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584 Topics: Famous Americans – Bob Hope; severe versus serious; bill versus check; pronouncing words with the silent “b”

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 584.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 584. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and take a look at our ESL Podcast Store with additional courses in business, daily, and cultural English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the great twentieth-century entertainer Bob Hope. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

One of the most famous American entertainers of the twentieth century, certainly of the middle to late twentieth century, was a man by the name of Bob Hope. He was born Leslie Townes Hope in May of 1903 in England. His family, however, immigrated, or came to the United States, when he was just a small boy in 1907. “To immigrate” means to move from one country to another and live in that other country permanently.

The Hope family immigrated to Cleveland, which is located in the state of Ohio, in the eastern part of the United States. As a teenager, Hope got involved in entertainment. I’ve described him as an “entertainer.” Entertainers are involved in things such as singing, dancing, making jokes – all different kinds of performances that make people laugh or make them happy.

That term “entertainer” isn’t used as much anymore. We often nowadays talk more about an actor or a singer or a comedian, but the term “entertainer” describes someone who can do a little bit of all of those things, typically, and especially during the middle part of the twentieth century there were lots of people who were on television or who gave performances live that we called “entertainers,” in part because they often could do more than one thing.

Bob Hope got his start in the entertainment world in something called “vaudeville.” “Vaudeville” (vaudeville) isn’t a place, like a town or a city. It’s a kind of performance, a kind of show, that was especially popular in the early twentieth century. Vaudeville shows included a mix of entertainment, including comedy acts, singing, and dancing. Bob Hope actually began his career as a singer and a dancer.

It was only later that he began to introduce comedy into his routine in these vaudeville shows. “Comedy” (comedy) refers, of course, to the practice of telling jokes, of being funny, of making the people – the audience – laugh. When I say he introduced comedy into his “routine” (routine), I mean he started telling jokes during his performance. A “routine” refers to the things that a performer does. It may be a set of songs, or a series of dances, or a group of jokes that he tells.

Bob Hope eventually became most famous for being a comedian, but as I said, he got his start – he began his career – as a singer and a dancer, and this was not unusual in vaudeville shows, to have entertainers do more than one thing – that’s why we call them “entertainers.” Hope found success in the vaudeville shows, and in 1933, he began performing in New York on Broadway. “Broadway” is the main street in New York where all the big theaters are located.

That year, in 1933, Hope acted in a musical called Roberta. A “musical” is a performance on stage. It’s like a play. It includes singing and dancing as well as speaking, however. In 1938, Bob Hope began acting in movies and starred in a film called The Big Broadcast of 1938. Now, that movie is not one that people remember today, but at the time it was considered a great success, and it was the first time that Hope performed or sang what we might refer to as his “signature song.”

The name of the song was “Thanks for the Memory.” A “memory” (memory) is something you remember, something from the past. When I say it was his “signature (signature) song,” I mean it was the song that people associate with him, the song that people connect to him. It was the song that people knew him by. You could say, “Oh yeah, Bob Hope. He’s the guy who sings ‘Thanks for the Memory.’”

It wasn’t his song – he didn’t write the song – but it’s the song that people associate with him. Hope sings the song with one of his character’s ex-wives, played by Shirley Ross. They sing together about the different things they did when they were married and the fun they had. It’s both a sad and a happy song where two people who clearly still love each other remember the good times they shared. They remember big things and small things that were part of their romantic relationship. You probably have heard the song:

Thanks for all the memory

Of rainy afternoons, swingy Harlem tunes

Motor trips and burning lips and burning toast and prunes

How lovely it was . . .

Well, Bob Hope did it a little better than I can.

“Thanks for the memory,” he says, “of rainy afternoons, swingy Harlem tunes.” “Swingy” (swingy) would refer to a kind of music or “tunes” (tunes) that would make you want to dance. “Harlem” is an area in New York City traditionally associated with African Americans, or blacks, especially during this period, and where you could find a lot of swing and jazz music. The song also talks about “motor trips” – that is, driving in your car – “and burning lips.” Your “lips” (lips) are, of course, on your mouth. If your lips are “burning,” well, perhaps they feel hot because you are kissing someone you love.

There is also a mention of “burning toast” (toast). “Toast” is bread that is put in a toaster or in an oven or somehow heated so that the outside of the bread becomes brown and hard. If you burn your toast, you cook it too long or toast it too long and it becomes black. The song also mentions “prunes,” which is a kind of fruit that I don’t particularly like. In any case, the two are singing about things they remember from their past and how lovely or wonderful it all was.

The movie The Big Broadcast of 1938 was just the beginning for Hope. Two years later, he became, really, one of the most popular comedians in the United States. He did a series of movies that became famous. They were called “road movies.” They were movies about usually two people traveling to a different part of the world. The first one was called Road to Singapore, and it co-starred Dorothy Lamour and another famous singer from this period, Mr. Bing Crosby.

In the movie, the two men, played by Crosby and Hope, travel to Singapore, of course, to forget about the women they loved. It works until they meet another beautiful woman, this one played by Dorothy Lamour. The movie is a comedy with lots of good jokes, and it became incredibly popular with audiences during this time. Over the next 20 years or so, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour made six more of these road movies – this series or set of movies.

These included Road to Morocco in 1942, Road to Utopia in 1946, Road to Rio in 1947, Road to Bali in 1952, Road to Hong Kong in 1962. All of the movies were popular, although the ones in the 1940s were the most successful. Also during the 1940s, Bob Hope starred in other movies, including My Favorite Blonde, My Favorite Brunette, and Fancy Pants. A “blonde” (blonde) is a woman who has sort of yellowish hair. The word “blonde” is spelled with an “e” at the end for a woman and without an “e” for a man. A “brunette” (brunette) is a woman whose hair color is brown.

In most of Hope’s movies, he starred as a character who was not very nice and who the audience was actually hoping would be unsuccessful in whatever he was trying to do. Being a character in the films that audiences weren’t supposed to like was a very different thing than what most popular actors of the time did. It was successful for Hope, however, because he was able to tell jokes during the movie even though he lost in the end.

Hope didn’t only perform in movies. He traveled around the world telling jokes and putting on performances not so different than the ones he did in his vaudeville shows in the 1930s, although they usually didn’t involve as much singing and dancing as he did back then. Other people would also be part of these shows. He’s most famous for giving performances to the American military members who are stationed in other countries. “To be stationed” (stationed) means you are required to work in a certain place, usually in another country.

The U.S. military now, as back then, had members of its service in different parts of the world. Hope would go around and give performances as part of what was and still is called the USO. “USO” stands for United Service Organizations. It’s a group that tries to help military members and their families. Hope would go and give these USO shows all over the world beginning in the 1950s all the way up until the 1990s. He would do these performances not only during wartime, such as the Korean or Vietnam wars, but also in peacetime.

In many ways, towards the end of his career Hope was probably more famous for performing for the military than he was for the movies he made in the ’40s and ’50s. Certainly, that’s my memory of him. But he was also on television almost every year with what was called a “Bob Hope Special.” This was a program that was on once, maybe twice a year in which he would sing and dance and have different performances – and of course, tell jokes.

Some of these Bob Hope Specials were actually just films of him giving performances at his USO shows, but most of them were not. Most of them were regular entertainment specials that were on at Christmas or in another part of the year. Bob Hope had these television specials in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80, and ’90s. So for almost 40 years, people here in the U.S. would watch Bob Hope at least once or twice a year on television, doing what he did best – telling jokes and making people laugh.

Hope continued to perform up until the very end of his life. He died at 100 years old in 2003. He received just about every major honor and award possible in the world of entertainment. He knew presidents and celebrities, and was just one of those people that every American, at least of my age, loved. Here in Southern California, he was known for living out in Palm Springs, which is about an hour or so from Los Angeles, in the desert.

There’s an airport here in Los Angeles named after Bob Hope that’s located in the city of Burbank, which is north of downtown Los Angeles. It’s a small airport but is used a lot by people in the entertainment industry or business because it is very close to some of the studios up in that area of the city. When Hope was dying, he was asked by his wife where he wanted to be buried – where his body should be put – and Hope said, always trying to tell a joke, “Surprise me.”

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

Our first question comes from Jessie (Jessie) in China. Jessie wants to know the meanings of the words “severe” (severe) and “serious” (serious). The word “severe” is often used to talk about an injury, when someone is hurt or someone has some sort of physical pain or suffering. We might talk about a “severe injury to the arm.” That would mean that someone has broken his arm or has hurt it in a very bad way.

We also use the adjective “severe” to talk about weather that is dangerous or may cause problems for people. “Severe weather” might involve a lot of rain or wind. A hurricane or a typhoon would certainly be described as “severe weather.” The word “severe” is also sometimes used with the word “penalty” (penalty).

A “penalty” is some punishment that you have to suffer or something that you have to do because you did something wrong. The government may give you a penalty for paying your taxes late. If they make you pay a lot of extra money, that could be described as a “severe penalty.” If you commit a murder, you will probably be given a “severe punishment.” One that would require you to spend many years in prison.

Finally, the word “severe” is also used to describe someone’s personality – someone who is very formal, very strict, perhaps someone who isn’t very nice. We might talk about someone’s “severe manner” – that is, the way he talks or the way he acts is quite formal and perhaps quite strict. By “strict” (strict), I mean someone who follows rules exactly even though it causes difficulty for people, perhaps even himself.

“Serious” is a more common word with a broader application. It can be used in more circumstances, I would say. Something that is “serious” is something that has an important and possibly dangerous result. We can describe an injury as being “severe,” but we could also describe it as being “serious.” A “serious injury,” when you hurt your body in some way, would be an injury in which you may, for example, lose the ability to use your arm, or use your legs, or use your eyes. Those would all be “serious injuries.” Something that is described as “serious,” then, could be something that would have a very negative result or consequence.

The word “serious” is also used as an opposite of “trivial” or “not important.” “Serious,” then, can be used to mean very important – something that we have to pay attention to or something that requires a lot of thought and attention. “Serious” is also used as an opposite of the word “funny.” Someone may say to you, “I’m not joking,” or “This isn’t funny. This is serious,” meaning this is something that you need to pay attention to and to treat as important.

More informally, the word “serious” can also mean a lot of something or an impressive amount of something. Someone might say, “He’s making serious money working as a stockbroker,” selling stocks. The word “serious” there means “a lot of.” That use of “serious” is a little more informal, however.

We also use the word “serious” to describe a relationship in which two people plan to get married or plan to stay together for a long time. If someone says, “I’m in a serious relationship,” he doesn’t mean that bad things will happen to him or that he’s worried about it, he means that he’s in a relationship that he thinks will last for a long time or that perhaps would lead him to get married.

Phillipe (Philippe) in Brazil wants to know the difference between a “bill” and a “check” at a restaurant. A “bill” (bill) and a “check” (check), when we’re talking about a restaurant, means the same thing. It’s usually a small piece of paper that the waiter or waitress gives you that tells you how much money you have to pay for the food you just ate. So you can ask a waiter for the “bill,” or you can ask a waiter for the “check.” Both words mean the same thing and are, I think, as equally common. Both words have other meanings, however.

The word “bill” can also be used to talk about any piece of paper or document that is given to you that tells you how much you have to pay. If you go to the doctor, the doctor will give you a bill. If you have to have your car repaired, the mechanic – the person fixing your car – will give you a bill. So, “bill” is a general term that is used not just in restaurants but for any business that gives you a document or piece of paper that tells you how much money you have to pay them.

The word “check,” however, is normally only used in a restaurant to mean “bill.” A “bill” can also describe the piece of paper that is used as money. In the United States, as in most countries, we have two kinds of money from the government. We have metal coins, which are small and round and hard, and we have paper “bills,” which are pieces of paper that are worth a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars, fifty dollars, and one hundred dollars – at least, those are the ones that are currently used.

The word “check” also has another meaning as a noun. It can refer to a piece of paper that is used in place of paper money or coins to pay someone. A check is basically a piece of paper that allows a person to get money out of your bank account, out of your bank where you keep your money. People don’t use checks as much as they used to, but many people still pay their bills – pay the money they owe, for example, the gas company or the water company – by sending them a “check” in the mail.

Our final question also comes from Brazil, from Raphael (Raphael). Raphael has a question about pronouncing words with the letter “b” in them, particularly words in which the “b” is not pronounced. We would say the “b” is “silent.” He wants to know if there is a rule about that.

Well, all rules of pronunciation in English are general and approximate. They are usually useful, but sometimes there are exceptions. Generally speaking, however, the letter “b” is not pronounced when it comes after the letter “m.” It is also often silent if it is followed by or is before the letter “t.” So, “b” is typically silent after the letter “m” and before the letter “t.” Let me give you some examples.

The word “thumb,” referring to the digit on your hand, the smallest one, is spelled (thumb), but we don’t say “thumb,” we say “thumb” and don’t pronounce the b. Similar words that have “b’s” at the end of them are “numb,” “crumb,” “dumb,” “tomb,” “limb,” “womb” – all of these words end in “b” after the letter “m” but don’t have the “b” pronounced. Sometimes the letter “b” will come after the letter “m” in the middle of the word. An example of that would be “plumber” (plumber). We don’t say “plumber,” we say “plumber,” not pronouncing the “b.”

In terms of words that have “b” before the letter “t,” the most common word is probably “debt,” spelled (debt) but pronounced without the “b.” Another common word is “doubt” (doubt). Once again, we don’t pronounce the “b.” Similar words that have the “b” in front of the “t,” usually in the middle of the word, are “subtle,” “doubtful” – all the words related to “doubt,” such as “doubters,” and “doubted” – and words related to or formed from the word “debt,” such as “indebted.”

I hope that helps, Raphael.

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.

to immigrate – to move to another country to live permanently

* Jule’s grandfather immigrated to Canada from Poland in the 1950s.

vaudeville – a type of entertainment popular in the early 1900s that included different types of performances, including comedy acts, singing, and dancing

* Our town is putting on a vaudeville show and selling tickets to raise money for the hospital.

comedy – the practice of telling jokes and performing in a way that is intended to make an audience laugh

* Some comedy is appropriate for all ages, but some is better suited for adults.

memory – something remembered from the past

* Pauline has happy childhood memories of growing up on a farm.

signature – a specific song, action, or pattern that someone is known by

* The painting was easily recognizable as a Degas because it included his signature ballerinas.

swingy – causing one to want to move one’s body from side to side, especially one’s hips (the sides of one’s body above the legs)

* This swingy music makes me want to get up and dance.

tune – a simple song; the main musical notes in a song

* I can’t get the tune from the commercial out of my mind. It’s driving me crazy!

burning – with the sensation of being on fire; feeling very hot

* He accidently ate a hot pepper and his mouth was burning for at least five minutes.

series – a number of things that are similar in kind that come one right after the other

* The police believe that this series of gas station burglaries is being committed by the same person.

to be stationed – to be required to work in particular location, usually in another country, while part of the military

* Sam has been stationed in six different countries in the past 10 years.

honorary – being given an honor without having completed the usual requirements

* Ambika received an honorary doctoral degree from Western University because of her great achievements in technology.

veteran – a person who has served (worked) in the military

* Manuel is a veteran who has fought in three wars and has been awarded many medals for bravery.

severe – very bad, serious, or unpleasant; causing a lot of physical pain or suffering; very harsh; requiring a lot of effort; very formal, strict, and serious

* The town was nearly completely destroyed in the severe thunderstorm.

serious – having an important or dangerous possible outcome; requiring or deserving a lot of thought, attention, or work; not joking or funny; thoughtful or quiet in appearance or behavior

* The teacher’s warning is serious. If you fail the next exam, you will fail this class.

bill – a document that states how much money one owes for something one has bought or used; a written description of a new law that is being suggested and that the lawmakers of a country or local government must vote to accept before it becomes law; a piece of paper money

* The house painter’s bill was $200 more than we had expected.

check – a bill for the food and drinks served in a restaurant or bar; a piece of paper used to make a payment to someone using the money in a bank account

* Joanna needed to return to the office for a meeting and asked for her check as soon as she finished her last bite.

What Insiders Know
SpongeBob SquarePants

SpongeBob SquarePants is an “animated” (cartoon; with moving drawings) American television show and a “highly rated” (viewed by many people) series. The main character is SpongeBob SquarePants, who is a “sea sponge” (an animal that lives in the ocean), but looks like a rectangular yellow “sponge” (an object that absorbs water and soap and is used to wash dishes or surfaces) that one might use in the kitchen.

He lives in a “pineapple” (a large, tropical fruit with a thick skin and sweet, yellow fruit on the inside) and works in a restaurant. He lives with a pet “snail” (a small animal with no legs and a hard, spiral shell). His best friend is a “starfish” (a sea animal with five or more arms, but no legs). His co-worker is a “grumpy” (often in a bad mood) “squid” (a fast-swimming ocean animal with 10 legs that swims quickly, changes colors, and produces dark liquid for protection). His boss is a “greedy” (always wanting more money) “crab” (a small animal that lives on ocean beaches and has eight legs, two pinching claws, and a hard shell). They all live in an underwater city called “Bikini Bottom” (the bottom part of a woman’s two-piece swimsuit).

The creator of the series, Stephen Hillenburg, is a “marine biologist” (a scientist who studies life in the oceans) and an artist. He created a comic book, The Intertidal Zone, to teach students about marine life, and eventually the characters “morphed” (changed; turned into) SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends.

The show has been “very well received” (people like it) and has become a “media franchise” (a series of related products) with many different types of merchandise, such as toys, clothing, backpacks, and more. It was made into movies in 2004 and 2015.