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390 Topics: American Authors - Emily Post; American Cities - Branson, Missouri; either versus both; to do a special on (someone/something) versus to do a segment on (someone/something); to towel off

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 390.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 390. 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, were going to continue our series on famous American authors – writers – focusing on Emily Post. We’re also going to continue our series on American cities, talking about not a large city but a very interesting city called Branson, Missouri. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

This Café begins with a continuation of our series on American writers. Today, we're going to talk about Emily Post. Emily Post was born Emily Price in 1872 in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, in the northeastern part of United States. Emily studied at home and then went to what is called a “finishing school,” sometimes known as a “charm school.” A finishing school, or a charm school, is something that doesn't really exist anymore, I don't think. These were programs to teach young women certain social skills so that they would be prepared to enter society; that is, they would be prepared to be members of, for the most part, the “upper class” (the rich Americans) and those who had certain powerful positions.

Finishing schools or charm schools were supposed to teach young women how to dress, how to act, what to do at a party, what to do at a social event. Ultimately these schools were meant to help women also find husbands by giving them these social skills. At the time, of course, it wasn't very common for women to go and study at the university. We’re talking about the late 19th century here. So, this school was meant to help women do what they were expected to do in the upper classes. These were only places that rich young women were sent. Poor women or what we would now call “middle-class” women did not attend, typically, finishing schools or charm schools.

When a young woman finishes a charm school, she is technically known as a “debutante” (debutante). The term “debutante” refers to any wealthy (that is, rich) young woman who is first appearing in society, who first starts to go to fancy parties, to what we call “balls” (balls). Often, this is the first opportunity for this young woman to meet eligible men – men who are single, men who could be her husband. Emily was a debutante who met her future husband at one of these fancy parties, one of these balls. A ball is usually a party where everyone wears very nice clothes and does some sort of formal dancing – not like disco dancing or the kind of dancing you would see in dance clubs, but more formal dances.

Young Emily married Mr. Post, and therefore her name became Emily Post, in 1892. However, they divorced just a few years later, in 1905. Emily began her writing career when her sons started to go to boarding school. A “boarding (boarding) school” is a school where students don't live at home with their parents. They live next to the school. Once again, this was something that was common. It's still common for some very rich families. They send their children to a boarding school to get a good education. They are not as popular as they used to be, but there are still boarding schools. Sometimes, for example, people with a lot of money who are living in other countries will send their children to boarding schools here in the United States so that they will learn English and they will get a good education. Once again, it's usually nowadays just for very rich children.

Emily Post’s children went to a boarding school, and in order to make money, she began writing for newspapers and magazines. She also began to write novels and travel books. Some of her writing was fiction – some of it was imaginary – some of it was nonfiction. Emily Post however, is not known for her fiction works or for her travel books. Instead, she's known for her writing on something called “etiquette.”

“Etiquette” (etiquette) refers to the rules that people follow to be polite, to be respected within a particular culture. Etiquette isn't just something for rich people. The word “etiquette” refers to any sort of behavior that we have that follows certain customs, certain rules in any culture. In some cultures, etiquette requires that you wash your hands in a bowl before eating at the table. In some cultures, etiquette requires that you take your shoes off when you come into the house of someone. These are all rules that we follow when we're trying to be considerate of other people – we’re thinking about their thoughts and feelings.

Etiquette has a lot to do with the rules of a particular culture. In 1922, Emily Post wrote a book called “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home.” This book became what we would now call a “bestseller.” It was one of the most popular books in the United States. The book mostly presented what we might now call as “common sense” regarding etiquette. The phrase “common sense” (sense) refers to things that most people already know or should know. Emily Post wrote with a lot of common sense, basically reminding people of how they should behave at a party, how they should behave with their neighbors and so forth.

The book was so popular in the United States that there were 10 editions; that is, it was updated 10 different times over the 20th century. There were 90 different printings of the book by the time Emily Post died in 1960. Today, the book is still around. Today, the book is in its 18th edition. So, it's been revised 18 times throughout the last, well almost hundred years – 90 years – to reflect changes in society's rules.

We’re speaking of, here, of course, of American society. In some ways, Emily Post’s book is an interesting way to understand something about American culture. The fact that the book was popular in the United States for so long – it’s not as popular now, but it certainly was popular in most of the 20th century – I remember hearing about the book when I was growing up – says something a little bit about American culture itself. There is this certain sense of insecurity that especially middle-class Americans might have in understanding the appropriate rules for a more sophisticated, cultured life, and I think the popularity of books such as Emily Post's book on etiquette show that people feel insecure. They’re not sure. They don't think that their own, in this case, etiquette is sufficient, is good enough, and so they buy a book to try to improve that. It's really a kind of what we would now call a “self- help book” – a book that you try to use to improve yourself.

Emily Post’s book became so popular that she started to speak on the radio, and she began what is called a “syndicated column” in the newspaper. A “column” (column) is usually a short article or opinion piece that is written by the same person every week in a newspaper, sometimes even every day. “Syndicated” just means it was printed in a lot of different newspapers, not just the newspaper here in Los Angeles, but one in New York, and one in Chicago, and one in Dallas, and so forth. Emily Post’s syndicated column appeared in more than 200 newspapers after 1932, so she was incredibly popular in the ‘30s and ‘40s in particular.

In 1946, Emily Post founded or created an organization called the Emily Post Institute, which is supposed to educate people about appropriate etiquette. The Institute, I believe, is still around. It's a kind of finishing school, a kind of charm school, but it's not called that. Many of her family members – Emily Post's family members – still work in this institute, which helps people with issues of etiquette. It's not just for young women, however. It's, I think, for anyone.

Emily Post herself died in 1960 when she was 87 years old, but most people even today are familiar with her name. Sometimes her name is used almost as a symbol of etiquette. You might say, “Well, I don't know what to do here. I'm not Emily Post!” I'm not a person who knows about the proper rules of etiquette, of behavior, in this particular situation. It's probably an older generation that still remembers Emily Post, even though her book is still being published.

There have been other etiquette columnists – people who write for the newspapers about etiquette – in the past 50 years or so. A more popular one in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s was a woman by the name of Judith Martin. She went by the name Miss Manners. “Manners” (manners) is similar to etiquette. It is the way of acting appropriately in a situation. For example, in the United States, if you sit down at your table to eat, you don't start eating everything with your hands. Usually, you use your knife, your spoon, or your fork – that would be etiquette. Other cultures have different etiquette about eating, different kinds of “manners” that you use.

All of these are informal. We’re not talking about the government saying, “You should do this.” We’re talking about the way a culture develops these rules and so forth. Emily Post, Miss Manners, and other writers try to help people who perhaps don't know what the most accepted way of acting is in a certain situation, and that's why she was so popular and her book is still in print. It’s still being produced.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is a continuation of our series on American cities. Today, I'm going to talk about a very small city by the name of Branson, Missouri. The state of Missouri is in the Midwestern part of the United States. It's really right in the center of the United States, between the North and the South, East and the West. Branson is not the most important city in Missouri. It's not the capital of Missouri. That's a town called Jefferson City. Missouri's biggest cities are Kansas City and St. Louis. Nevertheless, Branson is a very popular city.

Why is it popular? Because Branson has become an important city in the country music world and the world of people who like country music. Here's what happened: In 1983, there was a theater that began to bring many popular country music performers to Branson. The theater was called “The Roy Clark Celebrity Theater.” These performers would come and they would give their performance, perform their songs, and people would travel to Branson to see them – not just from the area around the city, but from other states, from other cities. People would come and watch these shows, these country music shows. Some of them were older people – people who had retired. Many of the people who sang in Branson were singers that were popular many years ago, not now, But of course, as you get older, you still remember the music you listen to when you were younger. Many people went to Branson to see these old performers.

In 1991, there was a story about Branson on a popular television show called “60 Minutes,” which I talked about back in English Café number 201. I actually remember this story when it was on this program. It interviewed people and showed how popular Branson had become in the 1980s as sort of a capital of country music. This really got people's attention. People began to notice and even more people started to go to Branson. Today, Branson has many different theaters for live music and entertainment. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Branson every year to see these shows, to see these performers, especially country music performers. Branson now has other things that people travel there for. They also have a lot of stores, a lot of what are called “outlet stores.” An “outlet (outlet) store” is a store where you can buy famous brand clothing – clothing that is considered good quality at a lower price, at a cheaper price.

The city itself has never been very big. There are only about 10,000 people who live in this small town really of Branson. However, as I mentioned, hundreds of thousands of people come and visit the town, visit the city. Today, there are a lot of elderly middle-class people who come to Branson because they want to hear, as I mentioned, some of these old performers, what some people would call somewhat negatively “has-beens.” To say someone is a “has (has) – been (been)” means that they were once famous but they're not famous anymore. It's a very insulting term, really, to talk about someone who used to be famous but now they're not famous. You say, “Oh, he’s a has-been. Many years ago, he was famous, but now no one remembers him.” Branson has a lot of singers like that who come and sing for mostly older audiences that remember them when they were famous. Nevertheless, Branson is an interesting part of American culture. It's a place where you can sort of go back in time, if you will, and hear some of the music that was popular many years ago.

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

Our first question comes from Nicola (Nicola) in Italy. Nicola wants to know the difference between “either” and “both.” “Either,” which can also be pronounced “either” – there’s no difference in meaning – can have a couple of different meanings. One is “one of two possibilities,” one of two choices. You can go either left or right. You can go either north or south. You're giving someone one of two choices.

“Either” can also, strangely enough, mean both choices, but it's only used in that way when, of course, the choices aren't opposite. We might say, “There are houses on either side of the street.” In other words, on the left side and the right side, there are houses. There are houses in “either side” of the street. When you use “either” in that way, it means the same as “both.”

“Both” means – and only means – both choices, all of the choices. “Either” can mean one of the choices, or both of the choices, but “both” can only mean “both of the choices.” So there are houses on “both sides” of the street.

You may be thinking, “Well, how do I know which meaning is being used?” Usually, it's pretty obvious from the context which meaning of “either” is being used. If I say, “You can go either north or south,” you know that I'm using the first meaning of “one of these two choices” because you can’t go both north and south at the same time. However, if I say there are houses on “either side” of the street, the context tells you that yes, houses could be on both sides of the street, and therefore I’m using the second meaning.

Now, here's the weird thing: You can't just replace “either” with “both.” You can use them to mean the same thing, but there is a change in something else in the sentence when you use “both” instead of “either.” Here's what happens: When you use “both,” the nouns that you are referring to are always plural. Remember I said, “There are houses on both sides of the street.” “Sides” is plural. if I use “either,” the noun is going to be singular. “There are houses on either side of the street.” Notice “side” is singular, not plural. So, “both” is used when the nouns are plural. “Either” is used when the nouns are singular and you're using the word to mean basically the same thing as “both.”

Hamed (Hamed) in Iran wants to know how we use a couple of different expressions: “to do a special on something” and “to do a segment on something.” Well, let's talk about first, the meanings of the words “special” and “segment,” in this case. In this example, these words refer to kinds of programs on television. A “television special” would be a television program that is temporarily replacing the normal program you would expect at that time. So, let's say every night at eight o'clock, you watch the television show “24,” or “Friends,” or “House,” or some other popular TV show, but on Wednesday, they didn't have a show on. They had a special program on. That would be a program replacing the normal program that you would see at that time on that day.

A “segment” (segment) is one part of a television show, usually part of a news show. So, if you watch a news broadcast that last 30 minutes, in the United States, typically, there'll be a segment on the weather, telling you what the weather was like that day. There’ll be a segment on sports – which teams won, which teams lost. Those are all parts of the larger program. So, “to do a special on someone or on something” is to make a special television program that you show about that person that temporarily replaces another show that is on TV. “To do a segment on someone or something” means to do a story about that thing or person as part of the larger news program.

Finally, Tewon (Tewon) in South Korea wants to know the meaning of the expression, or the verb, “to towel off.” “To towel (towel) off” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to use something called a “towel” to dry yourself when you're wet. A towel is a thick piece of cloth – it could also be made of paper – that you use to dry something, to remove water or something wet, either from the floor or from your body. “To towel off” always means to dry your body off, to dry yourself off.

There's another expression with towel that is not related to this one, but I will mention it anyway, and that is “to throw in the towel.” “To throw in the towel” means to give up, to admit defeat or failure, to say, “Oh, I failed. I'm going to stop doing this. I'm going to throw in the towel. I'm going to quit.” The phrase comes from the sport of boxing, where two people – could be men, nowadays it's also women – who get in and hit themselves, hit each other, that is, with their fists, with their closed hands, usually when they're wearing some sort of thick glove on their hand. Anyway, boxing has this tradition where, when one boxer, one of the fighters, could no longer continue fighting, they took their towel and they threw it into the middle of the area where they are fighting, where the fighters box, called the “ring.” So, “to throw in your towel” means to say “I quit. I give up.” It's not related to the phrasal verb “to towel off,” except that it also has the word towel in it.

If you have a question or comment, you can e-mail us. Our e-mail 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 was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

finishing school / charm school – a program that teaches young women certain social skills so that they are prepared to enter society, interact with adults

* Young women in finishing schools/charm schools learn to entertain guests and be a good hostess.

debutante – a woman from a rich family, who is first appearing in society, going to fancy parties and dances, often to meet young men and find a husband

* Each debutante spent hours dressing and preparing for the year’s most important event.

ball – a formal dance; a dance where everyone wears very nice clothing, such as long dresses and tuxedos (formal suits of clothing worn by men)

* The governor will have a ball in May to welcome important international guests.

boarding school – a school in which the students live at the school during the school term

* Joachim’s parents sent him to boarding school when he was 12 because they traveled a lot for their work.

etiquette – rules that people follow to be polite and respected within society in a particular culture

* What’s the etiquette for refusing an invitation to a wedding? Do we still need to send a gift?

considerate – thinking about other people's thoughts and feelings and trying to make sure that one's words and actions do not harm other people

* Ambika is always considerate of her roommates, not making too much noise when she wakes up and leaves early for work each morning.

common sense – things that most people know, or should know

* No one told you not to stick your hand in a strange dog’s mouth because it’s simply common sense!

syndicated column – a short article written by the same author each day or week appearing in the newspapers that pay to print it, so that the article appears in many different newspapers at the same time each day or week.

* Dave Barry wrote a humorous column that appeared in many newspapers beginning in 1983.

to get (someone's) attention – to say or do something that is interesting and that makes many people look or take notice

* If we want to get the public’s attention to increase support for our cause, we need to use social media.

outlet store – a store where a famous brand sells items at prices that are lower than in its regular stores, usually because the items are slightly damaged, from a previous year or season, or did not sell in their regular stores

* I found these socks at the Nike outlet store for half the usual price!

has-been – a rude term that describes someone who was very famous, popular, and wealthy for a period of time, but is no longer very popularity

* Some people may consider him a has-been, but he’s still a great singer and performer.

either – one of two choices; all of two choices

* For our vacation this year, we will either go for a week to the seaside or we’ll spend it in the mountains.

both – all of two choices

* Mom asked me if I wanted ice cream or cookies for dessert and I said, “Both!”

to do a special on (someone/something) – to produce a television program which temporarily replaces a show normally scheduled for that time slot (period)

* Our station will do a special on the upcoming elections on Monday night.

to do a segment on (someone/something) – to produce a part of a television show, usually a news or news-related show, devoted to a specific topic

* The host did a segment on the failing car industry during the Sunday morning news show.

to towel off – to remove water from one’s body with a towel, usually after swimming or other activities; to dry someone or something with a towel

* After you wash the dog, be sure to towel it off before it gets water all over the house.

What Insiders Know
Miss Manners

“Miss Manners” is the “penname” (the name a writer uses instead of their real name) of a woman named Judith Martin. She was born in 1938 in Washington D.C., but she traveled much of her life when she as young. Her father was an “economist” (someone who studies the production and wealth of people and countries) for the United Nations. He was “transferred” (moved in a job) frequently, so Judith Martin lived in many foreign countries when she was young. After graduating from college, she began writing about the social gatherings at the White House. The many places she lived and people she met gave her a good background for understanding what is “acceptable” (socially considered good) behavior.

When she was 40 years old, she began writing a column giving readers advice on manners and etiquette. This is when she started writing as “Miss Manners.”

Readers of the newspapers in which her column appears send letters or messages to her with etiquette questions. Miss Manners answers these questions in her newspaper column and also writes short pieces of advice about certain points of politeness that may not be well understood. In her writings, she includes a lot of history, explaining where our current belief in what is considered good manners comes from. She also explains the reasons we should act a certain way in certain situations. Her writing is very “sarcastic” (scolding and making fun of other people), and she does not use “I” in her writings, instead preferring to talk about herself as “Miss Manners” and “she.”

Miss Manners’ books talk about etiquette at weddings, around the house, at work, when eating, and when “communicating” (writing, emailing, or talking to others). She also has a book that includes foreign travel etiquette.