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406 Topics: Ask an American - Corruption; cool versus cold; estate versus real estate; off to the races

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 406.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 406. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California – home of ESL Podcast.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there and visit the ESL Podcast Store, which has some additional courses in business and daily English I think you'll enjoy.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal rate, a normal speed, and then we explain what they said. Today, we’re going to talk about corruption – being dishonest, especially people who work for the government being dishonest. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

Our topic on this Café is “corruption” (corruption). “Corruption” refers to any dishonest, illegal, or unethical behavior that people in power engage in or do. Normally, in American English, when you say “corruption,” we think about government corruption, government employees or politicians who take money from people illegally in order to give them some sort of favor. This is the most common view of corruption.

However, some people who are studying and trying to fight corruption (that is, trying to end corruption) say that the biggest problem in corruption is not governments, but businesses. Corporations and large businesses often will try to avoid paying taxes, and in order to do that, they will engage in, or they will do, certain behaviors that are illegal or unethical.

Today, we’re going to listen to a couple of people from organizations that “monitor” or look at corruption in a number of different countries. They're going to talk about how corruption takes place and what some types of corruption are. The first person we’ll listen to is Raymond Baker. He's the director of something called “Global Financial Integrity,” which is an organization that monitors corruption internationally. We’ll listen first and then explain what he says. Let’s listen.


“The essential elements of the system are secrecy, jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake charitable foundations. The mispricing of trade is part of this system; various money laundering techniques are part of this system.”

[end of recording]

Baker begins with a list of the ways in which people engage in corruption, especially companies engage in corruption. He starts by talking about some of what he thinks are the “essential elements” of this system. Something that is “essential” is something that is absolutely necessary. You must have it. “Elements,” here just refers to parts of something. The “essential elements,” then, are the important parts of, in this case, a system. He then lists a bunch of things that are part of this corruption system.

One of them is secrecy. “Secrecy” (secrecy) is not telling people certain information, usually because you don't want them to know. Now, there’s nothing wrong with secrecy. Sometimes, secrecy is very important. However, “secrecy” – not giving information to people – can also help people do things that are illegal, or not ethical. Baker says that secrecy is part of this system.

He also talks about jurisdictions. The word “jurisdiction” (jurisdiction) is something a lawyer, an attorney might use. “Jurisdiction” is simply the power to make certain decisions in a specific area, usually a geographical area. So, for example, here in California, the state police have jurisdiction in every part of the state of California, but if they go to Arizona, a different state, they do not have jurisdiction. They don't have the power to enforce the laws. They can't arrest anyone in another state. That's the whole idea behind jurisdiction. When you move money from one part of the world to another, you are moving it from one jurisdiction, possibly, to another. You may be moving it so that one government can't touch it because they don't have the legal authority, or legal right to do so.

Baker then talks about something called “disguised corporations.” A “corporation” is just a large company. When something is “disguised” (disguised), it is wearing different clothing or looks different than what it really is. A “corporation” obviously doesn't wear clothing, but a person could wear clothing. You could say, “I'm in disguise,” or “I'm disguised as a podcaster.” No one will ever know my true identity, what I really do, which, of course, is a singer. But my disguise is a podcaster. That's what people see. That's what they think I am. A “disguised corporation” would be a company that looks like it does one thing, but in fact does something very different.

Baker also talks about “anonymous trust accounts.” “Anonymous” is when you don't know the real or actual name of someone, or in this case, of something. Usually, anonymous is related to a person. If you send a letter to someone that you are in love with, but you don't want them to know your name, you might send it anonymously. You wouldn't put your name, or at least your real name, on the bottom of the letter. These are, however, not love letters but trust accounts. A “trust account” is a kind of bank account. When you want to save your money, you don't want to keep it in your house. So you bring it to a bank and you open up an account. You create a relationship with that bank, almost like a contract, that says, “I give you my money and then I can get that money back from you whenever I want it.”

A “trust account” is a special kind of bank account where it's only used for certain specific purposes. Usually, a trust account is owned by someone called a “trustee,” and that trustee can change. You could have different people owning the account, even though it's the same account. Trustee accounts are often used for young children who are not yet 18 years of old. The parents don't want the children to have control of the money until they reach a certain age. So, they set up the trust account and they themselves – the parents – are the trustees. They own and operate the account. Then, when the child reaches a certain age, they may get that money. An “anonymous trust account” would be a trust account where no one knows who the trustees are, who the owners of the account are. Again, this is part of this idea of secrecy. If you don't know something, you can't be arrested for it.

Another element in the corruption system, according to Baker, is “fake charitable foundations.” A “foundation” is an organization that usually gives money to help other people or other organizations. It might be an art foundation, a foundation that gives money to museums. It could be a foundation that helps homeless people. There are lots of different possibilities.

A “charitable foundation” is a foundation that gives money to places that are not businesses, organizations that are what we would call “nonprofit,” that try to help people but don't try to make money, or at least make a profit. “Charitable foundations” are very common in the United States. However, “fake charitable foundations” are foundations that aren’t real, that don't actually give money to people who need it, who don't give money to charities, organizations that try to help people. “Fake” means false or not real. You can use this word “fake” (fake) in a lot of different ways. You could have a fake accent. You could speak in an accent in order to trick someone or fool someone. You could have fake money, money that isn't real. It looks like money, but it's not. You made it yourself on your computer. By the way, don't do that in the United States! You can definitely get in a lot of trouble from the government if you are making money that looks like real money.

But, going back to our story here: We're talking about the system of corruption that is present in many countries. Another element of that is “mispricing of trade.” Baker says this is part of the system. “To price something” is to say how much it's worth, to say how much you're selling it for. The prefix “mis” (mis), in front of a word, usually means not, or doing it in the wrong way. So, “to misprice” would be to put the wrong price or not the real price. So, for example you're selling your car for a thousand dollars and you have to pay five percent tax on the price of the car. You could misprice it by saying, “Well, actually, the car is only five hundred dollars,” and that's what you tell the government. You tell the government, “I just sold this car, but it wasn't a thousand dollars. It was only five hundred dollars.” Now you don't have to pay as much in taxes as you would have if you had given the government the honest, correct price. (By the way, that's just an example. I’m not encouraging you to do that!)

“Mispricing of trade” would be putting the wrong prices on things or telling the government really that you sold things for less than what you actually sold them for. “Trade” (trade) just means buying and selling of anything. Some places often don't accept credit cards. They only take cash. One possible reason – I'm not saying this is true for most businesses but – one possible reason would be to not have any record, not have any record in the credit card company, about how much money you were given. If you pay someone in cash, you have to report that money to the government, but you can cheat by not telling them the complete amount that you received. That's basically what Baker is talking about here, in mispricing trade.

The final technique that Baker mentions is “various,” or different kinds of, “money laundering techniques.” “Money laundering” (laundering) refers to hiding your money somewhere so that the government doesn't know that you have it, and therefore, you don't have to pay taxes on it. “To launder” means to wash, especially to wash clothes. So, in some ways you're “washing the money” so that nobody knows where you got it from. That's the basic concept behind money laundering. “Money laundering techniques” are ways that people hide their money by, perhaps, sending it to another country, or by putting it into a fake charitable foundation so that the government doesn't realize that you had received that money.

Let’s listen to Baker described these essential elements one more time.


“The essential elements of the system are secrecy, jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake charitable foundations. The mispricing of trade is part of this system; various money laundering techniques are part of this system.”

[end of recording]

Next, we’re going to hear from a man named Frank Vogl (Vogl). He works for another organization called “Transparency International,” which tries to help people see what's going on inside of their governments. We’re going to listen to Mr. Vogl talk about the ways in which people now are able to get information about corruption. He's going to give us a list of the ways in which people are finding out now about corruption. Let’s listen, and then we'll explain what he said.


“Thanks to the Internet, thanks to the really enormous growth of civil society across the world, thanks to social media, thanks to investigative journalism, thanks to courageous public prosecutors, the public at large knows more about abuse of public office than ever before. It is better informed about corruption.”

[end of recording]

You could probably tell that Frank is not an American. He has a British accent. He begins by saying, “Thanks to the Internet.” “Thanks to” means “because of,” in this case. Vogl uses this expression – “Thanks to this…” “Thanks to that…” “Thanks to” can mean thank you to someone. Thank you for doing something nice for me. Or, as in this case, it means “due to” or because of. So, when you hear “thanks to” in this quote, that's what you should be thinking. “Thanks to the Internet,” or because of the Internet, “people now are able to know more than they used to.” He then gives a list of all the things that have helped people recently learn about corruption, especially corruption in their government.

One of them is the enormous “growth of civil society” across the world. I’m not exactly sure what Frank is talking about here. I think he means the increase in the number of governments that are, perhaps, democratically elected, or are more honest. He isn’t completely clear about that. Later, he mentions social media. “Social media” would be things like Facebook and Twitter, and other things on the Internet that help you share information quickly. He also mentions “investigative journalism.” “Journalism” is reporting. It's what newspapers and some television channels do. They give you the news. “Investigative” comes from the verb “to investigate,” which means to examine, to look at very closely or very carefully.

Another part of this reason why people know more is “courageous public prosecutors.” A “prosecutor” is a lawyer, usually, that works for the government, that brings the case, the legal case, in front of a judge, and argues why this person is guilty. The public prosecutor would be the person who works for the government. Really, most prosecutors, when we think of that word, are government officials. So “public” isn't really necessary, but he uses the word “public prosecutors.”

He describes them as “courageous.” “To be courageous” means to be brave, not to fear anything. So, because of or thanks to the Internet, the growth of civil society, social media, investigative journalism, and courageous public prosecutors, the public – the average person – knows more about abuse of public office than ever before.

Vogl says, “the public at large” – that just means everyone, the general public, the average person – “knows more about abuse of public office.” “Abuse of public office” is when someone doesn't do what they're supposed to do as a government official, especially someone who's elected, such as a president or a senator or a governor or a mayor. He says the general public is “better informed” about corruption. “To be informed” means to be knowledgeable, to know more about something.

Let’s listen to Frank one more time.


“Thanks to the Internet, thanks to the really enormous growth of civil society across the world, thanks to social media, thanks to investigative journalism, thanks to courageous public prosecutors, the public at large knows more about abuse of public office than ever before. It is better informed about corruption.”

[end of recording]

Now let’s listen to the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Agus (Agus) in Indonesia. The question has to do with two words: “cool” and “cold.” For example, Agus heard the expression, “He's a cool guy.” Is that the opposite of a hot guy? How does that relate to “cold”? These are all interesting questions.

Let's start with the most common definitions of “cool” and “cold.” “Cool” (cool) means that something is a little warmer than cold. So, cool can be a degree, if you will, of difference in temperature. You could have something that's very cold. You could have something that's less cold, something that would be “cool.” Then you could have something that would be warm. Finally, you could have something that is very hot. So, it can refer to the temperature of a thing.

“Cool” can also mean very calm. “He remained very cool during the crisis.” He didn't get excited. He was calm. “Cool” could also mean indifferent, not interested, especially when used as an adjective. “He received a cool reception from the woman.” “Reception” here would mean the way that she reacted. She was indifferent. She didn't care whether he was there or not.

“Cool,” informally, means excellent or today, we might say “awesome.” “That's a really cool car,” or “That's a cool idea!” – that means it's an excellent idea. It can also mean that it's more popular or socially accepted. “He thinks he's really cool. He thinks he's a cool guy.” That means he thinks that he's popular, that everyone likes him, that he is considered perhaps better than other people. “Cool,” again very informally, can also mean simply all right or okay. “Is it cool that we leave early?” Is it okay that we leave early? That's a very informal use, however, not that common in, at least, adult conversation, but you will hear it, especially among younger people. All of those then are possible definitions of cool.

“Cold” means, again referring to temperature, having a very low temperature. Something that is cold is something that is more than cool, has a lower temperature than something that is cool. “Cold” however could also mean lacking or not having a motion or feeling. “He was very cold to her.” That means he was maybe a little rude, a little unkind to her. He didn't show any emotion. He wasn't very nice. That's another possible meaning of “cold.”

“Cold,” as a noun can also refer to an illness or sickness that you have that usually is associated with coughing and sneezing. You could “have a cold.” It's a sickness, usually a temporary illness that you have. So, in the example of “He's a cool guy,” we mean that he is a socially accepted and perhaps popular guy or person. If you were to say, “He's a hot guy,” that would mean something completely different. “To be hot,” as an adjective for a person, means that they're very sexually attractive. They're very physically attractive, we might say. That again is a very informal term, not something you would want to use to describe anyone in a professional environment.

Our next question comes from Joey (Joey) in China. Joey wants to know about the use of the word is “estate” (estate), especially in referring to houses and buildings. “Estate” can refer to a couple of different things. It can refer to a very large piece of land, usually with a large house on it. We think about some of the old English houses of the very rich people who used to live in the country, outside of the cities in England. Many of them had large estates, large houses with a lot of land around them. “Estate” can also refer to everything a person owns – their money, their property, all the physical things they own. We use that word “estate” when we’re talking about what happens when someone dies. Your money, and all of the things that you own after you die are called your “estate.” Your “estate” can be left to certain people. “I want to leave my estate to my nephew,” or “I want to leave my estate to my brother.” Those are the two most common definitions of estate when used alone.

However, if we combine another word with “estate,” the word “real” (real), then we're talking about something related to property, to houses, and to buildings, especially to those last two – houses and buildings. When you are going to go out and buy a house, you talk to a “real estate agent,” someone who works for a company that sells and buys houses, or helps people sell and buy houses. You can have commercial real estate. That would be buildings used for a business. Or you can have residential real estate. Those are houses, or apartments, or condominiums that people live in. So, “real estate” refers specifically to the buying and selling, or simply, to the owning of houses and buildings.

However, don't take this word “real” too literally. There's no such thing as “non-real estate.” “Real estate” here is not to be compared to things that are not real. It's not as though a building or a house is more real than other things that you own, other property that you own, at least, things that are physical, things that you can take from one place to another.

The word “property” can mean the same as real estate, or the land on which something is built. “Property” can also be used to describe things that you own, like books and computers and clothing and so forth. We usually call that “personal property.”

Our last question comes from Christopher (Christopher). Christopher is in Germany, and he wants to know the meaning of an expression he heard “off to the races.” What does it mean when someone says, “I'm off to the races” or “We’re off to the races”? “To be off to the races“ is an old expression that means that you are at the beginning of some sort of exciting event or activity, or you're about to leave to go to something exciting or interesting. It's an older expression you don't hear it too much anymore in conversation, but you might read it in an old book.

I should mention that a “race” (race) is a competition, usually a competition involving speed. Two cars could “race” each other. We have races where people run in the street. That could be a race…or in a gym. “Off to the races” probably originally refers to going to the horse races, where horses race around in a circle. That's probably the origin of the expression, where the expression originally comes from, because the idea, I guess, would be that horse races are exciting. Now it's used just to describe any activity that might be exciting, or that you are leaving to attend, but again it's not as common as it was many years ago. We’d might nowadays just say, “Were off,” or “Let's do it,” something like that.

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. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

secrecy – the practice of keeping secrets, not sharing information openly, usually because one wants to hide something

* All new employees have to promise to maintain the secrecy of what is discussed during corporate meetings.

jurisdiction – the power to make a legal decision in a certain area

* Which court has jurisdiction within the county?

disguised – using a costume or some other way to change one’s appearance and hide who or what one really is

* What would you do if a man disguised as a police officer knocked on your door and asked to come inside?

trust account – a special type of savings account that receives deposits for a particular purpose, but is controlled by an individual called the trustee until the beneficiary (the person who is supposed to receive the money) is ready to have access to it

* When Grandpa died, he left all of his grandchildren a trust account that will be used to help pay for college.

charitable foundation – a nonprofit organization that has a lot of money and gives it to other organizations that are doing charitable work to benefit society in some way

* Which charitable foundations are most effective in providing vaccinations in developing countries?

trade – the buying and selling of products, especially internationally

* Small changes in currency exchange rates can affect trade dramatically.

money laundering – the practice of hiding where money came from when it was actually obtained illegally

* The bank was accused of helping drug traffickers in their money laundering.

social media – sites that use the Internet to help people connect with one another and share information through electronic devices, such as smart phones, tablets, and computers

* Li is addicted to social media, updating her status at least 20 times each day.

investigative journalism – a type of news reporting where reporters investigate and ask tough questions about a social issue, conducting detailed research to try to find the answers they want and then sharing that information with the public

* Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, is an impressive example of investigative journalism in the meat-packing industry.

public prosecutor – a lawyer who has been appointed or named by the government to pursue a legal case against a person or organization thought to have harmed society in some way

* The public prosecutor is arguing that the corporation had a responsibility to the public to make sure its products were safe.

public at large – the general public; all people; all ordinary people

* The public at large has a right to know about air and water quality.

abuse – the bad or wrong treatment of someone or something

* When a supervisor yells at other employees, it is an abuse of power.

corruption – dishonest and unethical behaviors that politicians and other powerful people engage in to get some benefit, usually money

* Corruption is common and drivers often pay the police to avoid getting a ticket.

cool – a little warmer than cold; remaining calm; indifferent; excellent; socially accepted

* We like to eat dinner outdoors, but it’s a little too cool this time of year.

cold – with a low temperature; lacking emotion or feeling; depressing; a common illness with coughing and sneezing

* I could never live in Alaska. It’s too cold there!

estate – a large piece of land; the things one owns

* When Ki passed away, her children and grandchildren fought over her estate.

real estate – land and any buildings on it, especially when they are bought and sold

* Do you prefer to invest in real estate or stocks?

off to the races – a phrase meaning that one is starting an exciting or interesting activity

* We’ll finish filing all of the legal paperwork for our new business by Thursday, and then we’re off to the races!

What Insiders Know
Corruption Perceptions Index

Transparency International is an organization based in Germany that “monitors” (observes; watches) international “corporate” (related to business) and government corruption. Since 1995, it has published the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which “ranks” (puts in numerical order) countries based on people’s “perceptions” (what one believes about something and/or how one feels about something) of corruption, specifically whether and how often public power is misused for private benefit.

The CPI ranks 176 countries on a 100-point “scale” (a range of numbers representing something), where a score of 100 represents a “very clean” country with little or no corruption, and a score of 0 represents a “highly corrupt” country. Before 2012, the CPI used a 10-point scale. The CPI produces “color-coded” (where each color represents a measurement of some factor) world map, so that the most corrupt countries are shown in one color and the least corrupt countries are shown in another color.

The CPI scores are based on “surveys” (questionnaires; written documents requesting responses) and institutional “assessments” (evaluations). Organizations such as the African Development Bank, the World Economic Forum, and the World Bank provide input into the index. Transparency International notes that the index is based on perceptions of corruption, because “by nature” (as a result of what something is), actual corruption would be difficult or impossible to measure.

The CPI receives a lot of publicity and has helped to put the issue of corruption on the “policy agenda” (a list of the issues that need to be dealt with, especially by creating new laws) for many countries.