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383 Topics: Famous Americans - Bobby Fischer; Kiss; barely versus scarcely; polite phrases used to refer to death; situation versus circumstance

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 383.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 383. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Download a Learning Guide for this episode by becoming a member of ESL Podcast.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on a rather strange man by the name of Bobby Fischer, who was one of the world’s greatest chess players. We’re also going to talk about a famous rock band called “Kiss,” and as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our Café begins with a continuation of or series on famous Americans. Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most famous chess players in American history, a man by the name of Bobby Fischer. “Chess” (chess) is a board game – a game that is played on a piece of wood or board or table. You have two players, each moving small pieces in order to win the game. Each player in a chess game has 16 pieces with different shapes and names, like king, queen, rook, knight, bishop, pawn – those are all what we would call “chess pieces,” the things you use to play chess. Each piece can move across the board in different ways and, as you probably know, the purpose of chess is to capture the pieces of the other person until eventually you get to a point called “check mate,” where the other person can’t possibly win, can’t possibly move their pieces in order to win.

Bobby Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943. His mother raised him by herself. They moved to New York when Bobby was young. He started playing chess when he was just six years old. He taught himself by reading the instructions. He then read a book about chess. Later, he was taught by members of a local chess club – a local chess group – in New York City, in Manhattan. By the age of 12, he was a member of the country’s strongest chess club located in New York.

In October of 1956, when he was just 13 years old, Bobby Fischer played a game that became known as “The Game of the Century.” A “century” is 100 years. Events that are considered particularly important or dramatic are sometimes called using this phrase “____ of the century.” It’s the “Storm of the Century.” It’s the “Boxing Match of the Century.” It’s the “Trial – criminal trial or murder – of the Century” – and so forth.

This was The Game of the Century. It was a “chess match” (match) or game between Fischer and an older opponent. A writer later called it “The Game of the Century” because Fischer played such a brilliant chess game. People still talk about this particular game that Fischer played when he was only 13, this particular match.

In 1958, when he was just 15 and a half years old, he became the youngest “Grandmaster.” A “Grandmaster” is the highest title that a chess player can be given. Fischer was the youngest person to achieve these accomplishments, to do these things, although there have been younger players since that time. Fischer, however, stands out. Fischer is someone that we remember for these amazing feats, these amazing accomplishments, these amazing things that he did in chess at such a young age.

He was truly what we would call a “child prodigy.” A “prodigy” (prodigy) is someone who has an exceptional ability, an amazing ability, to do something well. Usually we refer to children or young adults who are very good at what they do, better than you would expect anyone at that age to be, as “child prodigies.” And that’s what Fischer was in chess.

Fischer continued to win almost all of the important chess tournaments, chess matches, as his skills developed. In 1972, he played perhaps his most famous game for the World Championship of chess. The game was held in the country of Iceland. In the game, he played Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, who was the greatest chess player of the Soviet Union at that time. This was, of course, in the middle of the Cold War. So there was a lot of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, as anyone who is old enough to remember that time knows. This was in some ways considered a competition between America and the Soviet Union.

Fischer won the match – beat Spassky – and in many ways was considered a national hero. Thousands of people came to greet him when he returned to New York from Iceland. This is somewhat unusual for a chess player to be celebrated in such a way. I certainly remember, as a young child, hearing about Bobby Fischer winning this chess match in Iceland in 1972. A lot of people became interested in chess in the 1970’s because of Bobby Fischer – here in the U.S., that is.

The rivalry or competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was sometimes a problem. In 1962, for example, Fischer and other chess players accused the Soviets of collusion. “Collusion” (collusion) is when you make a secret agreement to try to do something which is unfair, to give you an advantage.

After his famous game against Boris Spassky in 1972, Fischer began to become a more private, a more secret individual. He went into what we might term “seclusion.” “Seclusion” (seclusion) is like isolation. It’s when you want to be alone and don’t want anyone else talking to you or communicating with you. Fischer, in fact, decided not to defend his title, or try to win again, to be considered still the world champion, in 1975 because he couldn’t agree to the conditions for the game. He had certain requirements that the people who were organizing the game did not want to meet. And so, he decided he wasn’t going to play.

In fact, Fischer did not play chess again competitively – that is, against other players publicly for money or for some title – until 1992. So 20 years after his win in Iceland, Fischer finally played another match. This was once again against Boris Spassky. This time, however, the game was played not in Iceland but in Yugoslavia. Now, at that time, in 1992, Yugoslavia was under a United Nations embargo, meaning the United Nations had told people that they should not go to Yugoslavia because of the problems with the wars among the people living in Yugoslavia. If you are old enough, you’ll remember those wars in Bosnia and Serbia and Croatia, other areas there of the former Yugoslavia.

People criticized Bobby Fischer for going there. Fischer won again in his match against Spassky and collected a lot of money. The United States government wasn’t very happy with Fischer because Fischer didn’t pay taxes on the money that he won in the tournament. At this time, Fischer decided not to return to the United States. In fact, he never returned to the United States after 1992.

He began instead to criticize the United States, to make what we would call “anti-American statements.” He also made anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish statements. Fischer, in fact, had a history of making these sort of anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic statements. As a result of all of this, the passport for Bobby Fischer was revoked. It was taken away from him so that officially, he could no longer travel to different countries as an American citizen.

Fischer lived in a number of different countries. He finally ended up in Japan. The Japanese government held Fischer. They said he could not leave the country because he didn’t have the proper paperwork. He didn’t have a passport, remember? Iceland, however, had always thanked Bobby Fischer for playing the game in Iceland and making Iceland in some ways famous after that 1972 match. So, Iceland made him a citizen and when Iceland did this, Japan allowed Fischer to leave their country and go to Iceland.

He moved to Iceland where he lived pretty much as a recluse. A “recluse” (recluse) is someone who lives in seclusion, in isolation, who doesn’t talk to anyone. He died in 2008, somewhat young, at the age of 64. He will always be remembered as a great chess player, although many people believe that he might have been suffering from some sort of mental illness, especially later on in his life. That might help explain his somewhat strange behavior during much of his life.

Our next topic is a rock and roll group, a rock and roll band, called “Kiss.” Kiss was formed in New York City in 1973. The band played what we would call “hard rock” – really, the proper term would be “heavy metal.” Heavy metal is a kind of rock music that uses a lot of guitars, that has a very what we might describe as a harsh sound. A lot of screaming, a lot of very loud music – those are some of the things we associate with heavy metal music.

Kiss was part of this heavy metal movement of the 1970’s where many rock groups adopted this style of playing. Kiss, however, had some additional twists, we might say, some additional elements that it added to its performance. This included an outrageous style of dress and of performing on stage. “Outrageous” (outrageous) is something that is very surprising but also very shocking. Band members in Kiss would paint their faces white and black with face paint. Each band member had a particular kind of pattern that they used when they painted their faces. One member painted a big black star over his right eye and another one put the paint on his face so that he looked like a cat. Those were the sorts of things that the members of the band did in order to get publicity, to get attention, so that people would pay attention to them.

The band members also wore very unusual clothing. They would also perform certain tricks during their concerts, during their performances. They, for example, would have the drum set – one of the musical instruments – levitate. “To levitate” (levitate) is to float up into the air, to move up away from the ground into the air.

In some ways, Kiss’ music was not the most interesting thing about them. I never liked their music, personally. It was instead, their crazy, outrageous style of performing. Some people, however, also liked their music and considered it some of the best heavy metal music ever made, although that might not be such a big compliment, considering the quality of a lot of heavy metal music. Having the “best” heavy metal music may not be considered all that great, but a lot of people love that kind of music and certainly they loved the band Kiss in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Some of the best selling songs by Kiss included “I Was Made for Loving You Baby.” I was made in order to love you. “Baby” here is used as a term of affection. We might call your girlfriend “baby” even though baby, normally, is what you call of course a very young child. Their most famous song was “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night.”

"I wanna rock and roll all nite

And party every day"

I want to rock and roll all night and party, or have a party – drink, dance and so forth – everyday. That is their most famous song, the one I would recognize if someone played it to me. I could say, “Oh yes. That was a Kiss song.” It’s probably the only song I could recognize.

I don’t think I will ever become a hard rock musician but Kiss certainly made a lot of money doing it. The members of the band have changed over time. The main members were Gene Simmons, who sang and played the guitar, Paul Staney who sang and also played guitar, Peter Criss, who sang and played the drums and Ace Fehley – or maybe it’s pronounced “Fehley”? – who sang and played guitar as well. Only Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are still in the band.

Yes, the band is still around. One of the interesting things about rock and roll is that you have 50, 60, 70 year old men still performing, thinking that they were 20 or 30 years old. That’s, I guess, because they need the money? Probably more because they like all the attention that they get as stars, even though most of them don’t play to the large crowds that they used to when they were younger.

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

Our first question comes from Alberto (Alberto) in Brazil. Alberto wants to know the difference between “barely” and “scarcely.” What do they mean and when do we use them?

“Barely” (barely) and “scarcely” (scarcely) are both adverbs. “Barely” means only just. I almost didn’t. I was able to do something but I almost wasn’t able to do it. It was by a very small amount that I was able to do something. For example, “I barely made it in time for work.” That would mean I was supposed to be at work at 8:00 and I got there at 7:59 or 7:58. I was there, but I was barely there. I almost wasn’t there. Or you might say, “I barely have enough money to buy a car.” The car cost $10,000 and I have $10,100. I barely have enough. I have enough but just enough.

“Scarcely” usually means “probably not,” although sometimes it can also mean the same as barely – almost not. For example, you could say, “I can scarcely understand him when he talks.” I can understand him but almost can’t. I can scarcely understand him. I can barely understand him. There, scarcely and barely mean the same thing.

In other situations, scarcely can mean “probably not.” “I scarcely have time to talk to you right now.” That really means I don’t have time to talk to you right now or I probably don’t have time. I have very little time. Scarcely is not used very commonly in American English, certainly not in spoken English.

You’ll most often hear or read scarcely in connection with the word “any” or “anything.” “We have scarcely anything in the house to eat.” That means we have every little in the house to eat. You could also say, “We barely have anything in the house to eat.” Barely, however, is more often found with the word “enough.” “We have barely enough to eat.” That means the same as, ”We have scarcely anything to eat.” We have enough but we don’t have anything more than that. It’s barely enough.

Our next question also comes from Brazil, from Joao (Joao). The question has to do with how we talk about someone dying in a polite way. The word “die” can sometimes seem a little too clinical, a little too medical almost. When we want to, for example, tell someone how sorry we are that their brother died or their mother died, we have other expressions we use that are considered more polite. The most common is “pass away.” “My father passed away four years ago.” That means my father died four years ago. “Passed away” sounds a little better, it sounds a little more polite.

Some people use the expression “passed on,” though I don’t think it’s nearly as common as “passed away.” “Passed (passed) away” is what you would use when you are talking to someone whose relative, whose friend, had died. “Died,” of course, can also be used and if you know the person well or if it’s not something that’s very emotional for that person, you can use that word as well. Certainly, we can use it for animals. We wouldn’t talk about our dog passing away. Well, some people would, but most people would say, “Oh, his dog died.” Or someone that you don’t know, you might say, “They died,” because you don’t have any emotional connection and need to be polite to the person you’re talking to.

Another adjective that we use is “deceased.” “Deceased” (deceased) is used to describe someone who has died, but it’s usually used in a more formal situation. It’s not something you would say to your friend or to a family member. The best way is to talk about someone “passing away.” “I’m very sorry to hear about your brother passing away last week.” That would be a polite way of saying something about a person who has died. Some people use other expressions like, “Well, he’s with God now,” or “He’s in a better place.” Those are also possible but not as common as “passed away.”

Finally, Cherry (Cherry) from China wants to know the difference between two similar words – “situation” and “circumstance.” “Situation” (situation) is the way something is. It’s the state or condition of something. “This is a bad situation. We’re in a bad situation.” We’re in a bad state. The way things are happening right now is not good.

“Circumstance” (circumstance) – often used in the plural, “circumstances” – means the details that change our view of an event or a fact. For example, you found out that you are missing $10 that was on your desk. And you learned that your brother took it. But your brother tells you why he took it. He tells you the circumstances of why he took your money. He gives you the details, perhaps he needed the money to buy some food and he was really hungry. Well, once you know the circumstances, once you know the details about why he did that, you may think differently about that fact, that event.

So, “circumstances” are used to talk about specific details of an event or a fact. You also hear or read “circumstances” used with a couple of other expressions. One of them is “under the circumstances.” “Under the circumstances” means “because of how things are right now.” For example, “Under the circumstances, I do not believe that I can give you any money.” There the phrase “under the circumstances” means “because now I understand the details of what you are telling me, I, in this case, cannot give you any money.” Or I might say, “Under the circumstances, I will give you some money because you really need it, now that I understand your circumstances.” We could also say, “Now that I understand your situation.” “Under no circumstances” means never. It doesn’t matter what happens. “I am not going to a Kiss rock concert. Under no circumstances will I go!”

If you have a question or comment for ESL Podcast, 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, right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and

Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2013, by the Center for Educational


chess – a game that is played on a piece of heavy cardboard or wood that is put on a table, with two or more players moving pieces in special ways to win the game

* Grandpa tried to teach me to play chess, but I could never remember how each piece is allowed to move.

match – game; a contest in which two or more sides compete against each other to win

* What happened at today’s soccer match? Did your team win?

grandmaster – the highest title a chess player can be given, especially one who has won an international tournament

* Carla is a very good chess player and has dreams of becoming a grandmaster one day.

child prodigy – someone who has an exceptional ability to do something well at an early age

* Jermain’s daughter was a child prodigy in music and could play six instruments well by the time she was only seven years old.

rivalry – competition in the same field; competition to be the best in a specific field, especially over a long period of time

* Microsoft and Apple’s rivalry in the computer field has resulted in a lot of advances in technology.

collusion – making secretive agreements to give someone an unfair advantage

* We have evidence of collusion between government officials and the company that got the job to fix major freeways.

seclusion – in isolation; being private and away from other people

* Vacationing on a small island means we are sure to have quiet and seclusion.

to defend (one’s) title – for a champion or winner to try to win again; to attempt to win a second time

* Roberta is defending her title as winner of the bowling tournament.

to revoke – to have taken away; to be required to give back something that one has won or has been given

* The judge revoked Millie’s driver’s license when she drove while drunk.

heavy metal – a type of rock music that sounds very harsh and loud, with a strong beat

* Is Metallica your favorite heavy metal band, or do you prefer Megadeath?

outrageous – very shocking and surprising, not according to the standards and expectations of society

* Lorenza said some outrageous things about her best friend in front of the class to get attention, and she immediately regretted it.

to levitate – to float in the air; to rise and remain in the air, as though lifted by magic

* The magician levitated over the head of the audience and disappeared.

barely – nearly did not; only just

* The child could barely speak when she saw that her parents had bought her the bicycle she wanted for her birthday.

scarcely – probably not; hardly

* There is scarcely anyone in this office without a smart phone.

passed away – died; no longer living

* My grandmother passed away when I was only four years old.

situation – the way that something is; the state or condition of something

* Don’t make any decisions without first understanding the entire situation.

circumstance – the way that something is; the state or condition of something; a detail that changes one’s view of an event or a fact

* We can’t imagine any circumstances under which anyone would say those hurtful things.

What Insiders Know
Kissing Games

Kissing games are games usually played by “teenagers” (people ages 13 to 19) or “pre-teens” (children just under the age of 13). These games are usually played by a group of boys and girls who are together for a party or in some location away from adults. There are many different types of kissing games. Some of the games have been played for so long that no one knows how old they are. Other games are more modern.

Spin the Bottle is one of the oldest and most popular kissing games. In this game, luck decides who will kiss whom. Everyone sits or stands in a circle. One player lays a bottle on its side and spins it. This person must kiss the person that the “neck” (the opening) of the bottle is pointing to when it stops spinning.

Spin the Bottle can also be used to decide who will participate in a game such as Seven Minutes in Heaven. In this game two people go into a closet or dark, private area for seven minutes. They can do whatever they want during this time, but sometimes limits are decided either by the group in advance or by the couple. In most situations the people playing this game are young, so they usually only “make out” (kiss and touch each other with their clothes on). The length of time can be changed and is sometimes only thirty seconds. This helps limit their activity.

Post Office is another kissing game. Post Office, like Spin the Bottle, is limited to kissing. The group is divided into girls and boys. One group goes into a room called the “post office” (the place where people go to mail a letter or package). One person at a time from the other group goes into the “post office” and gets a kiss from everyone there. They return and another person visits the “post office” until everyone has had a turn.