Daily English
Cultural English
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483 Topics: American Presidents – William Howard Taft; deprecated versus obsolete versus outdated; to insist versus to persist; to set (one’s) jaw square

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 483.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 483. 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. If you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode. The Learning Guide contains a complete transcript of everything I say, as well as a list of vocabulary words, definitions, sample sentences, cultural notes, and a free ticket to Hawaii. Yes, you can get a free airline ticket to Hawaii by downloading our Learning Guide. Well, I’m just kidding about the ticket, but everything else is true. It’s right there in the Learning Guide.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the 27th president of the United States, an interesting man by the name of William Howard Taft, and as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our topic in today’s Café is another one of our American presidents. Today we’re talking about the 27th president of the U.S., a man named William Howard Taft. Taft was born in September of 1857 in the town of Cincinnati, which is located in the state of Ohio. Ohio is in the eastern part of the United States. Taft was born right before the American Civil War.

He had five brothers and sisters, two of whom were what we would call “half siblings.” A “sibling” (sibling) is a brother or a sister. A sibling can be either a brother or sister. If someone says “I have three siblings,” you don’t know if they have three brothers, or two brothers and a sister, or two sisters and a brother, or three sisters. It isn’t possible to say if someone just uses the word “sibling.” The person has to give more information.

In the case of Taft, he had two half siblings. A “half sibling” is when you only have in common one parent. So, if someone is your “sibling,” that person has the same mother and father you have. If someone is your “half sibling,” you only have the same father or you only have the same mother. In the case of Taft, his father, Alfonso, was married once before he married Taft’s mother, and so from the previous marriage, Taft had two half siblings.

Taft grew up in a very well-educated and what we might describe as “politically active” household. “To be politically active” means you are involved in politics – in elections, in government, that sort of thing. The word “household” is used to describe everyone who lives usually in the same apartment or the same house: a mother, a father, the children – all of these would be considered part of a single household.

Taft’s father, Alfonso, was very active in government and in politics. In fact, he was the secretary of war and attorney general under President Ulysses S. Grant from 1876 to 1877. The secretary of war is the person in the U.S. federal government in charge of the army, the navy, and so forth. Nowadays, we call that person the “secretary of defense,” which is a more recent term, but it used to be the “secretary of war.”

The attorney general is the highest position in what we call the “executive branch” of government that is run by the president for questions of law and legal issues. The attorney general is the highest legal officer, if you will, in the executive branch. So, the fact that William Howard Taft’s father was such an important government figure certainly had an influence on Taft as a boy and as a young man growing up in the late nineteenth century.

Taft’s father was also ambassador to Austria, Hungary, and to Russia in the 1880s. His mother, Luisa, was also very involved in different projects and activities in the community. This was somewhat unusual at the time, because most women just stayed home and took care of their children. They weren’t involved out in the community or in politics the way that Taft ‘s mother was. So, Taft came from a very well-educated – we might consider them “elite” – family, a very powerful family in the United States in the nineteenth century.

Taft himself was an excellent student. In fact, he went to one of the two best universities in the United States, Yale University. He graduated from Yale in 1887. He and his wife, Helen, returned to the city of Cincinnati where Taft was born, and Taft became a lawyer. Like Taft, Helen was also from Cincinnati – his wife, that is – and also like Taft, his wife Helen wanted to be involved in government.

Now, Taft really wanted to be a member of the United States Supreme Court. We call the members of the U.S. Supreme Court “justices” of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest legal authority in what is called the “judicial branch,” or part, of our national government. William Howard Taft’s wife, however, wanted him not to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, but to be president of the United States.

If he became president, then she would be what we call the “first lady.” The first lady is the wife of the president. Now, we haven’t had a female president yet in the United States at the time of this recording, which is in 2014, so I’m not quite sure what we would call the husband of a woman who was elected president – the “first man,” maybe. I’m not sure. Anyway, we’ll worry about that when it happens.

Taft, as I say, returned to Cincinnati and became a lawyer. A few years later, he was in fact appointed as a judge, not to the U.S. Supreme Court, but to a lower-level court in Cincinnati. Judges are usually appointed by either the governor or by the president. If it’s a state court, the governor appoints or names them to the court. “To appoint” means to give someone a job. Not all judges are appointed; sometimes they are elected. It depends on the individual state.

Also, in many states, even though the governor can appoint a judge, the elected representatives of the people – what is called the “legislature” – has to approve, or say yes to, the appointment. This is also true for judges and justices that are appointed by the president of the United States for our federal or national court system. Those judges have to be approved by the United States Senate, which is one part of our national legislature, which we more generally call “Congress.”

Anyway, Taft served as a judge for a few years but then, in 1890, just a few years after he became a judge, he became a federal legal official. He served as the U.S. Solicitor General. The solicitor general is someone who works for the attorney general, who in turn works for the president. The solicitor general is the lawyer who is responsible for representing the U.S. government in cases that are argued or tried at the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, the U.S. Solicitor General is one of the most important lawyers in the federal government since he or she is responsible for taking the government’s case and trying to convince the Supreme Court to agree with the government’s position in a certain case or trial. This was a very important job. Not only was it a job with a lot of responsibility, but it was a job that brought Taft to our nation’s capital – to Washington, D.C.

This meant that Taft was able to meet other important people in government and allowed him to make friends with some very powerful people. If you want to be successful in the area of U.S. film or television, it would be a good idea to move to Los Angeles because there are a lot of powerful people in that particular industry, that particular business, here in this city. If you want to be important in the world of finance, you might move to London or to New York.

So, in the U.S. context, if you want to be successful in politics and government, it’s a good idea to move to Washington, D.C., which is our nation’s capital. That’s exactly what happened to Taft. One of the people that Taft met was a man by the name of Theodore Roosevelt. Now, Theodore Roosevelt would go on to later become our president. He was the 26th president of the United States, and he was an important friend and ally for Taft. An “ally” (ally) is a person who helps another person – who cooperates with another person or who works with another person or organization.

We also use this term “ally” to refer to a country that supports the political and military positions of another country. In World War II, the “Allies” referred to the countries that were fighting against the Nazis in Germany and the Japanese government and the Italian government. These countries were part of what was called the “Allied Forces” or simply the “Allies.” But in general, the word “ally” can apply to any country or person who is friends with another country or person, or a supporter of that country or person.

Theodore Roosevelt was an important ally of William Howard Taft. After working in Washington for two years, Taft returned to Ohio once again to become a judge. This time, however, he became a judge in the federal court system as part of what was called the “Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.” “To appeal” (appeal) is to request a more powerful or higher-level court to consider or reconsider a decision made by a lower-level court the United States.

If you lose your case the first time you go to court or a judge, you often have the opportunity of going to a higher-level court and saying, “Well, we think the first judge made a mistake, so we would like to appeal his or her decision” – we want to see if it was really right. Ultimately, you can appeal some cases all the way up to the highest court in the United States, which is the United States Supreme Court.

Taft, then, was appointed to one of these appeal courts in Ohio. The judges who serve on the appeal courts are often later appointed as members of the U.S. Supreme Court –or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that most of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court had served previously on one of the appeals courts. Taft worked as a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals until 1900. But Taft’s wife wanted him to become president and wasn’t happy that the couple was no longer living in our nation’s capital.

Taft resigned his position as a judge and accepted an appointment by the now President Theodore Roosevelt as chairman of what was called the Second Philippine Commission. This was an organization that the government created in order to organize the government of the Philippines. As some of you may know, after the Spanish-American war of 1898, in which U.S. and Spain fought each other, the United States took possession of the islands of the Philippines, which before had belonged to Spain.

With the new possession of the Philippines, the U.S. had to organize a government, and that’s exactly what Taft was responsible for, or least partly responsible for. Taft knew that if he were successful in this new job, he would have a good chance of having an opportunity to become president. Taft actually moved to the Philippines and became governor, or leader, of the new U.S. possession in 1901.

He loved his work there. In fact, he loved it so much that he turned down – he said no to – an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, this is very unusual, for someone to say no to a Supreme Court appointment, especially when we remember that this was Taft’s lifelong ambition – this is something he always wanted to do. But he loved his job so much in the Philippines that he said no.

However, a few years later, in 1904, Taft did finally accept another appointment, this time an appointment to be Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary of war – the same position his father held under President Ulysses Grant. He did this, however, with an understanding that he would be able to continue to be involved in the administration of the government in the Philippines. The Tafts then moved back to Washington D.C., and Taft was one step closer to being president.

As secretary of war, Taft became a very close advisor to President Roosevelt. An “advisor” is a person who gives you advice, who gives you help, who gives you suggestions. Taft and Roosevelt became good friends, and Roosevelt began to see Taft as more than just a friend, but as his successor. A “successor” (successor) is a person who takes over a job from another person when that person leaves the job.

Roosevelt saw Taft as becoming, in fact, the next president of the United States. Taft still didn’t want to be president, despite the wishes of his wife. However, Roosevelt wanted him to be president, and so he agreed to run for president in 1908. Roosevelt, in fact, helped Taft become elected. He did a lot of the campaigning, meaning he went out and tried to get people to vote for Taft, and he was in fact elected president – Taft was – in 1908.

When Taft got into office, people soon realized that he was not like Theodore Roosevelt. He did not want to continue many of Roosevelt’s projects and eventually made Roosevelt and many people in the Republican Party angry at him. There were two important decisions that Taft made that got people angry with him. The first was in 1909, when he supported something called the “Payne-Aldrich Act.” This was an act, a law, that in part lowered taxes. But Roosevelt and his supporters didn’t think it lowered taxes enough. However, Taft went ahead and approved or signed the act into law.

Another decision that angered many of Roosevelt’s supporters was when Taft decided to get rid of, to fire, an important leader in the federal government in charge of the Bureau of Forestry. This was the part of the U.S. government that took care of the lands, or many of the lands, that the government owned. The person that Taft fired was a strong supporter of conservation programs. “Conservation” is the idea of saving the land for future generations, so that you don’t build buildings or do things to the land that would somehow spoil it or ruin it or develop it.

The person that Taft fired was a strong supporter of conservation, as was President Roosevelt. In fact, after Taft fired this man, Roosevelt got so angry that he decided he would run for president himself again in the next election, in 1912, and that’s exactly what happened. Roosevelt and Taft were then enemies and ran against each other for president. Initially, Roosevelt tried to get the approval of his political party, the Republican Party, but the Republican Party was already supporting Taft.

Roosevelt and his supporters thought that the selection process had been rigged in favor of Taft over Roosevelt. “To rig” (rig) something means to basically do something that is unfair – to cheat, to arrange it so that the person you want to win wins even though they didn’t get enough votes to win. So, Roosevelt and his supporters formed their own new political party called the “Bull Moose Party.” Roosevelt ran against Taft in 1912, but there was also a third candidate – the person who was nominated by the Democratic Party.

So, in the election of 1912, you had a Republican, a Democrat, and Teddy Roosevelt under the Bull Moose Party all running for president. What happened was that Taft and Roosevelt split the vote. When we say two candidates “split the vote,” we mean that some of the Republicans voted for Taft, but many of the Republicans voted for Roosevelt, and so the third candidate – a man by the name of Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat – actually won the election, because the supporters of the Republicans had split their votes.

Taft left Washington after losing the election in 1912 and returned to Yale University, this time as a law professor. Nine years later, he finally got the job he really wanted all along: he became a Supreme Court justice. In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft as chief justice of the Supreme Court, the leader of the justices. As chief justice, Taft worked to make the Supreme Court more efficient. He wanted them to not waste as much time. One of the ways he did this was to help write a law that gave the judges on the Supreme Court more control over the cases that they decided to hear.

Taft served as chief justice until 1930, when he retired because of bad health. He had heart disease and was too sick to continue working. He died just one month after leaving the Supreme Court. Taft is the only person in American history to be both the leader of the executive branch as president and of the judicial branch as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

He is an interesting man in that he never really wanted to be president and turned out to be a very poor president, a very poor leader. He did however want to be on the Supreme Court, and there he was an excellent justice. Sometimes your wife is not always right. Well, not my case – my wife is always right, but that was not true for William Howard Taft.

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

Our first question comes from Amauris (Amauris) in Cuba. Amauris wants to know the differences between “outdated,” “obsolete,” and “deprecated.” Let’s start with “outdated” (outdated). When we say something is “outdated,” we mean it’s not very popular with people anymore. It’s something that perhaps was popular many years ago but is no longer so. It’s often used to describe something that is no longer as useful, or perhaps not even something you can use anymore.

So, in addition to being unpopular, it’s not useful. It’s not something that can be used the way you could use it in the past or for the same purposes. So, for example, you could have a piece of computer software that is outdated. It no longer does the things that you want it to do or is able to do the things you want it to do. In general, though, “outdated” means that something is no longer popular or no longer used for that particular purpose.

“Obsolete” (obsolete) is similar to “outdated.” It’s often used to describe things that are no longer needed or used. Much of the computer technology from the 1980s and even the 1990s is now obsolete. It can no longer be used, or is not something that anyone would use anymore because we have better technology now.

The final term is “deprecated” (deprecated). “Deprecated” comes from the verb “to deprecate,” which in a general sense means to disapprove of something. However, “deprecated” nowadays is used almost exclusively to describe a kind of computer software or programming that is no longer useful and that shouldn’t be used in the future.

When a company “deprecates” a piece of its software, it’s saying that it no longer is going to develop this software. It’s no longer going to support it, and it’s basically telling you you shouldn’t use it anymore – you should use something else. Usually a company will do this when it has more advanced software, more advanced technology.

Our next question comes from Farzin (Farzin) in the country of New Zealand. Farzin’s question has to do with two verbs, “to insist” and “to persist.” Let’s start with “to insist” (insist). “To insist” means to demand something even though someone has already said no. If you want to go to the restaurant and your friend says no, you might say, “Well, I really want to go,” “I must go,” “We really have to go.” That’s a case where you are “insisting” – even though the other person doesn’t want to do something, you are saying “Yes, I want to do it” or “It must be done.”

“To persist” (persist) means to continue doing something, even though it’s difficult or even though you may have failed to do it already. “To persist” means to continue trying. It’s a little different than “insist.” You can persist at a hobby. Let’s say you want to learn how to play the guitar and you find it very difficult, but you persist – you continue even though it is difficult. “Insist” is when you are demanding something of another person. “To persist” means to continue doing something that you’re doing, even though it’s difficult.

Finally, Norbert (Norbert) – originally from Poland, now living in Germany – wants to know the meaning of an expression: “to set one’s jaw square.” Let’s explain this expression by talking about the individual parts of it.

Let’s begin with “jaw” (jaw). Your jaw is basically the lower part of your mouth on the bottom of your face. It’s the bones and structure where you have your teeth. Your jaw can move up and down and does so in order for you to chew your food and eat. Animals that have mouths typically, or often, have jaws – most famously, of course, sharks have jaws, and there was a famous movie in the 1970s about sharks attacking human beings called Jaws. Well, that’s what a “jaw” is.

How about the verb “to set” (set). “To set” means to put in a specific position, to put in a particular position the way you want it. You can talk about “setting the table” – that means to put the plates and the silverware down in their proper positions on the table. You can also “set an appointment” – you can establish a time or designate a time when you are going to do something in the future. But here it has to do with the idea of putting something in a specific position.

The word “square” has a couple of different meanings in English. Here, it means directly or straight. Now when we put all this together, we get “to set one’s jaw square.” “To set one’s jaw square” means to have a very determined look on your face. You put your face in such a position that the person knows that you are serious, that you are determined, that you want something to happen.

We sometimes, when we do this, move our jaw in a certain position, perhaps, that indicates that we are determined, that we really want something to happen. Having explained the expression, I can’t say that it’s the most popular expression anymore in English. You will sometimes read it in a book or perhaps hear it in conversation, but it isn’t quite as common as it used to be. But thank you, Norbert, for that question.

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. 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 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

justice – a judge who sits on a high-level court; a judge on a superior court of a state or country

* There are seven justices who sit on the Supreme Court of the United States to hear cases and make decisions.

to appoint – to give someone a job or position, often an important or high-level one

* Since Henri was excellent at reading maps, the other travelers in the group appointed him navigator for the trip.

ally – a person or organization that cooperates and helps another on a particular project or activity

* In World War II, the United States was England’s ally.

appeal – a request to a higher or more powerful court asking that court to reverse or overturn a ruling from a lower or less powerful court

* Suki was unhappy with the judge’s decision that she should pay a $30,000 fine, so she appealed to a higher court.

to turn down – to reject an offer; to say no to an offer

* Pablo was so full after dinner that he had to turn down his host’s offer of dessert and coffee.

advisor – a person who helps another person make decisions; a person who gives his or her advice and guidance to help another person solve problems

* Before making any decisions about how to invest his money, Fawzi always speaks with his financial advisor.

successor – a person who takes over a job from another person

* When Rebecca decided to retire as president of the company, she named Alfonso, whom she had been training for three years, as her successor.

campaigning – working toward a specific goal, such as winning a political office

* While he was campaigning, the candidate stopped in Springfield where he had lunch at a local restaurant and spoke with voters.

conservation – preserving or saving natural lands and areas from being developed or destroyed

* Because of conservation efforts, many animals that were close to extinction have been saved.

to rig – to give an unfair advantage to one person or organization

* Even though the job was open to everyone, people knew that the decision was rigged and that the CEO’s nephew was going to be hired.

to split the vote – when one candidate takes votes from another candidate resulting in a third candidate winning the election

* Mark and Javier shared many supporters so when they ran against each other in the race for Senate, they split the vote, allowing Petra to win.

efficient – productive; not wasting time or resources

* The most efficient route from one place to another is often on the highway, but it is not always the most interesting or scenic.

deprecated – in computer science, a standard of computer software that has been marked as no longer useful, warning against its use in the future, so that it can be gradually phased out or replaced

* This method of structuring an application has been deprecated by most developers for at least five years.

obsolete – no longer produced or used; out of date; no longer needed or used

* Making soap by hand is now obsolete because of large soap manufacturing.

outdated – out-of-date; old-fashioned; not popular with many people anymore

* Our company policies about family benefits are outdated and need to be changed to include unconventional families.

to insist – to demand something forcefully, not accepting someone’s refusal

* I insist on speaking with the store manager about this defective product and I’m leaving this store until I see her.

to persist – to continue firmly in an opinion or a course of action even if one encounters difficulty, failure, or others wanting one to stop

* Paula said no when Laurent asked her to go on a date with him, but he persisted and asked her again and again.

to set (one’s) jaw square – having an expression on one’s face that shows one’s determination or one’s set decision

* She set her jaw square when she asked her boss for a raise, looking him straight in the eye.

What Insiders Know
Taft Broadcasting

Taft Broadcasting Company was an American media “conglomerate” (large corporation owning many different smaller companies) that has “deep ties” (a close relationship) with President William H. Taft. It was started by President Taft’s “half-brother” (with the same father or mother, but not both), Peter Rawson Taft II. The company owned major media and entertainment production companies, including many television and radio stations.

Taft Broadcasting began in 1879 when Peter Rawson Taft purchased its first newspaper. From newspapers, the company went into radio, purchasing a radio station in Ohio in 1939. Ten years later, in 1949, Taft purchased its first TV station. For the “following” (next) 10 years, Taft continued to expand, purchasing more radio stations and TV stations. In 1959, The Taft family “merged” (combined) all its broadcasting “subsidiaries” (smaller companies owned by one owner or company) into one, using Taft Broadcasting Company as its name.

From 1960 to 1979, the Taft Broadcasting Company continued to expand, buying radio and television companies in other states. In 1967, it purchased Hanna-Barber Productions, a “cartoon” (drawings used for humor) “studio” (company; business where things, usually related to the arts, are produced) known for shows such as Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, Yogi Bear, and many more.

The company began its “decline” (reduction in quality or size) in 1987, when the “billionaire” (person with more than $1,000,000,000) Carl Lindner, Jr. took over the company and renamed it Great American Broadcasting. He then started selling Taft’s subsidiaries to make money, doing so through the 1990’s, until the company no longer existed.