Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

497 Topics: American Presidents – James A. Garfield; to resign/draw/abandon match; gorgeous versus magnificent; nail in (someone’s) coffin

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 497.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 497. 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. Download one of our Special Courses and take a look at our ESL Podcast Blog. All that and more on our website.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the 20th president of the United States, a man by the name of James Garfield. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

James Garfield was born in 1831 on a farm in Ohio. Ohio is located in the central-eastern part of the United States. His father died when he was two years old, in 1833, and his mother continued to manage the farm on which he was born and raised. When I say that he was “raised” (raised), I mean that he was taken care of. Usually a child is raised by one or both of his or her parents. The parents take care of the child. They feed the child. They provide clothing for the child. All of that goes under the general category of “being raised” by someone.

The Garfields grew up very poor. James Garfield worked for his family on the farm, but he left at the age of 16 in order to follow his dream – that is, to pursue his goal – of becoming a sailor. This is somewhat interesting, since Ohio is not near the ocean, but young Garfield wanted to become a sailor, and so he found work on a canal boat that transported items from Cleveland, Ohio, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

So, when I say “sailor,” I don’t mean someone on the ocean. I mean someone working on a canal. A “canal” (canal) is a river that is usually built to create a way of moving from one point to another using water. The most famous canal in the United States is the Erie Canal. Canals often connect two other rivers or two other bodies of water. The canal work that Garfield did was difficult, and eventually he became sick.

He went home to recover, to get healthy, and instead of going back and working as a sailor, decided that he would pursue an education. “To pursue” (pursue) means to go after, to try to get, to try to obtain. Garfield studied hard and found jobs to pay his way through school. He worked as a carpenter – someone who builds things with wood – as a part-time teacher, and as a janitor. A “janitor” (janitor) is a person who is responsible for making sure that a building is clean and taken care of.

From 1851 to 1854, Garfield attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio. That’s a rather interesting name. The word “eclectic” (eclectic) means very broad or diverse. If you have “eclectic taste in music,” for example, you might like lots of different kinds of music – maybe a little bit of classical, maybe a little bit of rock, maybe opera, maybe heavy metal. If you like all of those kinds of music, we might describe your taste, your likes in music, as being “eclectic.” Well, Garfield studied at a school called the Eclectic Institute. “Institute” is just another word really for school.

After he graduated, he went to a college – Williams College, in the state of Massachusetts, which is located in the northeastern part of the United States. Garfield enjoyed his studies at Williams College and was a very good student. He also spent time doing other things, as students do when they’re in college. In the case of Garfield, he spent time hunting, fishing, and – well, let’s be honest – spending a little time with the ladies. He was something of a “ladies man” – that is, he had lots of women who were romantically interested in him.

In addition, however, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, Garfield was a very strong believer in his Christian faith, and in fact he went on to be ordained as a Christian minister. “To ordain” (ordain) means that you are officially made a preacher or the leader of a Christian or other religious community. Usually we use this word “ordained” when we’re talking about ministers or priests.

Garfield graduated from Williams College in 1856, and he returned to the school he had attended previously, the Eclectic Institute, as a professor. He taught history, math, English, and classical languages. The term “classical languages” usually refers to Latin and Greek. In 1857, Garfield was so successful he was made president of the school. In 1858, Garfield married one of the women who was attracted to him, no doubt, Lucretia Rudolph.

Lucretia had been a classmate of Garfield at the Eclectic Institute. She had been a student along with Garfield. She was incredibly smart and very much wanted to be successful. She would later be an important adviser to Garfield as he pursued his political career. Together, the Garfields had seven children, two of whom died when they were just babies. Of course, during this period in time, it was not unusual for children to die young due to the many diseases and the lack of good medical care that we are now accustomed to in the twenty-first century.

At the same time, Garfield also began to become very involved in politics. In 1859, he was elected to the Ohio legislature. He was elected as a representative of the people. He became the youngest member in the legislature. He was only 28 years old. He also began to study law. In 1861, he became a lawyer and added that to his many job titles, which included school president, politician, and minister. Garfield used his position in the legislature, in the elected body of representatives for Ohio, to promote his views on one of the most important issues of this time: slavery.

Garfield was in favor of a policy of “abolition” (abolition). “Abolition” refers to the ending of something, getting rid of something – in this case, getting rid of slavery. Garfield was a member of the newly formed Republican Party, which believed that slavery should be ended. He supported the Republican candidate for president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln, who of course won and eventually was involved in the deadliest war in American history – our Civil War, which began in 1861.

Garfield, like many men his age, participated in the war. He organized a group of men to fight in the war, the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Garfield was an excellent soldier and very successful during the war. He was quickly promoted. He was quickly made a leader of the Army that fought against the Southern states. He was made a major general.

He was also elected to the United States House of Representatives. His name was so well-known and he was so well-admired that he didn’t even have to try to get elected. He was elected and began to serve in Congress beginning in December of 1863, when Congress’s session began. When I say “session” (session), I mean when the Congress began meeting, when they were conducting business officially.

Garfield served in Congress, was a member of the U.S. Congress, for 16 years. Over this time, he became a very talented politician. He was the leader, the chairman, of one of the most powerful groups in the U.S. Congress, the Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee was and is responsible for how a large percentage of the government’s money is to be spent. So, it’s a very powerful position.

Garfield became a member of a certain group of Republicans in Congress who were called the “Radical Republicans.” The word “radical” (radical) means extreme, having views that are not like the majority or the mainstream of a certain group. The Radical Republicans were a small group that not only wanted to get rid of slavery, but wanted equal rights and treatment for the slaves who were freed after the Civil War.

In 1880, the Republican Party had, as they do in every election, to nominate a candidate for president. There were three men who the Republican Party was considering: Ulysses S. Grant, who was one of the great generals of the Civil War, James Blaine, and John Sherman. When I say they had to “nominate a candidate,” I mean they had to suggest a person to be the representative of the party in the election in the United States.

There are two main political parties, each of which nominates a candidate for the presidential election every four years: the Republicans and the Democrats. Well, the Republicans were looking to nominate a candidate, and they began to notice Garfield because Garfield was campaigning for or trying to get John Sherman elected as the candidate for president.

Now, the party was in great disagreement about which of these three candidates – Grant, Blaine, or Sherman – it should select. So, people began thinking, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t pick any of those three, maybe we should pick Garfield.” It was a great surprise to Garfield, because he wasn’t interested originally in becoming the candidate for the Republican Party, but he was in fact selected.

In the election of 1880, Garfield ran against another Civil War hero, a man by the name of Winfield Hancock. During the campaign, Garfield spoke about his success during the war. It’s quite common after a major war that heroes from that war become politicians and get themselves elected. After World War II, for example, the president during the 1950s was a war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower – General Eisenhower, as he was known during the war. So, being involved and especially being a hero in a war certainly helps you get elected later on – at least, that’s the way it often works even today in American politics.

Well, Garfield was talking about his successes during the war. He talked about how he started off poor, which is true, and became a successful politician, lawyer, teacher, and minister. Like a lot of politicians, he created a slogan – a short, memorable phrase that people would remember his campaign by. His campaign slogan was “From tow path to the White House.” A “tow (tow) path (path)” is a dirt path along the side of the river or canal that is used for horses or people to pull boats. Remember that Garfield began his work career, after leaving his family’s farm, working on a canal.

This illustrates another popular theme in American politics, which is the idea that you made yourself successful. You were a “self-made man,” as we used to say. You started off poor. You worked hard. You got an education and then you became successful. That is a typical American story. It illustrates what some people called the “American Dream” – the idea of rising from poverty and becoming financially or otherwise successful. Well, that was the “narrative,” we might say, that was the story of Garfield’s campaign, and it was very successful.

He was, in fact, elected as president even though the election was very close. When Garfield began his term, his period as president, he had a lot of administrative things to do. “Administrative” (administrative) describes the basic operations or functions of any organization – and of course, the presidency of the United States is a large organization that has many different parts that need to be managed and controlled. One of the first things a new president has to do is appoint people to positions – that is, he has to assign people to work in different positions in the government.

Now, traditionally, in American politics during this time, there was a strong, what was called “patronage system.” “Patronage” (patronage) refers to the support, often the financial support, of a rich person or powerful person given to someone less powerful or less rich. The noun “patron” (patron) refers to the person who gives money or power to someone else. In the United States, there was a tradition of patronage when it came to giving these jobs for powerful positions in the government. Many people say the system still exists, but it was much broader, much larger during Garfield’s time.

Garfield didn’t like this system. He wanted to appoint people not because they were friends or because they helped him become president, but rather because they were qualified for the job. The president has a lot of freedom in appointing people to political positions. Garfield wanted to appoint people who would do a good job, not just people who were his friends.

Unhappily, Garfield never had the opportunity to reform the government, to change the government the way he wanted. That’s because only a hundred days after taking the office of president, Garfield was shot, assassinated by a crazy person at a train station in Washington, D.C. When I say a “crazy person,” I mean the person was thought to be mentally unstable, to have a mental illness.

Garfield was taken to a hospital, but he died of the gunshot a few months later. The man was caught and eventually found guilty of murder and hanged for his crime the following year, in 1882. That didn’t help Garfield, however – he died in September of 1881 without having accomplished hardly anything really as president because he simply didn’t have time to do so.

When Garfield was sick, there was some discussion about whether his vice president, Chester A. Arthur, should take over the job as president even though Garfield was still alive. This question of what we refer to as “succession” was not really answered until the twentieth century, until the late 1960s, by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The concept of “succession” (succession) is the process by which you determine who becomes president under what sort of circumstances.

In this case, the 25th Amendment said that if the president is unable to perform his or her duties, the vice president becomes president. Now, it was clear the vice president was going to become president when Garfield died. The only question was, well, what happens if the president is still alive but too sick to do his job. That was the issue during Garfield’s short illness before he, in fact, passed away.

Garfield was considered a hero and someone who was not only willing to die for his country in the Civil War, but also assuming the highest office in the U.S. It’s interesting that Garfield was not the first president to be assassinated, to be killed. The first president to be assassinated or killed was Abraham Lincoln. The difference is that Lincoln was loved by many people, but he was also hated by many people. Remember, he was the leader of the war for the Northern forces, so at least half of the country didn’t really like Lincoln and wasn’t too sad that he was assassinated.

That, of course, changed over time, and now Lincoln is considered one of the great political heroes of the United States, but during the late nineteenth century, that wasn’t the case. Garfield, however, because he was only in office for a short time and quite honestly didn’t make any enemies during that time (or at least, not very many), Garfield was considered even more of a hero, and in some ways his death was more deeply felt than that of Lincoln’s during that time.

So that’s the life of James Garfield and his unhappily short career as leader of the United States.

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

Our first question comes from Mustafa (Mustafa) in Turkey. Mustafa wants to know about the meaning of three different phrases that he saw in a videogame, I think. One of them is “resign match,” the second is “draw match,” and the third is “abandon match.” Well, let’s start with the word “match” (match). A “match” is a contest or a game between two people or two groups. We sometimes refer to “soccer matches” – these would be games of soccer between two teams.

“To resign” (resign) means to give up. So, “to resign the match,” I would imagine, would mean to simply say, “Well, I’m no longer going to play this game.” I don’t know exactly the situation of the game that Mustafa’s playing. I believe it’s a chess game. A “draw” (draw) as a noun refers to a game in which the scores of the two people or the two teams are equal. In some sports, it’s possible to have a draw where neither side wins. In my favorite sport, American baseball, that isn’t really possible. You have to keep playing until somebody wins.

“To abandon” (abandon) means to give up on, to no longer play the game. Now, I’m not quite sure what the difference here would be between “resign” and “abandon.” “Resign” might mean, “Okay, you win.” You’re telling the other person that he or she wins the game. “Abandon” might be a case where you simply stop playing. You don’t “officially,” if you will, resign and say the other person won. It’s hard to say without knowing the exact game that is being played here, and as someone who doesn’t play games on his phone or other electronic devices, I’m not probably the best person to ask.

Our second question comes from Amir (Amir) in Iran. Amir was to know the difference between “gorgeous” and “magnificent.” “Gorgeous” (gorgeous) is an adjective meaning very beautiful, very attractive. If you describe a woman as being “gorgeous,” you mean she’s very beautiful. She’s very attractive. You could also describe an object as being gorgeous, but usually it describes a person, particularly a beautiful woman, although I suppose it could also be used to describe a beautiful or a good-looking man.

“Magnificent” (magnificent) could be related to something that is beautiful or be used to describe something as beautiful, but the idea really is more about something that is impressive – something that is large or has a big impact on you or the situation. It’s always a positive thing to say something is “magnificent,” but it doesn’t always refer to someone who is beautiful or even a thing that is beautiful.

I think we use “magnificent” more in talking about objects and situations than people, though you could describe a leader of a country as being a “magnificent leader” – someone who does a great job, someone who’s very impressive.

Finally Taras (Taras) from Ukraine wants to know the meaning of the expression “another nail in someone’s coffin.” Let’s start with the word “coffin” (coffin). A coffin is a box that is used to put a dead body in when you are going to bury the body, when you are going to put the body into the ground. First you put the body into a box called a “coffin.”

When you close a coffin, at least in the old days, coffins made of wood were closed by using “nails” (nails). Nails are short, thin pieces of metal that you hit with a tool called a “hammer” in order to bind or connect two pieces of wood, to fasten together two pieces of wood. In this case, you are nailing the top of the box onto the rest of the box so that the box stays shut. I mean, you don’t want the dead body waking up and going outside of the coffin, right? Makes sense.

The expression “another nail in someone’s coffin,” however, means that this is another act, or this is another situation, that will end up reflecting negatively or harming another person. So, let’s say you work for a company and you make a lot of mistakes. The boss may talk to you about your mistakes, and in addition to that, you always come late for work. The boss might talk to you and say that your mistakes are bad, but coming late to work is “another nail in your coffin.” It’s another negative thing about you that will eventually lead you to be fired, or to lose your job.

So, the expression would be used in situations where something very bad is going to happen to the person – not necessarily die, but perhaps be fired from a job or lose one’s position.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us – unless of course you’re in a coffin, in which case you probably can’t. 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 be raise – to have been cared for by a parent or other adult during one’s childhood/teenage years; to have been provided for and looked after as a child

* After his parents died, Mikki was raised by his grandparents.

canal – a waterway built to create a passage for ships and boats across land

* The Panama Canal allows boats to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans without going around the tip of South America.

to pursue – to take a course of action; to become involved in an activity

* After working as a lawyer for 10 years, Simone quit her job to pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer.

session – a meeting for legal or law-making activities; a period of time used for a particular activity

* Ivan has a weekly session with his personal trainer to help him lose weight and build muscle.

to nominate – to suggest a person for a specific task or job

* Shin was nominated to be the next spokesperson for the group because he has the most experience speaking to the media.

candidate – a person applying for a job or position; a person trying to get elected to a job or position

* The company decided on three candidates and scheduled them for interviews.

slogan – a short and memorable phrase used in advertising

* During World War II, the American military used the slogan, “I want you!” to recruit new soldiers.

tow path – a dirt path along the side of a river or canal that is used for horses or people to help pull boats

* Often horses, donkeys, mules, and cows were used on tow paths to pull boats along the river.

administrative – related to the running of an office or organization

* As the only person in her small-town medical practice, the doctor spent a lot of time on administrative matters, such as deciding which medications to re-order and paying office bills.

to appoint – to assign a job to someone; to give someone a job or position

* Melinda appointed her sister guardian to her children in case something happened to her.

patronage system – a tradition of politicians or other powerful people placing friends and supporters in political jobs

* The existence of the patronage system in city politics means that many unqualified people hold important jobs.

succession – the process of inheriting a title or job; the action of getting a job or position as another leaves it or dies

* George VI was next in the line of succession and became king after Edward VII.

match – a contest between two or more people or groups

* Daniel is playing in a soccer match with some of the best players in Latin America.

to resign – to give up or quit deliberately; to quit one’s job or position

* The chairman of the board resigned when he was found to be taking bribes.

draw – for both people/groups in a contest to have the same performance, with neither winning or losing

* I’m tired of playing this card game. Let’s call it a draw and go for a swim instead.

to abandon – to give up and never again try to have something or to win; to no longer try to get or win something

* When the renters couldn’t pay their rent, they took their belongings and abandoned the apartment.

gorgeous – attractive; beautiful

* Manuel thought his daughter looked gorgeous in her wedding dress.

magnificent – impressively beautiful; elaborate and extravagant

* We had never seen anything more magnificent than the king’s ballroom.

nail in (someone’s) coffin – something that hastens or causes the death or failure of a person or thing

* When her supervisor refused to give Lillian a recommendation for the assistant manager job, it was the nail in her coffin.

What Insiders Know
Classic Comic Strip Character: Garfield

One of the most “recognizable” (known by many people) comic strip characters is Garfield created by Jim Davis. Davis began his career in 1969 helping a “cartoonist” (person who draws cartoons) named Tom Ryan with his comic strip called “Tumbleweeds” (a dry plant that breaks off from the ground that moves with the wind). Davis tried creating his own cartoon strip about two “insects” (bugs), but it was not successful because “editors” (people whose job it is to decide what is published in newspapers, magazines, and websites) didn’t think insects would “appeal to” (be liked by) readers.

Davis began looking at some of the other successful comic strips and realized that many of them focused on dogs, but there were no popular cats in comic strips at that time. Davis had “grown up” (been raised) on a farm with 25 cats and thought it was a good idea to create a character based on a cat.

Davis created the character of Garfileld, a cat whose “personality” (characteristics) was based on Davis' own grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis. His comic strip “revolves around” (has as its focus or main subject) a cat named Garfield, his owner Jon Arbuckle, and a dog named Odie. The comic strips were often about Garfield's “laziness” (not being energetic; not wanting to work), big appetite for food, and hating Mondays.

In 1978, Garfield started appearing in 41 newspapers. Today, Garfield comics are published in over 2,580 newspapers, with approximately 300 million readers each day.

Garfield has also appeared on TV, with a cartoon show called Garfield and Friends that “ran” (was broadcasted; was shown on TV) from 1988 to 1994. Garfield has also been in two movies: Garfield: The Movie, released in 2004, and the “sequel” (next in a sequence with the same characters) Garfield: A Tale of Two “Kitties” (cats) released in 2006. Garfield is still published in newspapers today and is one of the most well-known cartoon characters in U.S. history.