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500 Topics: Famous Americans – Elizabeth Blackwell; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; to delay versus to put off versus to procrastinate; during versus while; sheer

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 500.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 500. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Five hundred episodes – imagine that! I remember when we recorded our first Café. I was just a boy at the time. My voice hadn’t changed yet. I was still speaking like this [speaks in high-pitched voice]. And now, number 500. I’m a mature adult. Well, not very mature, really.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. As always, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode to help you improve your English even faster. Even faster than what? Even faster than drinking coffee. Yes, you can improve your English by drinking coffee! Try it. You could also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store on our website, and why not like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about one of the first female physicians in modern times, a woman by the name of Elizabeth Blackwell. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous museums in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, perhaps our finest museum. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Elizabeth Blackwell, our first topic on this Café, was not actually born an American. She was born in Bristol, England, in 1821. Bristol is about 120 miles, or 193 kilometers, west of the capital city of London. When Elizabeth was 11 years old, she and her family moved to the United States.

Over a period of about six years, the family lived in a number of different places, including New York, New Jersey, and Ohio. All three of those states are located in the eastern and central eastern part of the US. The family moved in part because the father of the family, Samuel Blackwell, was having what we would call “financial difficulties.” He had his own business. It was a sugar business – a business that sold sugar, I guess – that wasn’t very successful.

Unhappily, Samuel became ill. He became sick and he died in 1839, when Elizabeth Blackwell had not yet reached the age of 20. Since the father had been the only person in the family making money for the family, and not very much at that, this left poor Elizabeth, her mother, and her eight brothers and sisters – yes, eight brothers and sisters – in a state of what we call “poverty.” “Poverty” (poverty) describes a situation where you don’t have very much money.

Blackwell began teaching children in order to get money. She found this was a way for her to earn a living. “To earn (earn) a living (living)” is just another way of saying having a job and earning enough money so that you have money to live on. Blackwell moved around. She moved to different places. She taught in various parts of the young United States, including Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina – three states that are in the eastern and southeastern part of the U.S.

In the mid 1840s, Elizabeth Blackwell began studying medicine. Now, at this time, there were no female doctors in the United States, and there were very few doctors who were willing to even teach a woman about medicine. Blackwell, however, managed to find a few doctors who would teach her, although they didn’t want other people knowing about it.

She later said that she wanted to study medicine because she had sat with a friend of hers who was sick, a friend that Blackwell said she could have done something for – she could have made the illness less painful – had she been a doctor. In 1847, Blackwell formally applied to a medical school. A “medical school” is a special school where people go and study medicine to become a doctor.

In the United States, the schools require first that you have a four-year degree, either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science. So, first you have to go to college and get your regular, if you will, four-year degree, and then you go on and study an additional three or more years to become a doctor. In other countries, it’s different. In other countries, you can graduate from high school and go immediately to medical school, but that is not the case currently in the United States. Now, back to Blackwell.

She wanted to study medicine, and so she applied to all of the top or best medical schools in the U.S. at that time, and she was of course rejected from all of them. “To be rejected” means to not be allowed to do something. In this case, Blackwell was not allowed to become a student. She was “not admitted,” we would say, to any of the medical schools, or at least any of the medical schools she applied to, the best ones. She instead applied and was admitted to a smaller school called the Geneva Medical School in Geneva, New York. Geneva is about 300 miles northwest of New York City.

Now the story goes – I’m not sure if this is true – that when the school was thinking about admitting Elizabeth Blackwell as a student, it actually asked the rest of the students, who were of course all men. They asked them if they would accept Blackwell as a student. Now the men – as a joke, not being serious – said, “Oh, of course,” but this college took them seriously and accepted Blackwell, and so when Blackwell finally came to study, the men were all surprised. They thought that it was just a joke. Well, it was no joke.

Over the next two years, many of the people in the town where she lived, as well as at the school where she studied, made her life somewhat difficult, unfortunately. They didn’t include her in activities, they didn’t allow her often to participate in class, and they sometimes harassed poor Elizabeth. “To harass” (harass) means to do something to make someone feel uncomfortable, either physically or psychologically.

The verb “to harass” is usually used to describe activities that are either illegal or are considered against the rules of a certain organization. It has to be pretty serious in order to call it “harassment.” If someone is just bothering you, we wouldn’t call that harassment. That would be something less serious. Well, Elizabeth Blackwell certainly was harassed at her school, but she worked extremely hard and eventually graduated as, of course, the best student in her class in the year 1849.

She was given the title of “doctor of medicine” along with her male classmates, making her the first official female doctor in the United States. After graduating, Blackwell became a U.S. citizen, which is why we’re talking about her here. Up to this point, she had still been a British citizen.

In 1849, after graduating from college, she went to England and to France to continue studying medicine. She wanted not just to be a doctor – she wanted to be a surgeon. A “surgeon” (surgeon) is a doctor who performs what is called “surgery” – or more commonly “operations” – on patients. Usually a surgeon cuts into the body or puts something into your body to make you better or to fix what’s wrong with you, we might say.

Elizabeth wanted to become a surgeon, but unfortunately, when she was working at a hospital in Paris, she contracted a disease in one of her eyes that left her blind in that eye. “To contract” (contract) here means to pick up or to get some disease or illness. “Blind” (blind) means not being able to see. So, when I said that Blackwell contracted the disease that left one of her eyes blind, I mean she got some sort of illness that made her lose sight in one of her eyes. This of course made it impossible for her to become a surgeon as she had wanted to be.

She did, however, continue working and studying, becoming a specialist in medicine for children and for women. She returned to the United States in 1851 and tried to find a job. Once again, she encountered discrimination. None of the hospitals would hire her, even though she was very well trained. She eventually was able to find a place to open her own small clinic. So in 1853, with her younger sister Emily, who was also now a doctor, along with a third female doctor, started her own clinic. The women in this clinic treated women, children, and people who were poor.

Blackwell’s clinic was what we would call a “dispensary,” which is a small clinic that is often paid for either by the government or by people donating money, giving money, to help those who don’t have money. In 1857, Blackwell incorporated the dispensary and called it the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. “To incorporate” means to make something a legal business. In 1868, after the Civil War, Blackwell opened the Woman’s Medical College at the infirmary, creating the first medical college especially for women in the U.S.

I mentioned the Civil War. When the Civil War began in 1861, Blackwell focused her attention on helping with the war. She helped choose and train the nurses who would go along with the Army and the military forces to help those who had become injured. She also helped create two organizations that helped with medical treatment during the war – the Women’s Central Association of Relief and the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

After the Civil War in 1869, after starting the Woman’s Medical College, Blackwell decided to go back to England, and there she stayed. She began her own private practice and was actually asked to be a professor at the London School of Medicine for Women. Blackwell retired from medicine in 1907 and died three years later in 1910. She was 89 years old. Blackwell is remembered, then, as a woman who made it possible for women to become doctors and practice medicine during the nineteenth century in the U.S.

Now let’s turn to our second topic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or what is more commonly called simply “the Met.” The Met is located in New York City and is one of the largest museums in the world, with a very impressive collection. “Impressive” (impressive) means admirable because of its quality or its size. In the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is both a large museum as well as one that has some very high quality items in it.

The history of the museum begins in the middle of the nineteenth century after the Civil War. In 1866, a group of Americans in Paris had the idea of creating a museum in the United States that would bring some of the great art that you could see at that time in Europe to the people of the United States. Remember, the United States had only really started as its own country during the late part of the eighteenth century, and so it was still a fairly young country that didn’t have the kind of cultural institutions that you found at this time in Europe.

One of the Americans that lead this movement to start the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a lawyer named John Jay. Now, don’t confuse this John Jay with another famous John Jay in American history, the first chief justice of the United States. This is another John Jay.

The museum began officially – it incorporated – in 1870 and opened a small building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The building that is known today as the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public a few years later, in 1880. It’s located, if you go to New York City, on Fifth Avenue between 80th and 83rd Streets in New York City.

If you’re in New York, you just ask anyone how to get to the Met or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they can tell you – and if they don’t tell you, they’ll probably swear at you or say something nasty to you, as people do sometimes in New York. New York City has a reputation for people not being very nice to each other. Los Angeles also has a reputation for people not being nice to one another. The difference is we smile at each other when we’re not being nice to each other. It’s very confusing.

Anyway, back to the Met. The museum grew rapidly after its founding. By 1907, it was considered one of the best museums in the world. It had Egyptian, European – specifically Greek and Roman – art in its collection, among other things. It also continued to expand physically. The museum got bigger. They added different parts on to the museum. In 1924, an American section was added to the museum. In 1975, the Robert Lehman wing was finished. A “wing” (wing) is an area, a part of a larger building – a smaller section, if you will, of a larger building.

The Metropolitan Museum’s collection includes, as I mentioned, many European paintings. They have a very good collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. Some of the paintings that you might want to see if you go to The Met are ones by Johann Vermeer. There are only 35 paintings of Vermeer’s that exist in the world, and five of them are at the Metropolitan.

In 1978, the museum opened a new wing dedicated to the Egyptian art collection. This wing also holds one of the most important pieces in the museum, what’s called the Temple of Dendur. A “temple” (temple) is a building or space used for religious purposes, typically. This particular temple was built in 15 B.C. and was a gift from the government of Egypt in 1965.

One wall of the room that houses the temple – where you will find the temple inside the museum – is made completely of glass, and actually if you look out the glass, you can see the park in which the Metropolitan Museum is located, the most famous park in New York, Central Park. There’s a pool of water that surrounds the temple which is lit up at night. It’s quite impressive to see. The Temple of Dendur is a site that you should definitely visit if you go to the museum.

The museum also has a wonderful collection of ancient Greek and Roman art. Every time I go to New York City, which is maybe once every five or six years, I love to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I especially like the Greek and Roman art section. The museum has many different areas that cover many different kinds of art. They have art from Africa, from Oceana, and from the Americas.

There’s also a smaller modern art section, although if you want to see modern art, you probably want to go to another museum in New York City, the Museum of Modern Art. In addition, there is a section on Arab art that contains art from Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia. One of the parts of the Metropolitan Museum that people often don’t go to see, but which you might enjoy seeing, is the collection at a different building called the Cloisters.

The Cloisters is a building in the northern part of the island of Manhattan. It’s not next to the main museum. It was completed in 1938 and was built from five French cloisters that were used in the construction of the building. Now, I should explain that a “cloister” (cloister) is another word for a convent or a monastery, a religious building associated with the Catholic Church. The cloisters that are part of the Met Museum specialize in what is called “medieval art” – that is, the arts of the middle ages in Europe.

One of the things you can see when you go to the Cloisters is a set of tapestries from medieval France. A “tapestry” (tapestry) is a large piece of fabric that is sewn or woven together and is usually hung on a wall. You can think of it as a big rug on a wall, but it looks a lot better than a rug.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is what we might call a “comprehensive museum,” similar to the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid. Various other museums in Europe are also considered “comprehensive museums.” They have art from many different times and many different places. If you have a chance to go to The Met, it certainly is worth your time if you’re visiting New York City.

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

Our first question comes from Ryotaro (Ryotaro) in Japan. The question has to do with three verbs: “to delay,” “to put off,” and “to procrastinate.” All three of these words have similar meanings. Let’s start with “to delay” (delay). “To delay” means to cause something to happen later than it was planned or later than it was scheduled – later than it should happen. If you are taking an airplane and there is a problem with the plane, we would say that your flight is “delayed” – that is, it is going to leave at a time later than what was scheduled.

“To put off” is similar to “to delay,” but usually it’s a phrasal verb we use when we don’t want to do what we have to do. So, for example, you may need to talk to your boss about a project, but you don’t really want to talk to your boss. You don’t like your boss, let’s say. You will “put off” that conversation. You will wait. You will delay it until you absolutely have to do it.

“Delay,” then, means that something is done at a time later than scheduled, but not necessarily because you want it to happen later. With the phrasal verb “to put off,” usually it’s delayed because you don’t want it to happen. You don’t want to do it even though you should.

That leads us to our third verb, which is “to procrastinate” (procrastinate). “To procrastinate” means to be very slow about doing something that should be done – to delay doing something until the very last moment. It’s related to our first two verbs in that it is the general concept of causing something to happen later than it should. “To procrastinate” is usually a verb we use when someone is putting off something for a very long time, maybe in the hopes of not having to do it at all.

Someone who procrastinates is someone who, as a habit,, doesn’t do things when they should be done. “To put off” could be more temporary. It could be something that you do just in this particular situation, whereas if you’re someone who is described as “procrastinating” about something, the idea is that you probably do that a lot, about a lot of different things.

Our next question comes from Stefan (Stefan) in Germany. The question has to do with two very common words in English, “during” (during) and “while” (while). Let’s start with “during.” “During” is a preposition and is typically found in what’s called a “prepositional phrase.” “During” is a preposition of time, that describes a certain period of time. It’s used in a sentence to specify a period of time when something is going on at the same time as something else in the sentence.

It’s much easier to give a few examples. “During the day, I work in an office.” This means that at the same time that it is daytime – from, say, seven in the morning to five o’clock in the evening – I am working in an office. “During the day” is a preposition that indicates the time at which another event is taking place. Or you could say, “During the Civil War, many people died.” That means that at the time of the Civil War, in the period of the Civil War, many people died.

“While” is used in a couple of different ways. Usually it’s used as a conjunction rather than a preposition. So, it’s used to link together or to connect together different parts of a sentence, usually different clauses in a sentence. A “clause” is a part of the sentence that has a subject and verb. A phrase such as a “prepositional phrase” is something that is in a sentence but doesn’t have a subject and a verb. Typically it just has a, what we call, “object.”

“While,” like “during,” is used to describe events that are happening at the same time. It’s very similar to the conjunction “as.” All of these are giving you, if you will, a background of the situation. So for example, I could say, “While I was working at the office, my wife was in a café talking to her friend.” At the same time I was at my job working, my wife was sitting at a café enjoying herself, drinking coffee.

The conjunction “while” connects those two parts of this sentence. “I’m working in my office.” “My wife is sitting at a café.” Those two things are happening at the same time, and that’s why we use the conjunction “while.” I could say, “While I was working at the office, my wife was at the café,” or “While my wife was at the café, I was working in my office.” Those two sentences mean the same thing.

Our final question comes from Abdul Aziz (Abdul Aziz) in Kenya. The question has to do with the word “sheer” (sheer). The word “sheer” can mean a couple of different things. It’s usually used as an adjective, for emphasis. For example, “She laughed with sheer delight.” There, it means that she laughed completely with delight. “Delight” is with happiness.

You could also say, “What he said is sheer nonsense.” It is completely wrong. It makes no sense. It’s “sheer nonsense.” It’s complete nonsense. In this sentence, “sheer” is used to emphasize something – in this case, how completely nonsensical whatever this person has said or done.

The example that Abdul Aziz sent to us is “out of sheer interest.” In that particular phrase, I think it would mean “out of nothing other than interest.” That’s the only thing or the only reason why you’re doing something. It’s because, in this case, you are interested in it.

There are a couple of other meanings of “sheer” that are a little less common. One is to describe a very thin kind of fabric. “Sheer” can be used as an adjective to talk about a piece of fabric (something you would use to make clothing out of, say) that was very thin, that you might even be able to see through, that light would pass through easily.

“Sheer” as an adjective can also be used in a very different context to mean “perpendicular” – that is, straight up and down, especially if we are describing what is called a “cliff” (cliff). A “cliff” is where you have a piece of land that suddenly drops off. It’s almost as though someone took a knife and cut the land in half and moved it apart. A “sheer cliff” would be a cliff that goes up and down almost in a straight line, completely perpendicular.

If you have a question or a comment for us, don’t put it off. Email us today at eslpod@eslpod.com. We’ll try to answer it on a future Café.

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.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

poverty – the state of being very poor; being without money needed for basic things, such as food and housing

* It’s difficult traveling to a job while living in poverty, because one may not have enough money for a car or even daily fare for public transportation.

to earn a living – to have a job and earn enough money to provide necessities for oneself

* She knew it would be hard to earn a living as a painter, but Sonja knew she would be miserable if she didn’t devote her life to art.

to be rejected – to not be allowed to do something; to not be accepted

* Deena’s application for a college student loan was rejected because she didn’t include the required documents.

to harass – to intimidate or attack someone aggressively; to make many small attacks

* Tatiana felt harassed when she walked down the street every morning and men called out to her trying to get her attention.

to contract – to pick up or get a disease or illness

* Lucien contracted a virus while vacationing in the jungle.

blind – unable to see; without the physical ability to see

* Even though he is blind, Stevie Wonder is able to write music and play many instruments very well.

to incorporate – to make something into a legal business

* Madhvi worked out of her basement for a few years before deciding to incorporate so that she could grow her business and move into a retail space.

impressive – admirable because of the size or quality of something

* This house is very impressive. It had six floors, thirty rooms, and three kitchens!

wing – a side area or smaller section of a larger building

* An entire wing of the building is used for researching new products.

temple – a building or space used to pray to a god or gods; a building or structure used for religious worship

* Before going to war, Greek leaders would visit the Temple of Ares to pray for his help in battle.

cloister – a convent; a monastery; a place where members of a religious order or organization live together

* The cloister is located on a remote piece of land in the countryside so that the nuns can have peace and quiet.

tapestry – a large piece of fabric that is sewn or woven and is usually hung on a wall

* As a wedding gift, Anand’s mother gave him and his wife a tapestry that his great-grandmother had sewn.

to delay – to cause something to happen later than it should; to cause something to occur later than planned

* We’ll need to delay the opening of the art exhibit because all the paintings have not arrived yet.

to put off – to cause to occur at a later time, usually because one does not want to do it or it is not a good time for it to happen

* I wish I could put off a trip to the dentist, but I have a bad toothache.

to procrastinate – to be slow or late about doing something that should be done; to delay doing something until a later time because one does not want to do it

* Jason procrastinates and only works on homework assignments the night before they’re due.

during – while; throughout a period of time

* During the heavy rainstorm, two trees fell and blocked the main street.

while – during the time that something else occurs; at the same time

* Could you lift up this chair while I put the rug underneath it?

sheer – nothing other than; simply; very steep so that something is almost straight up and down; able to see through

* Buying a new car while we’re so deep in debt is sheer stupidity!

What Insiders Know
American Fashion Critic Richard Blackwell

Richard Blackwell, more commonly known as Mr. Blackwell, was an American fashion “critic” (a person who gives an opinion about the quality of something, such as a film or fashion), “journalist” (reporter), TV and radio “personality” (famous person), and “fashion designer” (a person who creates new clothing, shoes, and more). Richard Blackwell’s real name was Richard Sylvan Selzer and he was born August 29, 1922 in New York.

In 1935, he began acting in theater. He was later “signed to” (had a contract with) RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) “Pictures” (movie-making company) and changed his name to Richard Blackwell.

He discovered that he had talent for fashion design while making stage costumes and “launched” (started) his own “clothing line” (a collection of different clothes created by a designer or group of designers) called “The House of Blackwell” in the late 1950s. In the beginning of his career as a designer, Blackwell was asked to write an article for American Weeklymagazine. He was asked to write about the “10 Best and Worst Dressed” celebrities. His “Worst Dressed” list became more and more popular, and in 1960, he released his first “10 Worst Dressed Women” list, which became an “annual” (yearly) list released in January of each year. The first two years gave him “moderate” (mediocre; so-so; good but not great) success, but by its third year, the list became so popular that every television and radio network began to “cover it” (give it media attention).

His “Ten Worst Dressed” list has attracted “imitators” (people who try to copy or duplicate the behavior or actions of another). All have included a similar style of criticism used by Blackwell in the early 1960s. Blackwell died in 2009 at the age of 86.