Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

376 Topics: Ask an American - The Appeal of Superheroes; property versus propriety versus proprietary; trust versus believe; little does he know; suffocated; to relish

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 376.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 376. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, not only do you support these podcast audios, but you also get the PDF guide for each of our episodes. This is an eight- to ten-page guide that gives you a complete transcript of everything we say on this episode, as well as vocabulary definitions, sample sentences, cultural notes, and more.

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, at a normal speed. We ask you to listen, then we go back and we explain what they said. Today, we’re going to talk about a popular topic nowadays, for movies especially: superheroes. 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 appeal of superheroes. “Appeal” (appeal) means popularity, why people like them. “Superheroes” are fictional or imaginary characters, made up characters, who have special powers and abilities that ordinary people don’t have. Superheroes might be able to see through walls or fly through the air, but, typically, a superhero will use that skill for good, to help protect regular, ordinary people.

You may have noticed there have been a lot of popular movies about superheroes in the past few years. Today, we’re going to talk about some reasons, perhaps, why these superheroes have become more popular. What is the reason for their appeal? We’ll start by listening to Ryan Thompson who graduated from film school – a university program, typically, that trains people at how to make movies. He likes superheroes, and he is going to give his own, personal reasons for liking them. We’ll listen, then we’ll go back and explain what he said.


"I think it really is that emotional connection in one way, you know. That’s how I connected with it. I think it’s wish fulfillment. I think it’s fantasy."

[end of recording]

Young Ryan - I assume he’s young, I’m not sure - says, “I think it really is that emotional connection in one way, you know.” He’s saying that he thinks the reason superheroes have such appeal is because of this emotional connection. A “connection” is how you relate to something else, or how you are related to something else. What’s your relationship? That’s your connection. An “emotional connection” refers to how you feel, how you react about something. Is it sad? Is it happy? Emotional connections are not about reason. They’re not about intellect. They’re about emotion. We know superheroes aren’t real. Well, most of us know. But, somehow, we feel connected to them, maybe because they make us feel excited or happy or some other strong emotion.

Notice that Ryan says, as a lot of people, a lot of American speakers in informal conversation, “I think it really is that emotional connection in one way, you know.” “You know,” is what we might call a filler phrase. It’s one of those words that people use, or sounds even, that people use when they are trying to think of something else to say.

“In one way,” here just means one reason why. “I think it really is that emotional connection in one way, you know.” Then Ryan says, “That’s how I connected with it. I think it’s wish fulfillment.” A “wish” (wish) is something that you want to have or something that you want to do. Wishes are often for things that are impossible to do. “I wish I were a movie star here in Hollywood.” That’s not going to happen, right? You might want to fly like a bird. “I have a wish to fly like a bird,” or you have a wish to look like Angelina Jolie or some famous actress. That’s not really my wish, but it could be your wish.

“Fulfillment” comes from the verb “to fulfill” (fulfill). “To fulfill” means to make something real, to give somebody what they want. It’s a word, as a verb, we use sometimes in business when someone orders something from you. They say, “I want to buy this from you.” If it’s a physical thing, you can “fulfill” that order. You actually take what they want to buy and you send it to them.

“Fulfillment” is the noun coming from the verb “to fulfill.” “Wish fulfillment” is when your wishes come true, we might say, when you actually get what you wish for. So Ryan is saying that he likes superheroes because there’s a certain kind of wish fulfillment, meaning that superheroes do the things that we want to do. They fulfill those wishes, we might say.

Ryan ends by saying that he thinks it’s “fantasy.” “Fantasy” (fantasy) is things that are not real, things that are imaginary. “Fantasy” is a word that we use to describe a certain kind of story or a certain kind of movie that is fictional. It might, however, involve people with supernatural powers like superheroes. The word “fantasy” can also be used for your imagination. I’m imagining winning a million dollars in the lottery. That’s my fantasy. There’s a verb, “to fantasize” (fantasize). Let’s listen to Ryan one more time.


"I think it really is that emotional connection in one way, you know. That’s how I connected with it. I think it’s wish fulfillment. I think it’s fantasy."

[end of recording]

Next, we listen to Gotham Chopra, a publisher who creates comic books in cartoons with Asian characters. Chopra is actually the son of a famous writer by the name of Deepak Chopra. Chopra is going to give his reasons why superheroes are popular and you’ll notice a lot of those filler phrases when he talks, where he’s trying to think of what to say next perhaps, and so he uses certain phrases like “you know.” Let’s listen.


“They represent these primordial forces, so whether they, um, are qualities of power, of balance, of, um, you know, seeking justice, um, of, you know, this connection with some sort of transcendent experience. That’s what great superheroes do, um, whether ancient or modern.”

[end of recording]

Mr. Chopra begins by saying that superheroes represent these “primordial forces.” The word “primordial” (primordial) refers to things that are very old or that have existed perhaps since the beginning of earth. When we talk about “primordial feelings,” or “primordial forces,” we’re referring to feelings and forces that are very strong, that are part of what we might call “human nature, “ perhaps related more to the animal side of being human. Superheroes represent primordial forces like good and evil or bad.

Gotham says, “They represent these primordial forces, so whether they, um, are qualities of power…” Notice he uses the filler sound, or the filler word “um,” which we would typically spell “um”. “Um” is something that you hear a lot of speakers, American speakers, say when they are speaking informally. It tends to be associated with younger speakers, especially teenage speakers or young children. A child might come up to his father and say, “Dad, um, I really want to, um, go to, um, the store and, um, could you um, take me there?” That might be a young child talking, using “um” frequently.

Gotham uses “um” frequently, but we’ll ignore that for now and just concentrate on the main part of his quote. He’s talking about these primordial forces, and he says whether those forces are “qualities of power, of balance, of, um, you know, seeking justice.” “Qualities” are characteristics. So, he’s saying these forces, these primordial forces, could be forces of power, of strength. They could be forces of balance.

“Balance” (balance) is when you have two different sides of something, and both of them are somehow equal. In fact, there’s another term, “equilibrium,” that we might use for balance. Another idea, another primordial force would be “seeking justice.” “To seek” (seek) means to look for something. “Justice” (justice) is related to that which is right, that which is fair, where everyone gets what they deserve. So, we have three primordial forces here mentioned: qualities of power, of balance, and of seeking justice.

These things, Gotham says, are connected with some sort of transcendent experience. “Transcendent” (transcendent) refers to something that goes beyond ourselves, beyond our current experience, something that is beyond our normal limits. We might talk about God as being a transcendent being, someone who is above us, someone who is beyond our own experience. Superheroes have, according to Gotham, transcendent experiences – things that go beyond what ordinary people, normal people can do. We have limits that superheroes do not.

Gotham explains that, “That’s what great superheroes do, whether ancient or modern.” “Ancient” (ancient) means very old. “Modern,” of course, means more recent, of today. So, all superheroes – ancient superheroes, modern superheroes, from the 20th and 21st centuries – all of them have certain things in common, this connection, according to Gotham, to transcendent experience. Let’s listen one more time.


“They represent these primordial forces, so whether they, um, are qualities of power, of balance, of, um, you know, seeking justice, um, of, you know, this connection with some sort of transcendent experience. That’s what great superheroes do, um, whether ancient or modern.”

[end of recording]

Another interesting thing to notice when Gotham speaks, and the same is true with Ryan, the quote we heard earlier, which is that they end their sentences, not by going down, which is traditionally how, in English, we end a sentence. Our intonation goes down, so that we might say, “I’m going to the store. I’m going to buy some bread.” Notice how this is different than “I’m going to the store. I’m going to buy some bread.” Instead of going down, you go up. This has become popular, especially among young speakers of English, in the last 20, 25 years, and now, you’ll hear it quite frequently, especially those under the age of 30 or so. They will go up at the end of the sentence, rather than down at the end of a sentence. It’s almost as if they were asking a question, but they’re not; they’re just making a statement. So, Ryan and Gotham both have that particular speech pattern. I think it’s particularly popular here in California.

Speaking of Ryan, we’re going to him one more time. He’s going to talk about the characteristics of modern superheroes, especially more recently. Let’s listen.


“There was more of a grim and gritty, um, persona to them, a grim and gritty style – more realistic, hyper-realistic, more psychological.”

[end of recording]

Ryan says that recently, in superhero stories, there has been more of a “grim and gritty persona to them.” “Grim” (grim) is very serious, usually sad, maybe even a little depressing. “Gritty” (gritty) is a common word you will hear to describe very difficult circumstances. It’s often associated with dirty, but really it means where someone has a very difficult situation, but they’re very brave. They have a lot of courage. They continue fighting against something that may be very difficult for them to beat. Someone who’s gritty isn’t very elegant, isn’t very smooth, but they do what needs to get done. Often, movies will be described as being “gritty.” Usually, there’s a lot of violence. There’s a lot of bad things happening.

Superheroes, according to Ryan, have become more “grim and gritty.” Their persona has become more grim and gritty. A “persona” (persona) is basically their personality, how they are, what they come across as, what their characteristics are. “Persona” is often used to describe someone’s quality, someone’s characteristics. Sometimes, it’s used to indicate the person isn’t really that way, that they are somehow acting or pretending. But, here, it just means personality. He says there was more of a grim and gritty um personality to them – notice the “um” again – a grim and gritty style, and then he describes that style using three different adjectives: “more realistic, hyper-realistic, more psychological.”

Something that is “realistic” (realistic) is something that is connected to reality, something that reflects the way the real world is. But more than realistic, Ryan is saying these superheroes have become “hyper-realistic.” “Hyper” (hyper) – used as a prefix – that comes before a word – usually means more than usual, or even too much of something. So, for it to be “hyper-realistic” would mean that it is somehow more real. That sounds a little strange, a little illogical even, but what I think Ryan is saying here is that the superheroes have taken things that happen in real life and multiplied them, made them so that they’re even more serious or more severe than they would be in real life situations.

The final adjective he uses to describe these new superheroes is that they are “more psychological.” This is a little unusual in terms of how you might describe someone, but I think what Ryan is saying is that these superheroes have deep reasons for what they do. “Psychological” comes from the word “psychology,” which is the study about how your mind works, how your mind affects your behaviors, your actions.

When Ryan uses the term “psychological,” he’s really talking about the deep motives, the deep emotions that cause these superheroes to do what they do. The movies and the stories tend to talk about these deep emotions more than they used to, and that’s what he means, I think, here, by “more psychological.” We have the expression or the term “psychological thriller.” A “thriller” (thriller) is a movie or a story that’s very exciting. A psychological thriller would be a thriller that talks about the motives and emotions of the characters in that story.

Now let’s listen to Ryan one more time.


“There was more of a grim and gritty, um, persona to them, a grim and gritty style – more realistic, hyper-realistic, more psychological.”

[end of recording]

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

Our first question comes from Fabio (Fabio) originally from Angola, now living in Kuwait. Fabio wants to know the differences between “property,” “propriety,” and “proprietary.”

“Property” (property) is something that you own. “Property” can be a car, property could be a chair, property could be a house. We also use property to refer specifically to land. The land that something is on can be called “property.”

“Proprietary” (proprietary) is something that is owned by someone, often a company. Usually, we’re talking now about, perhaps, a system for doing something, an approach, a specific kind of software that is owned by a company or a specific way of doing something that is owned by a company or an individual, and you can’t use it without their permission or without paying them money to use it.

So, for example, when you download audio, MP3 files, from certain companies, they might have some sort of proprietary protection, some way that they protect their files. Or you might have a certain way of making something that you go to the government, and the government gives you what’s called a “patent,” and that protects your process. That is also proprietary. It belongs to one individual or one company. (It’s more common that it belongs to a company.)

“Propriety” (propriety) is very different. “Propriety” is not related to “proprietary,” or really, even to “property.” “Propriety” is an old word, meaning proper or correct behavior. “A young girl should act with propriety.” “A young girl should behave with propriety,” meaning the young girl should do what society expects her to do, should be good, should be kind, should be decent, should follow the traditions that are normally accepted, should have good manners and good what we might call “etiquette.” “Etiquette” refers to the specific ways that you behave in certain situations.

Two of these words then, “property,” and “proprietary” are sort of related. They refer to ownership. “Propriety,” however, is not related to property or proprietary. It refers to correct or proper behavior.

From Kuwait, we travel to Indonesia, where Quiqui (Quiqui) wants to know the difference between “trust” and “believe.” “I trust you.” “I believe you.” What’s the difference?

“Trust” means that you expect something will happen and you are confident that that person will do what he says he’s going to do. It’s a word we use when we are relying on someone else. “I trust you to arrive on time.” “I’m relying on you to arrive on time.”

“I believe that will happen.” “Believe” means that you have faith in a person, that you think what that person is telling you is true. So, they’re very close in meaning. In many situations, you could use either trust or believe. “Believe” is usually something related to something someone is saying. “I arrived at 5 o’clock.” Someone says, “I believe you.” You believe the statement they’ve just made. The sentence they just spoke is true. “I am going to the store tomorrow.” You might say, “I trust you will do that.” “Trust” is often related to things that will happen in the future. It’s sort of looking forward. “Believe” could be that, but more often would be in reference to something that has already happened. But again, the differences are quite small.

Finally, from Indonesia, we travel over to Poland, actually to Germany. Norbert (Norbert) is originally from Poland, but now living in Germany. He wants to know the meaning of a couple of expressions and terms that aren’t related in and of themselves; that is, they’re not related amongst themselves other than that they came from a quote that Norbert came across, a story; “little does he know,” “suffocated,” and “relish.” Those are our three terms.

Let’s start with the expression “Little does he know,” or “Little does she know.” This means that a person is unaware of something, doesn’t realize something is happening or that something is true. “John seems very happy with his girlfriend. Little does he know that his girlfriend is actually dating his best friend, Frank.” Well, that would be quite a surprise, wouldn’t it?

“Suffocated” (suffocated) is the past tense of the verb “to suffocate.” “To suffocate” means not able to breathe. When, perhaps, you have something covering your mouth or someone is covering your mouth, you could suffocate. You could die, basically, because you aren’t able to breathe. “Suffocate” can also mean to feel restricted. “I feel suffocated by my new job.” “I don’t like the way it makes me feel.” It’s the opposite of feeling free. “Suffocate” can, as I say, be a very serious situation when we’re talking about breathing. If a child is suffocating, the child could die because he can’t breathe. But when used to describe someone’s situation - “This is a suffocating situation,” or “I feel suffocated in this relationship” - it refers to not feeling free, feeling restricted.

Finally, “relish” (relish) is a verb that means to enjoy. “He relishes his weekends.” We sometimes use the expression, “I relish the thought of going on vacation. I enjoy thinking about that.”

If you trust us to give you a good answer to your question, then you should email us. If you have a question, 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, right 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.

emotional connection – how someone reacts to something and relates to it or feels good about it in an emotional way, not an intellectual or academic way

* The book was interesting, but I didn’t feel an emotional connection to any of the characters.

wish fulfillment – the experience of having one’s wishes granted so that one has the things one wants to have or is able to do the things one wants to do

* The foundation specializes in wish fulfillment, giving sick children the opportunity to do things like go to Disneyland or meet famous athletes.

fantasy – things that are not real; things that are imaginary or fiction; things that are in our mind, but not actually in the world.

* Anyone who expects Teresa to stay at home to cook and clean is living in a fantasy world. She’d much rather work full-time and travel the world!

primordial – referring to things that are very old or have always existed, since time began or at least since Earth began; referring to feelings and forces that are very strong and are part of human nature

* Ahmed couldn’t explain why, but he suddenly felt a primordial fear and had to leave the building.

balance – equilibrium; the idea that two things on two different sides are equal in some way, without one being stronger, heavier, or more important than the other

* The company tries to help employees achieve balance between their personal and professional goals.

to seek – to look for something, especially when it is hard to find

* Krista is seeking a career in finance in the automotive industry.

justice – fairness; the idea that people should be treated in the same way and that there should be fair consequences for actions

* There is no justice in this world! The people who lie and cheat are promoted and the people who are honest and hard-working are overlooked!

transcendent – deeper than normal; going beyond the ordinary limits

* Meg described her experience jumping out of an airplane for the first time as transcendent.

ancient – very old; related to the earliest cultures

* How do historians know so much about daily life in ancient Greece?

grim – very serious, worried, sad, or even a little depressed

* The doctor was grim when he told us that the surgery had not been successful.

gritty – not very elegant or polished, but doing what needs to be done

* Living in a large city can be quite gritty at times, but you get used to it.

realistic – connected with reality or how the world actually works; not idealistic; not thinking about fantasy or using imagination

* Be realistic! There’s no way a new store will be profitable in the first year.

hyper- – more than usual; above normal

* Why is Danielle hyper-sensitive when talking about her sister?

psychological – related to the study of how the mind works and how that affects our behavior and actions

* Ollie is going to therapy to work through some psychological problems.

property – something that is owned; buildings or land that one owns

* They own three rental properties.

proprietary – related to the owner or the ownership of something

* The information in this proposal is proprietary and confidential.

propriety – proper (correct) behavior; socially acceptable behavior

* She always demonstrates great propriety, even when she is in extremely stressful situations.

to trust – to hope that what one expects to happen will happen; to rely on someone

* Can I trust you to remember to water the plants while I’m gone?

to believe – to have faith in a person; to have faith that something is going to happen without having proof

* Do you believe what everyone is saying about Lyle’s wife?

little does (one) know – a phrase used to describe someone who is unaware of something and would be surprised by it

* Little does Garrett know we’re planning a surprise birthday party for him.

suffocated – not able to breathe; feeling restricted (held back) by a person or event

* Blake doesn’t want to get married because he thinks he’ll feel suffocated.

to relish – to enjoy something very much

* Makahiko relishes opportunities to go to the beach in the summer.

What Insiders Know
The Golden Age of Comic Books

The “Golden Age” (the period of time when something is strongest, best, and most important) of comic books lasted from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. This was the time when comic books became extremely popular. Many new characters were introduced, and many of them have “endured” (lasted or continued until the present) to the “present day” (today). The first comic book superhero was Superman, who “debuted” (first appeared) in 1938, but other “classic” (well-liked and widely recognized) superheroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America were also introduced during the Golden Age.

Some people believe that comic books “grew in popularity” (became more common) because the country was involved in World War II. People “sought” (looked for; past tense of to seek) an “escape” (a way to forget about one’s problems) and comic books offered a “quick read” (something that can be read quickly, without a lot of thought) while spreading stories about how good “triumphs over” (beats; wins over) evil.

During this Golden Age, comic books began to receive more respect as a form of art. The number of publishers of comic books grew and they began to be recognized as an important industry. Many people collected their favorite issues of comic books, and today, comic books from the Golden Age are very “valuable” (able to be sold for a lot of money) “collector’s items” (objects that are collected for emotional or financial reasons).