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531 Topics: American Movies – Laurel and Hardy Films; The New York Public Library; to proofread versus to copyedit; no longer versus anymore; wild card

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 531.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 531. 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 two of the funniest comedians from the twentieth century, who made many movies – movies that I watched growing up as a child – Laurel and Hardy. We’re also going to talk about one of the biggest library systems in the United States, the New York Public Library. “What’s so exciting about a public library?” you may be asking. Well, keep listening and you’ll find out. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

When I was growing up, way back before the invention of the Internet, we used to watch TV shows on Saturday mornings, and in particular, comedy movies that used to be shown on the local TV station. These were movies usually in “black and white” – that is, before the invention of color film. Now, I’m not that old, but the television stations would often show old movies. One of the most popular series of movies that was shown was the Laurel and Hardy films. These were “comedy films” – films that were meant to make you laugh.

The films starred Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. “To star” (star), as a verb, means to be the most important actor in a movie, television show, play, or other performance. Normally we think of “star” as being a noun to describe a person who is famous in the movies or on television. A “star” also, of course, is that white light that you see up in the sky that isn’t the sun, of course, or another planet, or even the moon. We call those little dots of white light “stars.” But when we’re talking about people, “stars,” as a noun, refers to those who are famous because they’re in the movies or on television.

The verb “to star,” then, means to be a star in a movie or television show. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were stars. They starred in movies. Stan Laurel was not an American. He was born in England in 1880. He moved to the United States, however, when he was 23 years old, in 1913, and not too long after, in 1925, he began writing and directing films at a then famous movie studio located not too far from where I live called Hal Roach Studios. The Hal Roach Studios aren’t around anymore, but were located for a time not too far from my house.

I say that Stan Laurel was “directing” films. “To direct” (direct) a film or a movie or a play means to be in control of what the actors do and how the production is made. A “studio” is a company that makes movies or television shows. So, Stan Laurel was writing and directing films at this movie studio here in Los Angeles. Oliver Hardy, who was named Norvell Hardy by his parents, was born in 1892 in the United States, in the state of Georgia, which is located in the southeast portion of the United States. Hardy was an actor and he joined the Hal Roach studios a year after Stan Laurel did, in 1926.

Hardy and Laurel began acting together as part of a larger group of actors. But in 1927, just a year after Hardy joined the Hal Roach studios, the two of them were asked to begin performing as a team. They started off by making short, silent films. Remember, the movies didn’t have sound – or at least, sound that matched the talking of the people in the movie – until later. The original movies made in the ’20s were all silent films, or silent movies. These short, silent films of Laurel and Hardy became quite popular.

When movies began to have sound, some of these silent film actors were not very successful. Their voices didn’t sound very good. Laurel and Hardy, however, were successful. Not only did their voices sound good on the, what were then called “talkies,” or movies with sound, but they also were able to use sound effects to make their movies even funnier. “Sound effects” (effects) are sounds other than music and talking in a movie. Laurel and Hardy were able to use sound effects to make their movies even funnier.

If you’ve never seen a Laurel and Hardy movie, I should explain that Laurel, – Stan Laurel, the one from England – was a thin man of average height. His character in the movies was not very smart. In fact, he was always making silly mistakes. He was, we might say, always “making a mess” of things. “To make a mess (mess) of something” means to cause problems.

“To make a mess” can also mean to accidentally hit something and cause it to fall to the ground or to, say, have a bottle of water or a glass of water and to hit it and the water goes all over the place, creating a mess. A “mess” is the opposite of something that is clean and “tidy” (tidy). Parents often complain of their children’s bedrooms being a “mess” – the clothes are everywhere, things aren’t where they are supposed to be. Stan Laurel would often not only make a mess of things in the sense of causing problems, but would often make a physical mess.

One of the great traditions, of course, in comedy is “physical comedy” – when the actoresses or actors do something with their bodies that makes you laugh, perhaps because of the way they walk or because of their physical actions, not just the words they say. The term usually given to this is “slapstick” (slapstick). “Slapstick comedy” is physical comedy – when the actor or actress does something onstage or in the movie with his or her body that makes you laugh.

That was what Stan Laurel did in the Laurel and Hardy movies. He would make a mess of something, and because he was always making a mess, the other character, Oliver Hardy, would blame him, would yell at him. Hardy would say, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,” meaning “you’ve involved me in,” “you’ve made me a part of.”

A lot of people misquote this famous line – one of the most famous lines from the Laurel and Hardy movies – they say, “Here’s another ‘fine’ (fine) mess you’ve got me into.” This isn’t that unusual, by the way. Sometimes people misquote lines and it becomes so popular that people think that was the original quote from the movie – not that it makes a difference, “nice” or “fine.” They both mean the same thing in this case, which is, “You’ve got me into a real problem here,” or “You’ve gotten me involved in a real mess,” or “a messy situation, here.”

When Stan made a mess of things, he would often say, “I couldn’t help it” to show that it wasn’t really his fault. He didn’t mean to do it. He would also, when he made a mess of things, often look around with an expression on his face to indicate or to show that he didn’t really understand what was happening. Oliver Hardy, the other character in the Laurel and Hardy movies, was very different. He was smart. He was intelligent. He was also much taller and much bigger than Stan Laurel, so the difference between the two was quite dramatic as you looked at them.

Stan was the shorter, thin man. Laurel was the big, somewhat fat man. Hardy, the American, was the smart one of the two. Of course, these were American movies, so the American has to be the smart one, right? Hardy’s character was intelligent. However, he wasn’t that smart. Many times, the plans that the two of them made were not very successful.

Hardy’s character became famous not just because he was the smart one, but also because he would look straight into the camera and talk to you, the person watching the movie. This allowed you perhaps to sympathize a little bit more with the poor Hardy and the problems that he had because of Laurel. “To sympathize” here means to show concern for someone else’s problems. In reality, however, in most of the films, both Laurel and Hardy were making mistakes and causing problems, and that’s what makes the movies funny.

In a period of just two years, Laurel and Hardy made 40 of these short films, from 1930 to 1932. These were the films that were typically shown on television on Saturday mornings when I was growing up. Children used to watch these films. The nice thing about them is that the characters spoke fairly slowly compared to movies nowadays. There was a lot more time in between each line that the characters said in the movies. I think this actually makes them easier for people to understand, whose first language is not English.

I’m not sure, but you can try watching some of these films yourself by going on YouTube. I’m sure some of them are on there. In any case, Laurel and Hardy made lots of the short films, but they also made longer films, what we might call “feature (feature) films” – films that were an hour or an hour and a half long. They made 13 feature films during the 1930s, including Sons of the Desert in 1933, Babes in Toyland in 1934, and Way Out West in 1937.

Stan Laurel was not only a very funny actor. Remember, I said he was also a writer and director. For this reason, Hal Roach Studios, the company for which Laurel and Hardy worked, allowed Laurel and Hardy to write and perform pretty much whatever they wanted in these movies. Many people believe this is why their movies were so successful. Often movie studios, then and now, control the writers and actors in such a way that perhaps made them a little less creative.

In the 1940s, Laurel and Hardy continued working in the movie industry, but they worked for other movie companies, including Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. These studios, however, didn’t allow Laurel and Hardy the same kind of freedom that they had working back in the Hal Roach Studios. Laurel and Hardy stayed together as a comedy team through the 1950s, although their best movies were really made in the 1930s. Those are the movies people remember them for.

Oliver Hardy died in 1957. A few years later, the Academy, the motion picture academy, gave his partner, Stan Laurel, an Academy Award – a special award to thank him for his work in comedy. He died five years later himself in 1965 of a heart attack. After Laurel died, many people in Hollywood and around the world said that their movies were among the funniest that they had ever seen, and that they were two of the funniest comedians of the twentieth century. I tend to agree with that.

Of course, the style of comedy of the movies back in the 1930s is very different than the style of comedy today. It’s much slower in terms of how fast the movie develops, but I think they’re still funny today. I should mention that one of the characters that often appeared in the Laurel and Hardy films had an expression which became popular much later on in the twentieth century. The expression was “d’oh.” That, of course, became associated with Homer Simpson, but the original appearance of that expression was actually in the Laurel and Hardy films of the 1930s.

We move on now to our second topic, which is the New York Public Library system. The term “New York” can be applied to the state of New York. When someone says “New York,” he may be talking about the state of New York. Often, however, when someone says “New York,” they’re talking about the city of New York. New York City is in the state of New York. It’s a little confusing. If someone thinks there might perhaps be a confusion, he’ll say “New York City.”

Here we’re talking about the New York Public Library. But actually, it’s the New York City Public Library. Now, why are we talking about a public library? Well, the New York City Public Library system is the fourth-largest library system in the entire world. So, it’s somewhat unusual for a library system in that even though it is only for the people of the city of New York, it in fact is one of the largest library systems in the world. How did it get that way? Here’s the story.

The former governor of the state of New York, Samuel J. Tildon, died in 1895. Tildon, in addition to being the governor of New York at one point, was also the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency in a very messy election – the election of 1876. We don’t have time to talk about it here, but basically Tildon lost that election. He was, in addition to being the presidential candidate, however, a governor of the state of New York. And when he died, he decided to leave just over two million dollars of his own money to the city of New York to build a library.

He wanted this to be a “public library” – that is, he wanted it to be for the people so that anyone could use it and not have to pay anything. After Tildon died, the person responsible for taking care of his money – his “estate,” we would call it – decided that the best way to use the money would be to take two old libraries or older libraries, two existing libraries, and combine them into one building and to build an entirely new public library building, which of course was what Tildon wanted.

So, they held a competition. They asked different architects to give their plans, and they finally selected one that looked like a lot of public buildings. It had the columns in front that were similar to the columns you might find in the old Greek temples. This is a very common format or common architectural form for public buildings, especially buildings that were constructed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It took several years to get the building built, but when it was finally completed in 1911, it immediately became popular with the people of the city of New York.

Normally, a public library system in a city will be used primarily for people to get their books from and to do perhaps a little research. In the case of the New York City Public Library, however, research is a very important part of the goal and the functioning of the library. By “research,” I mean the process of going in trying to get information about a particular topic. The public library in New York is really a research institution. It’s a place where people go to do research, in addition to getting books to read for pleasure or for fun.

The public library system in New York has some very interesting holdings. “Holdings” refers to the things that a library owns. The New York Public Library owns, among other things, the manuscript of President George Washington’s last speech. A “manuscript” (manuscript) is basically a piece of paper, something that is usually not part of a book and is not something you can just go and buy. The library in New York has over 53 million holdings – 53 million things, if you will – that you can go and look at. It is the second-largest library in the U.S. after our national library, the Library of Congress.

If you go to the main New York Public Library, you can actually visit two of what we might call its “most famous residents.” A “resident” (resident) is a person who lives in a certain place. No one actually lives in the New York Public Library. However, some people like to call two of the statues outside of the public library its residents. These are statues of lions. And the lions have been given names.

One of them is named “Patience.” “Patience” is the ability to wait for something. The other one has the name of “Fortitude” (Fortitude). “Fortitude” is having strength during difficult situations or difficult times. It is said that these two lions watch over the library and the people of New York to make sure everyone has the freedom to enter the building and to keep it safe, just as former governor Tildon wished it when he died. I’m not sure if that’s actually true. But that’s what people like to believe.

If you go to the city of New York, there are many wonderful things for you to see there. I have to be honest, I’ve seen the outside of the public library in New York that Tildon’s money helped build. I’m not sure if I would make it one of my first stops, but it is interesting to see the two lions and the great outside of the building. Unfortunately, unless you live in the state of New York, unless you are a resident of New York, you probably won’t be able to take books home from the library, but you can certainly visit.

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

Our first question comes from Mohammad (Mohammad) from the planet Mars. I mean, that’s what he says. He says he’s on the planet Mars. Well, hello, Mohammed. Hello, Mohammad – probably more difficult to hear me up there on Mars. I understand there’s water now on Mars, so you can have something to drink while you’re listening to the Café.

The two words Mohammad wants to know about are “to proofread” and “to copyedit.” “To proofread” (proofread), often simply shortened to “to proof” (proof), means to read something that has been written – a piece of text, we might call it – and make sure that there aren’t any mistakes in it: any spelling mistakes, any punctuation mistakes perhaps, any grammatical errors.

“Proofreading” is usually what you do right before you are about to give this piece of writing to another person or to publish a piece of writing. So, for example, when I write a blog post, I will read it, and right before I publish it, I will “proof” it. I will go through and make sure there aren’t any punctuation errors, aren’t spelling mistakes, aren’t any grammatical errors.

“Copyediting,” or the verb “to copyedit” (copyedit), refers to going through a piece of writing and making changes that are more substantial – that have to do with the actual substance of what is being said. “To copyedit” usually means to make sure that all of the facts that are stated in the piece of writing are correct, to make sure that it is accurate, to make sure that it is consistent. All of these things are part of copyediting.

A person who does “copyediting” is called a “copy editor,” and her job is to sometimes make recommendations to the writer about how a certain sentence or paragraph is organized, or how a certain idea is expressed. “Copyediting” is a much more involved process. It involves someone who really knows how to write herself in order to give advice and to make corrections to the piece of writing. We often call a piece of writing, by the way, a “manuscript.” A “manuscript” is a general term we use for any piece of writing. So, thank you, Mohammad from Planet Mars.

Our second question comes from Eduardo (Eduardo) in Brazil, here on Planet Earth. Eduardo wants to know the difference between “no longer” and “anymore.” Both of these mean pretty much the same thing, although they’re used in different situations and different parts of a sentence even. Both refer to an action that someone was doing and then stops doing and will not do again. For example, I used to play baseball when I was five years old. I was pretty good, my mother said. But I don’t play baseball “anymore” (anymore) – one word. That is, I used to, but then I stopped.

My neighbor’s dog used to bark every morning. It doesn’t bark anymore, however. “No longer” could also be used to express the same idea of something happening and then not happening and not continuing into the future. Instead of saying, “I don’t play baseball anymore,” I could say, “I no longer play baseball.” Notice, however, that I put it before the verb rather than at the end of the sentence or after the verb. “He doesn’t play baseball anymore.” “He no longer plays baseball.”

Now, it is technically correct to say something like, “He plays baseball no longer.” But that would be considered very formal, a little bit unusual for conversational English. Normally we would put “no longer” in the middle of the sentence. “He no longer wants to go to the movies. He has found more interesting things, like books, so he doesn’t go to movies anymore.” Notice I put the “anymore” at the end of the sentence, after the verb, and the “no longer” before the verb. You can’t use both, of course. You can’t say, “He no longer goes to the movie anymore.” That would not make any sense.

In English, generally speaking, you don’t have two negative ideas expressed at the same time as you do in some other languages. So, you can either say, “I no longer like my girlfriend. I’m going to find a new girlfriend.” Or you can say, “I’m not going out with my girlfriend anymore. I found someone else.” Well, of course, I don’t have any girlfriends “anymore,” right, because I’m married. I “no longer” need to look at another woman because I have my wife. See how that works, guys? Good.

Our final question comes from Jafar (Jafar) from Iran. Jafar wants to know the meaning of the term “wild (wild) card (card).” “Wild card” can mean a couple of different things. The term actually comes from card games, when you play with a group of 52 cards. “Cards” are basically rectangular pieces of cardboard, usually, that have different numbers and designs on the other side. Games like “poker” and “blackjack” are played with what we call in English “playing cards.”

In some card games, some of the cards are called “wild cards,” and that means that those cards, no matter what the card says, can be used to represent any other card. So for example, in a standard “deck” (deck), or group of 52 playing cards, one of the cards is called the “ace.” The “ace” can, in some card games, be a “wild card,” meaning the ace, if you have it, could be used as a king or as a seven or as a four – as any other card. That’s what a “wild card” is.

By the way, when you play a game of cards, you are given a group of, say, five cards. We call that group that you have, your “hand” (hand). So when you have a “hand of cards” and one of the cards is an ace, and if the game you are playing allows aces to be used as “wild cards,” then you could use that card to represent any other card. “Wild card” has another more general meaning, which is something that is unpredictable or some factor, something that is unknown, that might happen and change what otherwise would be the predictable course of events.

For example, you’re planning a trip and you ask four of your friends to go with you. Three of the friends that you ask say yes. The fourth friend isn’t sure. You’re not sure if he’s going to go or not. He might be the “wild card” in this situation. He could go. He could not go. You can’t predict what will happen. If he does go, you think you’re going to have a great time. If he doesn’t go, maybe you won’t have as fun a time as you would have if he had chosen to go. So that fourth friend is unpredictable in this situation. He’s sort of the “wild card.”

Now, in professional sports – such as the world’s greatest sport, baseball – when the end of the regular season comes, there are what are called “playoff games.” These are games in which the best teams play each other to determine who is the best team of the entire league or the entire group of teams. Because we’re Americans, we call it the “World Series of Baseball” even though of course it’s just American and a few Canadian teams that participate.

But the point here is that in this tournament, in this competition that takes place after the end of the regular season in October and November, early November, there are “wild card teams.” These are teams that were not the best teams in their particular division or set of teams but had good enough records so that we’re going to allow those teams to participate in the final tournament.

I don’t want to get too much into the specific rules of American baseball and the, what is called, “postseason competition,” although I would love to, and if you would love me to do that please email me and I’ll be happy to give you a more detailed explanation of the postseason wild card system. But a “wild card,” to conclude, is an unpredictable or unknown factor. That’s the general use of that term.

If you have a question or comment not related to baseball, 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 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 Development.

comedy – a kind of movie, television show, or performance intended to make people laugh

* I’m in the mood to see a comedy tonight so I can just sit back, relax, and laugh.

to star – to be the main or most important actor in a movie, television show, play, or other performance

* Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred in the movie Titanic in 1997.

to direct – to be in control of the actors, cameras, and other parts of making a movie, television show, play or other performance

* Steven Spielberg directed many movies, including Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park.

sound effects – sounds other than speech and music created by people not on the stage or screen used as part of a movie, television, or radio show

* The movie had great sound effects to create a big, frightening thunderstorm.

to make a mess – to accidentally cause something to be untidy, to fail, or to not work properly

* Natasha tried to help by putting away the clean dishes, but just made a mess of the kitchen because she didn’t know where anything belonged.

to sympathize – to show concern for someone else’s difficulties or suffering

* Everyone sympathized with Marco when he lost his wallet with his money, driver’s license, and credit cards.

public – open, shared, and available for use by everyone in the area or country

* It’s a public park so on a nice day, many people in the city go there to relax in the sun and have a picnic.

research – the process of finding out as much information as one can about a topic; a systematic search of materials to establish new information or facts

* Mika wants to understand why her great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1800s, so she did research in books and talked to family members.

institution – an organization created for educational, social, or religious reasons

* Art museums are institutions that allow people to see famous pieces of art and learn more about them.

manuscript – a piece of writing that has not yet been made available as a book or in another form to the public and/or for sale

* After the author’s death, his granddaughter found an unpublished manuscript written early in the author’s life.

resident – a person who lives in a certain place

* The Ramirez family travels around the world for many weeks of the year, but they are residents of Michigan.

to proofread – to read a piece of text, noting errors and making any necessary corrections

* Our teacher told us to carefully proofread our essays before handing them in because any spelling errors will be penalized.

to copyedit – to check for correctness, consistency, and accuracy in a text that will be printed, making any necessary corrections

* Each news article is copyedited before it is sent to the printers.

no longer – not now, as it was before; having ended or not be in existence now

* I’ve loaned you money in the past, but I’ll no longer do that, because you haven’t paid me back any of it.

anymore – to any further extent; any longer

* We’ve waited an hour for Danielle to arrive, but I’m not waiting anymore!

wild card – in card games, a card that can represent any other card in a game; an unknown or unpredictable factor

* The coach knows each player’s strengths and weaknesses, but the new player is a wild card.

What Insiders Know

“Bookmobiles” are vehicles designed for use as a library. Because they are able to travel from place to place, they provide books to groups, communities, or individuals who have a “hard time” (difficulty) “accessing” (getting near or to something) a local library. They also “serve” (meet the needs of; are used by) cities or “suburbs” (areas where people live outside of larger cities) that do not have a local library of their own. Nowadays, bookmobiles also provide “audiobooks” (recordings of a book being read), “Internet access” (ability to visit websites), and other forms of media.

In 1902, the second “county” (government-designated areas within a state, often including more than one town or city) library in the United States had just opened in Maryland. It was called the Washington County Free Library. Its librarian, Mary Lemist Titcomb, had already been successful in creating “book deposit stations,” where readers could pick up books in “designated” (assigned) areas. However, Titcomb believed that some people were still able to get to the books they wanted.

She then developed the first version of the bookmobile in 1905, which she called the “book wagon.” The book wagon used a “horse-drawn” (pulled by a horse) “wagon” (vehicle with four wheels that is used for carrying heavy loads or passengers, usually pulled by animals) that carried the books around different areas in the county. In 1912, Titcomb helped “devise” (invent; plan) the first book truck.

Today, bookmobiles can be seen in many parts of the world. Some of them are operated by libraries, schools, and other organizations. They have a similar goal as Mary Lemist Titcomb’s early efforts: to provide access to libraries and books for as many people as possible.