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387 Topics: Movies - The Maltese Falcon; Napa Valley, California and wine country; usage of “bit”; abuse versus assault; to put (someone) in the picture

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 387.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 387. 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. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on famous American movies, focusing on one of my favorite movies, The Maltese Falcon. We’re also going to talk about an area of California called Napa Valley, which is sometimes referred to as “wine country” – the area where a lot of wine is made here in the U.S. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café with a continuation of our series on American movies. Today, we’re going to talk about The Maltese Falcon. A “falcon” (falcon) is a large bird, what we would call a “bird of prey” (prey). A “bird of prey” is one that catches, kills, and eats smaller animals, like mice, for example. A 1930 novel called The Maltese Falcon, written by Dashiell Hammett, is about a private detective. A “detective” is someone who investigates or researches crime. The police department has detectives. We would call those “police detectives,” but there are also people who are not police officers who go out and investigate crimes on their own, usually because they are paid by someone to do that. We would call these people “private detectives.”

They used to also be called “private investigators,” or “P.I.’s.” A “P.I.” or a private detective then, investigates crimes and other things, of course. A woman might hire a private detective to follow her husband around if she thinks her husband may be cheating on her. “To cheat on someone” is to have a romantic affair with someone who is not your wife or husband.

The Maltese Falcon then, was a novel by one of the great mystery writers of the 1930’s, Dashiell Hammett. The book was made into a movie later on and that’s what we’re talking about here.

The story of The Maltese Falcon is one of a private detective dealing with three unscrupulous people. “Unscrupulous” (unscrupulous) means someone who’s not ethical, someone who’s not fair, someone who will do anything necessary to get what they want. In the story, The Maltese Falcon, we have three unscrupulous people that the private detective has to deal with or work with. The detective is named Sam Spade and he’s what we would call, in literature and in movies, an “antihero.” An “antihero” (antihero) is a character in a movie who doesn’t have the traditional qualities associated with a hero. A “hero” is the good guy – the person in the movie who always rescues the person who has been captured or kills the bad guy. That’s the hero – Superman and Spiderman are heroes. We actually call them “superheroes.” But in a normal book, a “hero” is the person in the book who is the good one, who does the good things.

Sam Spade is what we would call an “antihero.” He’s still the main character in the book and really, he’s still a good guy, but he doesn’t have all of the positive characteristics or qualities you would expect in a hero. He has faults. He has problems. He’s not perfect. Antiheroes are very common in the kind of novel that we’re talking about here – what is typically called “hardboiled fiction.”

“Hardboiled” (hardboiled) – one word – is a kind of fiction that usually involves a detective, a private detective, where the detective is somewhat darker, somewhat more “cynical,” we would say. Someone who is “cynical” (cynical) doesn’t trust anyone, doesn’t believe anyone. There are many famous hardboiled fiction detectives. This kind of fiction was very popular in the 1920’s, the 1930’s, the 1940’s in the United States. Dashiell Hammett was one of the best writers in this particular kind of fiction. You may also have heard of another famous writer of this kind of book named Raymond Chandler. Both Chandler and Hammett wrote in this genre, this type of writing called hardboiled fiction.

In the hardboiled fiction novel, the focus is on the very strong emotions of fear, of horror, of worry. In the novels, the detectives typically spend a lot of time talking to themselves. The novel is often written in what we would call the “first person,” where the narrator of the story – the person telling the story – is the person who is involved in the story itself. The detective in a hardboiled detective story typically tries to give information to the reader about themselves, to reveal themselves to the reader so the person reading understands what the detective is thinking, what the detective is doing.

Hardboiled fiction also typically has a character, a female character, called the “femme fatale.” A “femme (femme) fatale (fatale)” is a beautiful female character who is very sexually attractive and who uses the power of her beauty to get people to do things for her. “Femme fatale” is, you may know, a French term that refers to this sort of dangerous woman, because she’s beautiful but she uses her beauty to get people to do what she wants them to do. In The Maltese Falcon, the femme fatale is named Brigid O'Shaughnessy. The private detective, of course, sees the beautiful femme fatale and often is attracted to her, but of course, as a professional, he has to make sure that he’s doing the right thing. And in The Maltese Falcon, you have that sort of relationship between the detective, Sam Spade, and the femme fatale, Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

The Maltese Falcon was adapted for film or made into a movie more than once. The first version was made in 1931. The second version was made just a few years later, in 1936. However it was more of a comedy when they made it the second time. They changed the name from “The Maltese Falcon” to “Satan Met a Lady.” “Satan” is another word for the devil.

The third version is the one that is most famous, the one that everyone remembers. That was also called “The Maltese Falcon.” It was made in 1941, and was directed by one of the great American movie directors, John Huston. This version, the third version of The Maltese Falcon is, as I said, the best known one. It starred one of the great American actors, Humphrey Bogart, as Sam Spade, the detective. The movie also had other famous actors at the time, including Peter Lorre and Mary Astor. The film was very “well-received,” meaning people liked it. It was very popular when it was “released” in 1941, meaning when it was first shown in the movie theatres.

It is a suspenseful film; that is, a film that makes you want to find out how it ends. You’re not sure what’s going to happen, and you’re waiting the entire movie to find out what will happen. The great director Alfred Hitchcock is best known for creating great suspense movies.

The film was also famous for using some very unusually techniques when they made the movie, when they filmed the movie. They used a lot of different what we would call “camera angles” – places where they put the camera. For example, they would put the camera on the floor, pointing up to the actors, using different angles, different views, in order to communicate the story.

The film was nominated for three “Oscars,” three Academy Awards, the award given to the best movies in the United States during a year. It was named by several critics as one of the best films of all time, and I definitely agree with that. If you see the movie, I think you’ll really enjoy it. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it is suspenseful and I think you’ll enjoy it a great deal. As an older movie, now well, more than 70 years old, the movie, I think, is still considered a “classic” – a great movie from the American film industry.

Now let’s turn to our next topic which is not a movie but a place called Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley is the largest, or one of the largest, wine growing regions in the United States. It’s located in Northern California. It is north of the city of San Francisco. It is, I’m told, a very beautiful area that is “blessed with,” or that is lucky to have, very rich fertile soil.

“Soil” (soil) is just another word for dirt. But we use that word when we’re talking about dirt that’s good for plants, for agriculture, for growing things. When we describe soil as “rich and fertile,” we mean it’s very healthy for plants. It’s good dirt to grow plants in.

The people who originally moved or settled in Napa Valley began living here in part because they were looking not for wine, but for silver in the mountains. A “valley,” you probably know, is an area in between two mountains. They didn’t find a lot of silver. However, some of the people decided to become farmers and someone discovered that grapes grew very well in this particular soil. “Grapes,” of course, is what we make wine from.

After a few years, the area was filled with several large vineyards. A “vineyard” (vineyard) is a large area used to grow grapes that you will make for wine. Today, there are more than 400 wineries or places that make wine from the local grapes in this area, and it covers about 90% of the agricultural land, the land that you could grow things on. So, you won’t find a lot of other kinds of plants in Napa Valley. It’s almost all grapes used to make wine. The most popular grapes to grow in the area include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Zinfandel. If you are a lover of wine, of course, those names will be familiar to you.

Obviously, vineyards and winemaking companies contribute a lot to the local economy. Most of the people, or many of the people, who live there work in that industry, in that kind of business. However, tourism is also extremely important for Napa Valley. People travel up to Napa Valley to visit the wineries and, of course, to drink the wine. A “winery” (winery), you can guess, is a business that makes wines.

What typically will happen is that people will travel up to Napa Valley and they will take a tour of different wineries. As they go to each winery, they will sample the wine from that particular company. “To sample” means to try a small amount of something. The wineries give you these free samples in hopes that you will like their wine, buy some bottles, and then take them home with you. Of course you don’t have to buy anything. You can just drink their wine and then go to the next winery, and there are people, I suppose, who do that. But if you like wine, if you love wine, and you find something you really like, you are likely then to buy a few bottles of that wine.

Many of the wineries are very beautiful. They have beautiful buildings with beautiful views of the valley. Many of them are so beautiful that people organize weddings and anniversary parties at one of the wineries because they have such a beautiful building, such a beautiful area – a beautiful garden and so forth.

Many people like to take tours of the wineries for an afternoon or even for a couple of days as they travel through this area. The area is fairly easy to get to. As I said before, it’s just north of San Francisco. So, if you like wines and you want to visit Napa Valley, it’s not difficult to do. The summer months are warm and sunny in northern California and that’s really the best time to go to Napa Valley. It’s not as crowded, however, during the winter, but the weather is not as nice, either. There are several different wine and food festivals – special celebrations – that you can attend in Napa Valley. There is the Napa Valley Food Festival, among others, that allows you to try different kinds of food with your different kinds of wine.

To learn more about Napa Valley and to see some beautiful pictures of it, you might want to watch a movie that was made back in 2004 called “Sideways” (Sideways). “Sideways” is a movie about two men who visit the wine country for a one week trip, right before one of them gets married. The film provides an interesting look at what we might call “wine culture” – the lifestyle and habits of people who love wine and know a lot about wine and really enjoy drinking wine.

I have to say I’m none of those things. I’m not really a wine drinker. I’ve never been to Napa Valley, and I probably wouldn’t go to sample a bunch of wines. However, someday, I might go to visit and look for silver.

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

Our first question comes from Roach (Roach) in the country of Sri Lanka. Roach wants to know the use of the word “bit” (bit). There are many common expressions in English with this word – “a fair bit of,” “a bit,” “quite a bit,” and so forth. “Bit” basically means a small amount of something. “There’s a bit of soup left in my bowl” – not very much, just a very small amount – “a bit.” Or I could say, “a little bit,” which means it’s really very small.

“Bit” can also be a short period of time. “I will be ready in a bit,” meaning I will be ready in a short amount of time. Or you might say to someone, “Call me back in a bit.” That means telephone me in a few minutes or maybe a few hours – a small amount of time. Most of the expressions that use “bit” have one of those two meanings.

So, when we say, “quite a bit,” we mean a lot, not a small amount. A little bit is a small amount. A “fair bit” is a larger amount. A “good bit of something” is again a large amount. So even though “bit” means typically a small amount of something, if you add words like “a good bit of,” “quite a bit,” then it means a lot of something. It’s somewhat confusing.

If you use it just by itself, it means a small amount. “I have a bit of time.” I have a small amount of time. The opposite would be “I have a quite a bit of time.” I have a lot of time. So, “quite a bit” and “a good bit” both mean a lot, whereas just “bit” means a small amount.

A few other uses of the word “bit”: One is to add the word more or less when you are comparing things, to show that there’s only a small amount of difference. “My friend is a little bit taller than you” – not by much, a small amount, but still taller. Or “She’s a little bit less intelligent than her sister.” She’s not quite as smart as her sister.

The expression “every bit as” is used to show that something is as great as or as much as something else – for example, “Our team is every bit as good as your team.” You’re making a comparison and you are saying that yours is just as good as someone else’s. Or, “This job is every bit as good as my last one.”

When you say someone is “a bit of a something,” such as, “He’s a bit of a fool,” “He’s a bit of an idiot,” you mean that they are a fool, they’re an idiot, but they’re not a complete fool. You’re trying to be a little less rude, a little less offensive. Instead of saying, “He’s a fool,” you say, “He’s a bit of a fool.” He’s still a fool, but he’s not a complete fool. That’s the idea.

We can also use an expression with “bit” to mean something is extreme or too negative. “I think these orange curtains are a bit much.” That means I think they’re too extreme, the color is too loud or the color is too different. Typically when we say “a bit much,” we’re being negative, we’re being critical. “The new policy at my work that we have to wear hats everyday is a bit much,” meaning it’s too extreme. It goes too far.

There are a couple of other meanings of the word “bit” that are less common. One is the part of a drill, a kind of tool you use to make a hole in something. We call the little piece of metal that you use to drill into a wall a “drill bit.” A “bit” can also refer to a performance by someone, usually a comic or funny performance. That can also be called a “bit.” So, a lot of meanings for a three-letter word “bit”!

Wenhui (Wenhui) originally from China, now living in the United States, in Boston, Massachusetts, wants to know the difference between “abuse” (abuse) and “assault” (assault). “To abuse,” as a verb, means to act towards someone, to treat someone, or to say or speak to someone in a harmful way, in a negative way, in a way that will hurt them. “Abuse” can also mean to use something in a way that it was not intended to be used, that it was not supposed to be used as, and that, by doing that, you are causing problems. We often use this meaning of abuse when we’re talking about power or authority. “He abused his power as the boss.” He did something that he should not have done with his authority, with his power.

This word can also be a noun. It’s pronounced a little differently when used as a noun. As a noun, it’s pronounced “abuse.” As a verb it’s pronounced “abuse.” “Abuse,” “abuse” – notice the difference in the “s” sound. “Abuse” is a noun meaning bad behavior or wrong behavior. So, it’s connected to the verb “abuse,” which means to hurt someone or treat someone in a harmful way.

“Assault” (assault) is any kind of violent attack, when someone hurts someone else – with a gun, or with their hand, or with some other object or instrument. “Assault” usually means some physical violence against a person. “Abuse” tends to be either verbal, meaning it’s about the way you talk to someone, or it’s physical harm, but one that takes place over a long period of time. An “assault” is usually something that happens quickly, in a short amount of time, if it’s a physical act. “Abuse” is something that often happens over a long period of time. It can be both verbal and physical.

Our final question comes from Nermin (Nermin) in Azerbaijan. Nermin’s question has to do with the expression “to put someone in the picture.” “To put someone in the picture” means to give that person information about something that they need to know about, to inform them about a situation, to explain what is happening, often when they’ve been away and they need the new information, the latest information, the most recent information. For example, your boss goes away on vacation and when she comes back, she says to you, “Put me in the picture about this project.” Give me new information. Give me the news about that project.

“Picture” as a verb used alone means to imagine or envision someone doing something. “Picture the beach in Hawaii.” You’re saying tom someone, “Think about it.” “Imagine it.” “Have that image in your mind.” “To put someone in the picture,” however, means to give someone information. I suppose you could say they’re related, in that you are giving that person an image of what is happening about a certain situation.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@ESLPod.com. It might take a little bit of time for us to answer your question, 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 right here on the English Café.

English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

falcon – a large bird with wide wings that usually catches, kills, and eats smaller animals, such as mice

* Can you see the black falcon at the top of that tree looking for food?

private detective – a person who works for individuals, organizations, or businesses and who investigates and gathers evidence

* During the divorce, Janine hired a private detective to get evidence of her husband’s illegal hiding of money.

unscrupulous – not ethical or fair; describing someone who will do whatever is needed to get what he or she wants, without concern for hurting others

* Do you believe that all big business owners are unscrupulous, or are some honest and selfless?

antihero – the main character in a book or movie, who doesn't have the traditional qualities or characteristics associated with a hero

* Charlie Brown is the classic antihero whom people like, but who also has a lot of problems.

hardboiled fiction – a type of novel, especially detective stories, where the main characters have realistic problems and don’t trust other people’s intentions

* The criminals in hardboiled fiction are often realistic people with human flaws.

cynical – believing that people do things for their own good, not to help or benefit others; not trusting that other people are serious, good, and/or honest

* Mandy is only 12 years old, but she has had a difficult childhood and is already cynical about anyone who wants to help her.

femme fatale – a female character who is very beautiful and sexually attractive, and uses that to attract men and get them to do things that they would not normally do, leading them into dangerous situations

* The femme fatale in the movie got an innocent man to confess to her crimes.

suspenseful – causing people to want to know what will happen next

* TV series usually end each season in a suspenseful way so that viewers will return to watch next season to find out what happens.

soil – the top layer of the ground where plants grow; the brown and black dirt that is used to grow plants

* Plant the flowers in the soil next to that tall tree.

vineyard – a large area of land used to grow grapes for wine

* Jorge is worried that the low temperatures this winter will cause serious damage to the grapes in the vineyard.

winery – a business that makes wines

* Our winery produces both red and wine varieties of wine.

to sample – to try a small amount of something; to taste a small amount of food or drink

* The ice cream parlor allows new customers to sample three types of ice cream before ordering.

wine culture – the lifestyle and habits of people who know a lot about different kinds of wine and really enjoy drinking it

* Jun doesn’t drink wine and doesn’t understand wine culture like her friends do.

bit – a small amount; a short length of time; an act or routine

* With a bit more time and practice, Jaleel might become a very good swimmer.

abuse – a physical (with the body) or verbal (with words) attack; being treated or spoken to in a harmful way; use of something in a way that was not intended and causing problems; misuse

* If you keep abusing that dog, he will eventually attack you.

assault – a violent, physical attack

* The big man got angry with the smaller man and began assaulting him in the middle of the bar.

to put (someone) in the picture – to give someone information about something that they need to know; to inform someone so that they understand the situation; to explain to someone what is happening

* Monica had been on vacation for two weeks, and when she returned, asked her coworkers to put her in the picture on their major projects.

What Insiders Know

Bootlegging is the “illegal” (against the law) making or selling of something. In the United States, alcohol was illegal between the years of 1920 and 1933. This “ban on” (outlawing of) alcohol was called Prohibition. During Prohibition, “bootlegging” was a form of rum-running. “Rum-running” was the “transportation” (moving from one place to another) of alcohol, even though it was illegal. This type of “smuggling” (illegally moving an item to avoid laws or taxes) was common during prohibition.

The word bootlegging can also be used to talk about any type of “counterfeit” (false; not real) products. One common use of the word is with music recordings. “Bootleg recordings” are the illegal recording of a concert or other performance. These recordings – sometimes just sound, other times sound and video – are then sold illegally. There are also bootleg video games, which are versions of the original game that have been created illegally. The designers of these games do not receive any “royalties” (money paid to the creator of music, art, books, and other things) for these versions of the game.

Bootleg can refer to different illegal activities. Bootleg mining is the illegal “mining” (removal from the ground) of a valuable material. Usually, bootleg mining refers to small groups of people mining “coal,” a type of material that looks like black rock found in the ground that can be burned for energy. Permission is required to mine, so if someone mines without permission, it is called “bootleg mining.” Bootleg mining is also mining on land that the person does not own. In the 1920’s, there was a lot of people bootleg mining for coal on land owned by coal companies. Usually these were small holes dug by hand. Not only were these bootleg mines illegal, they were also dangerous.