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569 Topics: John Muir and The Sierra Club; The Ma and Pa Kettle Movies; every versus each; Christmas/New Year break at colleges and universities; jinx

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 569.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 569. 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. Become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, you can download the Learning Guide that contains a complete transcript of everything I say. If you missed a word or didn’t understand something, the transcript will help you figure out what I’m saying, even when I don’t drink coffee.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about John Muir and the Sierra Club. We’re also going to talk about a famous series of movies from the mid-twentieth century – the Ma and Pa Kettle movies – and what they say about popular culture in the twentieth century. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

John Muir, like so many Americans, was an immigrant. He was born in Scotland in 1838. His family moved when he was only 11 years old to the small town of Portage, Wisconsin, in the United States. Wisconsin is the state next to Minnesota, the most important state in the union. Minnesota is located in the, what we would describe as “upper Midwest.” It’s in the northern central part of the United States. I, of course, am from Minnesota.

John Muir’s family lived in Wisconsin, and it was there that Muir got interested in educating himself. They worked – the family did – on a farm that the father owned. John Muir taught himself math as well as how to read and write. He became very interested in building and in inventing new machines. At the age of 20, he decided to move to Madison, Wisconsin.

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin. It’s the home of the University of Wisconsin Madison – the most important university in Wisconsin. That’s where John Muir studied. He decided to study botany. “Botany” (botany) is the scientific examination or study of plants and plant life. However, Muir wasn’t able to finish his schooling, in part because the American Civil War began in 1861. He returned to his parents’ farm and taught at a local school.

After the war ended, the Civil War that is, in 1865, Muir followed his interest in different types of machines and began working in some local factories. A “factory” (factory) is a place where things are made, where things are produced. He had a terrible accident, however, in 1867, and almost lost his eyesight. He became temporarily, that is for a short period of time, blind. “Blind” (blind) describes the inability to see. If you cannot see, if your eyes don’t work properly, you are blind.

Fortunately for Muir, he did get his sight back – that is, he was able to see again – but he did a lot of thinking during this period when he had his accident. He decided he was going to change the work that he did. He was going to change, in fact, the whole purpose of his life – instead of working on machines and trying to create and invent new machines, he would study plants and nature. He would go back to his interest in botany.

His first big step was a rather important one. He decided to walk from Wisconsin to Florida, to what is called the Gulf of Mexico, which is what the Atlantic Ocean is called in that part of the region. Now, if you look at a map of the United States, you will soon realize that Florida is a very, very long way from Wisconsin. It’s on the opposite side of the country. Wisconsin is in the very north. Florida is in the very south. Yet this was what Muir wanted to do. He wanted to walk a thousand miles.

Now, fortunately for Muir, he was a very good writer, and he used this experience to keep a journal. A “journal” (journal) is where you keep your thoughts about daily life or about things that are interesting to you. Although he kept this journal for his entire trip, it wasn’t actually published until after his death, but no doubt that keeping of the journal gave Muir some confidence in his own writing, because it was through his writing that Muir was to become truly well-known and influential. He would change the way that Americans thought about the land in which they lived.

After Muir completed this crazy walk down to Florida, he decided to come west to California – to San Francisco, specifically. During this period in the late nineteenth century, San Francisco was the largest city in California – the main city in California, we could call it. Los Angeles at this period was a very small town, really. It didn’t grow until much later. When Muir went to San Francisco, he began visiting the areas in Northern California, including an area called Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Valley is about 250 kilometers or 160 miles east of San Francisco.

After going through the Sierra Nevada mountains in which Yosemite Valley is located, he began writing articles. Yosemite Valley is a beautiful place. It has many interesting, what are called “rock formations,” where the rock seems to be formed in a special way. John Muir’s theory about these rock formations was that they were caused by glaciers. A “glacier” (glacier) is a large area of ice that moves very slowly over a large area. Now, this was a new idea at the time. Muir proposed this idea, suggested this idea, and later scientists realized that he was probably correct.

In 1876, Muir began working on a project that would really change the rest of his life. He decided that instead of just writing about scientific topics and botany, he would try to preserve these beautiful areas that he was visiting. “To preserve” (preserve) means to keep something in its original condition so that it doesn’t change. When we talk about preserving parts of nature, different areas of land, we use a special noun, which is “conservation.” Muir became one of America’s first “conservationists.”

A “conservationist” is someone who works to protect animals, plants, and other what we would call “natural resources” – things that are part of the land and water. Muir believed that as America grew, as it became more populous, it was important to preserve – to conserve – certain parts of the land so that everyone would be able to enjoy that beauty. He thought that these areas should be untouched – that is, no one should be able to go in and use them for commercial purposes.

Now, there were other people interested in conservation during this period, during the late nineteenth century, who agreed with Muir partly. They said, “Well, yes, we should have national parks,” for example – parks that would be owned by the government and that would be protected by the government, “but businesses should also be able to go into these parks and use some of their resources.” It didn’t have to be all or nothing – that is, it didn’t have to be a case where you would either protect the park completely or you would not protect it at all; there could be some protection of the park, some conservation, but also some business use.

Muir disagreed with this idea completely, and his idea eventually was the one that won popular support. Muir, remember, was a good writer, and so he began writing articles in national magazines saying we need to protect these areas completely. So, in May of 1892, Muir started an organization to do just that, to promote conservation. He called this organization the Sierra Club. He “founded” the club, we might say. “To found,” (found) as a verb, means to create some sort of business or organization.

John Muir founded the Sierra Club, and the mission or the purpose of this club was to protect the environment and to promote, as I say, conservation. The “environment” is a word we use to describe the natural world – the land, the oceans, the animals. All of these are part of the environment. Of course, human beings are part of the environment also. Some people forget that.

Since Muir founded the Sierra Club, he became its first president. One of the things he did is publish something called the Sierra Club Bulletin. This was a little magazine that Muir wrote articles for and sent to people so that they would know about the issues he cared about. The Sierra Club became a very important organization during the 1890s. It was especially influential – that is, it was important – in changing the ideas or changing the minds of politicians during this period.

One of the things that Muir wanted to do was have the national government, the federal government, protect certain areas of land. Muir, even before starting the Sierra Club, had already been successful. The federal government established Yosemite National Park and another national park in Northern California called Sequoia National Park in 1890. So, there was already a movement in the United States, a group of people interested in protecting environmental areas, especially those that had some sort of significance or beauty.

In 1903, the then-president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, went with John Muir on a camping trip to the Yosemite region. Theodore Roosevelt was already very interested in the environment and in national parks, and going on this trip with John Muir convinced him that the government should do even more to protect the environment.

In 1908, the government established the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, which is located in Northern California, and began looking at other areas of the country that needed protection and that could be part of what we might call a “national conservation program.” Muir spent 11 years after that camping trip with President Roosevelt traveling around the United States and around the world, talking about why it was so important to preserve nature.

He continued writing books and articles about nature, and especially about the forests here in the United States. “Forests” (forests) are areas of land that have lots of trees in them. By the time John Muir died in 1914, he was already known around the world as a great conservationist, and to this day he still remembered in the U.S. as the man who was perhaps most influential in preserving so many areas of our natural environment.

We turn now to our second topic, the Ma and Pa Kettle movies of the 1950s. “Ma (Ma) and Pa (Pa)” are short versions of “Mama” and “Papa.” Depending on what part of the United States you grew up in, you may have called your own father “Pa” and your own mother “Ma.” We normally associate it, however, with rural areas – areas outside of the main towns and cities.

More specifically, I think most Americans would associate it with what we would call the Appalachian region of the United States – the mountains that are located in the eastern part of the United States in states such as West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee – those areas. I never called my own mother “Ma.” I would say “Mom,” and I would call my father “Dad.”

Anyway, the Ma and Pa Kettle movies were about a family, a fictional family, that had 15 children. “Fictional” means of course not real, or imaginary. In the Ma and Pa Kettle movies – “Kettle” was their last name – the family with the 15 children lived on a farm in Washington State, which is located in the northwest corner of the United States on the border with Canada. The family, although fictional, was actually based on a real family, or at least some of the members were based on a real family, who were neighbors of the woman who created the stories, a woman by the name of Betty MacDonald.

MacDonald had some neighbors who apparently resembled or were something like these fictional characters. Ma and Pa were not well educated. They didn’t have a lot of schooling. They didn’t dress very well, and they were poor. They were, however, good and kind people who were always willing to have an adventure, and of course the movies are all about these poor but good people who would go on these adventures.

The Ma and Pa Kettle characters actually first appeared in another movie, and in that movie they weren’t the stars of the movie. They were what we would describe I guess as “minor characters,” but everyone loved the characters. In fact, the woman, the actress who played Ma Kettle, was actually nominated for an Academy Award, for an Oscar. The characters were so popular that they then got their own movies, and the first of those was called Ma and Pa Kettle in 1949.

In the movie, Pa Kettle enters a contest to win a new tobacco pouch. A “contest” is, of course, a game or a competition where people try to win something. A “tobacco pouch” is a small bag that is used to carry leaves of a plant that could be smoked in a pipe – that is “tobacco.” Instead of winning this tobacco pouch, Pa instead wins a new house. It’s a beautiful house. It has lots of new machines and lots of new devices that Ma and Pa Kettle, being poor, had never seen before. Of course, the comedy of the movie is that this poor family move into this rich house and don’t know how anything works.

The movie became popular, and of course what Hollywood does when it finds a popular set of characters is that it makes another movie about those same people, and so in 1950, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town was made. The expression “go to town” means in this case to go to a large city, to a large town. The expression “go to town,” however, can also mean to do something with great enthusiasm – to do something, we might say, “energetically.”

Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town involved the two main characters going to New York City to visit their oldest son and his new wife. During their trip, however, they somehow get involved in a bank robbery. A “bank robbery” is when you steal money from a bank. Of course, it’s a comedy so nothing bad happens. In the movie, Ma and Pa Kettle appear to be doing things that are foolish, that are stupid, but in fact they are able of course to “outsmart” – to be smarter than – the bank robbers.

Over the next five years, five more Ma and Pa Kettle movies were made. Some of these had them going back to their farm, one of them had them visiting Paris, France, and Hawaii. In each movie, Pa does something stupid, something foolish, and Ma and the children try to help, but somehow the situation gets worse before it gets better. One of the reasons Ma and Pa Kettle movies were popular was because they were funny, but also because they were nostalgic. “Nostalgic” (nostalgic) describes a feeling of happiness for some period of time in the past.

“To be nostalgic” is to remember the past and think of how wonderful it was. Sometimes, of course, our memories are not so good, and we remember things being better than they actually were. Well, even in the 1950s Americans were nostalgic for a simpler time. The country was changing, the economy was changing, America had just of course finished being involved in a major world war, and people perhaps look back at a more innocent time.

This “nostalgia,” we would say, is something that recurs in American popular culture, probably in most popular cultures. We look back at a time that seemed better, that seemed more innocent. The Ma and Pa Kettle films were, in fact, Americans thinking back at the time before the large cities, before the large towns, when most Americans did in fact live on a farm and valued certain things that were no longer valued in our new urban – that is, city – environments.

There were a few more Ma and Pa Kettle movies made in the 1950s, but by the 1960s, American popular culture had changed, focusing more on city life than country life. Nevertheless, if you go back and watch some of the old Ma and Pa Kettle films, I think you’ll get a sense of that nostalgia for rural or for country life that was present during the early 1950s.

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

Our first question comes from Erika (Erika) in Germany. Erika wants to know the difference between “every” (every) and “each” (each). She would also like to know the meaning of the phrase “each and every.” These two words are of course quite popular, quite common in American English. “Every” can mean including each person or thing in a group, as long as the group has three or more members. That’s very important. There must be three or more members of this group.

If I say, “Every person in my family is from Minnesota,” I mean that my brother, my sister, my other sister, my other brother, my other brother, my other brother, my other brother, my other – you get the idea. All of us are from Minnesota. We were all born in Minnesota. Every McQuillan family member was born in Minnesota. That’s one meaning of “every,” perhaps the most common one. There are a few others, however.

“Every” can also be used to describe frequency. “Every Friday, I go to the gym.” That’s how frequently, how often, I go to the gym. “Every” can also be used to describe how far apart things are in a series. “There is a restaurant every three miles.” So if you drive three miles, you’ll see a restaurant, and then you’ll drive another three miles and see a restaurant, and so forth. “I have a cup of coffee every two hours.” That’s the time between each cup of coffee. That’s not true. I have a cup of coffee every hour.

“Every,” finally, can also mean complete or full. “I have every right to complain.” That means I have a complete, unlimited right to complain. You’ll normally see the use of “every” in that way just with a few words, such as “confidence.” “I have every confidence in you.” “I have every confidence in my friend.” That means I have complete confidence. I trust him completely – just not with my wife.

Now, I mentioned a minute ago that “every” is used in the sense of “all” when we’re talking about a group of three or more members. If a group just has two members, we would say “each.” So, if I’m going on a trip and I go to the airport, I could be carrying luggage. I could be carrying suitcases in “each hand,” because I only have two hands. I don’t know about you, but I just have two. Each hand has something in it. Each hand is carrying something. If you have more than two hands, then you could say “every,” but you should also see a doctor.

Unfortunately, things are a little more complicated than that. You knew they would be, right? “Each” can also be used to describe members of a group that has more than two members. However, when we use “each” to describe a group with more than two members, we’re usually emphasizing the individuality of that particular member. It’s a matter, then, of emphasis.

“Give each person a cup of coffee.” That means the same as “give everyone a cup of coffee,” but by saying “each,” I’m emphasizing or stressing that you are to give the cup of coffee individually to this person, to this person, to this person. The idea there might be that you would give the cups of coffee one by one to each person. “Each,” unlike “every,” can also be used as what’s called an “indefinite pronoun.” It can be used as a pronoun to stand by itself.

So, instead of saying “each person,” I could just say “each.” “Each must go to vote today.” “Each person must go to vote today.” You cannot say “every” in place of “every person.” It’s not possible to say, “Every must go and vote today.” No, you can’t say that – but you could use “each” as a pronoun. Sometimes, as I’ve been suggesting, you could say either one. You could say, “Each time I see you, I believe you are more beautiful.” I say that to my wife every day. Or you could say, “Every time I see you, I think you’ve become more beautiful.” I say that to my wife also every day.

What about this phrase “each and every?” “Each and every” is a phrase used for even more emphasis. You are emphasizing that there are no exceptions, that every member of a group is part of whatever description you are giving. “Each and every one of you must come to my party.” “Each and every person in this room must vote in November.” It’s not necessary to say “each and every.” You could just say “Everyone in this group” or “Every member of my party should vote for me.” However, if you want to have extra emphasis, you might use that expression “each and every.” Short words, long answer.

Our next question comes from Evin (Evin) from an unknown country – a country where they spell Evan with an “i,” apparently. We would normally spell it “Evan.” But it’s probably a name in a different language that I don’t know. Evin’s question is actually “How many days are college and university students off from school during the Christmas and New Year holidays?”

Well, that’s an interesting question. The short answer is, on average, most Americans get two weeks of vacation or a week of vacation, depending on where you work. College students will usually get a couple of weeks. However, depending on the schedule of the school, it could be as much as six weeks. The reason is that some schools are on what’s called a “semester (semester) system.”

A “semester system” begins classes in early September and goes for 15 weeks. Then it either begins the first week of January again, or the first week of February. Some semester schools actually have what’s called a “J term,” or “January term.” This is where they have classes for four weeks, but the classes meet most of the day. In either case, the regular school schedule has 30 total weeks in a semester system.

The other system a college or university can use is called a “quarter” (quarter) system.” A “quarter system,” instead of having two terms of 15 weeks, has three terms of 10 weeks. The fall quarter will usually begin in late September, not early September like a semester system – say, the third week of September – and go until the middle of December. Then, the students get a couple of weeks of vacation. They come back in the first week of January and they have what’s called the “winter quarter.” That also goes for 10 weeks.

After the end of that, they get another week of vacation, what’s sometimes called “spring break,” and then they go a third quarter, the “spring quarter,” for another 10 weeks, ending classes sometime in early to mid June. The semester system, if they begin their second semester in early January, end their classes sometime in early to mid May. Those are the two basic systems of terms or sessions that American universities use.

Why do they use a semester versus a quarter? It just depends on the preferences of the university. When I was a student at the University of Minnesota, we had a quarter system. When I was a graduate student at USC, at the University of Southern California, we had a semester system. Which is better? They’re both about the same, in my opinion.

Our final question comes from Konstantin (Konstantin) from Russia. Konstantin wants to know the meaning of the word “jinx” (jinx). A “jinx” is something or someone that gives you bad luck. It can also be a verb – “to jinx” someone. “To jinx” someone is to give someone bad luck somehow.

You’ll often hear this word jokingly when two people say the same thing at the same time just by coincidence – that is, they didn’t mean to do it. So if two people say the exact same thing – a word or a phrase – at the same time, children will often say “Jinx!” In that case, it’s sort of a children’s game. If you say something at the same time as someone else and you say “jinx” first, the other person has to do something to, we would say, “break the jinx.”

So, if you and I say something at the same time, and I realize it first and say “jinx,” then you either have to do something, or perhaps I’ll do something to you in order to break the jinx. Maybe I’ll punch you. That’s part of your punishment, if you will, or penalty for losing the game because you didn’t say “jinx” first.

Some people have a certain little song that they sing – children, I’m talking about – when they call jinx this way. This is to me a relatively new invention. It was based on a popular comedy program called Saturday Night Live from the early 1980s. The comedian, I think it was Eddie Murphy, sang this song and that became popular with some people – but that was, as we say, “after my time” – that is, I was too old by the time that became popular.

I’m not too old to answer your questions, though. 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.

botany – the scientific study of plants and plant life

* Simone has always loved botany and spends her free time in her garden trying to grow new types of plants.

blind – not having the ability to see; without sight

* He was born blind and has a guide dog that helps him get around.

glacier – a very large area of ice that moves slowly over a wide area

* Climate scientists warn that glaciers around the world are melting, which is raising the level of the oceans.

to preserve – to keep something in its original state or condition

* The art museum works hard to preserve each of the paintings in its collection, protecting it from fading and other damage.

conservationist – a person who works to protect animals, plants, and natural resources, such as minerals or water

* Conservationists have been working hard in Montana to bring back the buffalo to the land and create an area that looks like it did in the early 1800s.

to found – to create a business or organization

* Our company was founded by two brothers, one an engineer and the other a salesman.

mission – an organization or group’s goal or purpose

* One of the missions of Doctors Without Boarders is to go into areas where there is war and provide healthcare to people who are injured or need help.

environment – the natural world, including plants, animals, and natural resources

* People who want to save the environment often make an effort to reduce the amount they throw away and to recycle.

fictional – not real; created for a story

* Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are two of the most famous fictional detectives.

contest – a game or competition that people participate in to win something

* The person who chops the most wood in one minute will win the contest and the first prize ribbon.

foolish – silly; unwise; showing poor judgment

* Don’t be foolish! Why would you quit a good paying job when you have so much debt?

nostalgic – the feeling of happiness and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that one could experience it again

* People are often nostalgic for their childhood when they had little responsibility.

every – including each person or thing in a group; describes how often a repeated activity or event happens or is done; describes how far apart the things in a series of things are placed from each other

* It is the duty of every citizen to vote in elections.

each – every one of two or more separate people or things

* Each applicant will need to complete a five-page form.

semester – one of two usually 15- to 18-week periods in an academic year at a school or college

* In the fall semester, take Biology 101 so you can take Biology 102 in the spring semester.

quarter – one of four parts of an academic year usually lasting about 10 to 12 weeks

* During this quarter, you will be submitting an essay every other week.

jinx – someone or something that causes bad luck

* There’s a jinx on our family. How else would you explain three deaths in two years?

What Insiders Know
United Daughters of the Confederacy

The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1894. Its members are the female “descendants” (people in later generations; people who can trace their “ancestry” (family roots) to a particular person or group of people) of “Confederate” soldiers, or soldiers who fought for the South during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).

The women who created the organization wanted to remember and “honor” (show respect and admiration for) the men who had fought and died in the war. They also wanted to “preserve” (keep; maintain) the image of the “antebellum” (before the Civil War) Southern “plantation” (a very large, wealthy farm, especially one used to grow large amounts of cotton and tobacco.

The organization has “erected” (established and put in the ground) many “memorials” (structures used to remember someone or something of cultural or historical significance) to remember the Confederate soldiers, emphasizing their memories over those of the “black experience” (the history and memories of African Americans) and “Union soldiers” (soldiers who fought for the North during the U.S. Civil War).

The organization also helped Confederate families to “bury their dead” (have funerals for soldiers who died), gave financial support to the “widows” (women whose husbands have died) and children of Confederate soldiers, and helped Confederate women publish stories about their experiences during and after the Civil War. Later, the organization “raised funds” (collected money) to pay for hospital beds and help “orphans” (children whose parents have died) during World War I, and to help student nurses in World War II.