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482 Topics: American Authors – Willa Cather; the basics of hockey; oblivious versus forgetfulness; carnivore versus predator; equal versus identical

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 482.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 482. 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. When you do, you’ll be able to download a complete transcript of everything we say here on the podcast.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about Willa Cather, an American author who wrote about life here in the United States and was considered one of our best writers of the twentieth and late nineteenth centuries. We’re also going to talk about the basic rules for a sport that is quite popular in the United States – especially from the area where I’m from, Minnesota – and that is hockey. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

We begin this Café talking about one of the best-known authors of the United States in the past 150 years or so, a woman by the name of Willa Cather. Willa Cather was born in 1873 in the state of Virginia, which is located on the east coast of the United States. We call her “Willa” Cather but in fact her real full name is Wilella Siebert Cather.

Cather didn’t like her name, so she often called herself “William” as a child. William is, as you probably know, normally a boy’s or man’s name. As an adult, Cather began to call herself “Willa,” which is the name American readers came to know her by, or the name that Americans know when referring to her.

When Cather was 10 years old, she moved with her parents and her six younger brothers and sisters to the town of Red Cloud, Nebraska. Nebraska is in the central part of the United States, south of the state of South Dakota and west of the state of Iowa. (North of the state of Kansas, if you really want to know.)

At that time, and still today, Nebraska was a mostly rural area. It was also what you might call part of the “American frontier” during the late nineteenth century. The “frontier” (frontier) is normally the outer limits of a country or an area. It can, in fact, sometimes be used to describe the border, or the imaginary line that separates one country from another.

In the American context, when we talk about the American frontier in American history, however, usually we’re talking about those areas in the central and western part of the United States – at least by this point, the late nineteenth century – that were less populated, that were a little wilder, where it was perhaps even a little more dangerous to live.

In the late 1800s, many Americans as well as Europeans began to move into this frontier area. They began to, we would use the term, “settle” the frontier. Some of the people who settled the frontier in the middle of the nineteenth century were McQuillans from Ireland, who came to the not-quite-frontier – but certainly western for those days – state of Minnesota.

But we’re talking now about Nebraska, which is a little bit south of Minnesota, and that is an area where immigrants from all over the world, and particularly from Europe – from Sweden, Germany, what is now the Czech Republic, and Russia – settled. Cather was to use some of these immigrants as part of her stories, or at least she based the people in her books – the “characters,” we would call them – on the people that she met when her family moved to Nebraska.

Although it was somewhat unusual at the time, Willa Cather attended the University of Nebraska beginning in 1891. I say it was unusual at the time because she was of course a woman, and most of the people at the university were men. She wrote an essay in college that was published in a small magazine called The Nebraska State Journal. After doing so, she decided that she would become a writer. When she was at school, Cather was, in fact, editor of her school’s newspaper.

She graduated in 1895, and in 1896 left the frontier and returned back to the eastern part of the United States, this time settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She then worked at several different magazines and newspapers before leaving her job to become a teacher in 1901. She continued to write, however, and in 1903 her first collection of poems was published. It was called April Twilights.

“Twilight” is the end of the day, as the sun is beginning to set – as the sun is beginning to go down. It’s also the name, of course, of one of the most popular novels of the past 10 years, but this has nothing to do with vampires. After publishing a book of poetry, Cather then published a collection of short stories a few years later under the title The Troll Garden. In 1906, Cather left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to accept a job – first as a writer for, and later as the editor of, a very popular magazine: McClure’s Magazine in New York City.

She worked as the magazine’s editor for six years until about 1912, when she decided that she would focus all of her energies – she would focus all of her attention – on writing novels. Her first novel was published in 1912. It was called Alexander’s Bridge. The following year, she began writing on the topic that would really make her famous in the United States, and that was the American Frontier and an area of the country we call the Great Plains.

The “Great Plains” (plains) is the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, precisely where the state of Nebraska is located. Nebraska is part of the Great Plains. The word “plains” in general refers to a large, flat area with very few trees, and that in fact describes very well the area we’re talking about between, roughly, the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Her first important book about the Great Plains and the American frontier was called, appropriately enough, O Pioneers! A “pioneer” (pioneer) is one of the first people to do a certain thing – or in this case, to go to a certain area. We sometimes call the people who moved from the east coast of the United States into the western part of the country “pioneers” because they were the first white settlers to go to that area – at least, to some of those areas.

O Pioneers! was published in 1913 and became part of her “Great Plains trilogy.” A “trilogy” (trilogy) is a collection of three stories, or novels, or plays, or movies, or even CDs and albums. The next two books written by Cather were published in 1915 and 1918. It had the title Song of the Lark and, perhaps one of her most famous novels, My Ántonia. The three books together tell the story of people living on the American Frontier.

The characters in the novels have a lot of strength. They have what we might call a lot of “spirit.” “Spirit” (spirit) is a term that is used to describe the qualities or the attitudes of a certain person or a certain kind of person. Cather’s novels also showed some of the difficulties, some of the problems these people faced in moving to the American frontier, to an area away from the cities – away from towns, in many cases. These were what we might describe as “remote areas.” “Remote” (remote) here means far away from where other people live or where other things are.

My Ántonia, as I mentioned earlier, the final book of the trilogy, is widely considered to be Cather’s greatest novel. It tells the story of a man by the name of Jim and a woman by the name of Ántonia, of course. Jim and Ántonia grow up to in Nebraska. Jim is an American who moved out to the frontier when he was 10 years old. That should sound familiar, because of course that’s when Willa Cather moved to the American frontier.

Ántonia is an immigrant who moved with her family from what is now the Czech Republic, then called Bohemia, to the state of Nebraska as well. It tells the story, the novel does, of Jim and Ántonia growing up and facing many challenges that life hands them. While Jim moves away from the frontier, however, Ántonia decides to stay. She represents the spirit and the strength of the people who live on the Great Plains during this period of time.

Throughout the 1920s, Cather continued writing and publishing novels that focused on the plains, or the Great Plains. Where her earlier novels focused on the difficulties of living on the frontier, the later novels looked at how the spirit of the people who first went to live on the frontier stayed alive even though life on the plains was changing. Of course, as time went on, more and more people were arriving, and so it became less and less of a remote area. There were more cities. There were more towns. There were more people.

Her 1922 novel One of Ours tells the story of a man who grows up with a comfortable life – with a life of ease – in Nebraska, but who’s unhappy, who wants more. He finds what he’s looking for, oddly enough, strangely enough, in the battlefields of World War I. The novel obviously takes place in the early part of the twentieth century. One of Ours, in fact, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. The Pulitzer Prize is an award given to the best books in the United States.

As Cather got older, she began to write about other topics – other than the Great Plains, that is. In 1927, Cather published another book that was to become famous. The book was entitled Death Comes to the Archbishop. It’s about a bishop, a Catholic bishop, who goes into the southwestern part of the United States during the time of the Mexican-American War, in the middle part of the nineteenth century.

Cather continued to write and publish. In 1931, she published a novel called Shadows on the Rock, which took place in Québec, Canada. Her last novel was called Sapphira and the Slave Girl, which was published in 1940 and set back in the state were Cather began from, Virginia. Even though the settings – the places where her novels took place – changed, the theme of living on the frontier and the challenges faced by the characters was somewhat similar throughout all of Cather’s novels.

Cather never married, but in 1903 she met a woman named Edith Lewis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she was living, and the two lived together until Cather’s death in 1947. Lewis was an editor and worked with Cather during her career to read and help edit her novels. “To edit” (edit) means to change or correct a piece of writing so that the writing is ready to be published.

Cather was a very private person, and when she died, her will – her instructions on what to do after she died – stated that all of her intellectual property was to remain private – , that is, which had not yet been published. “Intellectual property” is a piece of writing, or recording, or invention, or even idea that is thought of or created by someone. In addition to her novels, Cather’s personal letters, for example, to her family and friends were considered part of her intellectual property.

However, recently, in 2011, those letters finally became available to the public. The selected letters of Willa Cather now tell us a lot more about her life and the things that happened to her as a woman novelist in the twentieth century. Cather’s books are a good way to get a sense of, or a feel for, the frontier life in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, if that’s something that interests you.

Our next topic is a sport – specifically, the sport of ice hockey. “Ice hockey” is a sport that began in the country north of the United States, which is – umm, what is it called? Oh, Canada. Yes. It was invented in Canada, but it became quickly popular here in the United States, especially (as I mentioned when we began the Café) in the northern states where it’s cold.

Ice hockey requires ice, and before the days of modern technology could only be played in very cold areas, which would be the northern part of the U.S. and Canada during the wintertime. Ice hockey is played on what’s called an “ice rink” (rink). An ice rink is about 200 feet long, or 61 meters, and about 85 feet wide, or about 26 meters. It’s an oval area. It’s like a circle, but it’s elongated. There is, not surprisingly, ice – frozen water – that is put into the rink, and you of course skate on the ice.

In ice hockey, there are two teams playing each other, just as there are in most team sports. The objective, or the goal, is for each team to use their hockey sticks to put the hockey puck into the goal, which is similar to what you have in soccer. In front of the goal you have someone trying to prevent the puck from going in, and we call that person the “goalie” or the “goaltender.”

A “hockey stick” (stick) sort of looks like an “L,” and it’s typically made of wood or some other material. It’s long and held by two hands by the player as he or she is skating. A “hockey puck” (puck) is a small, round, hard disk. You don’t have a ball as you do in many sports when you play ice hockey – instead, you have a disk which is round and flat on two sides. The goal is to get the hockey puck into the other team’s goal.

Unlike in some sports, there’s a lot of physical contact between the players of the two teams in ice hockey. In fact, there are a lot of fights that take place at ice hockey games. I’ve seen several myself. I have not been in any ice hockey fights, although, well, actually, I was an ice hockey player when I was a young boy. Not a very good player. I decided to give up ice hockey very early on in my career. I think I was maybe eight years old when I stopped playing ice hockey. It was just too cold. But my brothers, my older brothers, all played hockey at one point or another.

Hockey players wear special equipment – what we call “pads” – to prevent them from being hurt as they hit each other skating down the ice. They also wear a special shirt called a “jersey” (jersey) which is a word we also use for the shirt that basketball players wear and other team sport players wear.

Each team has six players on the ice at any given time. There’s always a goalkeeper or a goalie, and then there are five other players that skate around the ice rink. Usually there are three in the front – the offense of the team – and then there are two players on the defense part of the team, although all five players go back and forth, and so the distinction between defense and offense is sometimes difficult to tell, since all five players are skating around and, of course, so are the five players other than the goalie for the other team.

The positions of an ice hockey team are left-wing, right-wing, center – those are the three players that primarily are responsible for offense, for scoring the goals. There are two defensive men. The left defensive man and a right defensive man. We use the word “right-wing” and “left-wing” for two of those players not because they’re part of a plane or are birds; “wing” here just refers to a section or an area, in this case – the right or left side of the ice rink.

Any player can shoot the puck, or pass the puck, to another player. We use those verbs – “shoot” usually when we’re talking about trying to get the puck into the goal. If you’re just giving the puck to another member of your team, we would use the verb “pass” the puck. Ice hockey games are made up of three periods. Each period lasts 20 minutes. In between the periods there’s what’s called an “intermission” that usually lasts about 15 minutes. An intermission is the time in between two other parts of an event.

Because the hockey players, when they’re on the ice, are skating hard and sometimes run out of energy, the coach of the team can substitute one player for another. “To substitute” means to take one player out, in this case, and put another player in his place. I mentioned that hockey is a very physical game. Sometimes it gets a little too physical, and when that happens, the people who are responsible for making sure that everyone follows the rules, what we call the “referees,” will call a penalty on a player who is doing something a little bit to physical or too violent.

A “penalty” is a punishment that is given to the player and/or the team. The usual penalty for the player is that the player has to leave the ice for a certain amount of time, meaning that his team has one fewer player than the other team. The player goes into a special area called the “penalty box.” When one team has six players and the other only five, we call that a “power play,” where one team has the advantage by having one extra player, of course.

The largest professional hockey organization in North America is the National Hockey League, or NHL. The hockey season is usually in the wintertime. The teams play each other, and then the best two teams play against each other in what’s called the Stanley Cup, which is the tournament that determines the very best professional hockey team in the U.S.

When I was growing up, hockey was primarily a sport played by boys and men, but more recently, hockey has become popular with certain groups of girls and women. Although primarily popular in the northern states in the United States, especially in the Midwest and Northeast part of the U.S., there are hockey rinks in almost every big city, including here in Los Angeles.

So, if you come to Los Angeles and you really want to play hockey instead of, oh, I don’t know, going to the beach and swimming, well, there is a hockey rink waiting for you.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from a country very close to the United States but very far in many ways, Cuba. Amauris (Amauris) wants to know the difference between “oblivion” and “forgetfulness.”

Let’s start with “oblivion” (oblivion). Oblivion is the state or situation of being unaware of what is going on around you, of not understanding or realizing all of the things that are happening around you. We have a more common word, “oblivious,” that comes from this term. “To be oblivious” means to be unaware of things, not to notice things that are going on around you. My wife thinks I’m oblivious most of the time.

“Forgetfulness” is somewhat different. “Forgetfulness” is when you have a poor memory, when you’re not likely to remember. Sometimes as people get older, they become more forgetful, even of things that they just recently said. Sometimes when people get older, they be . . . ah, anyway. So, that’s “oblivion” and “forgetfulness.”

Briana (Briana) in China wants to know the difference between “carnivore” and “predator.” “Carnivore” (carnivore) is an animal, including a human being, that eats the flesh or meat of other animals. A “predator” (predator) is a term specifically for certain kinds of animals that go and kill other animals and eat their flesh. The animals that a predator eats are called the predator’s “prey” (prey).

Although they sound similar, these two terms are slightly different. An animal can be a carnivore without being a predator. Some animals don’t necessarily hunt and kill other animals in order to eat their meat. For example, a “vulture,” a kind of bird, doesn’t hunt animals. The vulture eats the meat of the animals once the animal is dead, for whatever reason. We compare a vulture to, say, a lion. A lion may actually go and kill another animal and eat part of that animal. When the lion goes away, then the vultures come in and eat what the lion didn’t have for dinner.

Finally, a question from Amir (Amir) in Iran. Amir wants to know the difference between “equal” and “identical.” These two words are similar in meaning, but there are some differences.

Let’s start with “equal” (equal). “To be equal” means to be the same in either quantity, size, degree, or value. Let me give you an example. If I have five hockey pucks and you have five hockey pucks, we have an equal number of hockey pucks – an equal quantity of hockey pucks. Two plus two equals four. Once again, the concept is that the two things are the same.

“Identical” (identical) means things are exactly the same. We often use “identical” when we’re talking about, say, two different humans, two different people, two different houses, two different cities. No two people are “identical” – are exactly alike – although we do have the term “identical twin,” which is when two babies are born, two girls or two boys, that look almost exactly the same. You can have “identical shoes” – the same shoes as someone else has; every detail, every little thing about them is exactly alike.

“Equal” is a comparison, then, of quantity or size or perhaps value, whereas “identical” has to do more with the characteristics of the object or the thing. For example, you may have a teacher who gets two essays, two reports from her students, and the teacher looks at the two reports and realizes that they are identical. One student copied – cheated – and took the essay or report of the other student and gave it to the teacher as if it were his own. We wouldn’t say the two essays are equal.

Now, if the teacher gave them both the same score, then we could say that the scores on the essays were equal, the grades were equal, but we wouldn’t say the essays themselves are equal – we would say they are “identical.” They are the same in all the different characteristics. That, by the way, is not a good strategy for getting a good grade at school. Kids, do your own work.

If you have a question or comment, you don’t have to do your own work – you can just 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.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

frontier – past the edge of the land that is built upon and lived on near wilderness and usually unexplored land

* The first people who lived on the frontier found themselves all alone for a few years before more people began to move there to farm.

Great Plains – the area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains that is flat and, in many places, covered in grasses and fields

* There used to be thousands of bison and other animals that lived on the Great Plains, before people arrived and began using the land for farming.

trilogy – a collection of three stories, plays, movies, or albums that are related in some way

* Neera couldn’t wait for the third book in the trilogy to come out so that she could finish the story and find out what happened to the main characters.

spirit – the emotions, qualities, and/or attitudes that define a certain person or kind of person

* Although Javon was born in the city, he had the spirit of an islander and just wanted to be barefoot and playing in the water and sand all day long.

remote – far away from where other people or things are

* On her vacation, Salia will spend a week in a remote village with no cell phone service or access to email.

to edit – to change or correct a piece of writing so that it is ready to be published

* Even famous authors have people who edit their writing to make sure that there are no misspelled words or sentences that don’t make sense.

intellectual property – the ownership or rights one has to something one has created, such as a piece of writing or an invention

* Alonza filed an intellectual property lawsuit against Ezmeralda saying that she had stolen his story and made a movie out of it without asking for permission.

puck – a small disk that is 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) thick and 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) wide used for playing hockey

* During the hockey game, a puck hit Gerry in the face and he had to leave the game.

jersey – a shirt that is part of a uniform for a sports team that shows the team’s name and, often, the name and number of the player

* All the football fans wore their favorite team’s jersey to the game to show which team they hoped would win.

intermission – a planned break in a game or show, usually occurring near the middle of the event

* During intermission, the audience had the chance to get out of their seats, go to the restroom, and get something to drink.

to substitute – to put one person or thing in the place of another person or thing

* When the dessert chef ran out of strawberries for the cake, he substituted raspberries, which tasted just as good.

penalty – a punishment that is given to someone for breaking the rules

* In most states, the penalty for speeding is a ticket and a fine.

oblivious – not aware of or not concerned about what is happening around one

* The teacher was oblivious as students cheated on the exam by looking at each other’s answers.

forgetfulness – having a poor memory; not likely to remember

* Audra’s forgetfulness became increasingly worse to the point of not remembering her own telephone number.

carnivore – an animal that feeds on the flesh or meat of other animals

* Are panda bears carnivores or do they eat plants to survive?

predator – a wild animal that naturally hunts for food and eats other animals

* Some plants are predators of small insects and bugs.

equal – being the same in number, size, degree, or worth

* Are these two bowls of ice cream equal in size?

identical – similar in every detail; exactly alike

* Laura’s sons wore identical costumes to the children’s party.

What Insiders Know
The Ice Capades

In the 1930’s, ice skating performances were held in between hockey games as entertainment. In 1936, John H. Harris, an entertainment “executive” (businessman with an important position) hired “legendary” (very well known and respected) skater Sonja Henie to perform in Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Gardens, the main sports “arena” (large building used for sporting events) in Pittsburgh. This performance was very popular and made Harris believe that ice skating could become a very popular form of entertainment.

Harris met with eight other arena managers to discuss creating an ice show that would perform in their arenas during the 1940-1941 “season” (the time period, usually several months, when a sport is played or a group of performers have shows during the year). This show would be named the “Ice Capades,” a traveling entertainment show that featured ice skating performances. (The term “capades” is not a word in English, but might have been taken from the word “escapades,” which means an incident that involves excitement or adventure.)

The Ice Capade’s first season of performances included 24 cities over seven months in 1940 and 1941. It became very successful with audiences.

The Ice Capades remained popular for several “decades” (periods of 10 years). Even when John Harris sold the company for $5.5 million in 1963, the Ice Capades remained popular and had grown to three different “touring companies” (groups of performers traveling from one city to the next to perform). By the 1980’s, however, the show had become less popular and after “changing hands” (having different owners) several times, finally “went out of business” (stopped operating) in 1995.