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413 Topics: Famous Americans – Meryl Streep; Badlands National Park; strand versus string; to screw up; to tip the scales

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast English Café number 413.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast English Café episode 413. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we are going to talk about another famous American, a famous American actor by the name of Meryl Streep. We’re also going to talk about another one of our national parks. On this Café, we’ll focus on Badlands National Park, a very interesting park in the state of South Dakota. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

On this Café, we continue our series on famous Americans, focusing on an American actress by the name of Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep was born in New Jersey, in the northeastern part of the United States next to New York, in 1949. That makes her 63 years old as we record this episode. She studied drama in college. “Drama” is basically acting – acting, often, on a stage like a live performance that you go see, but the term is used much more broadly now to refer to any kind of acting. Streep studied in one of the best universities in the United States. She received a Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama – Yale University, being located in Connecticut, which is very close to New Jersey.

Streep worked in the theater, in what we might call “live theater” with plays. She also worked or has worked a lot in television, and most especially in film. She's had her greatest success in making movies. She has received more Academy Award nominations than any other actor or actress in the United States. The Academy Award is the highest award given to those in the movie industry, those who make movies. She's also received more Golden Globe nominations. The Golden Globe Award is given every year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the reporters that work for international newspapers, newspapers outside of the United States. Streep has also received more nominations for that award than any other actor or actress. She's won three Oscars and eight Golden Globe Awards. She's also won two awards for her work on television, two Emmy Awards. She's won an award for acting on Broadway in New York City. That would be a Tony Award. And she's received many other awards as well.

One of the reasons Streep has received so many awards is that she is such a good actress. In fact, she has done a lot of different kinds of films, a lot of different genres of films. A “genre” (genre) is a type of film. Her first film was back in 1971. It was called Julia, but she became recognized and appreciated by people from a later movie called The Deer Hunter, which was a movie about the Vietnam War in the late 1970s. She also became famous as an actress when she was on a TV miniseries called Holocaust, about the killing of Jews during the Nazi era in the middle of the 20th century. Both The Deer Hunter and the TV series Holocaust were released in 1978.

I won't mention all of the films that Meryl Streep has appeared in. There have been so, so many. I'll just mention a few of the most famous movies that you may have heard of. I think one of her first big movie performances, certainly the one I remember, was called Sophie's Choice. Sophie's Choice came out in 1982. When I say it “came out,” I mean it was released, it was first shown in the theaters in 1982. We often use that expression. “When is this movie coming out?” meaning “When is it going to be released, when will we be able to see it?” You could also say that about someone's music album: “When is it coming out? When is the Beatles new album coming out?” Well, that's probably going to be a very long time. Sophie's Choice was a movie that made Meryl Streep even more famous. She won, in fact, the Academy Award for best actress in that movie.

In 1995, she starred in another famous movie – I don't think one of the great movies of her career – called The Bridges of Madison County. The importance of this film for Streep was that it showed her in this love affair, and it was considered a very romantic movie. I never saw it. It wasn't considered a great movie, but Streep certainly was the great actress of the movie. She also appeared in a more recent movie called The Manchurian Candidate, which I talked about on a previous English Café. In 2008, she was in a movie called Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! was based on the songs by the Swedish group ABBA. Streep actually gets to sing in that movie. I mentioned that she has done many different kinds of movies. Some people consider her one of the most versatile actresses in American films. “To be versatile” means to be able to do a lot of different things.

In 2006, Streep starred in a movie called The Devil Wears Prada, and it was for her, her most profitable film to date, meaning the film has been the most profitable for her up to this time. She might be in another movie in the future that will make more money. Streep has a reputation for being a very hard-working actress. She prepares for her films very seriously. In one of her films, for example, she was supposed to be someone who played the violin. So, she actually took violin lessons for six hours a day for two months in order to learn how to play the instrument, or at least to look like she knew how to play the instrument.

Meryl Streep is often praised or admired for her ability, especially, to have foreign accents, to master foreign accents. She is praised for her ability to talk like people from other countries. Of course, we're talking about people who would be speaking English with an accent. She's also known for being able to perform in a lot of different regional accents. These would be accents of people from different parts of the United States, places like, oh, I don't know, Minnesota. When a reporter asked her how she learned these different accents, she said something very important, I think. She said, “I listen.” I listen.

Streep continues to make movies. She's also active in what we would call “philanthropy.” “Philanthropy” is when you give money to other people to help them. She has done a lot of work in supporting different organizations with the money that she has made as a famous Hollywood actress. If you love American movies, I'm sure you have seen some movies with Meryl Streep in them. I hope you agree that she is a great actress and someone certainly worth seeing.

Now we’re going to leave Hollywood, leave Los Angeles, and go to the midwestern part of the United States to the state of South Dakota, which is just south of North Dakota, quite logically. South Dakota is just west of the state of Minnesota. It's in the Upper Midwest, we might call it. In the state of South Dakota there a lot of interesting things, and one of the most interesting things is a national park called Badlands National Park. Badlands became a part of the protected national government’s land in the late 1930s. It became a national monument, and later, in 1978, it became a national park.

“Badlands” is a type of land where there used to be a lot of soft rocks, but the rocks have eroded. “To erode” (erode) means to be worn away by water and wind over many, many years. Badlands National Park has some interesting shapes to look at because of this rock that has eroded. It’s full of what we call “buttes” (buttes). A “butte” is basically a tall hill that is flat on top. The buttes that are inside Badlands National Park are quite beautiful. If you go to the park, as I have, you can see also that some of the rock has formed into the shape of a spire. A “spire” (spire) is something that you might see, for example, on a church. If you've ever seen the famous church in Paris, Notre Dame, you know that that it has spires – two spires in the front. It’s sort of like a tall structure that comes up to a single point. That's what you can see, among other things, in Badlands National Park as well. Well, you won't see the cathedral of Notre Dame but you will see some spires.

Badlands National Park is rather large. It has about 240,000 acres. About 65,000 of those acres are protected as a “wilderness area.” “Wilderness” (wilderness) is an area of land that does not have very many humans in it or on it. It's an area of land that often is protected by the government so that people don't ruin it, so that the environment stays the way it is. It's very common in our national parks to have area that is protected. In fact, that's one of the purposes of our national parks system. Badlands National Park has a large wilderness area. Wilderness areas, among other things, provide habitat for many plants and animals.

“Habitat” (habitat) means a place for these life forms, these plants and animals, to live. The word “habitat” is usually used to describe the areas where certain animals or certain plants live. It can also be used to describe where humans live. In fact, there's a famous organization called Habitat for Humanity, which is an organization that builds houses for poor people here in the United States. Badlands National Park, in addition to being home to a lot of different plants and animals, has been home to Native American or American Indian tribes, or groups. There have been Native American tribes in this area for at least 10,000 years. Today, archaeologists can find artifacts – small objects from different Native American cultures of many, many years ago.

One of the most common type of artifact you will find, not just in Badlands National Park but in a lot of areas where there were a lot of Native American tribes, is an arrowhead. An “arrowhead” (arrowhead) is the end or the “tip,” we would call it, of an arrow. An “arrow” is a long piece of wood that has a sharp point at the end that you can use to kill things with. The Native American tribes used a lot of arrows as part of their hunting, as well as their defense system. You can go to some of the areas and, if you dig around enough, in places like Badlands National Park you can find these arrowheads. However, don't try to go to one of the national parks and do this yourself, because most of the artifacts that are on the land are protected by law, and you could get in trouble if you decided to go there and take them.

You can also find fossils in this area. “Fossils” (fossils) are basically images of very, very old plants or animals. We have fossils of dinosaurs, for example. Badlands National Park has a lot of fossils, and there are researchers who go there still, today, to study these fossils, to study the animals that used to live in that area. Badlands National Park receives about a million visitors every year. It's not the easiest national park to get to. There aren't any large cities very close to the park. You could fly to Minneapolis–St. Paul in Minnesota and then drive, but it would take you at least a day or a day and a half to get to the park. But if you are traveling through the United States, especially through the Upper Midwest, you might want to stop in Badlands National Park. I think it's an amazing national park in terms of the beauty of the park.

Interestingly enough, there's another nationally protected area near Badlands National Park called “Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.” Now, I’ve never heard of this before today's Café, before looking at the information for today's Café. The Minuteman missile was what was called a “long-range missile.” A “missile” (missile) is a weapon, basically, that can go through the air a very long distance. The weapon has a bomb on it that will explode when it gets to the place where it was sent, its destination. It's kind of strange that we have this national historic site, but it turns out that many of the Minuteman missiles from the Cold War period – from the 20th century, the mid- to late-20th century – were located in South Dakota. You can actually go and visit the places where we used to have these Minuteman missiles.

The word “Minuteman” has an importance in American history. The Minutemen were some of the early revolutionary fighters from the early part of our history, when the United States, or what became the United States, gained its independence from Great Britain. So, there's something very patriotic about the word “Minuteman.” It has these patriotic associations with these early revolutionary fighters. Of course, what the American government was doing was trying to give these missiles a name that people would support. The idea that these were like modern Minutemen – they were protecting America.

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

Our first question comes from Ye Jun (Ye Jun) in China. The question has to do with two words – “strand” (strand) and “string” (string). How do we use these two words? What is the difference between them, especially when used as nouns? Let’s start with “string.” A “string” is basically a very thin rope. It's a long, thin piece of material that you use, typically, to tie around something else. For example, if you are giving someone a present, a gift, you might put it in a box and then put a string around the box to tie it up and keep the box closed. That would be a “string.”

A “strand” is part of a string or part of a thicker object called a rope. Remember, I said a string is like a thin rope. A “strand” is part of a string or part of a rope. If you've ever seen a piece of rope being made – and I had the opportunity to see this not too long ago – they take very long, thin pieces of material and they put them together. They twist them together. They put them around each other. Each one of those individual long, thin pieces of material is called a “strand.” A “strand,” then, is always part of a rope or part of a piece of string. That's how you make the rope. That's how you make the string, by putting strands together. The word “strand” is closely connected to another word, “thread” (thread). We can talk about “the thread” of something. We can talk about “the strand” of something. We're really talking about the same thing. It's that part of a larger thing like a rope or a piece of string.

The word “string,” in addition to meaning a thin rope, can also mean a series of things, one after the other. “She asked him a string of questions.” “The girl asked her boyfriend a string of questions about why there was lipstick on his collar.” “Lipstick” is what a woman puts on her lips – usually it's red. A “collar” is the top part of your shirt, a man's shirt, typically near his head. If there is lipstick on your collar it means that, of course, some girl may have been kissing you, and that's why in my example the girl asked a string of questions. A “string of questions” would be lots of questions – one question after another question after another question, and boy, is her boyfriend in trouble.

A “string” is also the word we use for a musical instrument such as a guitar or a violin. In fact, the general term we have for violin, and viola, and cello are “stringed instruments.” They’re instruments that have long strings that you play. That's also a “string.”

Our next question comes from Marco (Marco) in Italy. Marco wants to know the meaning of the expression “screwed up.” The verb “to screw (screw) up” is a two-word phrasal, one that refers to making a big mistake – making a major mistake, we might say. I screwed up and forgot my wedding anniversary. My wife was really angry at me. I screwed up. I made a big, big mistake. And let me tell you, that was a big, big mistake. That's “to screw up.”

“To screw up” can also be used when you hurt a part of your body. An athlete might say that he screwed up his knee playing football. He injured his knee. He damaged some part of his body. I, for example, screwed up my arm playing baseball. I was throwing the baseball. This was 40 years ago, but still, I still feel that I screwed up my arm. If I had not screwed up my arm, I would have been, I think, a major league baseball player. I think so.

We also have the expression “to be screwed up.” “To be screwed up” means you have mental or emotional problems. “Laura is really screwed up.” She's had a difficult life, and she has lots of mental and emotional problems, kind of like my neighbor. A “screwup” – one word – as a noun is either a person who makes a lot of mistakes or a situation that is completely mishandled, that has gone wrong. “Who's responsible for this screwup?” Who is responsible for this big mistake?

So, “to screw up” as a verb means to make a mistake. John screwed up by not washing his shirt before seeing his girlfriend. “To be screwed up” means to have mental problems, or psychological problems, or emotional problems. A “screwup” is either a bad situation or a person who's made a big mistake. You could say, “This screwup screwed up the situation because he is screwed up.” I should warn you, however, that the word screw is a verb that is considered somewhat vulgar. It is similar to a word that begins with “F” and has four letters, that I will not say here on the podcast.

Our final question is from Norbert (Norbert), originally from Poland, now living in Germany. Norbert’s question relates to an expression, “to tip the scales.” “To tip” (tip) here means to cause something that is balanced to fall over, or to turn over. “To tip a candle,” for example, would be to hit the top of the candle to make it fall. The candle would not have fallen on its own, but if you tip it, if you hit the top of it, it will fall down. “Scales” (scales) here refers to an instrument that we use to measure things, an instrument we use to weigh things, to see how heavy something is. If you want to see if you've gained weight after your vacation, you could step on a scale. You could put your whole body onto a scale to see how heavy you were. I don't recommend that, however.

“To tip the scales,” then, as an expression is when you have a situation that could go either way. You're not quite sure. Should you go to lunch at the pizza restaurant or at the Indian restaurant? The Italian restaurant or the Indian restaurant – you're not sure, and then you find out that at the Indian restaurant they have a lunch special that is cheaper than the Italian restaurant. Well, that information “tips the scales” for you. You go, “Oh, okay. I was kind of even between the two choices, but now I'm going to do that because that information was just enough to make me decide that I wanted to do Indian instead of Italian for my lunch.” That's “to tip the scales.” When you have a situation that could go either way, and then you have a piece of information or some situation that changes it so that now one side is clearly the winner, or one side is the side that you are going to choose.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com. From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

genre – type; sort; category

* Lew’s favorite genre of books is science fiction.

to come to fame – to begin to be recognized and appreciated by many people; to become famous

* Quintin came to fame when the top American photography magazine published some of his photographs.

to date – up until today; so far

* We’ve only received six applications to date, but we hope to get more before the June 15th deadline.

to praise – to admire and compliment; to express one’s approval and appreciation

* The school principal praised the students for their play performance.

philanthropy – the act of donating money or giving money away to organizations that are doing good work

* Our company is committed to using 10% of our profits for philanthropy.

to erode – to wear away by water and wind over many years; to be removed little by little over a long period of time

* This natural sea wall has eroded over time and now water sometimes seeps through to our backyard.

spire – a structure that reaches upward and ends in a point, usually found on top buildings

* You can see the church clock from this second-story window, just below the church spire.

wilderness area – an area of land that is kept in its natural state, with little or no human impact

* The state is protecting this wilderness area instead of building on the land.

habitat – the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other living thing

* We’re traveling into the jungles to find the natural habitat of these monkeys.

artifact – a small object from a culture or civilization, often giving information about how people lived or what people believed

* These ancient artifacts show that these people carried water from great distances.

fossil – an image in rock or other solid material with a part of a prehistoric plant or animal, such as a dinosaur

* Can you believe that there are plant fossils in this area that date back millions of years?

missile – a weapon that can fly through the air for a long distance and then explodes

* The missiles fell on the city, killing people and destroying buildings.

strand – one of several or many fibers (long, thin fabric or material) twisted together to form a rope; a thread-like part of anything; a string of pearls or beads

* I thought I had some dirt in my eye, but it was a strand of hair.

string – a thick thread used for tying; a thin rope; a necklace with a number of objects such as pearls or beads; a series of things following each other closely; a tightly stretched cord on a musical instrument

* My shoelace broke! Do you have a piece of string I can use until I can buy another one?

to screw up – to make a mistake; to spoil or ruin something, especially a situation; to injure or damage, especially one’s body

* Jason really screwed up when he called his girlfriend by his ex-girlfriend’s name.

to tip the scales – to cause something that is balanced to fall or go to one side instead of the other

* It was a difficult decision which apartment to rent, but one of the landlords tipped the scales by offering to discount the first month’s rent.

What Insiders Know
Jukebox Musicals

Jukebox Musicals are “musicals” (plays with music and singing) that “incorporate” (include) popular music in their performances. The creators of jukebox musicals often take popular songs, usually of one “artist” (singer or band), and create a story and a play around those songs. Most of the time, the story is a “biographical depiction” (story of the life events) of the artist’s life but sometimes, the characters in the story and the plot isn’t connected to the artist at all.

One of the first and most successful jukebox musicals is Mamma Mia!Mamma Mia! is a musical “built around” (used as the focus) the music of the famous singing group ABBA. Their most famous songs were used in the musical and even the title comes from one of their songs. Mamma Mia! “debuted” (was performed for the first time) in 1999. As of 2013, over 42 million people have seen the show.

Many Jukebox Musicals are built around pop groups, since their music is already familiar to and liked by many people. However, there have also been a few jukebox musicals that used the music of rock musicians.

One example is the musical American Idiot based on the music of the rock group Green Day. It was written by the group’s “lead” (main) singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, and officially opened on April 20, 2010. After 422 performances, it ended a year later.

American Idiot received “mixed” (both positive and negative) reactions, but it did receive several “Tony Awards,” the yearly awards given to the best stage performances, including plays and musicals. American Idiot also won a “Grammy Award” (yearly awards given for best musical recordings and performances) in 2011 for Best Musical Show.