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555 Topics: American Authors – Louisa May Alcott; Classic TV – Gilligan’s Island; up-to-date versus updated; to work out the kinks and to deserve a pat on the back; to seize the moment

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 555.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 555. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. The Jackson Five, get it? “ABC, easy as one, two, three . . .” Okay. Hey, it’s as easy as one, two, three to visit our website at ESLPod.com.

You can download the Learning Guide for this episode that contains a complete transcript of everything we say, and even everything we sing. Go to eslpod.com for more information. And if you’re on Facebook, why don’t you like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a very popular author, Louisa May Alcott, who nearly every young American girl has probably read at some time – or at least one who grew up in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We’ll also talk about a classic television show from my generation, Gilligan’s Island. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Louisa May Alcott was born in 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Germantown is about a hundred miles southwest of New York City. Pennsylvania is next to the state of New York, one of our original 13 states. Alcott’s family – her mother, father, and three sisters – moved to Boston, Massachusetts, when Louisa was a young girl. Massachusetts is also one of our original 13 states on the east coast of the U.S. It was in Boston where Louisa grew up and lived most of the rest of her life.

Alcott and her sisters were educated at home by their father. We today might say they were “homeschooled,” although most children were homeschooled during this period. The family was not very wealthy, however. From the time she was young, Louisa understood that she needed to earn enough money to help provide for her family. “To provide for” someone means to take care of someone financially, to have enough money to buy the things someone needs. Alcott tried teaching for a while, but she didn’t like it very much and so she stopped.

It was then that she decided she would try to earn money by writing. She began writing stories under what is called a “pseudonym.” A “pseudonym” (pseudonym) is a false name, a made-up name – that is, not your real name – that is sometimes used by writers. Some of the most famous names that you know from literature are in fact pseudonyms. Lewis Carroll, for example, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, used a pseudonym. Lewis Carroll was not his real name. Alcott used a pseudonym, A. M. Barnard, but her stories were not very successful.

During the American Civil War, Louisa May Alcott volunteered to work as a nurse in the U.S. Army. She was not paid to do it. That’s why I say she “volunteered.” She didn’t get money to do it, other than what she needed to live on. While working there, she got sick with a common illness at that time called “typhoid” (typhoid). Typhoid causes the body to have a high fever, or a high body temperature, as well as spots on the skin and often bad stomach pains. Fortunately, Alcott got better but she was never completely healthy again. She was never, what we would say, “a hundred percent.”

After catching typhoid, she returned home to Boston. When she returned home, she published a book called Hospital Sketches in 1863. A “sketch” (sketch) is normally a drawing that an artist would do. However, it can also be used to describe a short piece of writing about a certain topic that describes a certain situation or even a certain person.

The book told the stories of Alcott’s time working as a nurse in these army hospitals. It was popular with readers, and Alcott soon became an author that many readers were familiar with. That popularity helped get other stories published in a monthly magazine which is still around, called The Atlantic Monthly. I used to subscribe to The Atlantic Monthly. Now I get it free at the library through my iPad so I don’t have to pay for it. Well, of course, I do pay for it. I pay my taxes here in the city of Los Angeles, which helps support my public library. But back to Louisa May Alcott.

She made some money by publishing these stories and her book, but it really wasn’t enough. After the Civil War ended, Alcott wrote a two-volume book, a two-part book, called Little Women. Little Women told the story of a mother and her four daughters living in a town in New England. New England is the name we give the area of the northeastern part of the United States. It includes the states of Massachusetts where Alcott was living, as well as Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

The family in these books that Alcott wrote, the March family, were poor but they loved each other very much and were happy. Little Women told the stories of each of the daughters growing up from the time they were children into adults, and of course the different challenges and experiences that they had. Alcott used her own experiences and those of her mother and sisters to base the novels on. The novels were “based on” her own experiences – that is, they were taken from her own experiences – although they were still “fiction” – that is, the novels were made-up stories about these women.

Little Women was immediately popular with readers. It was so popular, in fact, that Alcott was able to make enough money to pay off all of her family’s debts. A “debt” (debt) – notice we don’t pronounce the letter “b” (it is what we call “silent”) – is money that you owe another person. Another person gives you money temporarily, loans you money, then you have to give that money back. So, you have a “debt” to that person. Alcott’s family had debts, but because her set of books, Little Women, was so popular and sold so well, she was able to pay back the debts of her family.

Alcott continued writing about the girls in Little Women in a number of other books. So, like the Harry Potter books, she made a series out of these books – continued writing more books about the same characters. In 1871, she wrote another book called Little Men, and in 1886, she wrote a book called Joe’s Boys. These books were popular, but never as popular as the Little Women books that Alcott wrote.

Even though Alcott was a successful writer, she continued to stay at home and take care of her parents. She also took care of her niece after her sister died – her sister’s daughter. Alcott never married herself or had children of her own, in part because she believed it was her duty, her job, to provide for and take care of her parents. Alcott died on March sixth, 1888, from a stroke, from an interruption of blood flow into the brain. She wasn’t very old. She was only born in 1832, remember.

Her books, especially Little Women, continue to be popular, especially with young readers, young female readers between the ages of, say, 8 and 15. To be honest, I have never read any of the Little Women books. I don’t know any man or boy who has, although I’m sure there are some of them out there. It’s mostly a series that is popular with young girls because it is a set of books about young girls. My sisters read them growing up and I know my nieces read them growing up.

There have been both TV and movie adaptations of Little Women in Great Britain as well as here in the U.S. The most recent movie from the books I believe was made in 1994. So perhaps you’ve seen it or are interested in Little Women. You can find them for free on the Internet. Where else?

Let’s turn now to a classic (well, I call it classic) television show, Gilligan’s Island. The word “classic” (classic) is sometimes used to describe some of the best of a certain type of artistic production. It could be a classic book, it could be a classic movie, or it could be, as in the case today, a classic television show. Not everyone would agree that this is a classic television show. It certainly wasn’t one of the great television shows in the twentieth century, but it was a popular one. It was a show I grew up watching called Gilligan’s Island.

It was on television in the U.S. from 1964 to 1967. Now, I wasn’t born until 1963, so I didn’t watch the television show when it was first shown on television. I watched it in what we call “reruns” (reruns). A “rerun” is when they show an old television show again. And Gilligan’s Island was shown in reruns throughout the 1970s on TV, and that’s when I saw it.

Gilligan is the name of one of the characters in the story. Basically, it’s a story about seven men and women who had been in a shipwreck and were stranded on an island in the Pacific Ocean. A “shipwreck” (shipwreck) is when a ship is destroyed or broken, usually because of a storm. “To be stranded” (stranded) is to be left somewhere without any way of leaving or getting to another place.

If you are driving your car in the middle of the California desert and you run out of gasoline – your car doesn’t have any gas left – and there is no one else around, you will be “stranded” in the middle of the desert. You will be there without any way of leaving. Well, in the story of Gilligan’s Island, these seven men and women are in a shipwreck. They’re in a bad storm and they end up on an island. And they are stranded there. They cannot get off the island.

Most people of my age or perhaps a little younger remember watching the show. In particular, most people remember the theme song for the show. Back in the 1960s and ’70s in particular, it was popular for the television shows to have theme songs, and the theme song would tell a little bit about the story of the show. You could listen to the song and actually get an idea about what the show was about.

Theme songs don’t have to have words to them, but Gilligan’s Island did. In fact, the theme song is probably more popular than the show itself. I’m going to sing a little bit of it for you and explain what it means because in doing so, you’ll get an idea about what the show was about. The song begins:

Just sit right back
And you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

“Just sit right back.” “To sit back” means to relax in your chair and listen. “Just sit right back” means the same as “just sit back.” The song is telling you to relax and listen to this story, this “tale” (tale). The word “tale” is a somewhat older word for “story.” It often is a long story. “I’m going to tell you a tale.” I’m going to tell you a long story. The tale is about a “fateful trip.” “Fateful” (fateful) means something bad happened. A “fateful trip” would be a trip on which something bad happens, and indeed something bad happens on this trip.

The trip started from “this tropic port.” A “port” (port) is an area where boats and ships are put next to an island or next to a land area. Here in Los Angeles, we have a port down in San Pedro and in Long Beach. These are areas where the ships can come and stay, and you can get on and off the ship at the port. The port in our story, Gilligan’s Island, is in Honolulu, Hawaii. That’s why it’s called a “tropic (tropic) port.”

The word “tropic” refers specifically to an area near the middle of the planet Earth, near what we call the “equator” (equator). It’s an area associated, especially in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, with warmth and nice weather. The story begins “aboard a tiny ship.” “Aboard” (aboard) means on a ship or a boat. It could also mean on a plane. You could talk about being “aboard an aircraft” or “aboard an airplane.” A “tiny (tiny) ship” is a small, very small, ship.

The song continues and tells us who is on this ship. So we’re going to meet, we’re going to be introduced to, the characters in the story. We begin by meeting the “mate” (mate), sometimes called the “first mate.” The first mate on a ship is a person who is in charge of the ship if something should happen to the captain of the boat. The “captain” is the leader, if you will, of the boat.

So, we have the mate who “was a mighty sailin’ lad.” The word “lad” (lad) is one referring to a man. It’s more common in British English than American English. It often refers to a young man. The mate was a “mighty,” meaning a strong or a good, “sailin’ lad.” “Sailin’” refers to someone who is good at “sailing,” at taking a boat out on the water. If you actually watch the show, you learn that the first mate, whose name is Gilligan – from which we get the show’s name, Gilligan’s Island – is not a very good “sailin’ lad,” but that’s what the song says he is.

The captain of the ship is sometimes called the “skipper” (skipper). He is the person who is in charge of the ship. The song says the skipper is “brave and sure,” meaning he’s confident. He’s trustworthy. The song continues:

Five passengers set sail that day,
for a three-hour tour.

“To set sail” means to go out on a boat. The “passengers” are, of course, the people who are riding in the boat – not the captain, not the first mate. The ship was only supposed to be gone for three hours. It was a three-hour tour. Ah, but something happens. The weather starts “to get rough” – that is, the weather starts to get bad. “The tiny ship was tossed” (tossed). “To be tossed” means to be moved back and forth.

The story continues, “If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost.” The “crew” (crew) are the people who work on the ship – in this case, the skipper and the first mate. “Minnow” (Minnow) is the name of the ship. A “minnow” is also a very small fish. Well, the crew is fearless. They have courage. They are brave.

The ship eventually “sets ground” – or lands on, ends up on – the “shore (shore) of an uncharted desert isle.” The “shore” is the part of land that is next to the body of water – in this case, the ocean. A “desert isle” (isle) is an island that is very dry, that doesn’t get very much rain. It’s “uncharted” (uncharted), meaning it’s not on anyone’s map. It is so small it has never been put on a map. And so of course nobody knows it’s there.

Nowadays, with Google maps and satellite maps, everything is on a map. But back when Gilligan’s Island was made, well, apparently there were some islands that were not on the map. So this ship is on “this uncharted desert isle,” and the final part of the song tells us who the people are in the show who are on the boat.

There’s Gilligan, who is the first mate; the skipper; a “millionaire” – a man who has a million dollars or more; his wife; the movie star; a professor; and Mary Ann. Poor Mary Ann doesn’t get a occupation or even a title. She’s just Mary Ann. She’s just somebody who happened to be on this tour. As you can imagine, the movie star, who’s a beautiful young woman, is not very intelligent in the show, and Mary Ann – who is not that good looking, not that attractive, at least I don’t think she was – but she’s smart and practical.

Just sit right back
And you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailin’ lad,
The skipper brave and sure,
Five passengers set sail that day,
For three-hour tour,
A three-hour tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
the Minnow would be lost.
The Minnow would be lost.

The ship set ground on the shore
Of this uncharted desert isle
With Gilligan,
The Skipper too.
The millionaire
And his wife,
The movie star,
The professor and Mary Ann,
Here on Gilligan’s Isle.

Well, it’s “Gilligan’s Island,” but they say “Gilligan’s Isle.” The song is actually called “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.” A “ballad” (ballad) is a traditional song that tells a story. Well, Gilligan’s Island continued to be shown “in syndication” – that is to say, as a rerun – for many years after the show was cancelled in 1967. Even though it was only on for three years, it became one of the more popular shows in syndication in the ’70s and ’80s when I was growing up.

Now, if you memorize this song and sing it to an American, say, over the age of 40, I’m sure that person would be very impressed that you know the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

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

Our first question comes from Sigmundo (Sigmundo). The question is about the difference between “up-to-date” and “updated.” Something that is “up – to (to) – date (date)” is something that is based on or using the newest information or method or technique. You want to make sure that your software is “up-to-date.” It is the latest software. The newest software.

“Updated” (updated) is something that has been made modern or more modern, something that contains the latest version of something. So, in talking about software, for example, the two terms are really similar. They mean the same thing. “My software is up-to-date.” “My software is updated.” “Updated” is the past participle of the verb “to update.” Sometimes they’re used to mean the same thing, but there are differences in their usage.

If you talk about furniture, or the decoration or “décor” in a room, you would describe it as being “updated,” meaning it is no longer old looking. It’s more modern. Or if you are to describe a kitchen that you have recently changed to put new appliances in, perhaps a new sink and countertop, you describe that kitchen as being “updated.” It doesn’t look old. It looks modern. It looks newer. You probably would not use “up-to-date” in that circumstance, in that situation.

However, if say someone you work with was gone for a few days and comes to talk to you and asks that you bring him “up-to-date,” he’s asking you give him all the information he missed so that he knows everything he should know, everything including what you know up to this very moment. After you tell him those things he can say, “Okay, now I’m up-to-date” – now I know everything that you know, everything that has happened until now.

If you’re referring to computer software, you can say the software is “up-to-date” or you could say the software has been “updated.” You have updated your software.

Our next question comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. The question is from Timy Paul (Timy Paul). There are two phrases that trouble Timy Paul: “to work out the kinks” and “you deserve a pat on the back.” These are completely unrelated expressions.

The first one, “to work out the kinks” (kinks) means to solve all of the problems in a given situation or with a given project. A “kink” (kink) here is a problem, something that isn’t working correctly. “To work out” means to solve, to make sure they don’t exist anymore because you’ve taken care of them. That’s what “to work out the kinks” means – to use something so that you figure out what all the little problems are and solve all those problems. Once you “work out the kinks,” then you can use this plan or carry out this project successfully.

The expression “to deserve (deserve) a pat (pat) on the back” means to be worthy of praise or congratulations. “To deserve” something is to merit or warrant or have sufficient qualities to receive something. “I deserve a raise.” That means I, because of my hard work, should get more money for the work I do at my job. My boss doesn’t think I deserve a raise, but I think I deserve a raise. “To deserve a pat on the back” is to be worthy of being praised or approved, to be worthy of being congratulated.

Finally, Fernando (Fernando), also from Brazil, wants to know the meaning of the expression “seize the moment.” “To seize” (seize) means to take and hold someone with your hand, or perhaps with your arms, in a very forceful way. “To seize” something would mean to grab it with your hands using some strength.

Now, “seize” can also mean to take something from someone else. For example, the government may “seize your property.” It may take your car away from you, especially if you are involved in some sort of crime.

“To seize the moment,” however, means just to take the opportunity to do something right now, to use the chance to do something quickly and with enthusiasm. “As I was standing there, the beautiful woman looked over at me and I knew that she liked me. So I decided to seize the moment.” I went right over and asked for her telephone number. And she said, “No, I was looking at the guy behind you.” It was a little embarrassing, but I seized the moment. I took advantage of the opportunity.

You should take advantage of the opportunity of emailing us your questions. Email us at 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.

to provide for – to take care of someone financially; to have enough money to support another person

* Traditionally, it was expected that a man would provide for his family, but that has changed over the past 50 years.

pseudonym – a false name someone, usually an author, creates and uses

* Some writers publish under a pseudonym to try to protect their privacy.

volume – one book in a set or series of books about the same or a similar topic

* This series on the history of the United States consists of five volumes.

experience – an event or occurrence that someone lives though

* The trip around the world was one of the most interesting and exciting experiences of my life!

to be base on – to use facts and ideas from one story or experience to create a new idea or story

* The movie Titanic was based on the true story of the ocean liner Titanic, which sank in 1912.

shipwreck – when a ship is badly damaged or destroyed at sea, usually because of a storm

* Several classic books and movies tell the story of a person traveling alone in a boat getting shipwrecked on an island and having to figure out how to stay alive.

to be stranded – to be left somewhere without a way of leaving or getting to another place

* When the winter storm hit, thousands of people were stranded at airports .

mate – an assistant to the ship’s captain; the person who is in charge of a ship if something happens to captain of a boat or ship

* The first mate steers the boat while the captain sleeps.

skipper – the captain of a boat or ship; the person in charge of the boat or ship

* The skipper told the passengers to put on their life vests and to prepare for rough waters.

courage – having the strength or ability to do something that is frightening or very difficult

* It took a lot of courage to complain about working conditions, since Jasminda knew she would probably lose her job.

uncharted – unknown; not on any maps

* The early explorers of this region went into uncharted areas where no one had ever been before.

syndication – when permission is given for a TV show to be shown on many different television stations, not restricted to the one it first appeared on

* Often when a show is in syndication, the television station will show a 24-hour marathon so that viewers can watch episodes all day long.

up-to-date – based on or using the latest or newest information, methods, and techniques

* Do you have an up-to-date smartphone, or an older style cell phone?

updated – made more modern; containing the latest version of something, such as a software program

* The Garcia family updated their kitchen by getting rid of the old vinyl flooring and putting in stone tiles.

to work out the kinks – to fix a small or minor issue; to solve small or minor problems

* The proposed timeline still doesn’t work for us, so let’s meet next week to work out the kinks.

to deserve a pat on the back – to be worthy or deserving of approval or praise

* Myung deserves a pat on the back for cleaning up the mess after everyone else left.

to seize the moment – to take or use an opportunity in a quick and eager way; to take advantage of an opportunity quickly and with enthusiasm

* Paul wanted to ask Mia for a date, but she was always with her friends. When he ran into her at the store and she was alone, he seized the moment and asked her out.

What Insiders Know
Survival Handbooks

The “survival handbook” “genre” (type of writing, film, music, and more) is popular among people who want to be prepared for any possible situation. These people enjoy thinking about the “worst-case scenario” (the worst possible thing that could happen in a given situation) and planning for how they would react to “survive” (continue to exist).

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, published in 1999, is the best-known survival handbook. It provides information on many dangerous situations, including how to land a plane, how to survive a “shark” (very large fish) attack, how to “deliver a baby” (help a woman give birth), how to “defuse a bomb” (make it so that a bomb will not explode), and more. The book is “humorous” (funny) “at times” (in places), but is actually very “informative” (providing useful information). More than 10 million copies have been sold, and now there is a series of related books focusing on specific topics, such as parenting, weddings, and college.

Some survival handbooks focus on a particular type of “scenario” (situation). For example, there are books that focus “solely” (only) on “natural disasters,” such as “earthquakes” (when the ground moves violently), “hurricanes” (large windstorms that begin over the ocean), and “floods” (when large amounts of water go onto dry land). Other handbooks teach people how to survive if they become lost “in the woods” (in a forest; in an area with many trees) with “minimal” (very little) equipment and supplies.

Other survival handbooks take a more “humorous” or funny approach, preparing readers for situations that are extremely unlikely to occur. For example, The Zombie Survival Guide, published in 2003, is designed to prepare people for survival “in the event of” (if something happens) a “zombie attack” (when dead people come back to life and begin to kill humans).