Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

524 Topics: American Presidents – Chester A. Arthur; intimate versus personal versus private; particular versus specific versus in particular; I beg your pardon

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 524.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 524. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website, won’t you, at ESLPod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an eight- to ten-page guide that contains a complete transcript of everything we say. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store which has additional courses in English for you. And why not like us on Facebook? Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the 21st president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Chester Alan Arthur was born in October of 1829 in the state of Vermont. Vermont is one of our original thirteen states. It’s located in the northeast part of the United States. Young Arthur went to college and then studied law. In 1854, he joined a law firm, a group of lawyers, in New York City. This was the place where he was to make his home and, other than living in Washington D.C., spend the rest of his life.

While working as a lawyer in New York, Arthur became involved in some very important legal cases. Some of these involved the legal rights of blacks, or African Americans as we now call them. “Legal rights” are what a person is allowed to do and not do. Now, as you probably know, during this period of the 1850s, slavery – the owning of another person – was still legal in the United States and parts of the United States, particularly in the southern U.S.

The northern states, especially Vermont, were very much against slavery, and Chester Arthur was no different. He was against slavery and worked on legal cases involving the legal rights of black Americans. However, even those states that did not allow slavery many times did not give the same legal rights to African Americans. Because of this, African Americans were often discriminated against – that is, people treated them differently because of their race, because of the color of their skin.

The case in which Chester Arthur first became known as a lawyer was the case of Lizzie Jennings in 1854. Now, Jennings was an African American woman who had been told to get off a street car, a mode of transportation, like a bus, because she was sitting in the part of the street car that was meant for white people only. Now, it was very common in some places, right up into the mid-twentieth century, for buses and other areas that were open to the public to have separate sections for whites and blacks.

Lizzie Jennings was an African American woman who was told she couldn’t sit in the section of the street car designated for whites. So she decided to sue the street car company. “To sue” (sue) means to go to court and to ask for money because someone has done something wrong to you. Interestingly, Arthur won the case for Jennings and Jennings received $250.

After winning the Jennings case, Chester Arthur continued to practice law and began to build up his reputation as a lawyer. A “reputation” (reputation) is the opinions that other people have about you. Now, during this same time, in the 1850s, he also began to get involved in politics and joined the political party that was most opposed to slavery, the Republican Party. This was the party of Abraham Lincoln.

In addition to getting involved in politics, he got involved in romance. Yes, he met a woman – her name was Ellen Herndon – who was a cousin of a friend of his, and the two were married in October of 1859. Well, unfortunately for their marriage, in 1861, just two years later, the American Civil War began, where the North and the South fought over, among other things, the issue of slavery. Now, Arthur himself did not fight in any battles, but he became one of the leaders of the New York troops, the group of soldiers.

He left the military – he retired from the military – in 1863 and went back to being a lawyer in New York. When we say someone “retired” (retired), we mean he has left his job permanently. Usually you retire when you reach a certain age – say, 65 or 70 – but you could also use the word, in this case, where even as a young man you stop working in a certain profession. I retired from the university, oh, more than 10 years ago now, even though I think I’m still a young man. Well, not too old anyway.

After the Civil War, in the late 1860s, Chester Arthur became friends with a very powerful New York politician by the name of Conkling. Conkling was the person you went to if you wanted to get a good job in politics. Politics, especially in the nineteenth century, was often one based on friendship and who you knew, rather than what you knew. We sometimes call this a “spoils system.” The “spoils” (spoils) are the valuable items that you take, normally when you conquer someone.

We can think of armies going into another country and taking the most valuable parts of that country’s art or other things in the country. Those are called the “spoils” – “the spoils of war,” we might call them. Well, the spoils system wasn’t about war. It was about powerful politicians giving certain people political jobs or other benefits to their friends and perhaps even their family members.

In some ways, American politics at some level still works that way today. If you are the president of the United States, there are many positions in government that are filled by the political leader of that part of government. In the case of the president of the United States, he gets to pick people to work in lots of different jobs. It’s a kind of spoils system.

However, back in the nineteenth century, there were lots of jobs, even jobs that didn’t seem to have any political importance or connection, that were given to friends of powerful politicians, politicians who had the power and the influence to give those jobs away. Chester Arthur was one of the people who received one of these “spoils system jobs,” we could call them, I guess.

The powerful politician in New York, Conkling, gave him the job of collecting taxes for items that were imported into the country. “To import” (import) means to bring something into a country to sell it. Arthur had this job at the Port of New York. The “port” (port) is a place where ships come in and usually bring in things that are going to be sold in that country, or a place where you pick up things to be sold in other countries.

Here in Los Angeles we have a port. The Port of Los Angeles is located down in an area that Angelinos usually just call “Pedro” – it’s “San Pedro,” although the Spanish pronunciation would be San Pedro. But we just say “Pedro” here in L.A. and everyone knows what you’re talking about. Well, Arthur didn’t work here in L.A., of course. He worked out in the Port of New York.

He was what we call the “customs collector.” A “collector” is a person who takes things – in this case, taxes for the items that were brought into the country, that were imported into the country. The word “customs” is usually used to refer to the government agency, the government group, that handles things like looking at the objects that are brought into a country – the goods that are brought into a country – and if necessary, collecting taxes on those things.

When you come to the United States, you go through immigration, making sure that you have permission to be here, and customs, making sure that you don’t bring anything into the country that you’re not supposed to or bringing anything in that you are supposed to pay a tax on. Chester Arthur was asked in 1877 by the then president of the United States, Hayes, to quit his job. Hayes was going to try to end the spoils system, at least in many places or for many jobs in the government.

One of the ways he did this was to convince people like Arthur to give up his job, although Arthur at first didn’t want to. Arthur went back to being a lawyer and helping his old friend Conkling in politics. In 1880, when it was time for the Republican Party to select or nominate a new person to run for the office of the presidency, the Party decided to nominate James Garfield for the presidency and Chester Arthur for the vice presidency. Garfield won, and of course so did Arthur, and Arthur became vice president of the United States.

However, Arthur’s wife, Ellen, died around the same time that he and Garfield won the election. She died from a lung illness called “pneumonia.” Even more sadly for Garfield, he was shot in July of 1881, just a few months after he was officially made president. President Garfield died. He was killed, oddly enough, by a man who thought that he should have been given a job under the spoils system by President Garfield.

Well, when the president of the United States is killed, the vice president becomes president, and that’s what happened in September of 1881. Chester Arthur became president. At the time, a lot of Americans didn’t think Chester Arthur would make a good president. He didn’t really have any experience as a politician, and they didn’t think he knew what he was doing, which is not uncommon in terms of public opinion of our presidents.

Many Americans wanted to end the spoils system since it resulted in, among other things, Garfield being shot. Most people knew that Arthur was friends with politicians who wanted to keep the spoils system, however, and they simply didn’t trust him to end that practice. Chester Arthur surprised them all, however. In 1883, he signed what was called the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Here, “act” (act) is just another word for law.

What was the Pendleton Civil Service Act? Well, to understand it, you have to know the meaning of the term “civil service.” Civil service usually refers to jobs that are part of the permanent departments of government, jobs that don’t really depend upon any sort of political connection – in fact, by definition are not “politically appointed” jobs. These are jobs that the government has and needs in order to keep things running smoothly.

This does not include anything in the military system, the legal system, or anything related to positions in the government that are elected, such as senator and representative and president, say. The Civil Service Act said that people who are given jobs in the government must be given those jobs because they were able to do them and not because they were friends with politicians.

Now again, I want to emphasize that this doesn’t include all of the jobs in government. Most of the leadership jobs in the government departments are in fact held by people who got them because they were friends with, or politically connected to, the governor or the president or another elected official. However, the jobs below those leadership positions are all usually classified, or considered, civil service” jobs.

In order to get a civil service job, you have to be hired because of your merit. “Merit” (merit) means that you deserve something. You have the skills and qualifications for the job. In many places, you have to take an examination, a test, to see if you have the knowledge in order to get a certain government job. Most Americans were happy with this new Civil Service Act, although Chester Arthur’s political friends were not. They felt that Arthur had betrayed them.

“To betray” (betray) means to not support someone in some way, to be what we might also call “disloyal” to someone. You can betray your country. You can start giving secret information to another country about your country’s military, say. That would be “to betray” your country. You can betray your spouse – your husband or your wife – by going and sleeping with another man or another woman. Most spouses would consider that a betrayal. “Betrayal” is the noun form of the verb “to betray.”

The other major or important law that Chester Arthur approved of during his presidency was the Chinese Exclusion Act. “To exclude” (exclude) means to not allow someone to go into a certain place or to be a member of a certain group. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a law that said that no Chinese workers were allowed to immigrate to the United States for 10 years. The Chinese workers were not allowed to come into the United States to work.

One possible reason this law was passed, according to some historians, was that in the 1880s, especially out here in the western part of the United States, people were finding a lot of gold. “Gold,” of course, is the yellow metal found in the ground that is considered very valuable. People who dig for gold and other metals or materials are called “miners” (miners). The miners in the western part of the U.S. didn’t want Chinese miners coming in and digging for the gold that they were hoping to find.

Even though the Chinese Exclusion Act said that Chinese workers were not allowed in the U.S. for 10 years, some say it was really meant to prevent Chinese miners from coming into the country. However, it had the effect of preventing all Chinese immigration during this time. It was one of the first immigration law that was passed in the United States – a land that is, after all, one of immigrants. To be fair to Arthur, he was actually against the Chinese Exclusion Act, but as sometimes happens in politics, he compromised on this particular law. He approved it even though he didn’t really want to.

Even though Arthur didn’t do a lot else during his time as president, some people hoped that he would win the election for president in 1884. Remember, Arthur never won a presidential election. He was elected as vice president. But the Republican Party did not nominate him to run for president, something which is very unusual. I mean, if you’re president and you want to run for another term of office (in the United States currently you can be president twice – for two 4-year terms), you’re normally going to be given the nomination for president.

However, the Republican Party did not nominate Arthur. However, Chester Arthur had a secret. He found out in 1882 that he was dying of a disease called Bright’s disease. It’s a disease that affects mainly your kidneys. After his presidency ended in 1885, Arthur returned home to New York City and he died there the next year, in 1886.

Chester Arthur, who began his political career you’ll remember as an abolitionist – that is, someone trying to end slavery – also tried to help blacks or African Americans in the United States. His attempts were not very successful, but he did in fact make attempts to improve the situation, especially in terms of the legal rights of blacks in the U.S. during this period.

Well, most Americans probably can’t tell you very much about Chester Arthur and his presidency. He did do some important things, especially when it came to the Civil Service Act, that are still important in today’s government.

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

Our first question comes from Cleber (Cleber) in a mystery country. The question has to do with three adjectives in English: “intimate,” “personal,” and “private.” I’m going to start with the third word, “private” (private).

“Private” is the opposite of “public” (public). If something is public, everyone knows about it. If you walk out onto the street in front of your house or apartment, we would say that you are “out in public” – everyone can see you, or at least anyone who wants to see you can see you. The opposite of that is “private” – things that only you can see or only people close to you can see. If you go on a website such as Facebook, there are “public groups” that anyone can join, and then there are “private groups” that you have to be invited to join or you have to be given permission to join.

“Personal” (personal) things are things that are private, related to your own life, often that you don’t want other people to know about. If someone says, “That’s a personal question,” he means, “That’s a question that you should not be asking me. It’s about a private thing that I don’t want to talk about, or wouldn’t talk about with someone I don’t know very well, like perhaps you.” Sometimes “personal” means belonging to a specific person. We have the term “personal property” – things that you own. “Personal property” refers to items that a single person owns or controls.

“Intimate” (intimate) usually describes something that is very private or very personal, if you will – something even more private than what you might otherwise describe as “private.” If you talk about the “intimate details of your relationship,” this would usually refer to the things that you say to your girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife. The word “intimate” actually can also be used sometimes to refer to a sexual relationship or a sexual activity.

If you say, “He was intimate with her,” well, you mean that the two of them had sexual relations. Sometimes we refer to women’s underwear or other clothing a woman might wear to bed as being “intimate apparel.” Although there are similarities in meaning with these three adjectives, they’re used in somewhat different ways, depending as always on the context.

You would have a “private meeting” if you didn’t want everyone to know what was happening inside of your meeting. A “personal meeting” would usually mean that you were meeting someone for reasons that had nothing to do with business, that had to do only with your personal life – or we might say, your “private life.” So, “private” and “personal” are used in different ways depending on the context. It could mean you don’t want anyone else to know about it.

So if you had a “private business meeting,” it would be just a certain group of people and no one else. If you had a “personal meeting” or a personal phone call during the hours when you’re supposed to be working, that would mean that you are talking about things that are not related to your business but rather to your personal life – your family, your wife or husband and so forth. The word “intimate” is almost never used in a business setting. It would only be used for the definitions that I discussed: something that was very personal or very private, or something referring to a sexual relationship.

Our next question comes from Liu (Liu), originally from China, now living in the United States. The question has to do with three different terms or words, “particular,” “specific,” and “in particular.” Let’s start with “particular” (particular). “Particular” is used to indicate that there is a single person or thing that is being referred to, or a group of things. As an adjective, “particular” often means unique, one of the kind, or of a very certain kind of thing that would not easily be confused with something else.

If you say, for example, “She has very particular tastes in clothing,” “tastes” here means the things that she likes. “Particular tastes in clothing” means that she likes a very certain kind of thing ¬– perhaps something a little unusual, a little different. If you describe a person as being “particular,” usually that means this person wants everything to be correct, everything to be perfect, even. “He is very particular about food.” He wants his dishes, his food, cooked perfectly in a certain way.

“Specific” (specific) means something is clearly defined and identified. It is sometimes used to mean something similar to “particular.” “I’m looking for a specific shoe.” Not just any shoe, but one specific shoe, one kind of shoe that has these clearly defined characteristics. If someone says to you, “Well, please be more specific,” he’s asking you to give a clearer, more defined idea of what you’re talking about or perhaps of what you want.

“Specific” is used to emphasize clearly defined – something that has certain characteristics – whereas “particular” is something that is not like others in a group – something that is defined, but defined by being unique perhaps, or defined by not being something else or part of something else.

The phrase “in particular” means “especially.” It’s used to show that something applies to one person or one group or one thing more than other things or other people or other groups. “There are many restaurants that I like going to in Los Angeles, but there’s one restaurant in particular that I love to go to on a Sunday afternoon.” I’m selecting one of the restaurants and saying that this one is especially one that I like, or is different from this larger group in some way.

Or you could say, “I love visiting New York City. In particular, I like going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Of all the things in New York City, that one thing is something I especially like. We may also say, “nothing in particular.” “What are you looking for?” “Oh, nothing in particular, just kind of looking around seeing what there is.” You don’t have in mind a special item that is different from the other items or other things.

Finally, Helena in Portugal wants to know the meaning of the expression, “I beg your pardon.” “To beg” (beg) can mean to ask for. Often we use this verb “to beg” when you are asking a favor of someone. We talk about people who are poor out in the street begging for money, asking for money, asking for something from you. “Pardon” (pardon) can mean forgiveness for something. However, the expression, “I beg your pardon” can mean a couple of different things depending on the context and even on how it is said.

If, for example, you are talking to someone you don’t know very well and you make a mistake in talking to this person, you might say, “I beg your pardon.” If, for example, you call someone “Mr. Smith” and his name is actually “Mr. Jones,” you would say, “Oh, I beg your pardon. I mean Mr. Jones, not Mr. Smith.” You are asking for that person to forgive you, but it’s a very formal way of doing it, and it’s usually for something that’s not very serious.

Sometimes we use – again, in a formal situation or a situation in which you don’t know the other people – “to beg your pardon” as a way of asking the person to repeat what he just said when you don’t hear someone. You might say, “I’m sorry, I beg your pardon.” What did you say? Could you repeat that for me?

Finally, “I beg your pardon” can be used in an angry way to show disagreement with someone or with what someone has said. “I beg your pardon, but there’s no smoking in here!” You’re yelling at the person basically, or you’re in this case disapproving of his action. If a child says to his parents something that is vulgar or disrespectful – if your son says, “Oh yeah, get out of here dad. You’re stupid” – you as the father might say, “I beg your pardon?” What did you say?

There’s some similarity here with the previous definition of asking someone to repeat himself when you didn’t hear it, but in this case you heard it, but you are in a way giving the child, in this case, an opportunity to correct what he has said or to take back what he has said. “I beg your pardon. You don’t talk to me that way.” That’s what a parent might say to his child if the child said something that children aren’t supposed to say to their parents. I’m sure my father said that to me more than once.

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

legal right – what one is allowed to do and the protection that one is given by a country’s government

* In the United States, all citizens over the age of 18 have the legal right to vote.

to discriminate against – to treat someone differently, usually more poorly, because of that person’s race, ethnicity, age, level of ability, or gender

* Abigail said that the company discriminated against people in wheelchairs, because all meetings are held on the fourth floor of a building with no elevators.

to sue – to take someone to court to have a legal matter decided

* Mark’s neck was hurt in a car accident so he sued the other driver to get her to pay for his medical bills.

reputation – the opinions that other people have about a person or business

* The company has earned a reputation for good customer service by offering free replacements of any products that don’t work properly.

to retire – to leave a job permanently, usually because of age, after having worked in that job or industry for many years

* After 40 years working for the city government, Denise retired and moved to a home in the country where she spends her days working in her garden.

spoils – valuable things stolen or taken from someone else, usually obtained dishonestly or illegally

* The thieves divided the spoils after an evening of stealing purses and wallets.

to import – to bring items made in one country into a second country to sell

* Clothes sold by this company are made in Asia and then imported to the U.S.

civil service – relating to the permanent departments of the government, but not including the military, legal system, or elected officials

* Juan loves working in civil service since he has job security and a good pension.

merit – deserving or being worthy of something

* Joanne works hard at her job and knows that she earned her promotion and higher salary based on merit.

to betray – to be disloyal to someone; to not support someone when one is expected to or had promised to

* Petra felt betrayed by Yuko when Yuko told everyone at the party that Petra had cheated on the exam.

to exclude – to not allow someone to enter a place or group; to not include or use something

* We made a list of all of the students’ names and email addresses, but decided to exclude phone numbers and mailing addresses.

miner – a person who digs in the ground for valuable metals or materials

* The miners got in an elevator that takes them deep down into the mountain where they dig for coal.

intimate – relating to something very personal or private; having a very close relationship

* Why are people so interested in the intimate details of celebrities’ lives?

personal – intended for private use or use by one person; relating to personal property; something that is private

* No, I won’t tell you how much I weigh. That’s personal!

private – not known by the public or by other people; intended for or restricted to the use of a particular person, group, or class

* Employees’ social security numbers and home addresses are kept private.

particular – used to indicate that one specific person or thing is being referred to and not any others

* Jacque doesn’t dislike all green vegetables, only these particular ones.

specific – relating to a particular person, situation, or thing

* This contract lists specific penalties if each side does not do what it promises.

in particular – especially; a term used to show that a statement applies to one person or thing more than any other

* Myung likes all opera, but prefers those by the composer Richard Wagner in particular.

I beg your pardon – a phrase used to say “sorry” when one has made a mistake or done something wrong; a phrase used to say that one has not heard what another has said, asking that person to say it again; a phrase used to show that one strongly disagrees or that one is angry about something that someone has said

* I beg your pardon. I didn’t see you or I wouldn’t have stepped on your foot.

What Insiders Know
The Letters of Julia I. Sand

U.S. Presidents have always had people around them to act as “advisors” (people who recommend or suggest things to another person). This was true, too, of President Chester Arthur, but he also had an unusual advisor, a woman named Julia I. Sand.

When President Arthur’s grandson sold his papers to the Library of Congress – the official U.S. national library – in 1958, it was discovered that the president had kept 23 letters from Sand, the first of which was dated 1881. In those letters, Sands “spoke her mind” (told of her ideas and opinions) and sometimes “scolded” (told of her displeasure, similar to a parent with a child who has done something wrong). It’s not clear “to what extent” (how much) the President Arthur listened to Sand’s advice since it isn’t known whether he responded to her letters, but he did keep her letters.

In Sand’s first letter, she explained that she wanted to tell the president the truth and give her opinions “openly” (clearly and without trying to hide anything). And “true to her word” (doing what she said she would do), she gave her opinion on political issues that involved the president and also gave her advice on what he should do. In the letters, Sand also gave him “encouragement” (support) and “praised” (said he was doing well).

In her letters, Sands suggested that the president visit her at her home, and in 1882, he did. The president arrived after dinner one evening without giving her “warning” (telling her beforehand). The President stayed for about an hour, but Julia was so “flustered” (nervous and confused) that she “hid” (placed herself behind something so others can’t see her) behind a “curtain” (fabric used on windows to block light) during the entire visit while they talked.