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394 Topics: The rise of home shopping; Mammoth Cave National Park; quick versus fast; tremendous versus enormous; basic needs

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 394.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 394. 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. Take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, which has some additional courses in business and daily English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the increasing popularity of something called “home shopping.” We’re also going to talk about another one of our national parks here in the U.S., Mammoth Cave National Park. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

We begin this Café begins with a discussion of home shopping and its increasing popularity here in the United States. Home shopping is not a new idea. Technically, home shopping is just buying things from your house without going to a store. This has been done for more than a hundred years, at least here in the United States, by people using what are called catalogs.

A “catalog” (catalog) is a – usually a book made of paper that has detailed descriptions of the different things that you can buy. What happens is, you get a catalog and then you call them up on the telephone, or in the old days you would mail them an order form, and they would mail you back what you bought. Everything was done via the mail – that is, by using the post office to send things back and forth. Catalog sales began in the late 19th century in the United States and continued until probably the 1990s, maybe as recently as 10 years ago. Actually, there are still catalogs that companies will send you. I still get some catalogs from stores that I can call and order something, or I can mail something back to them. However, the most common way now of home shopping by catalog is on the Internet.

We’re not going to talk about Internet shopping today, but we instead are going to focus on home shopping on television. Television is a third way that people can shop at home, in addition to a catalog or going on the Internet. Home shopping has become extremely popular in the United States in the last 20, 30 years or so.

Many people say that home shopping on television really took off in 1977. “To take off,” here means to become very popular, to suddenly become popular. In 1977, there was a radio program, not a television program, that had an advertiser who couldn't pay his bills, who couldn't pay the radio for the ads that he was putting on the radio. And so the owner of this company gave the radio station, instead of a check for his advertising bill, a 112 can openers! A “can opener” is a small device you use to open a can of soup or a can of corn, or any other sort of can of food. Now the radio station owner had all of these can openers.

He wasn't sure what to do with them. So he gave them to the person who was announcing the songs – the DJ, we would call that person – these can openers and told him to try to sell the can openers on the radio in between the songs. Well, to the radio station owner's great surprise, these can opener sold very quickly. He sold all of them within one hour and he got the idea that, “Wow! People will buy things, not just by sending them a catalog.” They’ll buy them if you try to sell them on the radio or he later had the idea, on television. So, this person went out and created his own television shopping channel, which later became known as the Home Shopping Network or HSN.

The Home Shopping Network is a home shopping TV channel where you can watch programs about different products and call up and buy those products, and those products would then be sent to your house. There are actually two big home shopping television networks: the Home Shopping Network, the original one, and a new company or at least a newer company, called QVC.

These two major home shopping networks make about 10 billion dollars in sales every year. 10 billion dollars – that's a lot of money. These home shopping channels “showcase” or feature many different products. “To showcase” means to show someone, to demonstrate something to someone, usually something that you are trying to give emphasis to. Traditionally, on these home shopping channels, there is a person, a host, and a few assistants who show you the products – say, “Here it is.” They talk about it. They encourage people who are watching the show to call if they want to buy it, and often they’ll ask people to call and they’ll talk to them live and ask them why they want to buy this product, or how they might've used this product in their own homes.

If it's a piece of clothing or jewelry for example, there will be usually some attractive young woman who will be wearing it or, some male model who will be showing how it looks if you buy it and put it on (and are a male model). If it's a kitchen product, they'll typically show how you use it. In recent years, these home shopping channels have tried to make their shows interesting, more entertaining. So, they might have a famous chef – a famous person who cooks – come on and use one of the products they're selling in order to make a meal to show how you might use the product.

The Home Shopping Network has recently started to create an entire story and entire television show, a drama show, that has characters in it that use certain products to solve problems and then, at the end of the show, you can actually call in and buy those products. So, it's like watching a television program just like you would watch any sort of television drama, but instead of just watching it for the story, you can buy the things that the people are using or wearing in the television show – kind of amazing, really.

Many celebrities, many famous people, especially famous actors, musicians, and athletes, have begun to use the home shopping channels to sell their own lines of products. A “line” (line) means a set of products, a set of things that this person has put their name on in order to sell them. For example, a famous actress might have some perfumes that have her name on it. So, that actress would have a line of perfumes that she would try to sell people because, I guess, people want to smell like celebrities. I'm not sure.

This is a good deal for the celebrities. They get an opportunity to sell their lines of products. It's also a good deal for the home shopping channels. They are able to use what we might refer to as the “allure” of celebrities to get people to watch their programs. “Allure” (allure) is a very strong attraction that something has. If we talk about something or someone being alluring, we mean we’re very attracted to them. They are dressed in such a way or they look like something that we desire, that we want. That would be alluring.

Home shopping channels used the allure of celebrities to get people to watch their program or their programs, and increase what we might refer to as their “customer base.” Your “customer base” refers to the group of people who buy products or services from your company. It's really just another word for “customers.” I don't know why we have to say “customer base.” Perhaps, the idea is that these are customers that come back and buy repeatedly from you. They buy one thing then they buy another thing, then they buy another thing. That would be your customer base. You'll also hear about celebrities talking about their “fan base” – the group of people who are their fans. Again, it really means the same as “fans.” The word “base” doesn't add much to the meaning, but that's what people say nowadays.

The interesting thing about the home shopping channels is that they have not been replaced by the Internet. They have not become less popular because of the Internet. People still, even though they can go online and buy something, want to watch a television program that shows them the product, that has people talking about the product, that perhaps they think has a better price than they could get online or in what we would call nowadays a “bricks and mortar” store. The expression “bricks and mortar” refers to a physical store, a store you would get into your car and drive to and walk into. A “brick” (brick) is something you would use to build a house or a building. It's one kind of material you can use. Mortar is sort of the glue or paste that you use to make the bricks stay together. “Bricks and mortar store” refers to a store, a physical store, we might also say, that you actually go to, not an Internet store, not a “virtual” store. That would be the opposite of a bricks and mortar store.

According to an article in one national magazine here in the United States, these home shopping channels are continuing to increase their profits. They're making more and more money as people watch them and buy their products. Home shopping channels are not unique to the United States. Now you can find these in probably many countries throughout the world, probably even in your country if you're not here in the U.S. If you come to the US, and you go to someone's house, you will find that there are usually several of these channels that you can watch and buy things from.

I personally have never bought anything from a home shopping channel. I'm not very interested in watching the programs. I don't think they're very interesting and usually they're selling things like perfume or kitchen appliances or things that you would use for cooking that I'm just not very interested in buying. But if you are, well, then you can watch a home shopping channel.

Now let’s turn to our next topic, which is one of our most interesting national parks in the United States. A “national park” is a special area of land that the national or federal government protects because of its beauty or its importance. This national park is called Mammoth Cave. It's in the state of Kentucky, which is in the central eastern part of the United States.

Mammoth Cave National Park has what is considered to be the longest cave system in the world. What is a cave? A “cave” (cave) is a large, open, underground area underneath the ground, in a rocky area. We often think of bears, for example – the animal – living in a small cave on the side of the mountain. But sometimes the caves can be very, very large. In the case of the Mammoth Cave National Park, you have many different caves that are connected. One cave leads to another cave, leads to another cave. You have a whole system of caves.

Way back in 1941, Mammoth Cave was made into a national park; forty years later it was named a UNESCO – a United Nations World Heritage Site. How big is Mammoth Cave? Well, there are more than 390 miles – that's 630 kilometers, for the rest of the world – of these caves. That's more than twice as long as the next largest cave system also located in the United States, in the state of South Dakota.

You might be wondering why we call it Mammoth Cave. The word “mammoth” (mammoth) means very large – huge. We use the word “mammoth” to talk about a certain kind of animal as well. The woolly mammoth for example, was a large animal that lived many, many years ago. The animal is no longer around. It is what we would call “extinct,” meaning it's no longer alive. There are no more woolly mammoths, but that word “mammoth” means large, means huge.

Mammoth Cave is so big that some people, perhaps, might say a mammoth could live in it, but that, I'm sure, didn't happen. It was named Mammoth Cave because it's so large and so huge. The cave is home to, not woolly mammoths, but a lot of other animals, including something called a cave salamander, which is sort of a lizard-like creature. There are lots of insects, lots of bats in the cave as well. There are a few types of what are called “blind fish” or eyeless fish – fish that don't have any eyes – I suppose because it's so dark in the cave, they didn't need eyes. I'm not really sure.

I've been to Mammoth Cave National Park. I went there when I was a young boy and it is an amazing experience to walk in to one of these huge caves. I mean, they're very large – and to see how the caves continue for miles and miles underneath the ground!

The National Park Service, which is the government organization that takes care of all of our national parks, will give you a tour of the cave, or I should say, the caves. I took a tour many years ago. Because it's so dark inside the caves, there are, at least for the ones that the public can walk into, the general public, the average person, there are electric lights inside the caves. Sometimes, however, the National Park Service will give a tour to some of the caves that are farther in and use only lanterns, which is basically a large light that someone carries.

There are also now, staircases – places where you can walk so that you don't fall down inside the cave. There's even now an underground cafeteria, a place where you can buy sandwiches and eat them inside the cave. I don't remember that when I was there.

Certain parts of the cave system in Mammoth Cave National Park have special names. For example, there is the Grand Avenue Cave, which refers to a very wide-open area that looks like it could be a busy street in a city. Scientists have also discovered bones – human bones – deep inside the caves that are from many hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years ago. Their hypothesis, their guess, is that people went inside of these caves to “mine” for minerals. “To mine” (mine) means to dig into the rock to get gold or silver or something else that you're going to use in the outside world, if you will, outside of the cave.

We even have a special verb in English to describe people who go to these caves explore them and walk around them as a hobby. We call this “spelunking” (spelunking). Spelunking is the act of exploring these different caves. The word “spelunking” comes from the Latin word for cave which is “spelunca” (spelunca). It's a word that you'll probably never use in normal conversation. I don't think I've ever used the word to talk about anything other than perhaps, visiting Mammoth Cave National Park.

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

Our first question comes from Heiko (Heiko) in Germany. The question has to do with the words “quick” (quick) and “fast” (fast). When do you use quick, and when do you use fast?

Well, let's start out by saying that both “quick” and “fast” are, or can be adjectives, used to describe something or someone who moves at a very high speed. You could have a fast airplane or a fast car. You could have someone who is a quick study – someone who is able to learn things at a very high speed, in a very short amount of time. That's quick and fast used as adjectives.

However, both quick and fast can sometimes be used, and often are used, as adverbs. Now technically, although “fast” is considered an adverb, “quick” is used as an adverb somewhat informally. If you were a grammar teacher, you might say that you are supposed to say “quickly” – putting an -ly at the end of the word. However, this distinction between “quick” and “quickly” is fast disappearing in normal conversation and now, even in a lot of writing, that distinction, that difference, isn't really made. People use “quick” as an adverb especially when they say something like, “Quick, give me a pen.” They're asking you to give them a pen right away, immediately, quickly, but they’ll just say “quick.”

Nevertheless, “fast” is probably since more accepted as an adverb than “quick” and you'll hear that used as an adverb frequently. The train moves very fast. The car goes very fast. There, “fast” is used as an adverb.

There are certain times when English speakers prefer to use quick over fast, or fast over quick, depending on the specific context. There isn't really a good rule I can give you. For example, in baseball, we have what are called “fast pitches.” These are pitches, which is the act of throwing the ball, that, or in which, the ball moves very quickly. They're not called “quick pitches.” They’re called “fast pitches.” Similarly, there is an expression, “quick buck” – “to make a quick buck” (buck). Buck is an informal word for a dollar, or more generally money. To make a quick buck would be to get some money very quickly. That expression usually refers to making money in a perhaps somewhat dishonest way or a way that is akin to or similar to cheating. “I’m going to make a quick buck.”

I should also mention that quick and fast both have additional meanings. “Quick” can also mean for a very short time. “I'm going to take a quick trip to the grocery store.” I'm only going to be there for five minutes. “Fast” can also, in addition to meaning at a high-speed – can mean not eating food, often for religious reasons. Someone who is “fasting” is someone who is not eating food, or perhaps only eating a small amount of food, or only drinking water. That would be someone who is fasting.

People fast for religious reasons. Some people fast because they think it helps them with their health. We have the word “breakfast” – “breakfast” is how we would normally pronounce it, which means to break your fast, to stop or end your fast. Of course, when you're sleeping, you're not eating. So, you could say that you’re fasting. Then you wake up in the morning and you have breakfast. You break your fast of when you were sleeping.

Our next question comes from Elsamani (Elsamani) originally from Sudan, now living in North Carolina, in the southeastern part of the United States. The question has to do with the meanings of the words “tremendous” and “enormous.” Both “tremendous” and enormous can mean very large in size or amount. We might say, “She is in tremendous pain.” She's in a lot of pain. She really hurts. Or you could say, “She has tremendous talent, tremendous skills.” She is very talented. She is very smart. She knows how to do a lot of things or do something very well.

“Enormous” can also mean very large. “We have an enormous business.” We have a very large business. Although both tremendous and enormous can be used to describe something that is very large, it's more often the case that we will use tremendous to describe something that is excellent, that is very good. “He's a tremendous pianist.” “He's a tremendous baseball player.” We mean they're an excellent one. We don’t mean they’re large. We don't mean they're huge. We mean they're very good at what they do. That's a more common use of the word tremendous, even though it can also mean very large.

Both tremendous and enormous can also mean extremely bad. “We had a tremendous earthquake.” That means we had a very serious, large, and damaging earthquake. You can say, “He is guilty of the enormous crimes. He has done lot of very serious things wrong. He has broken the law.

So, while “tremendous” can mean very large, it's more often used to mean excellent, someone who is wonderful at what they do. “Enormous” is almost always used to describe things that are very large, that are huge.

Our final question comes from Rafael (Rafael) in Spain. Rafael wants to know the significance of the expression “basic needs” and the verb “to boost.” He saw both of these in a single sentence.

Something that is basic is something that is simple, something that is, perhaps, important for everyone. Needs are things that you must have in order to live, in order to survive. Basic needs, then, would be things like air, water, food. These are basic needs that all humans need in order to survive in order to live. “To boost” (boost) means to increase or to lift or to raise.

The sentence that Rafael had seen was, “Once people have enough money to meet their basic needs” – getting more of it, getting more money – “doesn't give them much of a boost.” So the sentence is saying that if you have money that will allow you to live, that having a lot of money won't necessarily give you an increase. An increase in what? Well, the sentence doesn't say, but I think they're talking here about happiness – about being happy or feeling happy or feeling better about yourself, that having a lot more money beyond meeting your basic needs won’t boost or increase your happiness. I'm just guessing though because we only have that sentence. I don't have the whole paragraph or whole context that Rafael had when he sent this question.

If you have a question we’ll try to answer it. E-mail us at 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.

ESLPodcast’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.

catalog – a thin book or listing provided by a company with detailed description of the products that are for sale

* Zack gets a catalog in the mail every few months listing hard-to-find radio equipment.

to take off – to become popular and interesting to a lot of people

* Jolene hopes that her new dating website takes off soon and becomes a big success.

to showcase – to feature; to show something to an audience so that people will like it and want to buy it

* The art auction had many items for sale, but they showcased a small painting by Picasso.

line – brand; a collection of products of the same kind sold under one name

* Our company sells an entire line of tennis shoes named after famous athletes.

allure – strong, powerful attraction; the quality of attracting and charming people

* Carl isn’t handsome, but he’s always had a strange allure for women.

customer base – a group of people who buy products or services from a particular company

* Trying to get new customers is important, but it is equally important to keep our customer base happy.

bricks-and-mortar store – a store that is in a building where people can go to and to shop in

* Many people look at electronics in brick-and-mortar stores, and then shop for the best price online.

cave – a room below ground in a rocky area, usually with an opening on the side of a hill or cliff

* Jo was lucky to find a cave during the snowstorm where she could keep warm.

mammoth – wooly mammoth; a very large animal with long hair that looked like an elephant, that lived on Earth long ago, but none exist today

* Do you think people lived alongside mammoths at one time in history?

extinct – no longer living; for a type of animal or other living thing to not exist anymore

* The bald eagle would be extinct today without laws that protected it from hunters.

lantern – a type of lamp with a burning flame that is placed inside a glass and metal object held in one's hand

* In the old days, you used a lantern to see outside after dark.

to mine – to dig for minerals or precious metals like silver and gold, separating them from the rocks

* People came from all over the world to mine gold when they heard the news that some had been found in those hills.

to spelunk – to explore caves (large underground rooms in rocks), usually for fun

* Be careful when you spelunk in those unexplored caves.

quick – done with great speed; using a short period of time

* Billie was quick to apologize when she realized she had said something rude.

fast – done with great speed; not eating a certain kind of food, or not eat food at all (usually for a religious reason)

* Emily is the fastest runner on our team.

tremendous – large in size or amount; extremely good or extremely bad

* It is a tremendous honor to receive this prize for the best scientific discovery of the year.

enormous – very large; very great

* Look at this enormous wedding cake! It should feed over 200 people.

basic needs – what is necessary to live, such as food, water, a home, and clothing

* Our organization tries to help homeless families by meeting their basic needs.

What Insiders Know
Tupperware Parties

Tupperware is a brand of kitchen containers that are “airtight” (do not let air in), which are supposed to keep food fresher for a longer period of time. Tupperware was first sold 1946. When they were first available, these containers were not sold in stores, but could only be purchased at Tupperware parties. These Tupperware parties were very popular in the 1950’s. This was because women who had worked during World War II now returned to working only in the home. By selling Tupperware at these parties, women found a way of working and still remain at home.

The Tupperware company soon developed the “direct marketing plan” of having women sell Tupperware to other women. This is how it worked: a woman has a Tupperware party at her home and invites other women to come to the party. At the party, there were examples of the different types of products that the women could buy.

The “atmosphere” (the way a place feels) was friendly since most of the women know each other. There were no high-pressure “sales pitches” (attempts to sell something) at the parties. The parties were fun for everyone and the woman hosting it makes money. Women chose the Tupperware that they wanted to order and the Tupperware was later “delivered” (sent) to the party host, who “distributed” (gave to each person) them to each buyer. The woman who “hosts” (is the person who organized) the party is rewarded with free gifts based on the amount of Tupperware other women bought at her party.

These types of parties are still held today. Their popularity has gone down as American culture has changed. Women do not feel that they can only work from the home anymore, and the socializing that is a large reason for the success of these parties is now done in other ways, such as on “social networking websites” (websites where people can contact and keep in touch with each other).