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528 Topics: Movies – The Usual Suspects; Tribal Colleges and Universities; effectiveness versus efficacy; to consider and to differentiate; common responses to “Thank you”

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 528.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 528. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

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On this Café, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite movies, the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. We’re also going to talk about colleges and universities – a specific kind of college and university, tribal colleges. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

The movie The Usual Suspects begins with the characters in the movie asking a lot of questions, and some would say ends with the audience asking even more questions, like, “What happened in this movie?” It’s a very unusual movie. “Unusual” (unusual) means not normal, not typical (even though the name of the movie is The Usual Suspects).

Now, a “suspect” (suspect) is a person who you think might have committed a crime, a person you think may have broken the law, done something illegal. As a noun, the word is pronounced “SUSpect.” As a verb, it’s pronounced “susPECT.” “I suspect there’s something wrong.” There it means, “I think there’s something wrong. I have a feeling there’s something wrong.” The police can “suspect” that you committed a crime. That makes you a “suspect” – same spelling, different pronunciation.

So we have this phrase, then, “the usual suspects” as the title of the movie. However, it means something a little different than you might expect. It actually comes from another famous movie called Casablanca, perhaps one of the greatest movies made in the middle part of the twentieth century. Casablanca is a film about World War II, and in the film there is a scene, or a part of the movie, where a police officer witnesses or sees someone murdered, but he wants to protect the person who murdered the poor dead man.

So instead of arresting this person, instead of taking this person to prison, he tells the other police officers to “round up the usual suspects.” “To round (round) up” means to go out and get, and in this case to arrest, to put in jail. “The usual suspects,” then, refers to other criminals who might have committed this crime but didn’t. The term “the usual suspects” really refers to people who aren’t guilty but are arrested because they are criminals. They have done other things wrong, but not this crime.

Another word for this is a “scapegoat” (scapegoat). A scapegoat is a person or group of people you blame for something that went wrong, even though they weren’t the cause of the problem. They didn’t do it. The term has become more common, especially since this movie in the mid-1990s, I suppose. Some people now use it to refer to people who are criminals and who probably did commit the crime, but the original meaning is a group of scapegoats.

In the movie, there are five criminals who are arrested for a crime. The police don’t know if any of these people actually committed the crime, but they suspect it. They think it might be one of them. The criminals are named McManus, Keaton, Fenster, Hockney, and Verbal. The movie begins here in Southern California, in what we call in Los Angeles “San Pedro” (although it’s a Spanish word and so the more correct pronunciation would be “Pedro”). But nobody says “Pedro” in Los Angeles. We call it “San Pedro,” or simply “Pedro.”

The movie begins in Pedro, which is about 25 miles south of where I am here in Los Angeles. It’s actually a separate city. San Pedro is where the Port of Los Angeles is. It’s where all of the big ships come in that are carrying what we would call “cargo” (cargo). A “cargo ship” is a large ship, not with people, but with things that are being either sold or moved from one place to another. Things coming from Asia, for example, would probably come to the Port of Los Angeles down in Pedro, and you would then move those things to their final destination – where they’re going.

The police in the movie are looking for someone or some people who are responsible for killing several men. We learned that there was a fire on a ship, and on the ship several people were murdered. Now, there are only two people who survived this attack, or who lived and can talk about it. One of them is a Hungarian man, a man from Hungary, who’s in the hospital and is probably going to die soon. The other person who survived this attack is the criminal named Verbal. He’s one of the five criminals the police arrested.

The Hungarian man tells the police and the FBI agents that he saw a man named Keyser Söze. I should explain that “FBI” stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s sort of like a national police organization in the U.S. So, this man who survived this attack on the ship tells the police and the FBI that he saw a certain man named Keyser Söze. Now, the FBI agents are very interested in this person, Keyser Söze, because they know that he is an important criminal that they have been trying to arrest for years, but very few people have actually seen him.

They asked the man what Keyser Söze looks like and they have someone draw a picture of him as the man describes him. Now, at the same time there is this other person from the ship, Verbal, who’s sitting at the police station and telling his version of what happened. “Version” (version) here refers to a form or a type of story. Your “version” of the story is what you think happened in the story.

Now, this Verbal is considered by the police in New York to be what we would call a “minor criminal” – not a very important criminal. Now, what’s interesting about him is that he has a limp and an arm that doesn’t work properly. A “limp” (limp) is when you walk when one of your legs is injured or damaged somehow. You walk in sort of an uneven, funny way. That’s a “limp.” This criminal, Verbal, who has a limp, explains everything that he says happened beginning six weeks before he was arrested. He actually starts talking about things that happened in New York City six weeks ago.

The movie, then, is a retelling of Verbal’s, this criminal’s, version of the story. He begins the story six weeks previous when these five men, McManus, Keaton, Fenster, Hockney, and Verbal (you don’t have to memorize the names) are all rounded up as the usual suspects after a truck had been stolen. All the men are asked where they were when the truck was stolen, and they all say they are “innocent,” meaning they did not commit the crime. They didn’t do anything wrong.

The police eventually let them all go – that is, they tell them they can go home – but the police still believe at least one of the men stole the truck. Now interestingly, these men – who are all known criminals – decide to work together on another job, basically another crime. They’re now going to work together as a group. So they fly out to California together and they work on this particular criminal project, this “job.” They also realize that this project, this crime they’re involved in, is not what they thought it was going to be.

They begin to understand that this is a crime that is being organized by, who else, Keyser Söze, this apparently notorious criminal. “Notorious” (notorious) means being famous for doing something wrong. You have to be careful with this word. It’s often used nowadays to mean simply “famous,” but the original meaning of “notorious” is not just famous, but famous for doing something bad, famous for doing something wrong.

You can think of the rapper Notorious B.I.G. He wasn’t called “Notorious” just because he was famous, but because he was supposed to be famous for doing bad things. Well, he’s famous now of course for being dead, being killed here in Los Angeles, but if you don’t know that story, it’s not important. The story that is important is that of The Usual Suspects.

The story is extremely complicated. I told you that the five men come to Los Angeles and they discover they’re working for this famous, secretive criminal by the name of Keyser Söze. The rest of the movie is a description of, apparently, what we think happened during this particular job that these five men were on. I won’t try even to describe the story because that would sort of ruin the movie. “To ruin” (ruin) something means to hurt it or damage it – in this case, it means that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the movie if I told you the details of the story.

What I can tell you is that it had what we might describe as an “all-star cast.” A “cast” (cast) is a group of people working in a theater, play, or movie, or television show. “All-star” just means they were very talented and famous people. Stephen Baldwin was the actor who played McManus; Gabriel Byrne played Keaton; Benicio Del Toro, who became even a more famous actor later on after this movie, played Fenster; Kevin Pollak played Hockney; and Kevin Spacey played Verbal.

Kevin Spacey’s role was probably the most important. In fact, some people think that it was this movie that really made Kevin Spacey a famous, or very famous, actor. He won many awards, including the Best Supporting Actor award, for his role in The Usual Suspects. That was at the 1996 Oscars, or Academy Awards. The Oscars are, you probably know, the awards given for the very best movies of that year.

Some people didn’t like the movie. They thought it was too complicated. I am not one of those people. I thought it was a wonderful, intelligent movie, one of my favorite movies of the 1990s.

Now let’s turn to our second topic, tribal colleges and universities.

“Tribal” (tribal) refers to a “tribe” (tribe). A tribe is a group of people who have similar cultural or language backgrounds. In the United States, however, the word “tribe” usually refers to Native American or American Indian groups. So, tribal colleges and universities, logically, are schools that are created or that were created specifically for Native American tribes in different parts of the country.

The United States has more than 560 American Indian groups or tribes. These tribes used to live in many different parts of the country, but of course in the nineteenth century, during the 1800s, many of them were forced out of their homes, forced out of their land, by the government and moved to different parts of the country, primarily to the Midwest, where I grew up, and the southwest, where I live now. “To force” (force) a group of people means to move them with violence or to move them against their will. These Native American tribes were moved into special places called “reservations.”

“Reservations” refers to land that is now owned by these Native American tribes. The tribes have their own government, their own councils, their own elected leaders. There are many Native Americans today that still live on these reservations. You can drive here in Los Angeles, oh, maybe an hour, hour and a half, and find Indian reservations. You can find Indian reservations outside of the place where I grew up – St. Paul, Minnesota. Notice I call them “Indian reservations,” although the more proper term would be “American Indian” or “Native American.”

There are over 52 million acres of land in the United States that belong to American Indian tribes. If you know something about the history of the American Indian tribes, you know that it hasn’t always been a very happy one. The quality of life on these reservations is not always very high. “Quality of life” refers to the health and happiness of the people who live there. There’s a lot of poverty on the reservations, a lot of poor people, a lot of unemployment. Many people don’t have jobs.

During the 1960s, the Native American tribes started asking the government to improve the quality of life on the reservations, and one of the things that the federal or national government did was start building colleges and universities for these tribes. The first tribal college was built in 1968 on the Navajo reservation which is located in the northeastern part of the state of Arizona. Arizona is one of the states that is just east of California.

Today, there are 32 tribal colleges and universities throughout the United States. They have education programs, of course. They offer college degrees and certificates, but they also provide other social services to the local community. “Social services” refers to programs that might include health care or housing or other assistance to people in these local communities on these reservations.

In addition, students who graduate from these colleges and universities often return or stay on the reservations to help the local community. There are approximately 30,000 students who attend these special tribal colleges and universities. Not all of them are American Indians – about, oh, a little more than 20 percent are non-Native Americans. Eighty-six percent of the students who begin studying at tribal colleges and universities end up graduating. They end up getting a degree.

This is actually much, much higher than non-tribal colleges. There are many public colleges and universities where the graduation rate – the percentage of students who actually finish their degree – is less than 50 percent. So, 86 percent is really quite amazing. These are not, that is to say, low-quality colleges or universities, but ones in which the students continue their studies and actually graduate.

Many people believe that one of the reasons why the Native American students graduate at a higher rate from these tribal colleges and universities than students do at non-tribal colleges is that the schools really understand how to support these students. They understand the culture of these students and therefore are able to make sure that they are successful in school. I actually have a friend of mine who teaches at a tribal college in New Mexico. He’s an English literature professor there.

Most Americans, I’m guessing, have never even heard of the tribal colleges and universities in the U.S. and probably don’t even realize that they exist, but they do exist. They’re relatively new, as I say, since the 1960s, but they are a very successful way of educating those from the Native American communities.

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

Svetlana (Svetlana) in Russia wants to know the difference between “effectiveness” and “efficacy.” Well, this is a good question because one of these words is quite common and the other one less so.

The first word is “effectiveness” (effectiveness). The adjective is “effective.” “To be effective” means to get done what you’re supposed to get done, to produce results. If your boss says you are “effective” at your job, he or she means you do what you are supposed to do. You get a lot of things done. You produce a lot for the company.

“Effectiveness” is the noun a describing a condition or a situation in which someone is producing these results. I say “someone,” although it’s probably more common to see this word when talking about “something” that is effective. We might talk about the effectiveness of a certain approach in teaching or a certain method of teaching. We might talk about the effectiveness of certain drugs. It refers to the amount of success, you might say, or the degree to which something can produce successful results.

“Efficacy” (efficacy) is often used in a very similar manner. It means the ability to produce results. There’s a slight difference here. If you talk about a drug’s “efficacy,” the efficacy of a certain kind of medication, you’re talking about the ability of that medication or drug to produce certain results in the body.

In fact, “efficacy” is usually a technical term that is used in certain scientific or medical discussions. It’s not a word that you see a lot or hear a lot in everyday conversation. That’s why I said that one of these words is more common than the other. “Effectiveness” is a term you will hear a lot more than “efficacy.”

Our second question comes from James (James) in Thailand. James wants to know the difference between two verbs, “to consider” and “to differentiate.” These two words aren’t really related. Let’s start with “to consider” (consider). “To consider” can mean to think carefully about something, usually before making a decision. You have to decide what restaurant you want to go to tonight. You’re going to “consider” the two choices, or three choices, before you make a decision. You’re going to think about it carefully.

There’s another meaning of “consider,” which means that you have a certain opinion about something or you believe a certain thing to be true about someone or something. For example, “I consider The Usual Suspects to be one of the best movies of the 1990s.” There, the verb “to consider” doesn’t mean I’m thinking about it carefully. It means that in my opinion, it is my belief that this is true. You may also say, “I consider you to be a good friend.” That means that in your opinion, your belief is that this person is a good friend.

The second verb is “to differentiate” (differentiate). “To differentiate” means to see the differences between two or more things, or to be able to tell the difference between two or more things. Usually it means that the person divides something into two or more categories, or considers things to be in two or more categories, and therefore treats them differently or thinks about them differently.

I differentiate between people who like to camp – to go out and stay in a tent in the middle of the forest – and those who like to go to hotels. I differentiate between those two groups. I consider them two different groups that have two different kinds of qualities, perhaps.

Someone may say to you, “You have to differentiate between Americans and Canadians.” They’re not the same people. They have different characteristics. Someone may also say, “I don’t differentiate between Italians and Germans” – I consider them the same kinds of people. Italians and Germans probably would disagree with that, but that would be an example of the use of the verb “to differentiate.”

Finally, Werinton (Werinton) – my apologies if I mispronounced that. In fact, my apologies in general for all the names that I mispronounce on the Café. Please accept my apologies if I have mispronounced your name or will mispronounce your name in the future. Anyway, the question is from Brazil – I think I pronounced that correctly.

The question has to do with the best answer when someone says, “Thank you.” If you do something for someone – say you open the door for a beautiful woman, and the woman says, “Thank you.” What should you say back to the beautiful woman? Well, you could ask for her phone number, but a more common response would be to say, “You’re welcome.” “You’re welcome” (welcome) is a polite way to respond to someone who says “Thank you” or “Thanks.”

In everyday conversational English, there are other ways of responding to “Thank you” that are a little more informal and that you will probably hear. If someone says, “Thank you,” you might also say, “No problem” as a response to someone saying “Thank you” or simply “Thanks.” “No problem” is definitely more informal than “You’re welcome.”

Another informal way of responding to someone who thanks you for something is to say simply, “Sure” (sure) or “Anytime.” You might also hear someone say, “Not a problem.” That means the same as “No problem.” Those are all informal ways of responding to someone who thanks you or says “Thank you” to you.

A more formal way of responding would be, “My pleasure” (pleasure). “My pleasure” is used when you are telling the person that you wanted to do this or that it was something that gave you pleasure, even if it didn’t. “My pleasure” is more formal and is used more often in people working in, say, a restaurant or at a coffee shop or in a hotel. Those employees, those people who work at what we would call “service industry jobs,” would probably be more likely to use a more formal expression such as “My pleasure.”

As I think about it, I think of other possible things we say. One expression that you might also hear, although it isn’t quite as common as it used to be, is “Don’t mention it.” “Don’t mention it” literally means don’t say anything to me, but what it really means is “You’re welcome.” It’s, I would say, still somewhat informal in tone. The exact expression to use sort of depends on the circumstances, and explaining all the possible circumstances that might come up in daily life would not be very easy and would probably take several hours to do.

For almost every situation that is somewhat formal, or in a case where you don’t know someone and they say, “Thank you,” it’s usually best to say, “You’re welcome.” You will never get in trouble for saying that. The other more informal ones may depend on how well you know the person or the particular circumstances of the thank you and why it’s given. When in doubt, just use “You’re welcome.”

If you have a question or comment, no need to thank us. Just email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. (And you would say, “You’re welcome.”) Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Cafe.

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 Development.

usual – normal; standard; common

* Every Thursday, Josephina goes to the café and orders her usual meal of spaghetti for lunch.

suspect – a person who is believed to have committed a crime

* The suspect the police had at the police station was the same height, weight, and appearance as the person on the store’s video recording of the crime.

version – a form or type of something that is different from other forms or types of that same thing

* I have the same cell phone, but a newer version with a better camera.

limp – a manner of walking that is uneven because of an injury or damage to a person’s foot or leg

* Thom hurt his ankle during the soccer game and walked with a limp for a two weeks.

to round up – to collect a large number of items or people at one time

* After the party ended, Louisa rounded up all the empty glasses and plates and put them in the sink to wash the next morning.

innocent – not having committed a crime; not having done something wrong

* Francis went to court and told the judge he was innocent of breaking any traffic laws and shouldn’t have to pay the fines on his traffic tickets.

notorious – famous or well known for doing something negative or bad

* Bonnie and Clyde was a notorious couple in the early 1930s who robbed banks and ran from police.

tribal – referring to things associated with a tribe (a group of people who have a similar culture, religion, and/or language); a Native American group

* Even though they spoke English at work and at school, Abioye’s family spoke their tribal language at home to each other.

to force – to make someone do something they don’t want to do, often by using violence

* Maria forced her brothers to give back her toy by threatening to break theirs.

reservation – an area of government land reserved for the use of Native American groups

* Visiting the Hopi reservation was one of our favorite experiences on the trip to New Mexico since we got to watch a traditional Hopi prayer ceremony.

quality of life – the health, happiness, and level of comfort a person has in their life

* Some people say that living in a small town versus a large city offers a higher quality of life because there is less stress and a strong sense of community.

social services – programs that help people in a community in areas such as education, medical care, and housing

* In many countries, social services, such as free doctor visits, are provided free of charge by the government.

effectiveness – producing the result one wants; successfully producing the effect or result one intended

* We’ll know the effectiveness of this drug in curing the disease in a few weeks.

efficacy – the ability to produce the result one wants; the capability of successfully producing the effect or result one intended

* Before we can decide whether to provide money for the project, we have to evaluate its efficacy.

to consider – to think carefully about something, typically before making a decision

* Nelly considered both job offers carefully before deciding on which to accept.

to differentiate – to see or to show the differences between two or more things

* Are babies able to differentiate the voice of their mother from similar female voices?

What Insiders Know
Homecoming Traditions

Each fall, high schools and universities celebrate the “annual” (yearly) tradition of “homecoming.” Homecoming is typically a one-week series of events involving students, teachers, as well as the community in welcoming back “former” (past) students or “alumni.” Many activities are held for both alumni and current students, including sports and social events.

The homecoming tradition began in the 19th century, with football games played among colleges and universities. In 1911, the Missouri “athletic director” (administrator in charge of sport teams and activities) at that time invited all alumni to “come home” for the game between two “rival” (people or groups that tries to defeat or be more successful than another) teams: the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks. (“Tigers” and “jayhawks” are “mascots,” or animals chosen to represent a team.) Almost 10,000 alumni attended the game, participating in other events as well.

The “centerpiece” (main event) of any homecoming is the football game, but there are other events as well. Most schools have a pep rally. A “pep rally” is an event where the entire school gathers and “cheers on” (shouts encouragement for) their sports team. Pep rallies often “feature” (give particular attention to) “cheerleaders” (people who encourage other people to support something by shouting and dancing, while waving “pom-poms” (balls of brightly colored paper)) and “marching bands” (musicians who play while stepping together in a pattern to the music) that perform for the crowd. The football players also appear during pep rallies “to fire up the crowd” (to make a group of people excited) as they prepare for the game.

Another common activity is the homecoming dance. The dance is a social event with music and dancing, usually following the football game or on the next evening. The dance can be a formal or informal event, with some students “dressing up” (wearing formal clothing).