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498 Topics: American Movies/Musicals – Mary Poppins; Craigslist; oblivion and to overwhelm; to select versus to elect; wee hours

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 498.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 498. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com, our website. Check out our ESL Podcast Special Courses in Business and Daily English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous American movie called Mary Poppins. We’re also going to talk about a popular website in the United States – at the time of this recording, anyway – Craigslist. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

The movie Mary Poppins was a musical that was released in 1964. A “musical” is a movie where people do a lot of singing – where parts of the movie involve the characters in the movie, the people in the movie, singing. Mary Poppins is a musical that tells the story of a nanny in London, England, who uses magic and firm rules to bring a family closer together. A “nanny” (nanny) is a person – usually, but not always, a woman – who is hired to take care of children in a family’s home.

Usually you have to be a rich family, or a family with a lot of money, in order to have enough money to hire a nanny to come into your house to take care of your children. There are still nannies in the world today. It’s not something that disappeared back in the nineteenth century. In fact, many rich people here in Los Angeles have nannies that come into their houses and take care of their children. Nannies take care of children by putting their clothes on, by bathing them, and of course, by feeding them. Some houses have a special room for taking care of the children, called a “nursery” (nursery).

In the beginning of the movie Mary Poppins, we meet each member of the family. First there is Mrs. Banks, the mother, who is a woman very much involved in the suffragette movement. Now, this movie takes place back in the year 1910 in England, and at that time, women were not allowed to vote in England, A “suffragette” (suffragette) was a woman who tried to get the law changed so that all women would be allowed to vote in national and local elections. There were also suffragettes here in the United States during this time period and before.

The word “suffragette” comes from the noun “suffrage,” which refers to voting or the right to vote. Suffragettes were trying to get women the right to vote. In England, the suffragette movement was active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries until 1928, when women did in fact get the right to vote in England. In the United States, that was an event that occurred in 1920, when women got the right to vote in national elections here in the U.S.

In the movie Mary Poppins, Mrs. Banks is clearly more interested in the suffragette movement than in her own children. When she returns home from a meeting of the suffragettes, she learns that her nanny is quitting – is leaving her job. Mrs. Banks is very upset, very angry, since the family has had a difficult time keeping nannies. The nannies keep quitting. Her two children, Jane and Michael, are not very nice to the nannies, and so the nannies don’t stay with the family very long.

In the movie, Mr. Banks comes home and also learns that the nanny has quit. Mr. Banks works in a bank in London (I guess that’s why his name is “Banks”) and is a very serious person, not someone who likes to laugh or have a good time. He’s also not very interested in spending time with his children. Mr. Banks immediately puts an advertisement, an “ad,” in the newspaper to find a new nanny.

The next morning, there is a long line of nannies waiting outside the house, hoping to become the next nanny for the Banks family, but a huge gust of wind comes and miraculously blows all of the nannies away. A “gust (gust) of wind” is a strong, powerful blowing of the wind. Remember, this is a Disney movie, so strange, impossible things happen magically all the time.

Once the nannies have been blown away, another woman comes flying down towards the house using an umbrella. An “umbrella” (umbrella) is normally what you use to keep the water off you when it rains. It protects you from the rain. But Mary Poppins is using the umbrella sort of like a helicopter – or perhaps nowadays we might say a “drone.” Well, the woman coming down from the sky on an umbrella is, of course, the star of the movie – Mary Poppins – who was played by the famous actress Julie Andrews.

Mary Poppins interviews for the job of nanny, and in part because she’s the only person interviewing for the job, she gets it. “To interview” means to meet someone in person after applying for a job (or to talk to them over the telephone) and answer questions related to that job. Mary Poppins quickly begins to show the children that she believes in rules – in following rules – but also in having fun.

She goes up to the nursery to unpack her clothes and other items. The children watch her pull out many items from her small suitcase, including a hat rack. A “hat rack” is a very long pole or stick that has hooks on it in order to hang or put your hat and coat. The children understand very quickly that Mary Poppins is not your usual nanny. She has special powers. She can use magic.

After cleaning up the nursery using her magic, Mary Poppins and the children go out for a walk in the park. There, they meet Mary’s friend, a man by the name of Bert. Bert is not a nanny. He doesn’t work at a bank. Instead, he’s what we call a “chimney sweep.” A “chimney sweep” (chimney sweep) is a person who goes up onto the top of a house, onto the roof, and uses a broom to clean out chimneys.

A “chimney” is a pipe or a tunnel that runs from a fireplace inside of the house to the roof to allow the smoke to go up and escape out into the open air so it doesn’t stay in the house. This, of course, would only be for a house that had a fireplace. My house has a small fireplace, but I never use it. I don’t have any wood to burn, although my neighbor has a wooden fence that he put up in between my house and his house – maybe I could take the wood from the fence and burn that. I’ll give that a try.

Anyway, back to our movie – Mary’s friend Bert is a chimney sweep, a man who cleans out chimneys. Therefore, he is always dirty, and when you look at his clothing, you can see the dirt from the chimney. Technically we would call that the “soot” (soot) that comes from burning wood. But Bert is also an artist. Yes. He draws pictures on the street or on the sidewalk with chalk.

“Chalk” (chalk) is a soft, usually white writing material that you use in schools to write on something called a “blackboard.” Nowadays many teachers don’t use chalk, they use pens, colored pens, on a special board – not a blackboard but a whiteboard. But this is back in the early part of the twentieth century, when people still used blackboards.

So Mary Poppins, Bert, and the two children are out in the park, and they decide to actually enter into, or jump into, one of Bert’s chalk drawings. Once they get inside this drawing, magically, they have adventures, including dancing with penguins and other magical fun stuff. “Penguins” (penguins) are animals you usually see in the Antarctic. There was a movie a few years ago about penguins – an animated movie, I think.

Well, Mary, Bert, and the children have a lot of fun in this magical place, but when it begins to rain, Mary and the children go home. The children continue to have these magical adventures with Mary Poppins, but their parents don’t really believe that Mary has the ability to use magic. So, Mary suggests that Mr. Banks take his children with him one day to the bank so that the children can understand what he does all day. Mr. Banks agrees.

The afternoon at the bank, however, when he brings the children there, does not go well. The children end up causing chaos in the bank and actually run away. “Chaos” (chaos) means disorder or confusion. “To run away” means to run away from someone – to leave someone, usually your parents. The children, however, aren’t running away to another city or state; they’re just going back home with Bert and Mary.

But because of all the problems that the children caused at the bank, Mr. Banks is now in trouble. In fact, he loses his job, and now things get even worse for the family, thanks to the two children, of course. Ah, but this is a Disney movie, remember? Don’t worry. Everything will be happy at the end. I won’t tell you the end of the movie, of course – you have to go and see the movie yourself. I actually haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t tell you the ending, but I’m sure it is a happy one.

The movie Mary Poppins was an immediate success when it was first shown back in 1964. As I mentioned earlier, the actress Julie Andrews, a British actress, became very popular after this movie end went on to become one of the most famous movie stars of the 1960s. The film also starred another well-known comic actor, a funny actor, a man by the name of Dick Van Dyke. Dick Van Dyke played the part of Bert, the chimney sweep.

Now remember, this movie takes place in England. Van Dyke is, however, an American actor, but he had to have a British accent in the movie. Unfortunately, his British accent was, according to people who live in Great Britain, perhaps one of the worst accents ever by an American. So, if you want to speak with a British accent, don’t listen to Dick Van Dyke in this movie.

Now, to be fair, Dick Van Dyke says that the person who was helping him with his British accent wasn’t himself British, so we can’t blame him too much for having such a bad accent, a bad British accent, in the movie. That’s okay, though – lots of Brits play in American movies and also have bad American accents.

Many of the songs in the movie became popular. One of the most popular was a song called “A Spoonful of Sugar.” The other popular song that I remember from the movie, even though I didn’t see it, was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is not a real word. It’s a made-up or invented word. The song is sung very fast, something like:

Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious,
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious,

The words of the song – the lyrics – say that the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is “quite atrocious,” meaning it sounds bad, but “if you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious.” “To be precocious” (precocious) means to be very smart for your age. Mozart was a precocious composer. He was writing music as a young child.

Mary Poppins won five Oscar awards, or Academy Awards, including the best actress award for Julie Andrews. Interestingly enough, the writer of the original Mary Poppins book did not like the movie at all. She didn’t like the way the writers adapted the movie – the way they changed it into a movie script. In fact, there was another movie made much more recently with another famous actor, Tom Hanks, called Saving Mrs. Banks, which is a movie about how Mary Poppins was made. That’s what we do in Hollywood now. We make movies about movies.

Let’s turn to our second topic briefly, a well-known website that is used by millions of people in the United States every day, called “Craigslist.” Craigslist is what we call a classified advertisement website. “Classified (classified) advertisements” are usually short ads that traditionally, back before the Internet, would appear in the back of a newspaper. “Classified ads” were used for selling small things such as a car or perhaps a chair.

People used classified advertisements to advertise a job or sometimes even to find a place to live or to find a romantic partner. But when the Internet came along, suddenly people had a way of advertising for all of these things in places other than the newspaper in a way that was much more convenient and much cheaper. And that’s what Craigslist is. It’s a large classified ad service. Instead of putting an ad in the newspaper, nowadays you put an ad on Craigslist.

Craigslist began in 1995 when a man, an engineer by the name of Craig, started a free email service that talked about future events in the San Francisco area. The service was called “Craig’s List” because it was an email list that belong to Craig. But the email list grew and Craig decided to change it into a website that would allow people to put up notices to share information about events and other things they were interested in, similar to what the classified ads had traditionally done in newspapers.

The website quickly became popular, and in 1999 Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s List, started a company called “Craigslist.” He incorporated. “To incorporate” (incorporate) means to officially create a company and register it with the government. As a company, Craigslist made some changes. It first began to expand outside of the San Francisco area. Eventually it began to put websites up not just for cities here in the United States but all over the world.

In order to make money – in order to, what we would call “generate income” or “revenue” – Craigslist started to charge people a small amount of money to place certain kinds of advertisements, to put certain kinds of notices on the website. You can still, as of this recording in 2015, put free ads on Craigslist, but if you want to advertise a job, then you have to pay a small amount of money. In 2015, the cost of the job advertisement I think was around $25 in most cities, although it’s more expensive in some cities than others.

You also have to pay money if you want to put an apartment to rent – a notice of an apartment to rent, I should say – on the website. Craigslist also charges you money to put what are called “personal advertisements.” “Personal ads,” sometimes called simply “the personals,” are advertisements for people looking for a romantic partner. Well, Craigslist got into a little bit of trouble because some people were using the website to advertise not just for a romantic partner, but for sexual services that you paid for – what we would call “prostitution.”

The police didn’t like this, and they decided to crack down on Craigslist and these advertisements for illegal services. “To crack down” means to actually enforce a law, to make people obey a law. So, Craigslist had to get rid of many of those kinds of advertisements, but as I say, if you want to simply sell your computer or you have some chairs for sale, you can still put an advertisement on Craigslist for free.

Over the years, the website has had other problems. The most common problem on Craigslist is what we call “fraud.” “Fraud” (fraud) is when you lie or deceive someone in order to get something from them, usually money. People may put an advertisement up for something that they don’t actually own, or perhaps even that they’ve stolen. Despite these issues, Craigslist continues to be very popular. In one recent survey, it was found to be one of the ten most popular websites in the entire United States.

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

Our first question comes from Pinal (Pinal), originally from India, now living in Australia. Pinal’s question is about two words – “oblivion” and “overwhelm.” “Oblivion” (oblivion) is the state of being unconscious or unaware. Basically it’s not knowing what is going on around you. The adjective form of “oblivion” – “oblivious” – is much more common. If you say someone is “oblivious,” you are saying that the person doesn’t realize what is happening around him, perhaps because the person isn’t paying attention or perhaps because the person is not too intelligent.

“To overwhelm” (overwhelm) means to affect someone very strongly, to make it difficult for that person to cope, to survive, to get along, or to manage a difficult situation. People sometimes say they are “overwhelmed by difficulties.” It could be financial difficulties or it could be a lot of work at the office. “I’m overwhelmed by” – notice we use the preposition “by” – “the death of my friend.” It has affected me deeply.

It’s not just a negative thing, however, that you can be overwhelmed by. You can also be overwhelmed by a positive thing. “The teacher was overwhelmed by the thank-you notes that her students wrote at the end of the school year.” There really isn’t much connection between “oblivion” and “overwhelm” except they both begin with “o.”

Our next question comes from Eiji (Eiji) from Japan. The question has to do with two verbs, “to select” and “to elect.” Let’s start with “to select” (select). “To select” means to choose from a group of things or a set of possible options. When you fly on an airplane, you often have the opportunity to select your seat, the place where you want to sit on the plane. People select clothing when they go to the store. They pick this pair of pants instead of that pair of pants. So, the verb “to select” is a very general one that can be used whenever you are deciding on one of many different possibilities.

“To elect” (elect) – no “s” at the beginning – is usually used when we are referring to someone being chosen for an office or a position, usually when people vote for that person. Every year we have elections in the United States, when people go and vote for the mayor, governor, and every four years, the president. The noun “election” comes from this verb “to elect.” We would say someone was “elected president” or was “elected governor” – that means people went and voted for that person and that person then won that particular position or office.

“Elect” can sometimes also be used in the same way as “select,” but it’s not very common. We use the verb “to elect” in certain official situations or legal situations when you can elect or select a certain option. I might have a contract with a company, and I decide I don’t want to continue with the company. So when the contract is over, I “elect” not to renew the contract. However, in most cases, “elect” is used in the sense that I just explained, when we’re talking about choosing someone for some office or position.

Finally, Susanna (Susanna) from Germany wants to know the meaning of an expression, “the wee small hours of the night.” Oh, Susanna, let me see if I can answer this for you. The word “wee” (wee) is not common in the United States. You’ll hear it more in British English, and specifically Scottish English. “Wee” means small. So, “wee” and “small” mean the same thing.

In the expression “small hours of the night,” or “wee small hours of the night,” the word “small” refers to very early on in the morning. So even though we use the word “night,” we’re actually referring to, say, sometime after midnight, maybe between 12:30 and 3:00 in the morning. Those would be the “wee hours of the morning” – the very earliest hours of the day.

The “small hours of the morning” means the same thing – that time after midnight until perhaps 3:00 in the morning. It’s a somewhat of a poetical way of describing a certain period of time during the first part of the day. You won’t hear this expression all that commonly in conversation, but certainly it might come up in a novel or something you’re reading.

If you have a wee question for us, 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

nanny – a person, often a woman, who is employed to take care of children in a family’s own home

* Elsa, the nanny, takes the children to the library every Tuesday morning for story time and then returns home to make the children lunch.

nursery – a room in a home used by young children often to play or spend time in during the day

* In the mornings, Etienne goes to the nursery and plays with his trains before going downstairs for breakfast.

suffragette – a woman who tries to change the law so that all women are allowed to vote in elections

* The suffragettes marched through the streets shouting, “Give women the vote!”

to interview – to meet someone in person after applying for a job and answer questions related to that job in hopes of being offered the position

* Beatrice was nervous at her interview, but felt confident that she had answered all of the questions well and was qualified for the job.

chaos – disorder; complete confusion

* The city was in total chaos after the earthquake in the middle of the night.

to adapt – to change something so that it can be used in a new way; to change something so that it meets current needs or standards

* Many people who work overseas have trouble adapting to life in a new country.

classified advertisement – a short announcement or advertisement for things one is selling, looking for, or announcing

* Are there any classified advertisements for used cars in this newspaper?

to incorporate – to officially and legally create a company

* Once Ragnar reached $1 million in sales, he decided to incorporate and named himself the CEO of the new company.

to generate – to produce; to cause something to happen

* Some people say that wind can generate enough energy to power entire cities.

revenue – profit; income

* The revenue we get from website ads is now greater than our product sales.

to crack down – to severely enforce laws that already exist; to ensure that everyone follows existing laws

* After a college student nearly died from alcohol poisoning, the university cracked down on under-aged drinking on campus on weekends.

fraud – lying or deceiving someone on purpose to gain something, usually money

* Ignore this email asking for $5,000 to help your relative in trouble. It’s a clear case of fraud.

oblivion – the state of being unconscious or unaware; the state of not knowing what is going on around one

* When people drink or use drugs, they are often hoping for a few hours of oblivion.

to overwhelm – to affect someone very strongly, making it difficult for him or her to cope

* Don’t overwhelm a newborn baby with too much noise or activity.

to select – to choose from a group, usually to get the best or one’s favorite

* What criteria will you use to select the best players for the school’s basketball team?

to elect – to make a selection; to choose to do something; to be chosen for office or position; to select someone for a position or job by voting

* If you elect only girls to receive the honors, the boys will be angry.

wee hours – the earliest hour of the day, usually 1 to 3 a.m.

* Did you hear loud fistfight on the street outside of our apartment in the wee hours?

What Insiders Know
Food Banks

A food bank is a “non-profit” (not intended to earn money) “charitable” (helping others) organization that gives food to people who don’t have the money to buy food needed to “survive” (continuing living). The first food bank was “established” (created) in the United States in 1967 by a man named John van Hengel. It was called the Saint Mary's Food Bank Alliance and it was located in Arizona.

Van Hengel got the idea for a food bank when he learned that many grocery stores often “disposed of” (threw away; put into the trash) food that had damaged “packaging” (wrapping or container) or was near the “expiration date” (date after which a product should not be sold because it is not safe to use). He started collecting the food in a “warehouse” (large storage building) and giving it to those organizations that needed it.

Today, many of the food at food banks come from “donations” (given by people), but most of them come from “manufacturers” (makers of products) and “farmers” (people who grow crops (plants for food) and raise animals for food) who have produced too much. It is the job of the food bank to “regulate” (control) what is “distributed” (given to other people) and to make sure that the food is safe to eat.

Food banks usually do not charge charities and non-profit organizations money for the food they receive. However, some charge a “nominal” (small; insignificant) fee to help with the costs of “storing” (keeping until it is needed) and distributing the food.