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412 Topics: The Pledge of Allegiance; the Grateful Dead; user versus customer versus subscriber; “Old Time Rock and Roll”; hands down

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 412.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 412. 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. Go there. Become a member. Download a Learning Guide. Improve your life beyond your wildest dreams.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about something that nearly every American knows, called “The Pledge of Allegiance” – words that Americans say sometimes in front of an American flag. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous rock bands in the United States during the 1960s and 70s: The Grateful Dead. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café with a discussion of “The Pledge of Allegiance” in the U.S. A “pledge” (pledge) is sort of like a promise or an “oath” (oath), where you say formally and officially that you are going to do certain things, or you are going to behave in a certain way in the future. People sometimes make pledges when they promise to give money to an organization that needs money, especially a nonprofit organization.

Here in the United States we have television stations that are not profit-making companies. They are not companies that are trying to make money. They are nonprofit organizations. We typically call them “public television,” because they do get a little money from the government. However, most of the money comes from people who voluntarily give the organizations money, give these television stations money so they can have their shows on – their educational shows, their shows that, perhaps, would not be shown on regular television. When you promise to pay money, you make a pledge. You say, “I promise to give you this much money.”

Here, we're talking about pledges to do something a little different than give money. “The Pledge of Allegiance” refers to promising a certain loyalty to, in this case, the United States. The word “allegiance” (allegiance) means, really, “loyalty” – loyalty to your family, loyalty to your country. “To have loyalty” means to protect that thing, to not do anything to harm that thing that you are loyal to – your family or your country. Sometimes, in some countries, people pledge allegiance to a king. They promise to be loyal to the king or to the monarch. In the United States, we don't have kings and queens, at least not officially, but we do have the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States.

Of course, we’re not promising something to the flag, we’re promising something to what the flag represents, which is the country of the United States. This Pledge of Allegiance is pretty short. It is not normally said very much outside of schools. You won't hear the Pledge of Allegiance very often being said in a gathering of adults. It does happen. It does happen, especially in government or military situations, but mostly you will hear the Pledge of Allegiance in an American school, in a kindergarten through 12th grade school.

In most American schools, at least when I was growing up, the students would all stand up at the beginning of school, and they would say the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag that was in their classroom. The verb we use here is “to recite” (recite). When you recite something, you say it out loud. You say it publicly. We often talk about reciting poems. Here, we’re not reciting a poem. We’re reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. What happens is all the students stand up and they put their, or they place, their right hand over the left-hand side of their chest, over their heart, which for most people is in the left side of your body. If it isn’t in the left side of your body, you should see your doctor immediately.

Anyway, we put our hand on our heart and then we say, or recite, the words of the Pledge of Allegiance while looking at the flag. As I said, when I was growing up, in the 70s and early 80s, it was common for schools to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I certainly did in the schools that I went to. It’s become less common in schools, for some reason. Sometimes they only say it once a week or even once a month. Some schools don't have students who say it at all. I think most older Americans know the Pledge of Allegiance and certainly remember saying it every day in school.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in the late 19th century. It's not something that we've had since the beginning of our country, in the late 1700’s. It was instead written in the late 1800s, in 1892, by Francis Bellamy. It wasn't made the official Pledge to the flag of the United States until World War II, until 1942. It has been changed a few times, but these changes are rather minor – that is, they’re very unimportant. Originally, we said “my flag” – now we say “the flag.” The most important change from the original Pledge of Allegiance that was written by Francis Bellamy is the addition of the words “under God.” “Under God” was added in 1954. It was somewhat of a controversial decision and continues to be so, but before we talk about that, let's talk about the version of the Pledge of Allegiance that most Americans, at least most Americans over the age of 25 or 30, know.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.” That's pretty straightforward – that is easy to understand. I am pledging my loyalty. I am promising to be loyal to the flag of the United States of America, but really to the United States of America itself. I’ll do the complete Pledge, and we’ll come back then and talk about the individual parts.

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

So, I say, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,” and immediately afterwards I say, “and to the republic for which it stands.” When we say something “stands for” something else, we mean it means or represents something else. In this case, as I've already mentioned, the flag represents the country of the United States. The United States considers itself a republic, which is just a form of government where the people elect representatives that will represent their interests in the government. So, I'm pledging allegiance to the republic for which the flag of the United States stands, or represents.

Then I say, “One Nation under God.” To say that the republic is one nation means it's one country, one single country. When we say “under God,” we mean under God's power, under God's control, under God's supervision, perhaps. That, of course, is the controversial part for some Americans, which we’ll talk about in a second. The Pledge then says, “indivisible.” The word “indivisible” (indivisible) means not divisible. “To be divisible” means that you can divide something. “To be indivisible” means that you cannot divide it. You can't split it apart. You can't separate it. Of course, the United States went through a very bloody civil war in the middle of the 19th century because there were some states who wanted to separate themselves from the country. So, this pledge is saying that, “No, the United States is indivisible.”

The last words of the pledge are “with liberty and justice for all.” “Liberty” means, basically, freedom. Justice we could define very roughly as fairness. So, this is a country that has freedom and fairness. It has “liberty and justice for all,” meaning for everyone. Of course, that isn't always true, but that's the idea. That's what the United States wants itself to be, you might say.

Let me go through the whole pledge one more time, and then we'll come back and say a few more words about it.

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

You have to imagine all of the children saying that together, what we might call “in unison” – all together. The phrase “under God” was added, as I mentioned, in 1954, and it has been controversial ever since. As you probably already know, the United States’ highest law is its Constitution, the American Constitution. And part of the Constitution talks about the United States government not establishing an official religion. So, unlike in some countries where the official religion that the government supports is Lutheranism, or Catholicism, or whatever the religion might be, here in the United States we don't have an official religion, and the government isn't supposed to establish one. It isn't supposed to say this religion is better than that religion.

Some people, however, have interpreted these words and the U.S. Constitution to mean that the government shouldn't mention God or have any connection with religion at all, any religion. Some Americans believe that this phrase violates or breaks part of the law in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, these people don't believe in God themselves – what we would “atheists” (atheists). Sometimes, there are people who believe in more than one God. We would call them “polytheists” (polytheists). But you don't have to be an atheist or a polytheist to not want this phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance – that is, there are people who are believers in God who still think this is a bad idea.

And so, people argue about this back and forth. There are, more recently . . . have been people who have objected to having the schools say the Pledge of Allegiance, which is probably one reason why it is not as common as it used to be. Some people believe, for example, that saying the Pledge of Allegiance is almost a form of “idolatry.” “Idolatry” (idolatry) is when you worship physical objects almost as if they were of religious significance. I don't think there a lot of people who believe that. There might be a few.

There are probably more people who believe that the United States was in part founded or begun on the basis of dissent or disagreement. So, it will be wrong to force people – to force students – to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they didn't want to. There have been many different legal cases about the Pledge of Allegiance and especially about this phrase “under God.”

Now let's turn to our next topic, which is one of the most famous rock bands of the 20th century, a band by the name of “Grateful Dead.” Grateful Dead was a rock band from, originally, the area around San Francisco. They were very active in the 1960s and 70s, but continued to be active, really, until the middle of the 1990s. The music of the Grateful Dead was really a mix of lots of different styles – rock, folk, blues, even a little country.

Their music has also been described as being psychedelic. The word “psychedelic” (psychedelic) was a popular term in the 1960s to describe people who used illegal drugs that affect how they thought, what they saw, what they heard. “Psychedelic art,” for example, has a lot of bright colors and unusual shapes that look like things that people might see if they are hallucinating. “To hallucinate” means to see things that aren’t really there – because you've taken too many drugs, in this case. It was said that some of the members of the band used drugs, and that was the reason that their songs sometimes sounded like they were written by someone using illegal drugs. That's what psychedelic music was in the late 60s, early 70s.

The Grateful Dead had a very large following or group of fans – people who liked the band very much and wanted to know everything about them. In fact, many of them would travel from city to city to hear all of their concerts. Fans of the Grateful Dead are given a special name, which is “Deadheads.” A “Deadhead” is a real fan of the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead became known for giving a lot of concerts, giving a lot of performances, and Deadheads would travel to see several of these performances, as many as they could. I'm not sure what they did for work or for money, but apparently they had a lot of time on their hands.

The Grateful Dead was very closely tied to the hippie movement of the late 1960s. A “hippie” (hippie) was someone from the subculture or part of the culture of the 1960s of mostly young people who were interested in music. Many of them were against the Vietnam War. Many of them used illegal drugs. All of this was part of the hippie culture. Hippies also were known for wearing their hair long, especially the men. They often wore different kinds of clothing. They said they were for peace and often used the peace symbol, which you may have seen. Many of the Grateful Dead fans, the Deadheads, were part of this hippie movement.

Some of the members of the Grateful Dead changed over time, but the person who is most closely associated with the band was Jerry Garcia. Jerry Garcia played guitar. He also sang in the band. Other well-known members included Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. The band produced so many songs. It's hard to list their most popular ones, but if you want to get a feeling of their music, you might want to go online and search for songs such as “Sugar Magnolia,” or “Fire on the Mountain,” or “Friend of the Devil,” which is the one I'm most familiar with, as well as “Casey Jones.”

How popular was the Grateful Dead? They sold more than 35 million albums. In addition, the Grateful Dead has been included as one of the 100 greatest rock or music artists of all time, and they have received, as you can imagine, a lot of different awards for their music over the years. I don't know very many people who still listen to the Grateful Dead. When I was growing up, in the late 1970s, certainly their music was still around, but even by 1980 or so it was already sort of music from the previous generation, from those older people. You know, like my older brothers and sisters.

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

Our first question comes from the country of Mongolia, from Enkhtur (Enkthur). The question has to do with three words: “user,” “customer,” and “subscriber.” The word “user” describes anyone who uses a certain thing. When I was growing up, “user” usually meant drug user – someone who used illegal drugs – but now it's used on the Internet to describe anyone who uses a website, especially someone who is registered on the website or who is an official member of the website. We call these people “users.” Sometimes we just use the word “user” to describe a computer user, someone who uses a computer.

A “customer” is a more general term for anyone who buys something from someone else. I go to the store and I buy some milk. I'm a “customer” of that store. “Subscriber” refers, specifically, to someone who buys something that is delivered every month or on some schedule. So, for example, you can be a newspaper subscriber. Every day, you get a newspaper delivered to your door. That's what I do. I'm a subscriber to a newspaper. I'm also, you could say, a customer of the newspaper. I'd buy the newspaper from the company, but the more specific term here would be subscriber – someone who subscribes, gets something on a regular basis. You could also be a subscriber to cable television or to a special movie channel on your television. That's also a possibility for the word “subscriber.”

A user, then, describes anyone who regularly uses a certain service or perhaps a certain website. A user is not necessarily a customer. You can be a user of a website without paying any money. A customer is someone who pays money to receive some good or some service – some thing. A subscriber could also be someone who does not pay. You might be a subscriber to a newsletter. That's free. So, you're not really a customer even though you're a subscriber, but you could also be a customer and a subscriber, as in my example of being a newspaper subscriber. The newspaper does not give me the newspaper every day for free. I wish they would, but they don't.

Our next question comes from Ukraine from Vlad (Vlad). Vlad wants to know the meaning of one of my favorite songs, “Old Time Rock and Roll.” This is a song by a singer by the name of Bob Seger. Bob Seger was very popular in the late 60s and in the 1970s, when I was growing up. I, in fact, went to a Bob Seger concert. That’s how old I am. I've actually gone to see Bob Seger perform.

One of his more popular songs is called “Old Time Rock and Roll.” This was a song written when I was a high school student, in 1978. He didn't write it for me, of course. In the song, Bob Seger is looking back at the history of rock music up to that time and thinking that the rock music of the older days – of the 1950s, for example – was somehow better than the music, the popular music, of the 1970s. The 1970s were famous for disco music, for example, which a lot of people didn't like. I won't say who specifically didn't like it. Okay, I will. I didn't really like it, but some people liked it.

The song became even more popular after it appeared in the movie in 1983 called Risky Business. There's a famous scene in the movie where Tom Cruise is singing the song. He's not actually singing the song, I don't think. He's pretending to sing the song. We would probably use the term “lip sync.” “To lip sync” means to move your mouth with the music, but you're not actually singing. Vlad actually has some questions about the lyrics of the song. The first part of the song is:

Don't try to take me to a disco
You'll never even get me out on the floor
In 10 minutes I'll be late for the door
I like that old time rock and roll

Of course, Bob Seger sang it a lot better than I do. The song, at least in this section, begins: “Don't try to take me to a disco.” A “disco” was a discotheque – a place where they would play music that people would dance to. Usually, in the 1970s, it was a special kind of music that was called “disco.” He says, “You'll never even get me out on the floor,” meaning I won't go out and dance on the dance floor. “In 10 minutes I'll be late for the door.” This is kind of an old expression meaning I'll be leaving. I will be running to the door because I want to leave. “I like that old time rock and roll.” The phrase “old time” refers to something that was popular from many years ago. Usually, the expression or the phrase is used to describe something that was good, that you miss, that we don't have any more.

Finally, we have a question from Germany, from Susanna (Susanna). Susanna wants to know the meaning of a phrase, “hands down.” For example, “She saw on a movie DVD cover, ‘It's a must-see, hands down.’” When we say something is “a must-see,” we mean you absolutely have to see it because it's so good or it's so important. The expression “hands down” means without question, without a doubt. It really just means “absolutely.” There is no doubt about it. You must do this. We sometimes use this when we are talking about someone who might have won a contest easily and decisively. “John won the debate hands down,” meaning there's no question about it – absolutely, John won the debate. We use “hands down,” then, when we want to express something is very certain, very clear, something that you cannot doubt.

Don't confuse this term, however, with a couple of similar terms. One of them would be “hands up.” “Hands up” is not the opposite of hands down. In normal usage, “hands up” is something that someone who is taking your money might say by pointing a gun at you and telling you to “put your hands up,” meaning put your hands up in the air – so that you won't pull out a gun yourself and shoot back, I guess.

Another expression is “hands off.” “Hands off” means do not touch. It's a somewhat informal command that you would give someone to tell them not to touch something, perhaps because it belongs to you or because you don't want to give it to, or share it with, anyone else.

Finally, there's an expression “hands-on,” which refers to being actively involved in some activity, perhaps physically using your hands to do something. The more general use, however, means to be involved – to be involved on a daily basis, to be involved very actively in some organization, or some businesses, or some event.

So, “hands down” means, simply – it's clearly the case. It's true. There's no doubt. “Hands up” is what someone who's trying to steal your money might say. “Hands off” means do not touch. And “hands-on” means to be actively involved.

If you have a question about hands or any other body part, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

pledge – an oath or promise where one states that one will do certain things or behave in a certain way in the future

* When you join this program to stop drinking alcohol, you take a pledge to never touch alcohol again.

allegiance – loyalty, especially to a large group or a country

* In the movie, the king had the allegiance of the people, who were willing to fight for him.

to recite – to repeat aloud; to say aloud something that was previously written or said

* Can you recite a list of past American Presidents?

indivisible – cannot be divided; cannot be split apart into pieces

* Johan believes that when two people get married, they are indivisible until death.

atheist – a person who does not believe in the existence of God

* If we tolerate different religions in this organization, it makes sense to also tolerate people who are atheists.

polytheist – a person who believes in more than one god

* The ancient McQuillanites were polytheist, believing in both moon and sun gods.

idolatry – the practice of worshipping objects; the practice of believing that objects have special religious significance and that deserve worship

* Is it idolatry to burn incense and say prayers to pictures of one’s ancestors?

dissent – disagreement; opinions that are different from what others believe

* Our boss won’t allow any dissent, expecting her employees to never question her decisions.

psychedelic – referring to people who use illegal drugs that affect how they think and what they see or hear

* Kailie decorated her bedroom in a psychedelic style, with strange designs on her walls, lava lamps, and beanbag chairs.

to hallucinate – to see and hear things that aren't really there, usually when one is under the influence of powerful drugs

* Grandma’s new medication is making her hallucinate and think that she’s floating when she’s just sitting in a chair.

following – a group of fans; a group of admirers and supporters

* At first, Benoit just wrote a blog for his friends to read, but the blog has really developed a following.

hippie – a person from a subculture that was popular in the 1960s, usually with long hair, wearing sandals and wide pants, and a lot of bead necklaces, and advocating for peace and free love

* Can you believe that Marjorie’s parents were hippies when they were teenagers? They are so conservative now.

user – someone who uses something; someone who uses a computer; someone who uses drugs

* Our manual is organized so that any user can find information easily.

customer – a person who buys goods or services from someone; someone who purchases products or service from an individual, organization, or company

* Customers are complaining that we’ve raised our prices three times in two years.

subscriber – a person who pays for magazines in advance, to be delivered every month; a person who pays a monthly charge for television, Internet, or other service for their home or for use on their computer or mobile devices

* As a subscriber, you pay $10 a month and have access to our services as long as you continue to pay.

hands down – easily and decisively; without question

* This is hands down the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted!

What Insiders Know
The Boston Massacre

March 5, 1770 was not just a “typical” (normal) day in Boston, Massachusetts. On this day, British soldiers killed five “civilian” (not military) men in an “incident” (event) known as the Boston “Massacre” (event where many people are killed). It was one of the most important events that led to American independence from Great Britain.

In the late 1700’s, Boston was a “colony” of (area controlled and governed by) of Britain and the people of Boston disliked British “rule” (government control). The “citizens” (people who live and belongs to a place) of Boston were not “shy” (timid; quiet) about their unhappiness, and they made the British aware of this hatred. This resulted in the British “Parliament” (government) sending more “troops” (soldiers) to Boston to maintain control.

On February 22, 1770, less than two weeks before the massacre, a member of the British government killed a boy named Christopher Seider. The killer was “convicted” (found guilty in a court of law) of the murder, but to the surprise of many, he was given a “royal pardon” (official forgiveness by a king or queen) and was given a new job in the government. This angered the citizens of Boston even more.

On the night of March 5th, a group of people “taunted” (said and behaved in a hostile way to get someone to react) several British soldiers. They threw snowballs, sticks, and stones at them. Captain Thomas Preston of the British Army “ordered” (told) his men to fight back and started shooting the people. Three were immediately killed and several people also died from their “wounds” (injuries).

Citizens of Boston asked the government to removed Captain Thomas Preston and his soldiers from “duty” (work; job) and charge them with murder. John Adams, a future American president, was a lawyer then and defended Captain Preston in court. Six men were “acquitted” (found not guilty) and two were convicted of “manslaughter” (the crime of killing without intending to).

Although some historians say that it should not have been called a massacre, the events of March 5, 1770 were very important. It was one of the most important events that led to the American Revolutionary War, the war that gained American independence from Great Britain.