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551 Topics: Movies – Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Famous Americans – Luther George Simjian; to distract versus to detract; in a manner of speaking; thanks a bunch

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 551.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 551. 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 a Learning Guide, an eight- to ten-page guide we provide for this episode and all of our normal, regular, excellent episodes, which is almost every one. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, with additional courses in English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the famous movie, a science-fiction movie, called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We’re also going to look at a famous inventor, a man by the name of Luther George Simjian. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

In 1972, Josef Allen Hynek published a book called The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. A “UFO” is an “unidentified flying object.” Something that is
“unidentified” is something that is “not identified” – that is, we don’t know exactly what it is. A “flying object” is anything that is able to fly, like a plane or a helicopter.

The term “UFO” usually refers to something that comes from a different planet, that is not human, that is not from planet earth. The word we usually use is “alien” (alien). An “alien” in this case is some creature – some living thing, living being – from another planet. So, UFOs are thought to be the spaceships – the vehicles of aliens from other planets.

Hynek’s book was supposed to be a “scientific inquiry” (inquiry). An “inquiry” is an investigation. He thought he was doing a scientific investigation of this experience of UFOs that some people say that they have had. Hynek said that there were three kinds of encounters or meetings between humans and aliens.

The first kind of encounter is where a person simply sees or thinks he sees a UFO up in the air. The second kind of UFO encounter is when a person feels the actual heat or electricity from a UFO. The third kind is where people actually see aliens that are flying these UFOs, perhaps because the UFOs land on or come down onto the ground and get out of their UFO, their spaceship, and say hello.

This third kind of encounter is what Steven Spielberg, the director, used as the name for his 1977 movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A “close encounter” is when you come very near to something, or in this case, you actually meet someone. The movie tells the story of a group of people from all over the world who begin to have the same strange experiences.

Some of these people are researchers who hear stories of strange things happening, especially in the desert in the southwestern part of the U.S. A “desert” (desert) is a large area of hot, dry land where there is very little rain. The other thing that is heard by the people in this movie is a strange tune, a strange little song. The tune has only five notes but they all keep hearing it in their head. That was the tune, more or less – at least, that’s what I remember hearing in my head after I saw the movie.

The movie follows two of these people who are getting these strange experiences, one named Jillian, played by the actress Melinda Dillon, and the other, Roy Neary, played by the more famous actor Richard Dreyfus. Jillian and Roy don’t know each other, but as the movie continues, as it goes on, their lives become “intertwined.” “Intertwined” (intertwined) means becoming closely connected with each other. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then, is the story of these two people and their search to figure out why they were having these strange experiences.

I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but it does relate to aliens. Now, the 1970s saw a lot of television shows and movies about aliens visiting Earth. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was certainly not the first of these. There were other popular movies as well as TV shows on this topic. The 1960s and 1970s were years in which the United States in particular was very active in space programs – sending a man to the moon, for example. So, Steven Spielberg was in a way already taking advantage of the popularity of movies about aliens and UFOs.

The movie was very successful with people when it was first released or first shown in movie theaters. I think I went to see it the first week it was released. I was in high school at the time. It was nominated for many awards including the Academy Awards. It was considered a pretty good science-fiction story – that is, a story about how people and societies are affected by either alien involvement or some sort of scientific development.

Since it was released, many other movies have made reference to this film – that is, they have referred back to certain things that have appeared in this film. In fact, only two years after the film was released, that five-note tune appeared in a James Bond movie, Moonraker, in 1979.

The movie had another important impact on American culture. It got more people interested in alien conspiracy theories. A “conspiracy” (conspiracy) is when a group of people act secretly, often illegally, in order to do something bad. A “theory,” of course, is a set of ideas. So, a “conspiracy theory” is an idea that people have that somehow the government or a group of powerful people are doing something bad or something illegal and no one else knows about it. Well, of course, if no one else knows about it, then you wouldn’t be able to talk about it.

Conspiracy theories are often created for all sorts of things that people perhaps find difficult to understand. One of the most famous cases of this was the assassination of President John Kennedy. After the assassination, the U.S. government investigated and determined that he was killed by one man in Dallas, Texas. However, many people thought this solution, this answer, was too easy. It was too simple. Ever since then, there have been dozens of books and TV shows, movies, all about how President Kennedy was really killed, all based usually on some form of conspiracy theory.

The conspiracy theories about UFOs, however, have an even longer history and are even more numerous. There is, for example, a theory that UFOs, aliens, actually came to Earth, to the state of New Mexico in the southwestern U.S. near the town of Roswell. The U.S. government took these aliens, apparently, and put them in a building. I’m not sure if they asked for their passports, but in any case, the conspiracy theory says that the U.S. government knows all about them.

Conspiracy theories are usually ones that involve a government organization keeping secrets. The problem is that the government sometimes does keep secrets, and so people think that almost any conspiracy theory could be true. I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories. One of the problems with some of the theories is that there’s no way of falsifying them – that is, there is no way of showing that they’re not true.

If you say, “Well, there is no picture of any alien that has landed on Earth,” someone could say, “Well, of course there aren’t any pictures. The government destroyed all the pictures. They got rid of all the pictures.” So the conspiracy covers all possibilities of falsification, of proving that it was in fact wrong.

Anyway, back to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After the movie, some people started to pay more attention to alien conspiracy theories, including ones involving Roswell, New Mexico. I’ve only seen the movie once, back when I was in high school, but I remember enjoying it, and if you like science-fiction movies, you might enjoy seeing it as well. Just remember that it is fiction – that is something invented, not true.

Now let’s turn to one of the most interesting inventors, a person most Americans have never heard of even though he in fact is credited with, or responsible for, a lot of very interesting inventions. The man’s name is Luther George Simjian. He spent most of his time “inventing,” or creating, new and interesting machines.

Luther wasn’t an American by birth. He came to the United States when he was 16 years old, after the end of World War II, from Turkey. When Luther arrived in the United States, he moved to the town of New Haven, Connecticut, which is located near New York City. New Haven is most famous for being the town where Yale University is located.

After finishing high school, Luther planned to become a doctor, but instead he got interested in photography and found that he was able to work as a photographer. He continued working on different kinds of inventions. Beginning in 1932, he started to file, or officially apply, for “patents” for his invention. A “patent” (patent) is an official document that the government gives a person or a company that recognizes their unique invention or their unique product and gives them the right to be the only person or company who makes that and sells that product.

Luther filed for a patent for a self-focusing camera. “To focus” (focus) a camera means to adjust the lens of the camera – what the image of the camera passes through – so that the image is clear. Nowadays we consider the self-focusing camera to be no big deal, but back in 1932, it was very much a new idea.

A few years later, Luther filed patents for a color x-ray machine. This is a machine that uses invisible rays called “x-rays” that go through the human body in order to see what’s inside the body. Typically these are black and white, but Simjian found a way to take these pictures in color. Soon he had invented enough machines and filed enough patents that he wanted to create a company that could make the inventions that he was getting patents for. So, he started a company called “Reflectone” in 1939.

During World War II, he invented what would certainly be the most profitable machine that he came up with. “Profitable” (profitable) means making a lot of money. This machine was a “flight simulator.” “Flight” (flight) refers to going up in a plane or a helicopter and flying up in the air. A “simulator” (simulator) is something that simulates or gives you the same experience as another experience without actually having to, in this case, go up into the air.

So a “flight simulator” gave you the experience that you were flying, as if you were flying, but you could do it all on the ground without having to go up into the air. Of course, during World War II there was a need to train, to prepare, pilots to fly all of the airplanes that were involved in the war, and the U.S. government very much needed flight simulators to help train these pilots. The flight simulator was also used to later train commercial pilots after the war – that is, pilots that flew for businesses that had airplanes.

In 1997, a British company bought Simjiain’s company Reflectone for 90 million dollars so that they could continue making and selling his flight simulators. Even though he had more than 200 patents by the time he died in October 1997, Luther Simjian is probably best remembered for the invention that became incredibly successful but never made him any money. This was, ironically, the “automatic teller machine,” or “ATM.”

“Automatic” means that a machine controls it without a person having to be there. A “teller” (teller) is the person who works in a bank, whose job it is to give you money or take your money. So, an automatic teller machine, or ATM, is a machine that allows you to put in your card and get money from the machine. These of course are machines that are now used in almost every country of the world.

Sadly, Simjian came up with this idea way back in 1939 and he actually got one bank called Citicorp to put these machines in some of their local banks. However, at the time, in the late 1930s, Citicorp said the machines had been used by some people, but not enough to keep the machines in their banks. In fact, Citicorp said the only people who wanted to use the machines were people who were gangsters – people who were thieves who didn’t want the teller to see their faces, and prostitutes – people who sell sex for money.

So, Citicorp removed the machines, and it wasn’t until many years later that a different man, by the name of Don Wetzel, invented a similar technology – so similar that even Simjian is thought of the first person who invented the concept even though he didn’t get credit or money for the actual machines that were produced that we all use today. That’s the story, then, of one of the most creative inventors of the twentieth century, that most people have never heard about but whose ideas had a major influence on our lives.

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

Our first question comes from Agamir (Agamir) in Azerbaijan. The question has to do with two verbs that are similar sounding, “to distract” and “to detract.” Let’s start with “to distract” (distract). “To distract” means to cause someone to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about something else.

Sometimes we like to “distract” ourselves when we’re feeling sad or when there’s bad news that we don’t want to think about. Maybe we’ll pick up a magazine or a book and read, or we’ll turn on the television and watch a program. We’re trying to “distract” ourselves from thinking about what we were thinking about before.

Sometimes other people distract us. If you are working at your desk and the person in the desk next to you is always asking you questions or talking on the telephone loudly, that person may “distract” you from what you are doing. That person may make you not pay attention to what you want to pay attention to.

“To detract” (detract) means to reduce the strength or importance of something. If you are interviewing someone for a job and the person has a dirty shirt on – the shirt isn’t really important, but it “detracts” from his qualities as an applicant. You think less of the person even though you like the person and you think the person is very smart. Some things that he does might “detract” from his otherwise good qualities.

Something that “detracts from” – notice the use of the proposition “from” here – something else is something that takes away strength or importance from something else. It’s usually something that hurts that person or that thing from being the best it could be or from being considered better than you do consider it.

Our second question comes from Wikan (Wikan) in Indonesia. The question has to do with the expression “in a manner of speaking.” The word “manner” (manner) refers to the way that something is done. “In a manner of speaking,” however, is an expression we use in a situation where we’re saying that something is true or mostly true, but that the way that we are expressing it isn’t exactly the right way or the correct way.

It’s easier to understand this expression by giving a few examples. “The governor of a state is the president of the state, in a manner of speaking.” It’s not technically correct to call the governor a “president” because we only have one president, and the president is the leader of the entire country. But “in a manner of speaking” – in a way – you could think of a governor as being like a president.

That’s why “in a manner of speaking” is used in situations where what you are saying isn’t exactly correct, it isn’t precisely correct, but it’s close enough to give you an idea. You could call the “mayor” (mayor) of the city the “president” of the city. That’s not exactly correct because, once again, “president” has a particular definition that doesn’t apply here. But “in a manner of speaking,” that’s correct. It gives you the general idea even if it’s not 100 percent correct.

Our next question comes from Sarah (Sarah), also in Iran. Sarah’s question has to do with the phrase “Thanks a bunch” (bunch). What does “Thanks a bunch” mean? Well, a “bunch” is a large amount, a lot of something. “Thanks a bunch,” then, means the same as “thanks a lot.” It’s somewhat informal, but you will still hear people use it in daily conversation. Sarah wants to know if there’s any negative sense to the expression, and I would have to say no. It doesn’t have a negative meaning in any way. It means “Thanks a lot,” “Thanks very much.”

Finally, Bahador (Bahador), also in Iran, wants to know how to pronounce two different words: the plural form of “month” and the plural form of “cloth.” “Month” (month) refers to the period of time into which the year is divided. There are 12 months. “Months” – the plural form, then, is (months).

“Cloth” is a material that is used for making clothing, or perhaps for putting on furniture. The plural of “cloth” is spelled (cloths) and is pronounced “cloths.” So we have “months” and we have “cloths.” Don’t confuse “cloths” with “clothes,” spelled very similarly to the plural of “cloths.” “Clothes” (clothes) is pronounced as if there were no “th” in the word. It’s pronounced more like (cloze). “Clothes” is a plural noun referring to things that you wear, such as shirts or pants or jackets.

You may ask someone, “What clothes are you wearing tomorrow to the wedding?” The person is asking you what kind of shirt and pants and, perhaps, socks you are wearing. Or perhaps you’re going to the wedding in your birthday suit. Your “birthday suit” (suit) is a funny expression we use meaning the person has no clothing on. They’re not going to wear any clothes at all. I hope you don’t go to any wedding with your birthday suit on. Put some clothes on instead.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us – with or without your clothes on – at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

UFO – unidentified flying object; something flying in the sky that is unlike anything anyone on Earth has ever seen before

* The UFO Benny saw was round with a lot of bright lights all around the sides and seemed to be able to fly very fast through the sky.

alien – a creature or living thing that is from a planet other than Earth

* When the ship landed, a door opened and three little green people stepped out and we knew that they must be aliens.

encounter – a situation in which people meet each other without planning; meeting someone in an unexpected way

* After an encounter with an old friend from art school, Giselle became interested in drawing again.

tune – a series of musical notes; a piece of music, usually without singing

* Our new company jingle has a very catchy tune.

intertwined – for two or more things to be closely connected with each another

* Somehow all the electrical wires have become intertwined and now it will take me hours to get them sorted out.

science fiction – stories about how people and societies are affected by imaginary scientific developments in the future

* Star Trek is an example of a science fiction television series involving smart computers, robots, and people from other planets.

conspiracy theorist – a person who believes that an event or situation is the result of a secret plan by a powerful group of people, such as the government

* Some conspiracy theorists believe that the U.S. government was responsible for killing President John F. Kennedy and that it wasn’t a random act of violence.

to invent – to create or make something for the first time

* Before the refrigerator was invented, people had no way of keeping food stored for very long periods of time.

patent – government permission giving a person or company the right to be the only ones to make or sell a specific item for a certain amount of time

* When a company holds a patent for a new medicine, it can charge as much as it wants to since they are the only ones who can make it.

flight simulator – a machine used by airplane pilots to practice flying so that they are prepared when flying a real plane

* In the flight simulator, the pilot practiced having to safely land the plane with a fire in one of the engines.

automatic – having controls that allow a machine to work without a person operating it

* The coffee machine had an automatic setting so that it could be programmed to make coffee at 6 a.m. every morning without anyone needing to turn it on.

teller – a bank worker whose job is to interact with customers and help them complete their banking transactions, such as depositing (putting in) and withdrawing (taking out) money from their accounts

* The teller counted out the bills and handed the customer the money he had withdrawn from his savings account.

to distract – to cause someone to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about or pay attention to someone or something else instead

* Let’s try to distract Li from thinking about her problems by taking her to a movie.

to detract – to reduce the strength, value, or importance of something

* This is a beautiful house, but the messy and overgrown yard detracts from its appeal to potential buyers.

in a manner of speaking – a phrase meaning that a statement is true or accurate in a certain way even if it is not literally or completely true; in a way

* She’s an experienced sailor, in a manner of speaking, because her father was a sea captain, but she has only sailed on her own for a few months.

thanks a bunch – thanks a lot; thanks very much

* Thanks a bunch for watching the kids while I went to my physical therapy appointment.

What Insiders Know
Classic Egg Dishes

Eggs are a common food for Americans, especially for “breakfast” (the first meal of the day, eaten shortly after waking up), because they are quick and easy to prepare. But some egg dishes are more “elaborate” (complex).

Many people enjoy “omelets,” which are a “hearty” (filling and substantial) breakfast item. Omelets are made by beating eggs with milk and cooking them in a frying pan until they are “firm” (solid; not too soft). Before it is fully cooked, the egg mixture is folded over a “filling” (something placed inside another thing) such as “sautéed” (cooked in oil or butter) vegetables, chopped ham, or cheese.

“Deviled eggs” are popular at “potlucks” (events where each guest brings food to share with everyone else). First, the egg is “hard-boiled” (cooked in its shell in a pot of boiling water until it becomes solid) and then cooled, “peeled” (with its shell or skin taken off), and cut in half. Then the “yolk” (the yellow part of the egg) is mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, spices, and possibly vegetables like celery, and put back into the “egg white” (the clear or white part of the egg) and sprinkled with “paprika” (a flavorful, red spice), served cold.

To make “egg salad,” cold hard-boiled eggs are chopped and mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, and chopped vegetables and pickles. Egg salad is commonly served on bread, crackers, or lettuce leaves. It is popular at potlucks or “picnics” (meals eaten outdoors).

Finally, some people like “eggs Benedict,” which is a “poached egg” (an egg that is broken into a pot of boiling water so that the egg white “solidifies” (becomes solid), but the yolk is still “runny” (liquid-like) served over an “English muffin” (a round, flat piece of toast split into two pieces) with ham or bacon. This is served warm and is a common “brunch” (a meal eaten mid-morning, instead of breakfast and lunch) item.