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571 Topics: Classic TV Shows – The Addams Family; The Hoover Dam; “Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.”; to blow (something) apart; pronouncing “man” and “men”

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 571.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 571. 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 that contains a complete transcript of everything we say. You can also like us on Facebook. Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about what was once a popular television show in the United States, The Addams Family. We’re also going to talk about one of the great engineering wonders of the twentieth century in the U.S., the Hoover Dam. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Perhaps one of the strangest American television shows of the twentieth century was something called The Addams Family, which was first broadcast, or aired, on television in 1964. It was a 30-minute show in black and white, based on a set of cartoons by Charles Addams. “To be based on” means that the ideas were taken from. In this case, they were taken from a “cartoon,” which is a drawing or set of drawings that normally appear in a newspaper or magazine that are supposed to be funny.

These particular cartoons about this very unusual family appeared in, ironically, somewhat strangely, a very famous literary magazine called The New Yorker. The New Yorker is probably one of the best-known magazines read by usually people who have an interest in literature and politics – people who have fairly high levels of education, often. It has long been considered one of America’s best magazines in terms of the quality of its writing, but The New Yorker is also famous for its cartoons, and one of the cartoons that used to appear in The New Yorker was drawn by Charles Addams.

People here in Hollywood decided that they would make a television show based on his cartoons. Now, Addams’ cartoons were about a very strange family. The father of the family was called Gomez and the mother, Morticia. They had a son named Pugsley and a daughter called Wednesday, just like the day of the week. The Addams family lived in a mansion, a very large house, and they were a loving family. They loved each other and they were happy.

Because they had a lot of money, they also had a butler. A “butler” (butler) is a male servant, someone who works in a wealthy person’s home, often opening the door when people come and doing other important tasks around the house. The butler in the Addams family mansion was named Lurch, and he was very tall. He was, in fact, seven feet tall. That’s more than two meters.

The family is often visited in the show by “relatives” – people who are part of their larger, more extended family, we would say, including a grandmother and uncle, whose name is Fester, and a cousin whose name is Itt, spelled “Itt.” The interesting thing about the Addams family is that the members of the family all think that they are normal, that there’s nothing unusual about their life, but of course we, watching the program, laugh at it because we know that their life is anything but normal. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Each member of the family has a very strange and often morbid interest. “Morbid” (morbid) describes an interest in things that are usually related to death and illness. The mother, Morticia, likes to grow plants, but her plants are usually poisonous. “To be poisonous” means that something has “poison” (poison) in it. “Poison” is something that can make you ill, and often can kill you. The son, Pugsley, has an interest in blowing things up – in exploding things, in making things be torn apart in a violent way.

The daughter, Wednesday, loves to play with dolls, but her favorite doll doesn’t have a head on it. Like many families, the Addams family has a pet, but they don’t have a dog or a cat. They have a pet called Thing. Thing is not your normal pet. It is actually a hand without a body that goes around the house by walking, if you will, on its fingers. This is a very bizarre and unusual family. Each member of the family, sort of like X-Men, I guess, has a special gift, a special talent, something normal humans don’t have.

The father, Gomez, and the son, Pugsley, for example, are very “agile.” “To be agile” (agile) means you can move quickly and easily from one place to another. Morticia has the power of being able to control fire. Wednesday, the daughter, is very strong. We’re not sure where these powers come from, but they don’t use them to hurt people. Remember, this is a comedy – a funny show.

In each episode of the show, someone comes to visit the Addams family – usually this person is a neighbor, someone who lives next to them, or a friend or family member. The Addams family always tries to involve this person who is visiting in their lives, but usually they end up scaring the person because the people think that these family members are crazy. They’re “insane.” “Insane” (insane) describes someone who has a mental illness that makes it impossible for that person to think normally, sort of like our political leaders here in the U.S.

The theme song for the show was very popular when the show was being broadcast. A “theme song” is a song used at the beginning of the show. Sometimes theme songs have just music. Sometimes theme songs have words as well. The Addams Family theme song had words, and famously the song has a lot of clapping in it. “To clap” (clap) is to put your hands together to make a noise like this [claps].

The Addams Family song begins with someone clapping. It also had this great music:

They’re creepy and they’re kooky,

Mysterious and spooky,

They’re all together ooky,

The Addams Family.

And so on . . .

“To be creepy” (creepy) means to cause someone to have a feeling of fear, especially because you’re very strange or weird. It’s definitely an insulting term to call someone “creepy.” To be kooky” (kooky) means the same as to be strange – to be unseen, perhaps even so crazy that you scare other people. “To be mysterious” means to know something or to act in a certain way that says you have a secret that you’re not telling anyone.

“To be spooky” (spooky) means, again, to cause other people to be scared. We often use that adjective “spooky” in describing something supernatural, such as a ghost that would scare you. A “ghost” (ghost) is the image of a person who is dead or perhaps, as some people believe, the presence of the person who has died. The word “ooky” is not a real word in English. It’s used in the song just to rhyme with “kooky” and “spooky.”

The Addams Family was only on national television for two years. However, like many shows in the 1960s, it had a longer life because some television stations continued to show the program in the afternoons and sometimes on Saturdays. I grew up in the 1970s, much too young to have watched The Addams Family when it was first on TV in 1964 to 1966, but I remember seeing the program because it was often on the local television stations along with other 1960s television programs.

The word we used to describe a TV show that is then shown for many years later, even after the show is no longer being produced, is called “syndication.” “Syndication” (syndication) is basically permission for television stations to show a television program after the program has been broadcast on television for the first time. The Addams Family, like Star Trek, was syndicated during the ’70s and ’80s, and people of my age grew up watching these television shows.

In 1991, Hollywood made a movie about the Addams family. It starred Angelica Houston and Raul Julia. It became fairly successful and it introduced a new generation, a new group of Americans, to the very strange world of the Addams family.

We turn now to our second topic, the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam is one of the greatest engineering achievements or building achievements of the early twentieth century in the United States and still one of the most impressive or amazing things to see in person. A “dam” (dam) is a wall, basically, used to stop – or more typically control – water on a river.

The Hoover Dam was originally called the Boulder Dam, and it was built across one of the largest and most important rivers in the western United States, the Colorado River. It is at one point the dividing line, or the border, between two U.S. states, Nevada and Arizona. Nevada and Arizona are just west of the state of California, about five hours or so driving from where I live.

The Hoover Dam was built along the border of the states of Nevada and Arizona, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada. In fact, if you visit Las Vegas, Nevada, you can take a trip on a tour to see the Hoover Dam, and if you ever go to Las Vegas, I highly recommend you do that. It’s definitely worth taking a half a day to drive and see the Hoover Dam.

I said that the Hoover Dam was one of the great engineering accomplishments or achievements in the U.S. during the early twentieth century. “Engineering” here refers to using science and technology to build something, especially a large structure. The Hoover Dam was, when it was built, the tallest dam in the world. It is no longer the highest or tallest dam, but it is still one of the tallest. It is 726 feet tall. That’s 221 meters, approximately, and 1,224 feet wide, or 379 meters for the rest of you.

On one side of the dam is Lake Mead, which because of the presence or the fact that there is a dam there goes back more than 100 miles. It’s a very large lake caused, of course, by the fact that the Hoover Dam is stopping the water from going as it would normally go through that part of the world. The dam is used primarily for power. It generates electrical power. When I say it generates electric power, I mean a lot of power. The electricity I’m using right now to record this episode is in part being supplied by the Hoover Dam, five hours away from me.

Southern California gets a percentage of its power from the Hoover Dam, so it’s not just for the areas close to the dam such as Las Vegas, which also of course gets a good portion of its electrical power from the dam as well. But it is also used to control the water in that area so that it can be used not just to drink, but also for the agriculture, for the farms, in that area.

Work on the dam began in 1930 and it took six years to build the dam. More than 21,000 men worked on the dam. This was important especially during this period when the U.S. was going through, as much of the world was, a Great Depression, when people were losing their jobs and a lot of their money. The Hoover Dam gave many people jobs and helped a large number of people get through a difficult time.

The reason the dam is named the Hoover Dam is because the U.S. president at the time construction began on the project was Herbert Hoover. It was Hoover, especially when he was working in the government before he became president in the 1920s, who helped organize the project and make sure that it was ready to be built. Hoover, interestingly enough, was himself an engineer, so he understood the importance as well as the difficulty of building a project as large as what was eventually to be known as the Hoover Dam.

As soon as the dam was completed in 1936, people began to go to visit the dam as a tourist attraction because it is so impressive, it is so interesting to see. Today more than a million people visit the dam every year. People come not only to see the dam itself but also to enjoy the lake that was created by the dam, Lake Mead. You can go and rent a cabin or a place to stay along the lake. You can go swimming in the lake and you can take a boat on the lake. So, it created a “recreational area,” we might call it – an area where people can go and have a little vacation as well as see the dam.

The dam itself is owned and operated by the U.S. government. In addition to being able to see the dam, the dam was also built with a road on top of it, so it serves as a bridge between one side of the river and the other. You can go and walk on the bridge. You can look down on the dam itself from the top of the dam. It’s quite impressive to see. I myself have been to the dam twice, first as an eight-year-old boy many years ago, and the second time just a few years ago when my wife and I were visiting Las Vegas.

It’s an amazing thing to see and they give a tour, as I mentioned previously, of the dam where you can see all the different parts of the dam. It’s quite impressive. I mentioned the dam is a bridge, and up until recently you used to be able to drive across the top of the dam. However, beginning with the events of September 11th, 2001, the government became worried that there might be some sort of terrorist attack on the dam, and so they decided they would no longer allow cars to drive across the dam.

This created a problem, however, because now there wasn’t a bridge for people to cross over from one side to another. So, in 2005 they began building a bridge that was completed in 2010, and it will take you across one side of the river to the other without having to go across the dam. This bridge is over a thousand feet wide. It is the longest bridge of that type in North America, and as you drive across the bridge, you can of course look and see the Hoover Dam next to you.

In fact, some people now say that that bridge that goes across the river is now itself sort of an attraction – that is, something that people go to see by itself. Although for me, nothing is as impressive as seeing the Hoover Dam itself. I would say of all the things I’ve seen in the western U.S., the Hoover Dam is among the most impressive.

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

Our first question comes from Ziya (Ziya) in Turkey. Ziya wants to know the meaning of a sentence that comes from a work by the author William S. Burroughs. The sentence is “Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” Now that’s quite a sentence there, Ziya. I’ll do my best to explain it.

“Silence” is the opposite of sound. It’s when no one is talking or no noise is being made. There’s an old expression “silence is golden.” “Golden” (golden) comes from the word “gold,” which is very valuable, worth a lot of money. The expression “silence is golden” means that it is good to be quiet, or it is good to be in a place without noise. I try telling that to my neighbors’ screaming, loud children but they never listen. “To be frightening” (frightening) means to cause someone to be afraid, to be scared, to have fear of something.

“Compulsively” (compulsively) is an adverb that comes from the adjective “compulsive.” “To be compulsive” means you have a desire to do something, a strong desire to do something, a strong want to do something that you cannot control, that you feel is impossible to control. Some people are compulsive about checking their Facebook pages on their phones. Every five minutes, it seems, they take their phone out of their pockets and they look at their Facebook page to see what’s happening. This is a “compulsive behavior.”

We sometimes associate the word “compulsive” with those that have a psychological disorder or illness where they can’t stop doing something over and over again. Technically, I think that’s being “obsessive.” “Obsessive” is to do something over and over again. “Compulsive” is to not be able to resist the urge or desire to do a certain thing.

The verb “to verbalize” (verbalize) means to express something in words, to say something, usually to say it out loud. We often use “verbalize” when we’re talking about someone saying what is going on inside of his head. So, you are talking out loud, expressing the thoughts that are going on inside of your head, thoughts that most people perhaps don’t say out loud even though they are thinking those thoughts.

So, going back to the sentence, we have “Silence” – that is, not making any sound or noise – “is only frightening” – is only scary – “to people who are compulsively verbalizing” – that is, who can’t resist saying their thoughts out loud. You probably know people who are always talking and saying what is going on inside of their heads. It’s very odd to work with someone like this.

I worked with someone like this a long time ago. Every thought that would go through his head, he would say out loud. It’s quite annoying, we would say. “To be annoying” (annoying) means to be bothering someone else. “To annoy” is to bother or to make someone else upset or perhaps feel unhappy.

Our final question comes from “Leonardo” (Leonardo) – no relation to the great Leonardo da Vinci, though perhaps he is. Leonardo is in Brazil. He wants to know how we pronounce two different words – one “man,” the other “men.” (Man) is the singular of (men), which is the plural, and both refer to a male human being who is an adult.

The first word is pronounced “man.” The second word is pronounced “men.” “Man,” “men.” The pronunciation is similar, especially if someone is speaking quickly, and you might confuse it. “There’s a man there.” “There are men there.” “Man,” “men.” “Man,” “men.” You can see how sometimes it might be confusing. As is often the case in all languages, the context, or the words around the word, often will tell you which word was meant, even though you may not be able to hear the differences in pronunciation.

People in different parts of the United States also may have slightly different pronunciations of vowels, and therefore it might be pronounced one way in New York and a slightly different way in Georgia. I’m not sure if this is a good example of that, but there are other words where that is definitely the case. Some people may say “man,” some people may say “men.”

Now, interestingly, depending on how you pronounce the word “man” (man), you may mean something other than just an adult male. If you say, “Man, it’s hot in here,” you’re using “man” as what we would call an “interjection” – a word that expresses a strong emotion. “Man, I am really tired today.” I’m not talking about a male adult. I’m just expressing a strong emotion. Now, we don’t use “men” in the same way. You can’t say “Men, it’s hot in here.” You can only say, “Man, it’s hot in here.”

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.

cartoon – a drawing or set of drawings traditionally in a newspaper or magazine intended to be funny or to comment on society

* Many people think that cartoons are just for children, but cartoons can contain more sophisticated messages that adults find interesting or funny.

butler – the main male servant in a wealthy home, often overseeing the staff and opening the front door to guests

* The Garcia family has a butler and a maid who provides service in their home.

morbid – an interest in things that are unhealthy, abnormal, or disturbing, especially those related to death and illness

* Jeb has a morbid sense of humor and likes telling jokes about dead people.

poisonous – causing death or illness if one eats, drinks, or comes in contact with it in some way

* These plants are beautiful but are also poisonous, so don’t touch them!

agile – able to move quickly and easily

* The dog is very agile and jumps over the tall fence with ease.

insane – mentally ill; with a mental condition that makes it difficult or impossible for one to act or think as other people do

* The judge said that the woman was insane and could not be held responsible for her actions.

creepy – causing an unpleasant feeling of unease or fear

* Walking down a dark street at night is creepy because you can’t see well and don’t know if someone is following you.

spooky – related to ghosts and causing fear

* The old house is spooky because there were many strange and unexplained noises.

syndication – permission for many televisions stations to show a television show, usually after its original broadcast

* The television show Friends was originally shown in the 1990s, and has been in syndication ever since.

dam – a barrier or wall used to hold back water, either to supply water or to produce power

* If the dam ever cracks or breaks, it could flood this entire town.

attraction – something that people go to visit because it is interesting or famous

* Paris has many attractions, including famous museums and beautiful parks.

engineering – the branch of science that deals with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and materials

* She studied engineering since she is interested in how bridges and roads are built.

silence – a situation or period of time when people do not talk and there is no sound or noise

* There was silence in the room after Gina announced the shocking news.

frightening – causing someone to become afraid; making someone scared

* Movies about ghosts and monsters can be frightening for young children.

compulsive – having a desire that is too strong to resist; a feeling that it is impossible to stop or control

* Dan is compulsive about locking the doors and windows of his apartment, sometimes returning several times a day to check that they’re locked.

to verbalize – to express something in words or in speech

* We all have unkind thoughts about our coworkers, but it’s unwise to verbalize them.

What Insiders Know
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and the Midnight Movie

A “midnight movie” can refer to any “B movie” (a movie produced inexpensively, with poor or medium quality) or “cult movie” (a movie that is not very well made, but has a lot of fans) that is shown on TV at midnight or very late at night or early in the morning, when normally there are few viewers. Many TV stations present midnight movies regularly, sometimes with a host or hostess who is “in character” (adopting a certain personality and pretending to be someone else).

One of the best-known hosts of midnight movies is Cassandra Peterson. She is an American actress who became well known for her “portrayal” (how someone shows something, especially by acting) of the character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. As that character, she wore a long “revealing” (showing off a woman’s shape, especially of her breasts) black dress, and “heavy” (with a lot of) makeup. As Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, she was the hostess of a show called Elvira’s Movie “Macabre” (frighteningly related to death) in which a Los Angeles TV station presented a “horror movie” (a film made to scare people) each week.

The show became very popular, “in large part” (mostly) because Elvira was attractive and sexy. Her “dark” (related to things that are evil) and “sarcastic” (using irony to show scorn or superiority) sense of humor and her “commentary” (comments and observations) throughout the movies made it even more entertaining. Soon the show was syndicated nationally and she became well known among midnight movie “enthusiasts” (fans; people who like something very much).