Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

513 Topics: Famous Americans – The Fox Sisters; Famous Songs – “I’m a Little Teapot”; to lack versus to be short of versus to be shy of versus to be out of; to clean versus to wash; pronouncing “Wh”

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 513.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café number 513. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in be… – everybody, come on – beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast. Everyone is doing it. When you do, you can download a Learning Guide for this episode with a complete transcript of everything we say. Hey, we’re on Facebook. Go to facebook.com/eslpod. (I’m feeling awake this morning. Can you tell?)

On this Café, we’re going to talk about Margaret and Catherine Fox and the beginning of something – here in the United States, anyway – called “spiritualism.” We’re also going to talk about a very popular song for children which you should really know even if you don’t have any children. It’s called “I’m a Little Teapot.” And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Many of you are probably familiar with the general idea of “spiritualism.” It’s not something unique to the United States, but today I want to talk about the spiritualism movement here in the U.S., particularly during the nineteenth century. “Spiritualism” is the belief that people who have died can talk to people who are still alive using a person with special powers, or through a person with special powers.

This person with special powers who can, so they think, talk to the dead is called a “medium” (medium). The word “medium” is also used for sizes of clothing or other things. You can get a shirt that is large, medium, or small. “Medium” is in the middle between “large” and “small.” But this is a different meaning of the word “medium.” Here it means someone who can talk to people who have died. Of course, the idea is that the person who has died talks back. I mean, all of us can talk to people who have died. The trick is getting them to answer, and that’s what a medium claims to do.

Spiritualism in the United States began in the late 1840s with two sisters in New York, Margaret and Catherine Fox – no relation to Megan Fox, the actress. I don’t think. Margaret Fox was born on October seventh, 1833, in the town of the Bath – not Bath, England, but Bath, New Brunswick, Canada. It’s about 400 miles (or 643 kilometers for those of you on the metric system) northeast of Boston, Massachusetts, on the East Coast of the U.S. Catherine was born in Bath a few years later, her sister, in 1839.

In 1847, the girls moved with their family to the town of Hydesville, New York, which is in what we would call “upstate” New York, in the northern part of the state of New York. Shortly after moving to the new home, the girls, the other members of the family, and their neighbors began hearing strange noises coming from the house. They heard bumps and knocks. “Knock” is the sound you would make, for example, if you were trying to get someone to answer your door, your front door of your house. This would be an example of a “knock.” [knocking] Wait a minute – that’s somebody at my door. Hold on, I’ll be right back.

Okay, so where was I? The sisters and the family members were hearing these strange noises – knocking sounds. The two sisters said that the noises were caused by spirits. Now remember, this is 1847, so the oldest sister is only 14 years old. The sisters said that the noises were caused by spirits. A “spirit” (spirit) is a ghost, or what is believed by many people to remain after someone dies and their bodies are buried in the ground.

Soon people were coming from all over the area to visit these two young sisters and watch them communicate with the spirits in the house. Many people believed that the spirits were real, and many people believed that the entire thing was fake. “Fake” (fake) means not real, or “phony” – something that is done to fool other people. Whether they believed it or not, people still came in large groups to watch the sisters.

So many people became interested in Margaret and Catherine Fox that their older sister, by the name of Ann, became the young girls’ manager. A “manager” is a person who takes care of all the scheduling and arrangements and organization for the activities of famous people. Actors, singers, other famous people often have managers who take care of all the little things, all of the details of organizing activities for the person. Ann moved the girls to Rochester, New York, where more people could watch them speak with the spirits. Rochester is another town located in northwest New York.

In Rochester, the girls developed a way to understand, they said, what the spirits were saying by using a code. A “code” (code) is a set of words or letters or pictures that are used to represent other words, making it faster or easier to communicate, or to be able to communicate so other people don’t understand what you are saying. You can think of Morse code, for example, a series of what we would call “dots and dashes” that can be used to communicate over the radio waves. I actually know Morse code. Did you know that? Yeah, I do. The word Café for example: [“speaks” in Morse]. See?

The sisters did not use Morse code, however, but their own code. This code was called the “Rochester Rappings.” “To rap” means to hit your hand usually against some solid surface. It’s the same as “to knock.” At least, that was the old definition. Nowadays, of course, “to rap” is a term in music when musicians speak in a certain way that usually rhymes, where the words rhyme. (And no, I am not going to rap for you!)

In 1850, when the oldest girl, Margaret, was only 17, the sisters Margaret, Catherine, and the older sister, Ann, moved to New York City because of course there are more people in New York City – both now and then – than there were in Rochester. There, they began holding meetings to talk to the dead, which were called “séances.” A “séance” (séance) is a meeting where people try to talk to the dead.

Many people believed that Margaret and Catherine could speak to the dead, and a lot of very important people in New York City during this period thought that they were real. One of those people was the editor of the New-York Tribune newspaper, a man also famous in American history, called Horace Greeley. Horace Greeley wrote an article in the newspaper about the Fox sisters, saying that they really could speak to the dead. Of course, the sisters made a lot of money from these séances.

They then began traveling around the United States holding séances, and of course the number of people who went to see them continued to grow. They developed what we might call a “cult following.” A “cult (cult) following” is a small group of people who believe everything that someone does or says – someone who believes completely in a certain idea or a certain person. Usually there is a leader of the cult, and the sisters were in a sense a leader of this spiritualism cult.

Margaret met and began a romantic relationship, not with a dead person, but with a man by the name of Elisha Kane. That was in 1852. Kane was what we would call an “explorer,” someone who travels to places that no one else has been to before. Kane, however, did not believe in spiritualism and tried to get Margaret to stop performing these séances. However, he died suddenly in 1857, and after his death, Margaret said that the two had secretly gotten married, though there were no papers, no legal documents, to prove this, and many people in Kane’s family didn’t believe her.

Finally, she changed her name to Margaret Fox Kane and converted, or became a member of, a Christian church, the Roman Catholic Church. For a short time, she also stopped giving séances. However, despite her conversion to Catholicism, she eventually went back to giving séances a few years later. Unfortunately, as often happens to people who become famous suddenly at a young age, both Margaret and Catherine became alcoholics – people who drink too much alcohol. They were having trouble living with being famous and having this cult following.

Eventually Catherine moved to England and began performing séances there. She also got married. She married a man named Henry Jencken in 1872 and had two sons with him. Jencken, however, believed in spiritualism and in Catherine’s powers. He died in 1881. Catherine then moved back to New York with her children in 1885 and began to drink even more. In 1888, her children were taken away from her because she did not take care of them due to her alcoholism.

She and Margaret also began to have a lot of trouble professionally because of their heavy drinking. They were unable to perform at the séances because they were drunk. Although some people, when they get drunk, think they can talk to the dead better, so I’m not sure what happened there. In 1888, Margaret went before the New York Academy of Music and said that their ability – she and her sister’s ability to speak to the dead – was in fact a hoax. A “hoax” (hoax) is a trick or a joke that is played on someone to make them believe in something that isn’t true.

Margaret admitted that what she and her sister were doing was a lie. The question is, why did the girls play this hoax? Well, Margaret says that they wanted to play a trick on their mother when they were children. She demonstrated how the girls would make these knocking noises by using their own bodies. They would, what we would call “crack” certain parts of their body – their toes and especially their knee joints. “To crack,” say, your knuckles, the part of your hand that connects your fingers to the rest of your arm, means to make a noise with them. A lot of people can crack their knuckles.

Well that’s what these girls were doing, except they were cracking their knee joints, which sounds a little painful. Members of the spiritualism cult, of course, became very angry with Margaret and said that she was lying now because she needed the money, or perhaps because she was drinking too much. Margaret then changed her mind again and said, “No, wait – it’s all real.” But unfortunately, now no one would believe what the girls said, and they lost their way of making money.

Sadly, Catherine died in July of 1892. Then Margaret died the following year, in 1893, both in New York City, both from complications of alcoholism. Neither woman had any money when she died. Even though Margaret said the whole thing was fake, people continued to believe in spiritualism, and many continue to believe it to this day.

We’re going to talk now about a children’s song that is very popular in the U.S., a song that parents often teach to their children. It’s called “I’m a Little Teapot.” A “teapot” (teapot) is what you make tea in. It’s a container that you have tea in, and then you use that container to pour the tea into what we would call a “teacup.”

“I’m a Little Teapot” was written in 1939 by a dance teacher named Clarence Kelley and his friend George Sanders. At the time, many children in the United States were expected to take lessons to learn how to dance, especially young girls. My mother, in the 1930s, for example, and the early 1940s, took dance lessons. My sisters took dance lessons. Even I took dance lessons for one year. It’s true. Very few people know that, so don’t tell anyone!

Kelley was a dance teacher, and he noticed that some of the younger children in his dance school were having difficulty, having trouble, learning the “steps” – the movements – for some of his dances. So he wanted to create a dance that would be easier for them, and he asked his friend George Sanders to help him. The two came up with, or created, this song “I’m a Little Teapot” and a dance called the “Teapot Tip” (tip). “To tip” means to bend or to fall over to one side or another.

To understand this song, you have to know a few more words related to a teapot. A teapot has a couple of different parts on it. One part is called the “handle” (handle). That’s the part that you grab the teapot with, with your hands. The other part of the teapot is called a “spout” (spout). The “spout” is a long narrow tube through which the liquid of the teapot, the tea, goes out into the cup. Let’s first listen to the lyrics of the song, the words of the song, and then we’ll explain a little about what they mean.

I’m a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
When I get all steamed up
Hear me shout
Tip me over and pour me out!

So the song begins, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout.” “Stout” (stout) means fat or very round. So, the teapot is in fact usually not very tall, so we could call it “short.” The next line of the song is, “Here is my handle, here is my spout.” Well, we know what a “handle” and a “spout” are already.

I should mention that there are movements that go with the song, so when the child sings the line “Here is my handle,’’ she puts one hand on her hip or waist, in the middle of her body, to make that arm look like the handle of a teapot. And then when the child sings the word “spout,” she puts the other arm out into the air with a slight bend at the elbow and at the wrist so that it looks like the spout of a teapot. Now everybody follow along, even if you’re listening to this on the subway. Don’t worry. No one will think you’re weird.

So the next line of the song is, “When I get all steamed up,” and when the singer says “steamed up,” she starts moving her body quickly from side to side. We would call it “wiggling” (wiggling). Then she says, “Hear me shout, tip me over and pour me out.” At the last line, the dancer and singer bends at the waist over to the side of the arm that is pretending to be the spout of the teapot. All right, so let’s try this together. Are you ready?

I’m a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
When I get all steamed up
Hear me shout
Tip me over and pour me out!

Did you do the movements? You know, the dance? If you want to teach this to your children, I suggest going on YouTube and finding a video because no, I am not going to make a video for you of the teapot song, okay, so don’t even ask.

Now let’s answer a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Amir in Iran. Amir wants to know the meanings of the following expressions: “to lack,” “to be short of,” “to be shy of,” and “to be out of.”

Let’s start with the first expression, “to lack” (lack). “To lack” means not to have enough of something that you expect or require – to be missing something. You could lack something physical like food and water, or you could lack something like a good strategy to solve a problem, or you could lack energy, if you don’t have enough strength to do a certain activity. You could say, “I lack the energy to do it.”

“To be short of” something means also not to have enough of something. Usually we use the expression “to be short of” when we are talking about something physical. Although you could say, I guess, “I’m short of energy,” but it would be more common to say “I’m short of food” or “I’m short of employees.” “I’m short of people to help me with my project.”

What’s the difference of “to lack” and “to be short of?” Well, “to lack” means that you don’t have enough of something to do what you want to do. “To be short of” something usually means that you’re almost there. You almost have enough of something, but you don’t have quite enough.

That’s also the meaning of the third expression Amir asks about, “to be shy (shy) of.” “To be shy of” means you have slightly less of something or fewer of something that you need or expect. “I am $2 shy of $100.” That would mean I have $98. Or, “I’m a thousand dollars shy of my goal” – my target, my objective – “for buying a car” or “for taking a vacation.” Sometimes people add the word “just” to this expression. “I’m just shy of” means I’m almost there. There’s just a little bit more that I need in order to reach my goal.

“To be shy of” is used usually with what we would call “countable nouns” – things that you can count, like objects, pens, or people, or points. You can put a number on it. Whereas “to be short of” and “to lack” could be used for things like energy, for example, which you don’t count the same way you would pens, points, or people. Say that three times fast: “Pens, points, people. Pens, points, people.” It’s not that hard, actually.

The last expression is “to be out of,” and “to be out of” means you don’t have anything of this object or thing that you did have before. So, if you go and you buy a dozen donuts for your friends, and your friends come to your house and they eat all the donuts, and then someone else comes an hour later and wants a donut, you’ll tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m out of donuts.” I don’t have any. You’re not just “short,” you’re not just “lacking,” you’re not just “shy of” a certain number of donuts. You don’t have any donuts at all. And talking about donuts makes me hungry, so let’s move on to the next question.

Pierre (Pierre) from the island of Martinique wants to know the difference between the two verbs “to clean” (clean) and “to wash” (wash). Sometimes we use these two verbs interchangeably to mean the same thing. However, there is a little bit of difference between them. “To clean” means to remove dirt or a mess from a certain area using one of a number of different approaches. One way to clean something is “to wash” it (wash). “To wash” specifically means to clean something with water and usually some kind of soap.

So if a person says, “I’m going to wash my car,” he means he’s going to take soap and water to the outside of his car, usually, so that it is clean. He’s cleaning his car by washing it. However, if someone said, “I’m going to clean my room,” he would mean not that that he’s going to take water and soap, although I guess it’s possible if the floors and walls are dirty. No, the person really means he’s going to clean up the mess. He’s going to put things away into the proper drawer and hang up the shirts in the closet. That would be “to clean your room.”

Parents are always telling their children to clean their rooms because children often don’t clean their room, and then you have what we would call a “mess” (mess). If I took a picture of my desk right now, that would be a good way of demonstrating what a mess is. It’s not organized. It’s not neat. So, “to clean” is a more general verb that can be used in a lot of different circumstances when you are getting rid of something unwanted, especially if it’s dirt or if it’s a mess. “To wash” specifically involves water and usually some kind of soap to get something clean.

Now what about your body? Do we use “wash” or “clean?” Well, it depends on the part of your body. If you had dirt on your face, we would probably use the verb “to wash.” “I’m going to wash my face.” Now, you could also say, “I’m going to clean my face,” but it would be much more common to say, “I’m going to wash my face,” because that’s probably how you’re going to get your face clean so that it doesn’t have any dirt on it.

With some parts of our bodies, however, we use other verbs. If you’re going to wash your entire body, we would use the verb, usually, “to bathe” (bathe) or “to shower” (shower). “To shower” specifically is when you stand up and you have water that goes over you in order to wash the dirt off your body.

For your teeth, we would probably use the verb “to brush” (brush). You “brush” your teeth. Now, if someone says, “I’m going to go get my teeth cleaned,” usually he means he’s going to go to a dentist’s office and have someone take a special tool and clean all of the junk, all of the stuff you don’t want, off of his teeth. So, that’s a little different. “To have your teeth cleaned” is not the same as “to brush your teeth.”

If your hair is dirty, you would probably use the verb “wash” – “I’m going to wash my hair.” The soap that you use to wash your hair has a special name. It’s “shampoo” (shampoo). And if you don’t have any hair, like me – well, you don’t worry about it.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and
Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational

spiritualism – the belief that people who have died can talk to people who are still alive through a person with special powers

* Believers of spiritualism try to talk to people who have recently died to ask them questions they might not have answered when they were still alive.

medium – a person with special powers who can speak to the dead

* The medium closed her eyes and began speaking in a strange voice, which convinced the audience that someone who had died was speaking through her.

spirit – a ghost; what remains after someone dies and their bodies are buried

* LIving in this old house, do you feel the spirits of the people who once lived here long ago?

fake – not real; not genuine

* The museum director knew immediately that the painting was a fake because it had been painted using oil paints created in 2011 not in 1824.

code – a set of words, letters, or pictures that are used to represent other words, making it faster or easier to communicate or to be able to do so without others understanding the message

* Samuel Morse created a code that could be used by boats to send messages using light, with different patterns of light representing different letters of the alphabet.

séance – a meeting where people try to talk to the dead

* The group lit candles, turned the lights down, and waited quietly during the séance to see whose dead relative would come forward to speak to them.

cult following – a small group of people who completely believe in something or someone and dedicate their lives to that person or thing

* Some movies have cult followings where people get together each year to watch the movie and dress up as the characters from the film.

hoax – a trick or joke that is played on someone to fool them into believing something that is not true

* At first, people believed that the man had been taken by aliens, but soon, the man admitted it was a hoax and he had just spent a week hiding in his basement.

teapot – a container for a hot beverage made from the dried leaves of trees and plants, with a part one holds to lift it and a long section to pour liquid from

* When she made tea that afternoon, Deepka used her new yellow teapot and matching mug.

handle – the part of a container one holds while lifting or moving it

* The handle of the pot became very hot while the soup was cooking and Amir nearly burnt his hand when he touched it.

spout – the long part of a container that liquid pours out of

* There is a small crack in the spout, which causes liquid to spill when pouring.

to tip – to bend or fall to one side or the other; to move an object so that one side is higher than the other

* Dmitri was going so fast around the corner that his car almost tipped onto two tires.

to lack – to not have something that is expected or required; to be missing something

* Nic has the talent to become a writer, but he lacks discipline and motivation.

to be short of – to not have enough of something; to be insufficient

* We have enough chairs for each table, but we’re short of tablecloths. We only have eight and we need 12.

to be shy of – to have slightly less of something than is needed or expected

* Kaila received a score of 89 out of 100 and is just shy of the 90 points needed for an grade of “A.”

to be out of – to have none remaining; to have nothing left

* Jino wanted to bake a cake, but he’s out of sugar.

to clean – to remove dirt, marks, or mess, especially by washing, wiping, or brushing

* Dad said we had to clean our rooms before we can go outside to play.

to wash – to clean with water, and normally soap or detergent

* Keep the dog inside the house while I wash the car or she’ll make a mess.

What Insiders Know
Chung Ling Soo

William Ellsworth Campbell Robinson was a famous performer in the mid 1800s, but he was better known by his “stage name” (a name used for professional purposes by an actor or other performer) and “persona” (a role or character used by an author or an actor) Chung Ling Soo.

Robinson was a “magician” (person who performs tricks as entertainment, making seemingly impossible things happen) who had, earlier in his career, called himself Robinson, the Man of Mystery. He changed his name to Chung Ling Soo in 1861 to sound similar to a Chinese magician who had recently made a successful American tour, Ching Ling Foo. He “modeled” (created) his name “after” (similar to) Foo to increase his “allure” (appeal) and add a touch of “exoticism” (being very different and unusual) in his performances.

Robinson/Chung wrote a book in 1898 that made him even more famous. The book “exposed” (revealed something hidden, secret, or dishonest) the tricks that “mediums” (people who claimed to be able to speak with dead people) used “supposedly” (claimed but is not true) to contact the dead.

Robinson/Chung became famous for his magic shows and on March 23, 1918, he performed on a stage in London. He had become famous for a trick where he appeared to catch “bullets” (small piece of metal shot from guns) in his teeth that had been fired at him. Unfortunately, the guns Robinson/Chung used were not cleaned properly after each performance, and overtime, “gunpowder residue” (a small amount of the powder used to cause the explosion that moves a bullet out of a gun) had built up inside the gun. The trick went wrong and the bullet hit Chung in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital, but unfortunately, he died the following day.