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493 Topics: Americans Abroad – The Founding of Liberia; The Gateway Arch; to struggle versus to fight versus to carry on; to churn and burn; hipster doofus

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 493.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 493. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California . . . here I come, right back where I started from . . . That’s an old song about California: “California, Here I Come.” Well, here we are on the English Café.

If you go to our website at ESLPod.com, you can take a look at our ESL Podcast courses as well as our ESL Podcast Blog. And yes, you can also become a member of ESL Podcast by going to the website.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the founding of the nation of Liberia. Now, normally we don’t talk about other countries on the Café, but this is a country very closely related to American history, which is why we’re going to talk about it. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous structures in the U.S. – the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Up until the year 1865, the practice of slavery was still common in many parts of the United States, specifically the states in the southern part of the country. “Slavery” (slavery) is the practice of buying and selling human beings. The slaves were originally captured in Africa and brought to the United States on ships called, appropriately enough, “slave ships.” Many of the slaves died along the way. Once a person was sold into slavery, his or her children, grandchildren, and so on, were also considered slaves.

Now, we won’t go into the history of the slave trade or the buying and selling of slaves during the early part of our history, but we do need to talk a little bit about how a slave, once here in the United States, could get his or her freedom. The first way was to buy his or her freedom from the slave owner – if the slave owner was willing to sell the freedom of the slave.

Either the slave or someone we would call a “sponsor” would pay the slave owner whatever the slave owner thought the slave was worth. A “sponsor” (sponsor) is a person or organization that gives money to another person or group in order to have some specific activity here in United States. For example, many large sporting events are “sponsored” by big companies. The companies give money to the sporting event. Of course, they get advertising by sponsoring the event.

In this case, we are talking about people who would give money to slave owners in order to buy the freedom of the slave. The second way a slave could become free is, well, to escape from the slave owner – to leave the farm, or what was often called the “plantation,” of the slave owner and go to a place where the slave could live in freedom.

Many escaped slaves left the southern states and went to the northern states of the U.S. where slavery was illegal. Sometimes a slave owner would release his or her slaves upon his or her death. So, the slave owner would die and say, “Okay, all of my slaves now have their freedom.” This was not uncommon.

Back in 1816, there was a religious leader, a minister by the name of Robert Finley, who decided that the freed slaves should have a place to live – but not here in the United States, but back on the continent where they were originally from, which was, of course, Africa. So Robert Finley started an organization called the “American Colonization Society.” “To colonize” (colonize) means to send a group from one country to another country or to another territory or area of land in order to start a new city or perhaps even a new country.

Sometimes colonies remained as part of the original country that sent the colonists out. A “colonist” is a person who goes out and starts or participates in a colony. Sometimes the colonies became separate countries or separate political organizations. The ancient Greek colonies, for example, that were sent out way back in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. usually became politically independent of their home country (or more technically, city-state).

In the case of the American Colonization Society, their idea was to have a colony for African-American slaves. There were a lot of very important, powerful people who were members of the American Colonization Society, people such as Henry Clay, one of the most famous politicians in our early history, as well as Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the words of our national anthem.

The American Colonization Society actually had two purposes – one was to serve as a sponsor in order to buy the freedom of slaves. The second was to pay for the slaves to go back to Africa. Now, this was a tricky thing because not all of the slaves came directly from Africa. Many of them first went to the islands of the Caribbean and then were brought into the United States, and many of them were sons or grandsons, daughters or granddaughters of slaves who never knew Africa.

Nevertheless, the American Colonization Society had this idea that this was the best solution – to take the freed slaves and return them to the continent from which they had come. This also prevented the problem of these newly freed slaves competing for the same jobs that Americans wanted. So, in 1818, some members of the Colonization Society traveled to Africa to find a location for this new colony.

It took five years, but in 1821, the society was able to sign official agreements with some of the African tribes, some of the groups of Africans in the southwestern part of Africa located in between what is now the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The society purchased or paid for land for this new colony. They called this new colony “Liberia,” which comes from the English word “liberty.” “Liberty” (liberty) means freedom.

Just as they had planned, the American Colonization Society put a group of freed slaves on a ship and sent them to Liberia the very next year, in 1822. One of the members of the society, Jehudi Ashmun, led the free slaves to Liberia. He himself expected to return to the United States right away, but he ended up staying in Liberia for six years, during which time he helped set up a government and laws for this new colony.

He also set up trade agreements allowing these new colonists to buy and sell things from the tribes and countries around them. For this reason, Ashmun is often thought of as being the true founder of what later became the country of Liberia. Despite how influential he was in Liberia, however, Ashmun was sick for nearly the entire time he was in the country. He suffered from what was then a very common disease known as malaria. Sadly, it’s still a common disease in the twenty-first century.

Ashmun traveled back to the United States in 1828 and hoped to get better, but unhappily, he died at the age of 34. More and more freed slaves began going to Liberia. In 1824, the capital city of this new country was named after the U.S. president at the time, James Monroe. The capital was called Monrovia. Monroe was also a supporter of this idea of colonization, as was another man who was later to become a famous president, Abraham Lincoln.

The government of Liberia was basically under the control of the United States. In 1839, Thomas Buchanan was named the first governor of Liberia. A few years later, another governor was named, a man by the name of Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Now, he’s important because he was an African American. He was the first African-American governor of this colony. Roberts is a good example of one of the interesting ironies, perhaps, of the founding of Liberia. Roberts was born not in Africa, but in Virginia. So, he had never known anything but the United States when he went there.

In 1847, Liberia finally declared its independence from the United States. It became its own separate country. “To declare” (declare) means to announce something officially or formally. Roberts and the new government created a constitution that looks a lot like the American Constitution, and he was named the first president of this new country. Beginning in 1848, the following year, other countries recognized this new country as being an independent country. The United States, however, didn’t recognize Liberia as being independent until the middle of our Civil War in 1862.

While the American Colonization Society, according to some, had good intentions in sending the freed slaves back to Africa, there were a lot of people who didn’t support the organization’s goals. When I say they had “good intentions” (intentions), I mean they had a good idea – their plan was to do something good. African-American leaders at this time, however, thought it was unfair that African Americans who had been born in the United States and had spent their entire lives in the U.S. should be sent to another country.

For many slaves, it had been generations, as I mentioned earlier, since the original family member had come from the continent of Africa, and certainly many of them came from areas not even close to this new country of Liberia. Slave owners also disliked the society’s work because they saw, correctly, that the society was trying to end this practice of slavery.

Interestingly enough, even people who are against slavery, who tried to get rid of slavery – people we called the “abolitionists” – didn’t like the work of the society. An “abolitionist” is a person who’s trying to get rid of something – in this case, to get rid of slavery. Many abolitionists said the society was not trying to get rid of slavery, but was in some ways supporting the practice of slavery. I’m not sure exactly why they thought that, but that was, in fact, what some abolitionists thought.

By the 1840s, the society started losing support, and in fact stopped sending freed slaves to Liberia. By the time the society ended its work, about 10,000 freed slaves had been sent to this colony and the new country. Liberia continued to grow in population and built itself into an independent nation, even though many of the first people who lived in Liberia were freed slaves. It’s believed today that only about 5 percent of the population of Liberia is related to these original settlers, these original colonists.

Let’s turn now to the city of St. Louis, Missouri, and the Gateway Arch. Missouri is located in the central part of the United States, and St. Louis is in the eastern side of the state, on the longest river in the United States, the Mississippi. St. Louis has long been known as the “Gateway to the West.” A “gateway” (gateway) is a location where you enter or exit someplace – in this case, you’re entering the western part of the United States. So, we call it the “Gateway to the West.”

In St. Louis, there was built a famous structure called the “Gateway Arch” (Arch). An “arch” is a curved structure that sort of looks like a big “U” upside down. Many old buildings and some homes have arches that you walk under when you go into the building or the house. You can think of some of the famous churches in Europe, for example, that have huge arches that you walk underneath in order to enter the building. Well, the Gateway Arch is not in a building. It’s all by itself. It’s just an arch, but it is symbolic of the nickname for St. Louis – Gateway to the West.

St. Louis was a very important city in the nineteenth century, especially the early part of the nineteenth century when the United States was growing, when it was expanding. “To expand” (expand) means to grow larger in size. The country was expanding in the early 1800s because President Thomas Jefferson purchased a large part of what is now the central United States from the country of France. This was called the “Louisiana Purchase.”

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. Some of the states that eventually were formed from this new territory include Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and parts of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the most important state of the United States, Minnesota. As Americans began to move west with the hopes of finding better lives, St. Louis became an important stop in their movement westward, in their trip westward.

People would stop to get supplies and to prepare for this long journey, because of course back in the early nineteenth century, there were no trains. There were no automobiles. There weren’t any planes. There were no freeways. There was no Internet. Yes, kids. There was no Internet back in the early nineteenth century. I know. How did people live without it? Well, they did, and they came to St. Louis before moving on to the more remote parts of the new territory of the United States.

In the 1930s, the people who live in St. Louis decided they wanted to build a memorial, a reminder of this historical event of people coming to St. Louis before going farther west. They wanted a memorial to commemorate the events that took place during the nineteenth century. A “memorial” is normally a building or a piece of art that reminds people of a certain event or of a certain person.

If you go to Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, there are lots of memorials, especially war memorials to the soldiers, to the people who fought and died in the various wars that the United States has been in. This was not a memorial, however, to people who died. It was to commemorate the events of the nineteenth century related to St. Louis’s part in our westward expansion. “To commemorate” (commemorate) means to remember and often to show respect for something or for someone.

Because Thomas Jefferson was the one who started the westward expansion, they called this memorial the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.” The leaders of the city worked with the national government to have a competition where different architects would design plans for this new memorial. An “architect” is a person who draws the designs for buildings and other structures.

The competition was held in 1947, and anyone who submitted a design – who said “Here: here’s what I think it should look like” – had to design both a memorial as well as the landscape around the memorial. “Landscape” (landscape) refers to the grass, the trees, the flowers that are around a building or a structure. The winner of the competition was a well-known designer, Eero Saarinen.

Saarinen himself was born in Finland and was the son of another famous Saarinen, another famous architect named Saarinen. Saarinen went on also to work with Charles and Ray Eames, two famous designers here in Los Angeles. He designed other famous buildings in the United States, including the old TWA Building in JFK Airport in New York City. Unfortunately, Saarinen never saw the arch completed. He died in 1961 of a brain tumor.

Construction of the arch didn’t begin until 1963. In 1968, it was finally completed and opened to the public. The arch stands 630 feet high – that’s 192 meters – and was 630 feet wide at the bottom. It cost over 13 million dollars to build the arch itself and 51 million dollars to complete the rest of the landscape design for the park. The U.S. government paid for most of the cost, but some of it was paid by the city of St. Louis.

The arch is visible – you can see the arch – from most places in the city of St. Louis, and it has become one of the most popular places (perhaps the only popular place) that people visit in St. Louis. I’ve never been to St. Louis, so I can’t really say what you would do there, but certainly visiting the arch is one thing you would want to if you went there. You can ride a tram that takes you to the top of the arch and gives you, I’m told, an amazing view of the surrounding city. A “tram” (tram) is a little car that moves people or things from one place to another.

At the top of the Gateway arch, visitors can see over thirty miles in every direction. This view gives you an idea about the central location of St. Louis and how important the city was as Americans were moving westward in the nineteenth century.

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

Our first question comes from Edison (Edison) in the country of Costa Rica. Edison wants to know the difference between “to struggle,” “to fight,” and “to carry on.” Let’s start with the first verb, “to struggle” (struggle). “To struggle” means to try very hard to do something, especially something that is difficult, something that is causing you problems.

You could say, for example, that you “struggle with mathematics.” Mathematics is difficult for you. Usually we use that preposition “with” when referring to the person or thing that is causing you difficulty in trying to achieve your goal. “I struggle with the decision about whether I should have eggs for breakfast or bacon for breakfast.” I struggle with the decision; it causes me difficulty. I decide to have both bacon and eggs for breakfast. Why not? That’s “to struggle,” then – to try hard to achieve something.

Now, sometimes we use “to struggle” to mean the same as the next verb here, which is “to fight.” If you are physically struggling with something – say, someone is trying to get something from you: your wallet, or a knife that you’re holding in your hand, or a gun – you may “struggle with” another person who is trying to get that thing from you. So, it can be used sort of like this next verb: “to fight.”

However, “to fight” means to oppose another person either physically or to be against something. “I am fighting against crime.” I am trying to stop crime. One country can fight against another country. Notice we use the word “against” with the verb “to fight” most frequently. Sometimes people just say, “I’m trying to fight cancer.” They don’t use “against.” They are trying to stop cancer or find a cure for cancer. It is possible to say you’re fighting “with” someone as well, not just “against” someone.

The third verb is a phrasal verb, “to carry on.” “To carry on” means something a little different than “to struggle” and “to fight.” “To carry on” means to continue doing something even when it is difficult. Normally, if something bad happens or if something disastrous happens to you, someone might say, “Well, you need to carry on.” You need to continue doing what you were doing even though something bad has happened.

So, for example, if you lose a friend – if one of your friends passes on, or even one of your family members dies – you may still need to carry on: to keep going, to keep living, to keep doing something. Or if you are running a business and the partner in your business decides to leave and no longer work in the business, you may decide to carry on – to carry on with the business, to carry on working in this company. So, “carry on” usually involves continuing to do something even though there are difficulties.

There is, however, another common use of this phrasal verb. ¬When you are having a conversation with someone, and perhaps you interrupt the other person to ask them a question or to have them repeat something, you may say to the person after that interruption, “Carry on,” which means keep going, keep talking, continue doing what you were doing.

Our next question comes from Brazil from Thiago (Thiago). The question has to do with two words: “churn” and “burn.” “Churn” (churn) means to mix something together, usually by using a lot of force, by using a lot of energy. If you are, for example, making butter – now, I don’t know anyone who makes butter anymore, but if you are making butter – you may “churn” the butter. You may stir it. You may mix it together with a lot of force or energy. The word “churn” can also be a noun describing the container you use to make butter. It’s called a “butter churn.”

A more common use of “churn” as a noun is a short form of the expression “churn rate” (rate). The “churn” or “churn rate” refers to the percentage of customers that sign up for or become members of a certain service and then leave. And so then you of course have to get new customers. It could also refer to employees at your company who come and work for a certain amount of time and then they leave, and then you have to find new customers. So, that could be referred to as the “churn” or the “churn rate.”

There’s also a two-word phrasal verb, “to churn out.” “To churn out” means to produce something, usually using some sort of machine or automatic process. The idea of the phrasal verb “to churn out” is that you are producing a lot of things, not necessarily at a very high quality, however.

The second word is “burn” (burn). “To burn” as a verb means to consume fuel, resulting usually in the giving off of heat, light, and/or gas. You can burn firewood in order to get heat. You would also, of course, get light and smoke. You can burn gasoline. You can burn lots of things. The things that you burn for energy are called “fuel” (fuel). That’s the general term we would use. There is an expression “to churn and burn,” which means to use something quickly until it is used up or ruined, and then you have to, of course, have to get more of that something.

If we are talking about employees at a certain company, “churn and burn” can also be used to describe the concept that I described earlier when I talked about “churn” as being the percentage of employees that come to work for a company and then leave. Some companies may try to get their employees to leave so they don’t have to pay their employees very much money since they don’t stay for very long. So, that’s another possible meaning of that expression.

Finally, Marcos (Marcos), also in Brazil, wants to know the meaning of a phrase that he heard on an old American television program, Seinfeld. The phrase is “hipster doofus.” Well, these are two very different words. The comedy comes in combining the two things.

Let’s start with the word “hipster” (hipster). “To be hip” (hip) means to be cool, to know about all the most recent fashions or to listen to the most popular music. A “hipster” is a person who’s “hip.” Typically, a hipster is a person who likes to discover things before they become popular so he can say that he knew about it before you did.

A “doofus” (doofus) is a slang term for a dumb person, a foolish person. So, a “hipster doofus” is someone who tries to be so hip that it no longer seems very cool – someone who goes to some extreme in order to be hip. People think, “Oh, well, that’s . . . that’s kind of stupid.” That would be a “hipster doofus” – someone who does something so extreme in order to seem cool that it’s no longer considered cool.

If you have a question or comment, even if you’re a hipster doofus, 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 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

to sponsor – for a person/organization to provide money or other support so that another person/organization can perform an activity or reach a certain goal

* Many professional athletes have corporate sponsors that pay for their training in return for the athlete wearing the company’s clothing or shoes.

to colonize – to send a group of people from one country to another and establish political control over that country

* The United Kingdom colonized many regions all over the world, including India.

liberty – freedom; the power to act or do and think as one wants

* Yvette felt a sense of liberty when she moved out of her parents’ home and lived on her own for the first time.

to declare – to say something formally or officially

* Everyone in the room cheered when Eva declared that she had decided to run for office.

intention – a plan or purpose to do something; an aim to take action

* Pablo’s intentions are good, but he seldom completes what he starts.

abolitionist – a person who believes that slavery (the practice of owning another person) is wrong and that it should be illegal

* There were many abolitionists who supported President Lincoln and his efforts to outlaw slavery.

gateway – a way or a place where a person can enter or exit a place

* Can you tell me how to get to the gateway that leads to the garden?

arch – a curved structure, similar in shape to a half oval, usually found over an opening or passageway

* The church had a beautiful bronze arch over the doorway.

to expand – to become larger; to grow in size

* With so many people eating healthy meals, many restaurants have decided to expand their menus to include healthy options.

memorial – a building, structure, or piece of art that is created to remind people of a certain event or person

* The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is made of marble, with parts of Lincoln’s most famous speeches carved into the walls.

to commemorate – to remember, celebrate, and show respect for something

* To commemorate the opening of the new baseball stadium, the owners of the team gave away 5,000 free tickets to fans.

landscape – the natural elements of an area such as the ground, grass, trees, flowers, and similar things

* Umeko noted the changing landscape as she drove from the deserts of New Mexico to the plains of Minnesota.

tram – a small car or cart with four wheels that moves people or things from one place to another, usually over a short distance

* After Hans skied down the mountain, he rode a tram back up to the top so that he could ski down it again.

to struggle – to try very hard to do, achieve, or deal with something that is difficult or that causes problems

* Leona struggled to pay the rent after her roommate suddenly moved out.

to fight – to oppose or struggle against something, such as a person, a thing, or a cause

* Many citizens are trying to fight the city’s attempt to raise property taxes.

to carry on – to continue doing something, especially when there are difficulties

* It was difficult for Ovid to carry on after his wife died, but he had two children to raise who needed his care and attention.

to churn and burn – to use something, such as a resource, quickly and roughly until it is used up or ruined

* Our law firm believes in churn and burn, working new associates 80 hours a week.

hipster – a person who is very interested in new and fashionable trends, wanting to be seen as having or doing the most fashionable things

* Hipsters try to be the first to wear new fashions, even before their friends know about them.

doofus – a dumb person; a foolish person

* Stop being a doofus about women and focus on your career!

What Insiders Know
Fair Saint Louis

Fair Saint Louis is an “annual” (occurring each year) celebration held during the July 4th Independence Day celebration in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It is organized by a group called the Veiled Prophet Organization. This group began as a secret society of St. Louis “citizens” (people who lived there) and was started in 1878 by group of “prominent” (important) businessmen. The “aim” (goal) of the group was to find ways to promote the city of St. Louis and its local businesses.

During its first celebration, “approximately” (about) 50,000 people participated in the events. “Back then” (at that time in the past), the “festivities” (events held during a celebration) only included a night “parade” (people marching down a street, usually with music, as celebration), followed by a grand “ball” (large and fancy dance).

Today, Fair Saint Louis occurs “over” (for the time period including) five weekends, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors around the world. The Fair helps “generate” (earn) “revenue” (money; profits) for local businesses, “satisfying” (meeting) the original goal of its “founders” (creators).

In 2014, during the 250th anniversary of city of St. Louis, approximately 250,000 people attended the event, more than any Fair Saint Louis events in its history. The events included a wide variety of “attractions” (interesting or entertaining things to see), including educational activities, “concerts” (music shows) featuring popular entertainers, a “barbecue” (food cooked over an open fire or flame) competition, and a “fireworks display” (show with many exploding lights in the night sky) held each night.