Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

548 Topics: American Authors – Edith Wharton; American Songs – “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”; to matriculate versus to enroll versus to register; to bid versus to tender; period versus dot

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 548.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 548. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an eight- to ten-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English. You can also take a look at our special courses in our ESL Podcast Store and check out our ESL Podcast Blog while you’re on our website.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the American author, the American writer, Edith Wharton. We’re also going to talk about a famous American song, “My Country ’Tis
of Thee.” And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Edith Wharton was born Edith Jones on January 24th, 1862, in New York City. She was the youngest child of George and Lucretia Jones, two members of what we might describe as “New York’s high society.” “High society” (society) is a term used to describe a group of people in a community who are wealthy, who have a lot of money, who are well educated, who have a high social position, and perhaps a lot of power in the community.

We don’t use this term all that much anymore to describe people like this – not because we don’t still have people who are wealthy, well-educated, and powerful. I suppose nowadays we would simply call them “powerful people” or “wealthy people” or “elite” (elite). But back in the nineteenth century, these people were called “high society,” and Edith Jones – later, Edith Wharton – and her parents were certainly part of high society.

Being a member of high society meant that Edith was given the very best education possible, at least the best education for a girl and young woman during this period. This included private tutors, private teachers, studying languages, and of course reading a lot of books, or at least having access to a lot of books. Having private tutors also meant that her education could continue even when her family moved to Europe, as it did for a few years during the 1870s.

Once the family returned to New York, Edith had what was called her “debut” into society. This was an important event for a young woman during this period. A “debut” (debut) – notice we don’t pronounce the “t” – is one’s first formal appearance into the world of high society as a young woman. It was often the first step in finding a husband. A woman that went through a debut in high society was called a “debutante.” Edith made her debut and started attending high society parties, meaning she was also available to be married.

She in fact did find a husband, a rich banker from Boston by the name of Edward Wharton, and got married in 1885. She was around 23 years old at the time. After getting married, Edith Wharton began focusing on something that she had enjoyed doing as a child and had become very good at, which was writing. She began to write poetry as a teenager, and even had a book printed of her poems when she was only 16 years old, although it was probably paid for by her parents, I’m guessing.

After she got married, Wharton began to write even more poetry, this time poetry that was published in popular magazines – some of the most famous magazines during this period, including Harper’s and Scribner’s. In 1902, Wharton’s first book, The Valley of Decision, was published. This was not a book of poetry; rather, this was a novel. Readers liked the book, but it was her second book, The House of Mirth, that made Wharton famous.

Critics, other authors, and readers around the world began to take notice of, or began to start paying attention to, Wharton’s writings. The word “mirth” (mirth) means feeling amused, usually causing you to laugh. It’s not a word we use a lot anymore. It’s basically a word meaning “happiness,” that which would cause you to laugh. The book tells the story of a woman by the name of Lily Bart, who does everything she can to be part of New York’s high society.

In other words, Wharton was writing about, in a way, her own experiences or at least her knowledge of high society since she herself was a member of that group. What made people love the book so much was not only that it was a well-written story, but the way that Wharton described the thoughts, the values, and the behaviors of high society. “Values” (values) are the things that people believe are important. Wharton was writing about the way that high society operated, the way that high society “functioned,” we might say.

Two years after The House of Mirth, Wharton decided to move to France, and she spent pretty much the rest of her life living in France. It was popular during the early part of the twentieth century, especially for writers, to move to Europe from the United States. Edith Wharton moved to France in 1907. She eventually divorced her husband in 1913 and almost never went back to the United States after that period. They did not have a very happy marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Wharton, which some people say is one of the reasons she began to write so much. It was a way for her to find happiness in her otherwise unhappy life.

She continued writing in France in English and publishing her books. One of her most important books was published just before her divorce in 1911, called Ethan Frome. I haven’t read Ethan Frome. I heard it’s not the happiest novel in the world, but it does express perhaps the anguish, the difficulty that Wharton was going through in her own life, although we have to be careful about connecting the personal lives of authors to what they write in their books.

Wharton continued to write after the publication of Ethan Frome. She wrote The Reef, published in 1912, The Custom of the Country in 1913, and Summer in 1917. Her most famous book, perhaps even more famous than Ethan Frome, was published in 1920, called The Age of Innocence. This is a novel that was also “set in,” or took place in, New York’s high society in the late nineteenth century.

It’s a book about the difficulties of breaking the rules, if you will, of high society in order to express your love for the one that you want to be with. Most Americans nowadays, if they’ve heard of Edith Wharton, probably know her through this story because it was made into a movie in the early 1990s. Not a great movie, I understand. It was due to the novel The Age of Innocence that Wharton was given the highest prize for a book in the United States, the Pulitzer Prize.

The Pulitzer Prize is named after a famous American publisher, newspaper publisher, by the name of Joseph Pulitzer, and even to this day, to win a Pulitzer Prize in the United States for your writing is considered the highest honor – not as high as winning a Nobel Prize, but then again, that is something that very few writers in the world are able to do. Most American writers would be happy to win just a Pulitzer.

During this period, Wharton became friends with another famous American writer by the name of Henry James. She even wrote a book about writing fiction, writing novels, in which she acknowledged her debt to Henry James. “To acknowledge your debt (debt) to” someone means to say that my ideas or my inspiration come from this person or this source, and Henry James, being one of the great writers during this period, influenced Edith Wharton’s writings.

Wharton continued to write, but her fiction was never as good as those early novels published between 1900 and 1920. She continued writing stories for magazines. She continued publishing novels. She published an autobiography, which is the story of your own life, in 1934. Wharton wrote more than 50 books including essays about travel and history. She died in 1937 in France in a small town north of Paris where she had lived most of her life after moving from the U.S.

Wharton is still remembered as a great writer – someone who gave us an inside look into high society in the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To be a woman writer in the late nineteenth century was something of an accomplishment. Many people didn’t think it was appropriate, didn’t think it was proper or correct, for a woman to be writing. She should be taking care of her husband and her home, not writing stories. Some would say that Wharton’s own life was happier than some of the characters in her books – women who often did not have happy lives.

Now let’s turn to a famous American song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” The word “’tis” – spelled (’tis) – is a shortened version of two words, “it is.” It’s not very common anymore; neither is another word in the title of the song, “thee” (thee). “Thee” is an old-fashioned word that means “you.” So, the title of the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee” means “my country, it is of you” – or in this case, we could probably say, “it is about you” – and of course the song is about the United States.

“My Country ’Tis of Thee” was written in 1831 by a Christian minister, the Reverend Samuel Francis Smith. A “reverend” (reverend) is a religious leader in a church, in a Christian church, typically. Smith wrote the song after being asked by the composer Lowell Mason to translate some German children’s songs into English. A “composer” (composer) is someone who writes music, and “to translate” means, of course, to change the words from one language to another.

Mason had told Reverend Smith to look through these German songs and translate the ones he was able to, and if he was unable to translate some of the songs, he was asked to write new words to the music. Smith particularly liked the music, or the “tune” (tune), of one of these songs and decided to write new words to it. Now, the tune or music was already quite famous. It was the same music that was used for the British National Anthem “God Save the King” – or as it’s known today, “God Save the Queen,” because there is now, as of this recording in 2016, a queen as the head of England.

A “national anthem” (anthem) is a country’s official national song, or the song that is normally associated with the country, and “God Save the Queen” is the national anthem or the song most often associated with Great Britain. Smith wanted to write a song that could be more like a national hymn than a national anthem. A “hymn” (hymn) is a religious song, usually about God. With “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” Smith wrote a song that speaks about how wonderful the United States is, as well as how important God is to the United States.

He wrote the “lyrics,” or words to the song, very quickly. Apparently it took him only 30 minutes, but it would become later a very important song in American history. Now, Mason – the one who was the composer who had asked Smith to translate the lyrics to the children’s songs – first played this song for a group of children at a church in Boston, Massachusetts, on July Fourth, 1831. July Fourth is the birthday, if you will, of the United States – the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.

The song quickly became popular all around the United States, and it was even considered as a national anthem, although in 1931 the U.S. government officially adopted our current national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Nevertheless, “My Country ’Tis of Thee” was considered a patriotic song, a song that celebrated the nation in which we live, and many schoolchildren are still taught the words and sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

I know I was taught the words and the song when I was growing up, and most Americans today could probably sing the song, or at least the first few lines of the song. Here’s how the song begins – and remember the music is the same as “God Save the Queen.”

My country ’tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring.

The song begins, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” “Liberty” here means freedom. “Sweet” doesn’t mean the opposite of sour. We’re not talking about the taste of the land or the country. It’s just a word to talk about our affection, our love for the country. “Of thee I sing,” meaning I am singing about you. And then we go on to describe the United States, “Land where my fathers died.” Again, “land” here means country. “Land of the pilgrim’s pride.” This is a very important phrase in the song.

The “pilgrims” (pilgrims) were among the first groups of people, of Europeans, who traveled to what is now the United States in the 1600s. They left England because they wanted to find a place where they could practice their religion without any restrictions. They were looking for what we might nowadays call “religious liberty.” It was the pilgrims who celebrated Thanksgiving, that we still remember today every year by eating a lot of turkey. “Pride” (pride) is a feeling of respect for yourself or for someone or something else.

So, “pilgrim’s pride” has to do with the pride of the pilgrims for their coming to this new land and helping begin this new country. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring” is how the first verse or part of the song ends. “From every mountainside,” meaning from the mountains, “let freedom ring.” “To ring” normally means to make a noise with a bell, like this. Here, the term is used poetically. “Let freedom ring” means let there be freedom and liberty for everyone.

It turns out that this particular line from the song became famous many years later during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when African Americans, blacks, and other minority groups were trying to get equal treatment under the law. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. included the words from the song in his most famous speech in August of 1963 called “I Have a Dream.”

In that speech, he talked about a country where everyone, no matter the color of his skin, was equal and free. He said that one day all people – that is, African Americans, whites, and everyone else – would be able to sing these words from “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and know that they too were free, equal, and safe. He said that one day all people could feel the love for their country that is expressed in this song. “Let freedom ring,” he said.

And so we continue to see the importance of that phrase, “Let freedom ring,” not just for those who sung the song in the late nineteenth century, but right up into the twentieth and twenty-first century. In a sense, Martin Luther King Jr. took that phrase and made it more important for modern America. He took it out of the song and gave it a new context – the context of the civil rights movement, a movement that was very much driven by religious feeling and led by religious leaders such as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

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

Our first question comes from Jie Zhou (Jie Zhou) – my apologies for the pronunciation – from China. The question has to do with three related terms, three related verbs, “to matriculate,” “to enroll,” and “to register.”

“To matriculate” (matriculate) means to become a student at a school, especially a college or university. “I’m going to matriculate at the University of Southern California.” “I’m going to matriculate at the University of Minnesota.” It’s a rather formal word. You don’t hear it in conversation very much. Most people, instead of saying, “I’m going to matriculate at the University of Southern California,” would say, “I’m going to become a student at that university” or “I’m going to that university.”

You might also say, “I’m going to enroll (enroll) at this university.” Although, “to enroll” is usually used more when we’re talking about specific classes, specific courses. But it can also mean the same as “to matriculate” – to become a student at a certain school or college. “I’m enrolling at the University of St. Thomas this year.” I’m going to become a student there. Or you could say, “I’m enrolling in Math 101.” “I’m enrolling in a course on the history of South Carolina,” one of our states. There probably aren’t too many courses in the history of South Carolina, but that’s just an example.

The verb “to enroll” can also be used outside of the context of school. You could talk about “enrolling” in any kind of program or any kind of class, even one that isn’t offered at a university. You could enroll in a program to help you lose weight. You could enroll in a yoga class. Certain government programs also use the verb “to enroll.” We may “enroll in certain public insurance programs” – public health insurance, for example, that the government pays for. We would talk about “enrolling in that program.” You’re not a student of the program, but you are becoming part of the program.

The third verb, “to register” (register), can mean the same as “to enroll” when we’re talking about becoming a member of a program or a student in a certain course or class. “I’m going to register for anthropology.” “I’m going to register for a class in American history.” “To register,” unlike “to matriculate,” is usually used to talk specifically about becoming a student in a certain class or course.

There are more general uses of the verb “to register.” You could register in a program. You could register in a competition. “I’m going to register for the marathon next week.” I’m going to run 26 miles as part of the marathon. That’s just an example. I would never run 26 miles. I would drive 26 miles. That’s the kind of marathon I would register for.

There are a few other cases where we use the verb “to register.” You can talk about “registering a complaint” (complaint). “To register a complaint” means to go to the government or to a company and officially, if you will, complain about something – say, “I’m telling you that this is a problem.” You’re asking for something to be done about a problem. If you do that with the government, usually it doesn’t make any difference, but you can certainly register your complaints.

Our next question also comes from China, from Xiao (Xiao) Ming (Ming). The question has to do with two different verbs, “to bid” (bid) and “to tender” tender (tender).

“To bid” means to offer to pay a certain amount of money for something that is being sold. Typically we use the verb in relation to what’s called an “auction” (auction). An “auction” is when you are selling something and different people offer you money for it and you give it to the person who offers you the highest amount of money. The popular website eBay is an auction site. You typically bid to buy something and the person who bids the highest price gets the item.

There’s another older, less common use of “bid” in the expression, “to bid someone goodbye” or “to bid someone farewell.” It means “just to say goodbye” or “to say farewell.” It’s not as common anymore. You might read it in an old novel.

“To tender” means something somewhat different than “to bid.” “To tender” means to offer someone money, but not in the sense of offering the money in an auction, but rather saying, “Here, take this money.” You are “tendering an offer.” You are saying, “Here is what I will give you.”

It’s not commonly used anymore in this sense except in one particular expression, which is “to tender your resignation” (resignation). “To tender your resignation” means to offer your resignation to the person you work for or the company you work for. If you decide you’re going to quit, you may go to the president of your company and say, “I’m tendering my resignation.” The idea here is that the president could accept your resignation or he might reject your resignation.

He may say, “No, I don’t want you to quit. I don’t accept your resignation.” Of course, if you want to leave the company, there’s probably nothing the president can do to stop you, but the idea is that you would offer your resignation and perhaps the person would accept it. That’s the meaning of the phrase “to tender your resignation,” and is the only common use nowadays of this verb “to tender” in the sense of “to offer.”

There’s another meaning of the word “tender” as an adjective. “Tender” can mean soft. The opposite of hard. We could also use the word “tender” to describe a part of our body that when touched causes pain. If you, for example, bump your arm, if you hit your arm against something, you may have a spot on your arm that is later “tender.” If you touch it, it will cause you pain.

You could also describe a person as being “tender” when that person is very caring, when the person shows a lot of concern for you. “She was loving and tender.” She was loving and showed a lot of concern for the other person.

Our final question comes from Krill (Krill) in Ukraine. The question has to do with the difference between “period” (period) and “dot” (dot). Both “period” and “dot” refer to a point that you will see in print, in writing. A “period” is the little point that you see at the end, typically, of a sentence. We describe that in writing as being a “period.”

Sometimes we say the word “period” when we are emphasizing that we have made a decision or that something will not be changed. If someone asks if you are going to go to the movies tonight and you really don’t want to, you say, “No, I’m not going, period.” Normally, it’s used when you are trying to emphasize to the person that you are definitely not going to do it, usually when you perhaps are angry at the situation or at a person, or you really want to show the person how serious you are about a certain command or decision.

You may say to your son, “You’re not going to be using my car tonight, period.” Not at all, not even for a minute. In British English, the word is “full stop.” What we describe as a period at the end of the sentence, they describe as a “full stop,” and they use the term “full stop” in the same ways, generally, that we use the word “period” in spoken English, as a way of emphasizing the finality of a decision.

The word “period” can also mean a certain time in history. We could talk about the “period of the nineteenth century,” the time during that century. We could talk about the “Romantic period in music” – music of Beethoven and Schubert, for example, Chopin, and so forth. That’s a very different meaning of the word “period.”

The word “dot” is used to describe a mark in writing that is identical to what we also call a “period” in other situations. We call a period a “dot,” or that small point a “dot,” in situations that relate nowadays to the Internet. So, I will say that our web address is ESLPod “dot” com, instead of ESLPod period com. Why? Well, it’s just a convention. It’s just a way that people started talking about that little point, perhaps so that it would be distinguished from the mark that goes at the end of a sentence. Website addresses and email addresses now use the word “dot” to describe that little point.

I should also mention that we use the word “point” (point) to describe that little mark on the page when we’re using numbers. I could describe one and a half cups of something as “one point five cups.” In science, the number “pi” (pi) begins three point one four, and so forth. When you look at it on your screen or on a piece of paper, “period,” “dot,” and “point” all look the same. It’s the same mark on the page, but a different word is used depending on how it’s used.

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. Thanks 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 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

high society – the group of people in a community who are wealthy, well-educated, and fashionable, and have high social positions and a lot of power

* All Emil wanted was to be a member of high society and be looked up to by others in the community.

debut – for a young woman to formally appear in high society as an adult, signaling her readiness for marriage; a first appearance in a performance

* Magda’s daughters each made their debuts at age 16 at a formal dance.

mirth – a feeling of amusement, usually accompanied by laughter

* When our family gets together over the holidays, it’s always full of mirth and good times.

values – one’s beliefs about what is important, worthy, and useful

* One of the values that my parents taught me was to work hard and always try to do the best job that I could can.

appropriate – proper; correct for a situation

* Some people think that it is not appropriate to bring very young children into a fancy restaurant where they might disrupt the other diners.

reverend – a religious leader in a Christian church

* The reverend stood at the front of the church and began speaking about what she considered one of most important passages in the Bible.

national anthem – a country’s official national song; a song that is used by a country to represent its values and beliefs to the world

* At the Olympics, when a team wins an event, its flag is raised and its national anthem is played.

hymn – a religious song, usually sung during worship (religious meeting)

* Many Sunday church services include hymns sung by the entire congregation.

liberty – freedom; being free of harsh or severe restrictions on one’s views or behaviors

* The children had a sense of liberty while on vacation, since they didn’t have to go to school and their parents relaxed their usual rules.

pilgrims – one of the first groups of people who traveled to the United States in the 1600s from England, arriving in Massachusetts

* The pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts and set up towns and communities where they could practice their version of Christianity without fear.

pride – a feeling of respect and good opinion about oneself or about someone or something else

* Julia’s parents felt a sense of pride when she graduated from the university with top honors.

to matriculate – to become a student at a school, especially in a college or university

* Only students who have paid their fees are allowed to matriculate.

to enroll – to enter someone’s name on a list to become a member of or participant in something, often a program, class, program, or school

* Julia enrolled her son in swim class when he was six-years-old.

to register – to put one’s name on an official list; to record information in a book or in government records

* Did you register to vote when you got your driver’s license?

to bid – to offer to pay a particular amount of money for something that is being sold; to make an offer of money at an auction; to express greetings or good wishes to someone

* Our company is bidding for the government contract to repair the North Bridge.

to tender – to give or offer something such as a payment or a letter

* Kaya tendered her resignation after getting a better job with another company.

period – a point (.) used to indicate an abbreviation or the end of a sentence

* If it’s a question, you’ll need to end your sentence with a question mark, rather than a period.

dot – a small round mark (.) often used in email or Internet addresses

* You have the correct Internet address, but you forgot to put a dot before “com.”

What Insiders Know
Radio Mystery Shows

During the “Golden Age of Radio” (the period of time when radio was the main form of entertainment at home), radio programs and particularly radio “mysteries” (stories in which the listener or reader tries to identify who committed a crime) became very popular.

One of the most popular radio mystery series was The Mysterious Traveler. The series covered stories of mystery and “suspense” (waiting to see what happens next) ranging from “science fiction” (science-based stories, especially about the future) to “fantasy” (imaginative stories about things that are not real). The series ran from 1943 to 1952. Each episode began with the “narrator” (a person who tells a story, but is not part of the story itself) saying:

This is the Mysterious Traveler, inviting you to join me on another “journey” (trip) into the strange and “terrifying” (very scary). I hope you will enjoy the trip – that it will “thrill” (excite) you a little and “chill” (frighten) you a little. So “settle back” (relax and prepare), “get a good grip on” (get control of) your “nerves” (anxiety; nervousness) and be comfortable—if you can!

The Whistler was another radio mystery drama, produced from 1942 to 1955. Each episode began with “footsteps” (the sound of someone walking) and a person “whistling” (blowing air between one’s lips to make a musical sound). A character called the Whistler was the narrator. His stories focused on “crime” (breaking the law).

These types of radio shows were “revived” (brought back to life) by the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which was “broadcasted” (aired; shown on TV or heard on radio) over the radio from 1974 to 1982, and then again in the early 2000s. The show originally “appealed” (was attractive) to older listeners who remembered the Golden Age of Radio, but then it “caught on with” (became popular among) younger listeners as well.