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539 Topics: Famous Americans – Sally Ride; American Presidents – Millard Fillmore; rational versus rationale; killing it in the cost per wear category; to requite

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 539.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 539. 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 the American astronaut and scientist Sally Ride and why she is so important in recent American history. We’re also going to talk about a figure from the nineteenth century: our thirteenth president – lucky thirteen – Millard Fillmore. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Sally Ride was born in May of 1951 here in Los Angeles, California. She grew up in the neighborhood called Encino, which is about 10 minutes from my house by car. Growing up, Ride played tennis and was a pretty good athlete. In fact, she was good enough to be a professional tennis player. When I say “professional tennis player,” I mean someone who gets paid to play tennis.

But she didn’t become a tennis player. Instead, she decided to study physics at Stanford University. Stanford University is one of the better private universities in the United States, located in Northern California. “Physics” (physics) is the science that deals, you probably know, with matter and energy and how those things behave. Don’t ask me. I did take physics in high school but I didn’t do very well. Anyway, Ride did very well herself and graduated in 1973. She was such a good student that she decided to get her doctorate, her Ph.D.

Soon after she began her Ph.D. program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, known more popularly as NASA, said that it was going to be hiring women for its space program. NASA is the government agency responsible for exploring “outer space,” we sometimes call it. “Outer (outer) space” just refers to the area beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, where the stars and other planets are found. You can find poor Pluto, which was once a planet and is no longer a planet. I’m still kind of angry about that. I really want Pluto to be a planet.

Anyway, NASA was looking for astronauts. An “astronaut” (astronaut) is a person who goes out into outer space. Ride applied for the job and was one of six women that NASA selected to train as astronauts. “To train” (train), as a verb it means to be taught skills that you need to do something. Notice “train” is also a noun. A “train” is a mode of transportation that you may take from one city to another.

But as a verb, “to train” means to be taught skills to learn something in order to do something specific. People also use the verb “train” when they are getting ready to perform some sort of athletic event, or simply some kind of exercise to help their body be stronger. Ride began her Astronaut training in 1978, right after she completed her Ph.D. She finished her training the following year in 1979 and got a pilot’s license at the same time.

A “pilot” (pilot) here refers to the person who is in charge of or is flying a plane. A “license” would be a certificate or formal permission to do something. Many people have a “driver’s license.” Ride got a “pilot’s license.” My nephew has a pilot’s license. He’s a pilot. If you’re going to be an astronaut, I guess it’s a good idea to get a pilot’s license. You don’t want people up there who don’t know how to fly an aircraft or, in this case, a spacecraft.

In 1983, Ride made her first trip into space. By doing so, she became the first American woman in space when she flew in the space shuttle Challenger. A “space shuttle” (shuttle) is a space ship that can go out into outer space and return, and then be used again. Ride and the other members of the Challenger team were in space for six days, doing what other astronauts had done in these space shuttles – conducting experiments, launching satellites, and that sort of thing. A “satellite” (satellite) is basically a machine that stays up in outer space and goes around the earth, typically.

Ride went into space again on the Challenger the following year, in 1984. This time, there was another woman with her, named Kathryn Sullivan. Sally Ride was prepared again to go on the Challenger for a third time but was unable to go, and that was probably lucky for her. Well, it was definitely lucky for her, because on January 28th, 1986, when the Challenger went up into space, it exploded, and all of the members of the team, all of the astronauts, were killed. Sally Ride was asked to be part of the team that investigated why this happened. They looked into the reasons for this explosion.

After that investigation, Ride left NASA and returned here to California where she began teaching physics at the University of California, San Diego, which is actually not in the city of San Diego. It’s in a very beautiful suburb of San Diego called La Jolla. If you ever have a chance to come to southern California and are interested in visiting San Diego, I suggest you stop in and visit La Jolla. It’s a very nice, beautiful little town right next to the ocean. It’s also very expensive to live in. So, if you’re going to buy a house in La Jolla, you’re going to need a lot of money. But of course, if you do buy a house, I’m happy to come and visit you there.

Sally Ride was working at the University of California, San Diego, and she spent the next 25 years teaching physics and encouraging other women to go into the sciences while she was there. Sadly, Sally Ride died of cancer at a relatively young age for twenty-first-century America. She died at the age of 61. She served during her lifetime as a role model for other women interested in the sciences. A “role (role) model (model)” is someone whom other people admire and want to be like.

Let’s turn now to our second topic, the 13th president of the United States, Millard Fillmore. Millard Fillmore was born in the state of New York in 1800. Fillmore came from a poor family. He was born in a log cabin. A “log” (log) is basically a large, round piece of wood from a tree. A “cabin” (cabin) is a small house, often a house that has only one room or perhaps two rooms. Now, you may say, “Well, who cares where Millard Fillmore was born?” Does it really matter that he was born in a log cabin versus, I don’t know, a hospital or some other house?

Well, in a way it does matter, and here’s why. Mostly poor people lived in log cabins during the early part of American history, and so there’s an association with being born in a log cabin with poverty. Americans love the idea of someone who starts poor and later become successful in life, either in business or in politics. So, being born in a log cabin is a sign. It’s a symbol that you were poor and now look at you – you are a successful politician.

And that in fact, is something that politicians used to their advantage when they were trying to get people to vote for them. They would say, “Look at me, I was born in a log cabin and now I’m a successful politician.” There are actually websites you can look at that will tell you how many presidents were born in log cabins. The answer is seven presidents.

But the idea of being born in a log cabin is so important, and was so important in nineteenth-century politics in particular, that one presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, who became in 1840 our ninth president, talked about log cabins to get people to think that he was one of them, that he was just like the ordinary American, even though he himself had not been born in a log cabin.

To say that you weren’t poor can actually hurt you in American politics. During the presidential elections in the 1950s, one presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, said that, well, he wasn’t born in a log cabin and he wasn’t going to pretend he was born in a log cabin. He wasn’t going to tell people that because it was obviously not true. He lost, by the way, to a man who was not born in a log cabin either, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The log cabin, then, is a symbol in American culture, even today, of someone who was born poor. Abraham Lincoln is probably the most famous president who was born in a log cabin, who came from a poor family. Millard Fillmore came from a poor family, so poor that he didn’t receive any education until he was about 18 years old. He was unable to go to school. He only went to school for about six months. He did get a good job, however, working in a law office, and in 1823 he became a lawyer himself.

He married his wife in 1828 – well, he married a woman, Abigail, who after marrying him became his wife. Fillmore became involved in politics. In 1829, he was elected to the New York legislature – that would be the group of representatives that represent the people in New York in the state government. By 1834, he became a leader of something known as the Whig Party. Now, the Whig Party was one of the two major political parties in the United States at this time.

He was elected to Congress as a member of the Whig Party and then became part of the national government, where he continued to serve until 1843. He left Congress to try to become governor of the state of New York. A “governor” is the head of the state, just as the president is the head or leader of the country. He was not successful in this election, but like all good politicians, when you lose one election, you just go and try to get elected to something else.

And that’s what Fillmore did in 1847. He was elected as the “state comptroller.” “Comptroller,” which has something of an odd spelling (comptroller), refers to the person in the government who is responsible for taking care of the finances, the money, for the state. In 1848, Fillmore was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate for Zachary Taylor. Taylor and Fillmore won the election of 1848 and Millard Fillmore became the vice president of the United States. He was vice president only for 16 months, however, because in July of 1850, poor Zachary Taylor died.

Now, of course, when Taylor died, Fillmore himself became president. But from here on out, things didn’t go so well for poor Millard Fillmore. The Whig Party at this time was divided over the issue of slavery. Indeed, the entire country was divided over “slavery,” the owning of a human being. What Fillmore tried to do is find a balance – to try to find something that would make both those who are against slavery and those who are for slavery happy.

This, unfortunately, was an impossible thing, although he did try along with the great Henry Clay, one of the most powerful politicians in nineteenth-century America. He decided to support something called the Compromise of 1850. A “compromise” (compromise) is when two people agree to something and neither is completely happy with it, but in order to get an agreement, you decide that it’s good enough. The compromise had to do, among other things, with what happens when a new state becomes a state – what happens in terms of slavery.

Unfortunately, not everyone was very happy with this, and politically, in many ways, the Compromise was a failure. It also made a lot of people angry with Fillmore because Fillmore himself was against slavery, and yet many people against slavery saw the Compromise of 1850 as being a bad idea. Even worse, according to those against slavery, was something called the Fugitive Slave Act, which Fillmore signed that same year. A “fugitive” (fugitive) is a person who runs away, who escapes and is supposed to be either a prisoner or, in this case, a slave.

So, a “fugitive slave” would be a man or a woman who escapes from his or her owner. A “fugitive criminal” is someone who escapes from a prison – and of course, you may remember the famous Garrison Ford movie The Fugitive, about a man who was a prisoner who escapes. That’s one of my favorite movies, by the way. And I’m sure if Millard Fillmore had lived another 150 years or so, he would have liked that movie, too. But he didn’t.

He did, however, sign the Fugitive Slave Act, which basically said that the U.S. government was going to be involved in capturing slaves and returning them to their owners. Well, this was something that those against slavery really didn’t like. It was so unpopular that when Fillmore tried to get re-elected as the Whig candidate for the presidency in 1852, he lost. Not only did Fillmore lose, but the entire Whig Party basically fell apart over the issue of slavery, with some people for it and some people against it.

Fillmore, then, was never elected president of the U.S. He was president because he was vice president when the president died. Fillmore had a few things that he did during his term in addition to getting involved in the issue of slavery, the most important of which was sending the U.S. Navy to Japan. He sent Commodore Perry to Japan in 1853 in order to force the Japanese to open up their borders to trade.

This was a – from the American point of view – a successful trip in that Japan started having both diplomatic and economic relations not just with the United States, but in later years with other Western countries as well. It also effectively ended the Shogunate in Japan, the military leadership that had ruled Japan prior to that time. Other than the problems with slavery, that was really the only major thing that Fillmore did during his presidency.

After he lost in 1852, Fillmore tried again to become president, this time as the leader of something called the Know-Nothing Party. The Know (know) – Nothing Party was a small political party that was popular in the 1850s. Basically, this was an anti-immigrant party, in particular an anti-Catholic party that tried to prevent Irish and German immigrants from coming to the United States. My relatives came in 1840, right before the rise of the Know-Nothing Party.

The Know-Nothing Party was very popular in American politics for about 10 years until the Civil War, when everyone decided to worry about something other than the immigrants. Fillmore was a member of this party and tried to become president as the leader of the party but failed, fortunately, in 1856. After losing, Fillmore returned to the state of New York, to the city of Buffalo, which is located in northwestern New York State. His wife had died, and so he remarried in 1858 and spent the rest of his life there, living in Buffalo. He was basically forgotten about in American politics.

He didn’t die until 1874. So, he lived several years after leaving politics. Like other presidents during this pre-Civil War period, Fillmore’s attempts to try to prevent a war, to try to find some sort of compromise, were not ultimately successful, and both because of that and because of his activities in the Know-Nothing Party, he’s not really considered one of our greatest presidents – not by me, anyway, even if he was born in a log cabin.

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

Our first question comes from Jinath (Jinath) from Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. Jinath wants to know the difference between “rational” and “rationale.” They’re spelled almost the same, pronounced slightly differently, and are of course related in meaning. Let’s begin with “rational” (rational).

“Rational” means a couple of different things. It can mean based on the ability to think logically, to think intelligently about something, to use your “reason” (reason). Sometimes “rational” is used to describe thinking in a way that doesn’t involve your emotions or feelings, that is only based on facts and logic and reason.

A “rationale” (rationale) is simply an explanation for something, a reason for something – often, a somewhat complicated explanation. “Rational” is an adjective to describe something. “This is a rational response.” That means this is a logical, reasonable response. “Rationale” is a noun describing the reasons or explanations for something. It could be the explanations or the reasons for a certain policy, a certain way of doing things. A “rationale” isn’t always “rational” – that is, you could have reasons for doing something that other people may think are illogical or that don’t make any sense.

I’ve used the word “reason” a couple of different times here in this explanation. I should probably explain a little that “to reason,” as a verb, means to think logically, to think using your mind, intelligently. “Reason” as a noun can mean the ability to reason, but it can also mean the explanation for something, the motivation for something. So, as a noun, “reason” has a couple of different meanings. As a verb, it means to think rationally, to think logically.

Francesca (Francesca), from an unknown country – that’s kind of an Italian name, isn’t it, Francesca? I’m going to say she’s from Italy, and if you’re not from Italy, well, you are today. Francesca was reading a fashion blogger, and everyone knows the Italians are great at fashion. Well, some of them are anyway. She was reading a blog about fashion, and she came across the following expression that she wants me to explain since I know a lot about fashion: “killing it in the cost-per-wear category.”

“Fashion” (fashion), I should explain, refers to clothing, the kind of clothing you wear, and everyone knows here in Los Angeles that I am one of the leaders in fashion. Everyone looks at what I’m wearing and they decide they want to wear the same thing. Yeah. True. Francesca, my dear friend, I’m talking to you. I hope you’re listening. Here’s what this means.

The first important part of this expression is the verb, or the expression, “to kill it.” If someone says, “I’m killing it,” that is an informal way of saying, “I’m doing very well at it. I’m doing a great job at it.” It’s often used to describe someone who’s performing something – a singer or an actor. If you say, “Oh, that singer, she’s killing it.” That means she’s doing a great job.

You might think that “killing it” would be a bad thing, but here it’s a good thing. It means it’s excellent. It’s sort of like another weird expression we have in informal English, which is the adjective “sick” (sick). Normally “to be sick” is a bad thing. It means your body is not well. You are ill. But if you describe something in slang, in modern American slang, as being “sick,” you’re saying it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s awesome. It’s brilliant, as the British would say.

So, similarly, “to kill it” means to do a great job at it. The “cost” (cost) of something is how much money you need to pay for it. It’s the price of something. “Per” (per) means “for each.” So, the “cost per person” would be how much money you have to pay for each person. “Cost per wear” (wear) would refer to each time you, I guess, wear a piece of clothing. So, “cost per wear” would, I suppose, be the amount of money you are spending on something divided by how many times you plan on wearing it.

Now, for me that would be a lot of times, because I have favorite shirts that I wear almost every week. (I wash them, don’t worry.) A “category” (category) is a classification, a grouping of something. So, “to be killing it in the cost-per-wear category” would be I guess referring to clothing that is relatively cheap because you would be able to wear it many different times. Another way of saying this perhaps would be that the clothing is a “good value,” or that it will last a long time.

Finally, Mohamad (Mohamad) from Iran, wants to know the meaning of the verb “to requite” (requite). Well, “requite” has nothing to do with the word “quite” in English. In fact, you will rarely hear this verb in conversational English, and really not that often in written English either. “To requite” means to give or do something to another person who has done something for you or has given something to you.

Mohamad says he saw this in an expression, “God requites the charitable.” “To be charitable” (charitable) means to give things to other people, to be nice to other people, to love other people. So, it makes sense in that expression; “God requites the charitable” would mean God gives back to those who give to others, which is certainly a nice idea. Although “to requite” is very uncommon in conversational English, another form of the word is a bit more common, and that is “unrequited,” as in the phrase “unrequited love.”

If something is “unrequited,” it’s something that is not given back or something that is not offered to someone who is offering something to you. “Unrequited love” means that you love someone but that person doesn’t love you back. I know, it’s hard. I’m sorry. All of us have gone through life, I’m sure, with some unrequited love – some man or woman to whom we were attracted or whom we loved but who did not love us back. Yeah. Sad. I know. I’m sorry. But we all go through that, don’t worry.

When you have unrequited love, or perhaps you had “requited” love – someone loved you and then left you – you just have to think of the great Gloria Gaynor and her song “I Will Survive.”

At first I was afraid
I was petrified
kept thinking I could never live
without you by my side
but then I spent so many nights
thinking how you did me wrong
and I grew strong
and I learned how to get along
and so you’re back from outer space
I just walked in to find you here
with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
if I had known for just one second
you’d be back to bother me . . .

Okay, all right. I know. Too much, right? Anyway, later on she says, “I will survive.” And that’s my message to you, ladies and gentlemen, today.

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, drinking too much coffee. 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 Development.

physics – the science dealing with matter and energy and the way they behave with other factors, such as heat, light, electricity, and sound

* Sarah is very good in science and is doing well in physics class in high school.

outer space – the area or region beyond the Earth’s atmosphere

* Mikal dreams of going into outer space and seeing other planets.

astronaut – a person who travels in a spaceship into space, leaving the Earth’s atmosphere

* Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first astronauts to walk on the Moon.

to train – to be taught the skills needed to do a specific job or task

* Roger Federer began training to be a tennis player when he was only eight years old.

space shuttle – a spaceship that can be used more than once to bring people from Earth into outer space and back again

* Everyone watched as the space shuttle turned on the engines and blasted off into the sky.

satellite – a machine that is sent into space and that moves around the moon, Earth, or another planet and continues to travel that path for long periods of time, used for communication or to collect information

* Weather forecasters use satellites orbiting the Earth to take pictures of major storms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

to investigate – to try to find out the facts about something in order to learn how and why something happened

* When the shop owner found the windows smashed and door broken, he called the police to investigate and try to find out who was responsible.

role model – someone whom other people admire and try to be like

* Many children see celebrities as role models and try to dress, speak, and act like them.

comptroller - the government official responsible for managing a state’s budget, finances, and money

* The state’s comptroller warned voters that the government would not have enough money to pay for worker benefits if the state did not raise taxes this year.

balance – a state in which two things have equal importance and influence

* Newly married couples have to find a balance between setting up their new home and saving money for the future.

compromise – a way of reaching an agreement where both sides get some of what they want but not everything they want

* Mathilde wanted to live near the ocean and Henri wanted to live near the forest, so they compromised and found a house that is a 20-minute walk to both.

fugitive – a person who is running away from and trying not to be caught by the police or another person in a position of power

* The murder suspect escaped and is a fugitive from the state police.

rational – based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings; having the ability to reason or think about things clearly

* It’s difficult to be rational and make good decisions when you’re scared or angry.

rationale – the reason or explanation for something

* What was the governor’s rationale for cutting school spending?

killing it – performing at the highest level; used to describe something or someone who is doing very well

* Monica is killing it on the tennis court. No one can defeat her.

cost per wear – the estimate of a clothing’s value determined by dividing the cost of the item by the number of times it has been worn

* The piece of clothing with the lowest cost per wear value is the wedding dress.

to requite – to give or do something in return for something that another person has given or done

* The poet wrote about his deep unrequited feelings for his childhood friend.

What Insiders Know
Presidential Portraits

For every U.S. president, there is an “official” (recognized by the government) “portrait” (a painting or photograph of a person’s head, neck, and shoulders). Gilbert Charles Stuart painted the portrait of the first U.S. president, George Washington, in 1796, and that portrait can be seen on the U.S. one-dollar “bill” (paper money). “First Lady” (the wife of a U.S. president) Dolley Madison “famously” (known to many people) “rescued” (prevented from damage or destruction) that portrait when the “White House” (where the president lives and works) was “burned down” (destroyed by fire) in the War of 1812 by the British.

In the past, these official portraits were always painted with “oils” (oil-based paints), but now the portraits may also be photographs. Barack Obama had his official portrait taken with a “digital camera” (a camera that stores pictures electronically, not on film). A painting based on that image should be finished by the end of his “tenure” (time spent serving as president). Obama is also the first president to have “3D” (in three dimensions) portraits.

Usually the portraits are “completed” (finished) while the president is “in office” (still serving as president), but the official portrait of Herbert Hoover, who served from 1929 to 1933, was completed 23 years after he “left office” (stopped serving as president), and the portrait of John F. Kennedy, who served from 1961 to 1963, was completed “posthumously” (after his death).

The original presidential portraits are held at the National Portrait Gallery, an art museum in Washington, DC. Current presidents may “borrow” (take something, but agree to give it back in the future) portraits of their favorite presidents to “display” (place for people to see) in the White House as a source of “inspiration” (motivation to do one’s best).