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575 Topics: The Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 and the creation of the District of Columbia; The Hollywood Sign; next versus upcoming versus future; critical situation versus critical position; steaming

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 575.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Cafe episode 575. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide – an eight- to ten-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you a complete transcript of everything we say, along with a glossary, culture notes, and more.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about why the capital of the United States is located in a special place that isn’t even a state – the District of Columbia. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous symbols of Los Angeles, where I live, the Hollywood sign. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

During the American Revolution – during the late part of the eighteenth century, the 1700s – the new United States of America decided to have its capital city in one of the largest cities in the new country at that time: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was an important city during the early part of our history. It’s where the first Congress or group of representatives met. It’s where the early leaders sat down to write the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence was the document in which the then colonies of Great Britain said they wanted to be, and were going to be, a separate country from Great Britain. That, of course, led to or caused the American Revolutionary War, where the colonies which were part of Great Britain fought against the British government and eventually got their freedom from Great Britain.

When the war ended – the Revolutionary War, that is – in 1781, the new United States decided that it needed, of course, a permanent capital for the new country. A “capital” (capital) is the city in which the government of a country meets and has its offices. Somewhat confusingly, in English there’s another word pronounced the same, “capitol” (capitol). When the word ends in an “-ol,” it refers to the actual building where the government representatives meet. In our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. (capital), the “capitol” (“-ol”) is a building in which our representatives called “Congress” meet.

In any case, in 1781 the United States decided that it would put its “capital,” both “-al” and “-ol,” in the city of Philadelphia. Now, one of the things the government had to do in order to win the war is promise to pay the soldiers – the men who fought in the war. The new U.S. government said, “Yes, we’ll pay you, but it will take a few, well, years really, to get our finances together.” “Finances” (finances) refers to the money that a organization such as a business or a country has.

Finances are always difficult, especially when you are just starting a new operation, including a new country. By 1783, however, two years after the war ended, the soldiers were getting a little impatient, a little angry with the government, because they weren’t receiving the money they thought they were going to get, and so the soldiers from the state of Pennsylvania, in which the city of Philadelphia is located, decided they wanted to let the Congress, the federal or national government representatives, know how angry they were.

So, on June 20th, 1783, 400 of these soldiers arrived in Philadelphia wanting to talk to the government. In particular, they wanted to speak with the leader of the state of Pennsylvania, a man by the name of John Dickinson. Dickinson was responsible for getting the money to these Pennsylvania soldiers. None of the government officials, however, wanted to meet with the soldiers, and so two days later, the national Congress received a message that a group of 80 had left from their town of Lancaster, about 100 kilometers west of Philadelphia, to join some other soldiers who were already in the city.

In total, then, there were going to be 500 soldiers, and these 500 soldiers, as I mentioned earlier, were not very happy. The soldiers said that if they didn’t get their money, they would have a mutiny against the new government. A “mutiny” (mutiny) is when a group of soldiers, members of the military, decide they’re not going to do what the leaders say and instead are going to take over the leadership themselves, usually using some form of violence.

Well, Dickinson and some members of Congress didn’t think that these soldiers would actually do anything, although other members of Congress said yes, I think they will, including Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the most famous leaders of the country during this period. On behalf of others who were also concerned for their own safety, who were worried that the soldiers would do something, Alexander Hamilton asked Dickinson to get another group of soldiers, a militia, to stand outside of the Capitol Building in order to protect the Congress members.

A “militia” (militia) is a military force that is organized not by people who are in the regular army, but by what we would call “civilians” – people who are not regular members of the military, people who are not trained soldiers. Dickinson, however, said no, we don’t need to do that. Congress isn’t in any danger. Hamilton, quite correctly, said that yes, they were in danger, and that if Dickinson did not arrange for a militia to protect them, they were going to leave the city of Philadelphia.

For two days, then, this group of unhappy and unpaid soldiers waited outside the Capitol Building. Nobody got violent, but the members of Congress certainly got concerned about their safety, and so they did in fact leave the city of Philadelphia to go to Princeton, which is in the state next to Philadelphia, in New Jersey, about 50 miles or 80 kilometers north of Philadelphia. There is a famous University also in Princeton called, interestingly enough, “Princeton.”

The soldiers left Philadelphia as well and returned to their homes, but the members of Congress got the message. They realized that it was not safe for them to stay in Philadelphia, and so over the next few years they moved from one city to another. They held their meetings in the state of Maryland, in the state of New York, and in the state of New Jersey. From 1785 to 1790, Congress met in New York City and decided that it would return to Philadelphia for 10 years while a new capital was created – a new place within the United States that would not be part of any of the 13 original states.

It would be its own government organization – not a state, but what we call a “district,” a “federal district.” This is not unusual. There are other countries that have federal districts that are not considered part of any of the states. Mexico is a good example of that. The federal district of Mexico, more commonly known as Mexico City, is not technically part of any of the states of Mexico. The same is true in the United States of America. There is a federal district which we now call Washington, D.C. The “D.C.” stands for “District of Columbia.”

The District of Columbia was meant to be the permanent home of the federal government. “Permanent” (permanent) is the opposite of “temporary.” “Permanent” means it will be there forever. “Temporary” means it will be there only for a short time. The decision to create a permanent home for the federal government was called the “Residence Act of 1790” and it was approved by the then president of the United States, George Washington, our first president. A “residence” (residence) is a word we normally use to describe a person’s home. In this case, it refers to the home of the government.

The U.S. government selected an area of 100 square miles – that would be 260 square kilometers – that was located along the Potomac River. The Potomac River separates the states of Maryland and Virginia. Now, in order to create this 100-square-mile area, the states of Maryland and Virginia had to give up part of their territory in order to create the new District of Columbia. Part of the reason this area was chosen was because it was in the center of the then-existing states.

Remember, all of the original states were located along the eastern coast of the United States, along the Atlantic Ocean. It made sense to put the capital in the middle of these original states. It was also chosen because the Potomac River made it easy for people to get to the new capital, especially those in the more western parts of the new country, including what later became the states of Ohio and West Virginia.

Finally, it was also chosen because it was close to President Washington’s home – our first president, who had his home in Virginia. His home, which you can visit today, is known as Mount Vernon. “Mount” (mount) is another word for a small mountain or large hill. I visited Mount Vernon when I was a young child. The new area that was chosen by the Residence Act was called the District of Columbia, and it was named then after George Washington himself, so we call it “Washington, D.C.”

It took 10 years to build the Capitol and the principal, or most important, buildings. The capital itself, the city, was designed by the French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who also designed the street plan for parts of the city of Paris. One of the most important parts of L’Enfant’s plan for the new city was something called the National Mall, and this was going to be an area around which all of the most important buildings of the government would be built, including the Capitol Building, and later the Washington Monument.

Still, to this day, when you go to Washington D.C. you will see the most important buildings are still around this central area of the city called the National Mall (mall). We also use the word “mall” nowadays to refer to a large shopping area, but here it refers to a central area – in this case, a long area around which some of the most important buildings of the capital are located. I’ve referred to, as most Americans do, to our capital as being called “Washington, D.C.,” but technically the District of Columbia originally was bigger than the city of Washington, which is inside of the District.

However, during the Civil War in particular, the number of people who moved to the District of Columbia grew so much that the city of Washington basically became the same size as the District itself. Americans refer to their capital, then, either as “Washington,” or as “D.C.,” or as “Washington, D.C.” It’s somewhat confusing because there’s also a state called Washington located north of California. It’s actually north of Oregon, which is north of California on the Pacific Ocean. That, then, is the story of how we got our federal district.

Now let’s turn briefly to one of the most important symbols of the city of Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign.

The word “Hollywood” is somewhat confusing to people. Some people think Hollywood is a separate city or a separate place in Southern California. In fact, Hollywood is just a neighborhood. It’s one part of the city of Los Angeles. The word now is used to represent the industry – the group of related businesses – that is located in this neighborhood, which is show business – in particular the movie industry or the businesses that make movies here in Southern California.

When people say they’re going to Hollywood, here in Los Angeles they mean they’re going to the neighborhood of Hollywood. But more generally, “Hollywood” is used to refer to the entire set of businesses, the entire group of businesses that are involved in making movies, whether they are located in the neighborhood of Hollywood or not.

The Hollywood sign was built in 1923 on what is called Mount Lee, just north of the main area of Los Angeles, the main part of the city. “Mount,” as I mentioned previously, is a short word for “mountain,” but it really here refers to a large part of the mountains that are located in the northern part of the city, or at least north of the downtown area. The sign was, we say, “erected” in 1923. “To erect” (erect) means to build something, in this case. We can talk about “erecting a building” or “erecting a sign” or “erecting a monument.”

The Hollywood sign originally wasn’t related at all to the movie business. Instead, during this period there were new houses that were being built in in the area we now call Hollywood, the neighborhood we now call Hollywood, and the company that was building these houses wanted to have a big sign to advertise the houses.

The name of this new development, this new area of houses, was called “Hollywoodland.” They were considered very expensive houses. They were what we might describe as “luxury” houses. “Luxury” (luxury) refers to expensive houses, houses that are considered very elegant, very comfortable.

Originally when the Hollywood sign was built, it was about 45 feet high, painted in white letters. The letters of the sign were tied to, or connected to, large telephone poles. “Telephone poles” are large pieces of wood that go up in the air that have telephone wires on them. Well, there weren’t any telephone wires on these poles. They were there just to hold up the letters of Hollywoodland. The original sign said “Hollywoodland,” not just “Hollywood,” because that of course was the name of the housing development.

The original sign also had light bulbs on it – more than 4,000 – that when they were turned on would be viewable. You could see them from most parts of the city. Unfortunately, this new housing development was not very successful. A lot of people thought the houses were too expensive, especially later during the 1920s when the U.S. went into what is called the Great Depression. People could not afford – they didn’t have money to buy – these big expensive houses, and eventually the sign began to fall down.

In the middle of the 1940s, the area near the sign became rich again with nice homes, and the people who lived there didn’t want this ugly sign that had been there for more than 20 years. They said the sign was an “eyesore.” An “eyesore” (eyesore) is something that is very ugly. The word “sore” usually means something causing pain. So an “eyesore” is something that causes pain to your eyes because it’s so ugly. We don’t talk about people as being an “eyesore,” even if they’re ugly. We only talk about things like buildings or signs.

Well, these people who lived in Hollywood thought the sign was an eyesore, and they wanted the city to get rid of it, but the city and the local group of businesspeople in Hollywood, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said that they wanted to keep the sign and they were going to, instead of getting rid of it, restore it. That is, fix it, repair it so that it could be a symbol not of the old Hollywoodland housing development but of the neighborhood of Hollywood. They got rid of the “-land” at the back of the sign and painted and restored the sign so it just said “Hollywood.”

By the 1970s, however, the sign once again began to fall down. Nobody was taking care of it. In fact, it became popular for some young people to go up and either paint the sign or even try to burn the sign down. These were pranks that young people would sometimes do who live here in Los Angeles. A “prank” (prank) is something that someone does that is supposed to be funny but sometimes can be dangerous. Some actors, actresses, and musicians decided they should try to restore the sign.

Hugh Hefner, the founder of the what some people call a “men’s magazine,” Playboy, decided that he would help in this effort, and he tried to get people to give money in order to fix the sign. His efforts were successful. He got enough money so that a new sign could be built. Finally, in 1978 an organization was created to take care of the sign: the Hollywood Sign Trust, it was called. In addition to making sure the sign was in good condition, the organization also put up a fence around the sign so that people couldn’t actually get to the sign.

If you visit Los Angeles today, you can’t actually go up to the letters of the sign itself. They are protected and if you do try to go to the actual letters, you could be arrested by the police for trespassing. “To trespass” (trespass) means to go on someone else’s property without permission. In 2002, the land around the sign was being sold, but once again, several famous actors and celebrities, famous people, decided they would get money to buy the land. They collected more than $12 million dollars in order to buy the land so that the sign could remain.

The Hollywood sign continues today to be one of the great symbols of Los Angeles, and in particular of the movie industry. You can see the sign from most parts of the main area of Los Angeles on days when there isn’t too much pollution.

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

Cristian (Cristian) in Italy wants to know the meanings of the words “next,” “upcoming,” and “future.” Let’s start with “next” (next). The word “next” means coming after or following this thing or this event. “The next thing I’m going to do is have lunch.” Now I am recording this episode. When I am finished, right after this, I will eat my lunch. That’s what I will do next. So, “next” is used to refer to something that follows immediately after another thing.

“Upcoming” (upcoming) means happening soon or appearing soon. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen next. It may not be what follows immediately from what is happening now, but it will happen soon. Usually the word “upcoming” is used to describe an event or perhaps a meeting that will take place in the near future – in the next week or month or perhaps a couple of months. “Here is a list of upcoming concerts.” These are musical performances that will be taking place in the future, maybe in the next month or two.

The word “future” (future) means in a period of time after the present time. There are three ways of describing time: “past” – something that has already happened; “present” – something that is happening right now; and “future” – something that will happen. We often use “future” in prepositional phrases such as “in the future,” meaning in the period of time that will come after the present time. Unlike “upcoming,” “future” can mean next week, next year, next century. We have no sense in English, when we say “future,” about how distant in time that event will be.

Mohamed (Mohamed) in Sudan wants to know the meaning of the word “critical” (critical), especially in the expressions “critical position” and “critical situation.” The word “critical” in both cases means very important.

A “critical position” is a job or a function in a company or organization that is considered very important, necessary for that organization to be successful. A “critical situation” usually refers to a very serious situation, often a dangerous situation. It’s important but it’s important because it is perhaps risky – that is, there is danger involved. Something could go wrong that could cause a lot of harm or damage. So, while “critical” can mean just important, it sometimes means important because it could also be dangerous.

Finally, Danny (Danny) from Panama wants to know the meaning of the word “steaming” (steaming). The word “steaming” comes from the noun “steam” (steam). “Steam” is created when you take water and heat it. Water can come in three different forms. It can be solid, which we call “ice” (ice). It can be liquid, which we normally refer to simply as “water,” and it can be in a gas form, which is “steam.” So, if you heat water, the water will go into the air in the form of steam. Basically, they are small drops of water that are created in the air.

Because of that process of creating steam through heat, we often use the adjective “steaming” to mean very hot. “It’s steaming hot in here” means it’s very hot, with also the idea that perhaps it is also “moist” – that is, there is water in the air. “Steaming,” then, will often be used in connection with or in front of the word “hot.” “It’s steaming hot.” We might describe a cup of coffee that is very hot as being “steaming hot.” In that case, you can actually see some steam coming off the top of the cup of coffee.

There’s a related adjective “steamy” (steamy). “Steamy” is a little different. “Steamy” refers to a movie or perhaps a book that has some sort of strong sexual content. A “steamy scene,” or part of a movie, would be part of a movie perhaps when two of the characters are involved in sexual contact. I’m not sure how we got on that topic.

If you have a question or comment, steamy or not (preferably not), 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.

finances – the amount of money and resources an organization, business, or country has and how it is handled

* The company took a good look at its finances after two years of low sales and decided to close one-third of its offices.

mutiny – an act of violence and refusal to do what one is told by people in authority, usually a ruler or a government

* The sailors on the ship threatened mutiny if the captain didn’t stop punishing them with beatings.

militia – a military force that is organized with regular citizens instead of trained soldiers

* Unhappy with the government, people around the country gathered together to form militias to fight against government control.

permanent – intending to remain the same forever; not temporary

* The permanent collection at the museum is often overlooked when visitors go to see temporary exhibits.

residence – a person’s home; the official house of a government official

* The mayor’s residence is in downtown, just outside of the financial district.

to represent – to be elected or appointed to speak for someone or for a group of people in an official role

* Businesses often send people to Washington, DC to represent their interests.

to erect – to construct; to build

* A new building called the Freedom Tower was erected on the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City.

luxury – extremely comfortable, expensive, and elegant

* Certain car brands are known for their luxury, such as Bentley and Rolls Royce.

eyesore – something that is very ugly, especially buildings that make the surrounding area look bad

* When the green, purple, and red 18-foot statue was put up in the center of the town, people called it an eyesore.

chamber of commerce – an organization in charge of promoting business and tourism in a city

* New businesses often join the chamber of commerce to meet those who may be able to help promote their products or services.

to restore – to fix or repair something so that it is returned to its original condition

* After the painting was restored, people could see the bright colors and small details that had been hidden behind dirt and grime.

prank – a trick meant to be funny by doing harm to someone or something

* The teenagers thought it would be a funny prank to paint the teacher’s car pink, but it ended up costing the teacher $2,000 to have it repainted.

to trespass – to enter someone’s land without permission

* The students were caught trespassing on school grounds after hours.

next – coming after this one; coming after the one that just came or happened; any other

* Ask the next job applicant to fill out these forms before her interview.

upcoming – happening or appearing soon, usually used for planned or expected events

* How many people will be attending your upcoming anniversary party?

future – the period of time that will come after the present time

* All future major spending will need to be approved by the manager.

critical situation – a very serious or urgent situation; a very risky circumstance

* The mountain climbers were in a critical situation having lost their way and with a very limited supply of food.

critical position – a job or function in a company or organization that is absolutely necessary for its continued operation or success

* We need to hire a replacement for Gemma immediately, since she’s in a critical position in this company.

steam – very small drops of water that form on a surface when warm air that contains a lot of water is cooled; hot gas that is created when water is boiled

* You can tell that this mug of coffee is really hot because of the steam.

What Insiders Know
Hillside Letters & Mountain Monograms

“Hillside letters” or “mountain monograms” are very large letters or words placed in “highly visible” (easily seen) hills and mountainsides, usually around “metropolitan areas” (cities). They are most common in the Western United States and are a source of “civic pride” (positive feelings associated with where one lives and the community that one is part of).

Hillside letters range from a few feet to hundreds of feet in height. The letters are often created by “stacking” (placing one on top of another) objects such as concrete and rocks. Sometimes the letters are painted on rocky surfaces, or they might be “cut out of the vegetation” (created by removing plants so that the “underlying” (below something else) earth can be seen). Some people “oppose” (dislike and argue against) hillside letters due to “environmental” (worries about the impact on the natural environment) or “aesthetic” (how nice something looks) concerns.

The first hillside letter was a “giant” (very big) yellow “C” built in 1905 “overlooking” (standing over and appearing to be looking down at) the University of California at Berkeley. Shortly afterward, a similar “U” was created by the University of Utah and a “Y” was built by Brigham Young University. High schools also began creating hillside letters, and now, there are more than 500 across the United States. Some sources say that California has the most, at 81, but the numbers are difficult to “verify” (determine the truth or accuracy of something).

Mountain monograms are longer than a single letter and sometimes present an entire phrase. The Hollywood sign is the most famous mountain monogram, but others include “Welcome to Hershey” in Hershey, Pennsylvania and “San Luis Oldest Town in Colo” in San Luis, Colorado.