why series books are so popular among children and younger adults as well as adults.

Like other popular dime novels that followed or came after, the series by Anne Stevens had sensational stories about the “frontier.” The “frontier” (frontier) refers to that same idea we talked about earlier of the Wild West – of the western part of the United States. There were other dime novelists who became famous and rich, writing books like this about the frontier. George Munroe and Robert Dewitt were also popular – using a basic formula or a basic format for writing their popular stories. Dime novels became less popular by the end of the 19th century. We might say they “fell out of popularity.” “To fall out of popularity” means to become less popular, less famous, less well known. People still bought these dime novels, however, and in fact, in the 1940s and 50s, they became popular again. People would go back and buy these old dime novels because they were cheap and they had these exciting stories.

“Pulp magazines” that I mentioned earlier were also popular during the early 20th century. The most famous pulp magazine or at least one of the first was called Argosy Magazine, which was started in 1896 and there was another magazine after that called The Popular Magazine in 1903. The pulp magazines had similar stories of detectives, of murder, of adventure, of romance. They had a lot of stories about the Wild West – what we can also call the “Old West.” Pulp magazines were most popular in the 20s and 30s.

Remember, we’re talking about an era where there was no television and there were very few movies, at least, until the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. So, people had other ways of entertaining themselves, such as buying these dime novels and these pulp magazines. During World War II, pulp, the material used to make these magazines, became more expensive, and so a lot of magazine owners decided to stop using that particular format and also to start selling higher quality magazines. There was also a lot of competition beginning in the 1950s after World War II, for people’s entertainment attention. There was now movies and television, radio, of course – all of these things competed with pulp magazines and dime novels.

There are still a few pulp magazines around, however. You can still buy some – at least in the year 2012, as we record this. Those magazines are usually about detective fiction or science fiction. Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine are still published as pulp magazines.

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

Our first question comes from Jiyeon (Jiyeon) in Korea. The question has to do with three words – “kidding,” “joking,” and “teasing.” All of these words have similar meanings but there are some differences. Let’s start with “kidding” (kidding).

When you say you are “kidding,” “to kid” (kid), as a verb, means that you are joking, that you’re not really serious. “I was just kidding” – we often say this when maybe we’ve said something that someone hasn’t liked or that has made them angry, and we just wanted to tell a joke - or at least we want to make it seem now that we were telling a joke because the person is now angry. We say, “Oh, I’m sorry I was just kidding.” Or “I’m just kidding. I don’t want you to give me a million dollars.” Or “Oh, I’m just kidding. You can keep your girlfriend. You don’t have to give her to me. I was just kidding!”

“Joking” is from the verb “to joke,” which once again means to not be serious. But it has an additional meaning of trying to make someone laugh. If you are kidding, you are not serious. You’re trying to be funny but really it means more “not serious” than it means “funny,” whereas joking always means that you’re trying to make the person laugh.

“Teasing” comes from the verb “to tease” – means to make a joke about someone but in a funny way. You’re criticizing the person. You’re saying something perhaps somewhat negative about them but you want to do it in a way that seems funny even if the person doesn’t think it’s funny. “Teasing” can often be done to try to get someone angry. So, you may be saying something to someone that everyone else thinks funny but the person himself doesn’t particularly like – that would also be teasing.

These words, as I say are similar but they have some different meanings associated with them. “Joking” is probably perhaps the most friendly or innocent of these words. There’s usually nothing wrong with joking unless you’re doing it at a time when you shouldn’t be telling jokes. “Kidding” as I said is used sometimes to mean joking, but it’s often used when you said something that you probably shouldn’t say, and you want to let the other person know that you’re not serious. “Teasing” is usually a negative word. It means that you are, perhaps, a little mean in the comment that you made about another person. You’re definitely criticizing them.

Our next question comes from Deena (Deena) in Iraq. Deena wants to know the difference between a TV or television series and a TV show. A TV series (series) is a group of individual television shows – what we might also call television episodes. So, for example, a popular television series might be “Friends” or “E.R” or “Seinfeld” or “The Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” – these have all been popular American television series. There’s not just one 30- or 60-minute show or episode; there are several together and usually they’re related. “Lost” is another example of a popular American television series. Just one of those episode would be called a “show.” So, that’s the difference between a TV series and a show.

However, in informal conversation, people will sometimes refer to a series as a “show” when they’re talking about it in general. They may say, “Oh, I’m not watching any good shows on television. There’s a show I like to watch called ‘The Simpsons.’” They mean a series but we use the word sometimes to refer to both an individual episode as well as the episodes together - that is as a series.

Our final question comes from France, from Jean-Luc (Jean-Luc). The question has to do with a word that I use a lot, “phrase” (phrase). Jean-Luc points out that I use it many times in my episodes – in these episodes – but that he’s completely lost because “phrase,” at least a word that is similar to phrase in French, means sentence. Well, in English, when we use the word “phrase” – when I use the word “phrase” – we’re usually referring to two or three words, perhaps more, that go together in a sentence to create some sort of meaning. I may also sometimes use the word “expression.” “There’s a phrase we use,” “There’s an expression we use” – it’s sometimes just part of a sentence and usually that’s what it means – just two or three words in a longer sentence. It could be longer than that.

If I’m using the term in a grammatical way – which I don’t normally – a phrase could be something like a “prepositional phrase,” where you have a preposition followed by several other words. But normally, when I use the word phrase here in the podcast, I’m talking about a few words that go together, that mean something when you put them together. You’ll often hear me say a “two-word phrasal verb.” Well, “phrasal” (phrasal) comes from “phrase.” It means that you put those two words together and they have a certain meaning. When I use the word, it normally does not mean a complete sentence but part of a sentence where the words together have a certain meaning that we can describe together, rather than each individual word being defined separately.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

I’m not kidding when I say we get dozens of questions each week. We won’t have time to answer all of them but we’ll do our best.

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.

Wild West – the western part of the United States in the 1800s, when there were few laws, and many people lived in wild, uncontrolled ways

* In movies about the Wild West, the good guy usually wore a white hat and the bad guy wore a black one.

boomtown – a town that grows very quickly and attracts a lot of people, usually because people think can become rich very quickly by finding gold or other valuable materials

* This became a boomtown when people discovered diamonds in those hills.

bustling – with a lot of energy and noise; with a lot of activity

* Our store has been bustling ever since we put an ad in the newspaper.

ghost town – a town that had a lot of people living in it, but is now empty or almost empty

* When car factories moved out of our city, it almost became a ghost town.

to seek (one’s) fortune – to try to become rich; to make a lot of money

* Jerome doesn’t want to live in a small town all his life. He wants to move to Chicago to seek his fortune.

saloon – a old word for a bar where alcohol is served and girls dance for entertainment

* It’s not unusual for saloons to have gunfights after the customers have had too many drinks.

prostitution – the act of selling sex for money; the occupation of selling sex

* The police try to help young girls who run away from home and have no choice but to turn to prostitution.

dime – a ten-cent coin; a coin worth 10 cents

* Do you have a dime to put into this parking meter?

pulp – the soft, wet substance made by crushing wood, used to make paper

* The roof leaked and rain got all over my books, and now, they’re nothing but pulp!

to look down on (something) – to disapprove of something, thinking that one is superior to it in some way

* My wife’s parents always looked down on me because I didn’t graduate from college.

frontier – the western part of the United States as it was just beginning to be discovered by white people

* Life on the frontier was hard and dangerous, because there were no police officers and few people to help.

to fall out of popularity – to no longer be liked or wanted by many people; to no longer be popular after a period of being popular

* With the high gas prices, driving very large cars has fallen out of popularity.

kidding – speaking playfully or jokingly

* Kile was just kidding when he said that he had just returned from Tibet.

joking – saying or doing something that is meant to cause laughter

* Monique likes joking with her coworkers, but some of her jokes are very unprofessional.

teasing – making fun of someone; to try to get someone to react in a playful way; bothering, irritating, or annoying someone to get a reaction from them

* Stop teasing your little brother about his missing tooth!

television/TV show – a program that is shown on a television channel

* Pilar always watches a TV show at 7:00 p.m., so I never call her at that time.

television/TV series – a group of program episodes (shows) that are shown on a television channel with the same cast (main characters), setting, and perhaps a continuing storyline

* I’ve watched my favorite television series for five years already and I hope they never stop producing it.

phrase – two or more words that hold meaning together in a sentence; a proverb or expression

* Jamal is very polite and his favorite phrase is, “It’s my pleasure.”

What Insiders Know
Five and Dime Stores

From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, “five and dime” stores were very popular in the United States. Five and dime stores (also known as “Five and Tens”) sold “merchandise” (products; items) for very low prices, usually a nickel (five cents) or a dime (10 cents).

The first five and dime store was Woolworth’s, a store created by Frank Winfield Woolworth in 1879. It sold merchandise at prices that were much, much lower than those found at any other store. His store was also the first store that made it possible for “customers” (people who come into the store to buy things) to “browse” (look around at) the shelves by themselves. Most of the other stores at this time were organized so that the customer had to come in and ask the “clerk” (employee) at the desk for whatever they wanted. Since customers were free to look around on their own, they bought more items than they originally intended.

Over time, Woolworth’s built more and more stores all over the U.S., and it soon grew and changed into the largest “chain store” (store with many locations) in the world. In the late 1900s, Woolworth’s no longer sold things for just a nickel or a dime due to the rise in the “cost of living” (the amount of money it takes to support oneself or one’s family), but they were still known for their great “bargain” (cheap sale) prices.

Woolworth’s was not the only five and dime, however. There were many other stores just like it, some of which are still doing business today, although not as five and dime stores. Some of these stores included Ben Franklin Stores, McLellan's, and J.J. Newberry's, and they all sold a variety of things such as drinks, “bandages” (material for covering a wound), toys, postcards, hats, and make-up, along with “souvenirs,” things that tourists might like to take home from a trip. The five and dime store idea is still a strong one in American society today, and is seen in many of the current bargain stores, some of which sell things for a dollar or less.