Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

590 Topics: The Amana Colonies; resolution versus promise; fate versus destiny; saying “oh” or “zero” when reading numbers aloud

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 590.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 590. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about something called the Amana Colonies, an interesting part of American history. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Today we’re going to talk about the “Amana (Amana) Colonies.” “Amana” is actually a word that comes from Hebrew, the language spoken in a modern version in Israel today. But Hebrew, of course, is a very ancient language. The word means “true.” It’s also the name of a range of mountains, a group of mountains, in the country of Lebanon that is mentioned in the Bible.

A “colony” (colony) is a group of people from one country, or perhaps from one, what we would call, “ethnicity,” or group of people with similar backgrounds, who go and live in another country or another city. Sometimes colonies are places where one country takes over the land of another country or of another area and makes it part of the country that establishes, or “sets up,” the colony.

In this case, though, we’re not talking about a group of people who take over land to make it part of another country; rather, we’re talking about a group of people who moved to a different part of, in this case, the United States to set up a group of towns. These towns – there were seven small towns that were part of the Amana Colonies – were located west of the city of Chicago. Chicago is in the central part of the United States, in the north-central part right next to Lake Michigan – at the very bottom, if you will, of Lake Michigan.

These colonies were set up about 400 kilometers west of Chicago. That would be about 240-some miles. They were started, or founded, by a group of people who came from a small religious community, a small religious group, that originated from Germany. “To originate” (originate) means to have your beginnings or your start from a certain place. When I take a trip from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, my flight, or the plane, originates from Los Angeles and ends up in Minneapolis. When I come back to California, my flight originates in Minneapolis and eventually arrives here in Los Angeles.

Well, this group of religious people, this religious community, originated in Germany. That’s where the group first started. The name of the group is “German Pietists.” The term “pietist” comes from the word “piety” (piety). “Piety” refers to being devoted or committed to God. “Piety” often refers to one’s acts, religious acts that show one’s love of or commitment to God. All religions have some form of piety, some set of acts that show one’s love of God.

The Pietists, however, were a religious group, a Christian group that combined beliefs of other larger religious groups – in particular, the Lutherans, one of the main branches or parts of Christianity in Germany at that time – with a focus on individual piety. So these were people who believed a lot of the same things that Lutherans believed in, but wanted to focus on, or have more attention paid to, “individual piety.” They believed that each person needed to live under stricter rules and behave in a way that was closer to what they interpreted to be Christian teaching.

Now, the Pietists were not particularly loved in their native Germany. They were, in fact, persecuted by both the German government, and some say by the Lutheran Church. “To be persecuted” (persecuted) is to be hated and treated very badly, usually because of your religious or political beliefs, and sadly that’s something that we see a lot of today as much as we did 100 or 150 years ago.

Part of the reason that the German government and the Lutherans didn’t like the Pietists is because the Pietists, because of the way they interpreted their religion, did not want to go to war. They refused to fight and they refused to put their children in public or government state-sponsored schools. “To refuse” (refuse) means to say you will not do something. The Pietists decided that they had had enough of this persecution, or being persecuted, and decided they would leave their home and come to a place where it was said they could have religious freedom – the United States of America.

In 1842, then, this group of Pietists left Germany, or at least a group left Germany, to come to the United States. They originally settled in, or started living in, a city in the state of New York called Buffalo. Buffalo is about 300 miles north of New York City. That would be about 470 kilometers for most of you. They remained in Buffalo for only two years, and then about a thousand members of this group decided to move to a completely new location, a location in the state of Iowa.

Iowa is a state in the center of the U.S. It is below the greatest state in the U.S., which is Minnesota, where I am from, and it is just west of the state of Illinois. I talked about Chicago a few minutes ago. Chicago is the largest city in the state of Illinois. These Pietists decided to go and start their own colonies in the state of Iowa. Iowa is a long way from Buffalo, almost 800 miles or so, which would be close to 1,300 kilometers west of Buffalo.

In this new place, they created these small towns which they called the Amana Colonies. I’ve been pronouncing that word “Amana,” but I think the more common pronunciation is “Amana.” These Amana Colonies, however you pronounce them, were a set of small villages. They were located on about 1,800 acres of land. More people moved there, and eventually the colonies owned about 26,000 acres.

The colonies were basically a set of villages. A “village” (village) is like a small town, a small town with not very many houses and buildings. There is no real technical definition about when something goes from being called a “village” to a “town,” or a “town” to a “city,” but these were very small towns in which the people came and built houses and built places to live, just as they did in many small towns and villages in the U.S. during this period.

They gave the names of the villages things related to the word Amana. There was Main Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and the seventh village was given a completely different name, Homestead. I’m not sure why. I guess they ran out of things to combine with the word “Amana.” In any case, the Amana Colonies were created as what we could describe as “communal living arrangements.” The word “communal” (communal) means that everything is shared by all the members of the community or the society.

In the Amana Colonies, “communal living” meant that everyone who lived there gave what they owned to the community. So there was no individual, if you will, wealth or money. Whatever you made, you gave to the larger community. Now, the community promised that you would never have to pay anything if you were part of that community. You would not have to pay for your food or your clothing, because of course all the money that everyone made from their business or whatever they did would go to the community.

The community was led by the religious leaders – a kind of government we would probably call a “theocracy” (theocracy), where the leaders of the government are also the religious leaders. The Pietists were very serious about their religion. So serious that they had rules about the way you could behave and the way you could act. They didn’t believe in a lot of entertainment. They didn’t have theaters or movies, or when television was invented, television. There was a very serious tone or attitude about the world. They took their religion very seriously and had lots of rules that enforced or made sure people followed through with that seriousness.

Because they were located away from any big town or city, they were basically independent. Many of the people who came from Germany originally were craftsmen – that is, they were people who knew or had a lot of skill in making things such as furniture or other things that could be made by hand. The Amana Colonies were fairly independent. We might use the word “self-sufficient.” They grew their own food. They made their own furniture. They didn’t have to rely on or do business with people outside of their own community.

The Amana Colonies worked and lived quite peacefully and successfully until the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Great Depression was a period when the United States, along with other countries, had very difficult economic times. Many people didn’t have jobs and there was a lot of poverty, especially here in the U.S. The causes of the Great Depression have been debated, and we won’t go into those here, but the economy – the wealth or resources of the country – had a very difficult time during this period, and so did The Amana Colonies, even though they were mostly self-sufficient.

In 1932, the people in the colonies decided they had to do something different, and they decided to change their organization, hoping that this would allow their community to survive. This was called “The Great Change,” and it included a couple of different things. First, the leaders of the colony were no longer going to be the religious leaders. So, there was end to this formal theocracy that had ruled the villages up until that point. The colonies decided they would be more open and accepting of people who wanted to live outside of the colonies but still be part of the religious organization.

They also allowed people to own their own property, so private property became permissible, or allowable. People could keep their own money, which meant the colonies were no longer going to have this communal organization, where everyone gave their money to the community and the community provided for everyone all the things that they needed.

Taking the place of this communal idea after the Great Change was basically a large corporation, a large business. The people who lived in the colonies would now be employees for a business, and in return for working in jobs that helped make the colonies money, they were given part ownership of the company. This company was called the Amana Society.

Originally most of these jobs were on farms that produced food, and the colonies then sold that food, but later the Amana people started to build factories – places where things were made, such as furniture, tables, and chairs; clothing, such as shirts and pants; and interestingly, wines – things that you would drink with alcohol in it.

The Great Change meant that the religious part of colony life was separated from the, if you will, business side or economic side of the colony. Because the religion and local government were both basically the same up until the Great Change, there was no need to have something called a church, but when they decided to separate the religious from, we could say the “secular,” the non-religious aspect of their lives, they had to start a church, and so the Amana church was founded or begun, and this was a place where people living in the colonies could continue their religious practices – to study the Bible and to say their prayers and so forth.

Interestingly enough, the German language was maintained for many years in the Amana Colonies, as in fact it was maintained in many small towns in the United States. Up until the middle of the twentieth century, German was the number one second language spoken in the U.S. Spanish only became more popular I think maybe in 1960 or so.

And even in my life, growing up in the Midwest near Iowa, there were many German speakers. In fact, the church where I used to go to used to have some services in German for the people, and that was in a city – the city of St. Paul – which had a lot of Germans living there, or German immigrants, really. In any case, the religious services in the Amana Colonies, even in the ’30s and ’40s, continued to be in German. The sermons, or talks that were given by the religious leader, were often given in German as well.

The population of the colonies, however, got smaller and smaller over time. More people moved out of the colonies. The Great Change did not do much to stem the number of people leaving. “To stem” (stem) means to stop the flow or movement of something. The Great Change, even though it created this new business for the colonies, was unable to stem the movement of people out of the colonies into other towns and cities. The number of people in the colonies continued to get smaller. It continued to decrease.

Nevertheless, the Amana society itself was very successful. This was mostly because it purchased or bought a business that made refrigerators, and was quite successful during the ’30s and ’40s in its refrigeration business. Eventually they sold the business, although the business kept the name Amana, and Amana refrigeration was very well known when I was growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s as being one of the best companies that made refrigeration equipment as well as ovens. By this time, however, it no longer was connected with the Amana Colonies.

The colonies are still around today. They focus mainly on farming, but also on tourism. They have kept many of the same buildings, and you can now go and visit the Amana Colonies. There aren’t very many people living in the colonies anymore. It is now, however, what is called a “national historic landmark” – a set of buildings that are considered important in the history of the United States. More than a million and a half people visit there each year to learn about the traditions and customs of this community.

The community, as I say, is still around, but there aren’t very many people who are active in it. If you ever go to Iowa, you might want to visit the Amana Colonies. Not very many people from other countries visit Iowa, however. Mostly it’s just a state full of farms, but there’s also a few interesting things there, including the Amana Colonies. Hmm, maybe I’ll take my next vacation in Iowa. Now there’s a sentence no American has ever spoken.

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

Our first question comes from Vladimir (Vladimir) in Russia, of course. Vladimir wants to know the meanings of the words “resolution” and “promise.” Let’s start with “promise” first.

A “promise” (promise) is when you say, either to yourself or to another person, that you are going to do something in the future, or perhaps you are not going to do something in the future. “I promise to give you 10 dollars tomorrow.” That means I am going to do that and I am going to take my commitment seriously. It will happen. A “promise” is sort of like a prediction about something you definitely will do. It will happen. You are taking it seriously and you are “giving that person your word,” we might say. You are saying, “This will happen.”

“Promise” also can be used especially in the phrase, “This person has a lot of promise.” In that phrase, “promise” means signs of future success or signs of future improvement. If you say about your nephew, “He has a lot of promise,” you mean he’s going to be successful in the future, perhaps because he’s intelligent or he’s a good athlete or he has other qualities that will make him successful in something in the future.

The word “resolution” (resolution) has a couple of different meanings. One meaning is to say to yourself that you will make a serious effort to do something.

It’s popular in the U.S., for example, in January, to have what is called a “New Year’s resolution.” This is a statement about some change you are going to do. “I’m going to lose 10 pounds,” or “I’m going to quit smoking,” or “I’m going to stop hitting my neighbor’s cat.” Those are New Year’s resolutions – things that you say to yourself that you’re going to try to do that often require some effort.

“Resolution” has a couple of other meanings. “Resolution” can also mean a solution to a problem, especially one that involves difficulty or conflict between two or more people, or two or more groups. We might talk about the resolution of a fight between two countries. It’s an end of the problem by solving whatever problem caused them to fight.

The word “resolution” also has a technical meaning in modern technology. “Resolution” can refer to how clear an image is from a camera or from the screen of your computer monitor. The word “resolution” also has a legal sense or a legal meaning when it refers to a group that passes or agrees upon a certain statement or perhaps even a rule. “We passed a resolution.” Notice the use of the verb “to pass.” That means that everyone or a majority of people in a group agreed with this particular statement.

“Resolutions” are often statements about what a group believes, or what a group thinks is right. “We passed a resolution saying that we wanted there to be peace in the world.” Well, who doesn’t agree with that resolution. “Promise,” as I mentioned earlier, is a statement telling someone, including telling yourself, that you will do something. So “resolution” and “promise” can mean the same thing, but there are differences.

Samuel (Samuel) in China, wants to know the difference between “fate” and “destiny.” “Fate” (fate) can refer to something that will happen to a person or a thing, usually something negative. There was a famous woman pilot named Amelia Earhart. She was flying around the world and then she disappeared. We don’t know what happened to her. We don’t know her “fate” – the outcome – although it was probably negative.

You could talk about “the fate of this agreement.” My company and another company had an agreement to do something, but then there were problems. We’re not sure what the “fate of the agreement” will be. We expect however, that the agreement will fall apart, or be broken, or be ended. So “fate” can refer to one’s outcome – something that will happen in the future, often something negative.

The word “fate” can also refer to some unknown power that controls all of our lives. It’s almost like God, but it’s not a religious power. People who believe in “fate” think that the world and the future is controlled by some higher power, out of our control. We can’t do anything about it. This is a very old, ancient belief. In fact, if you go back to Greek religion and mythology, there were the Fates who were actually three godlike figures who decided how the world’s events would end up, would decide the future for all human beings.

If you meet a beautiful woman, you might say to her, “Fate has brought us together.” It was beyond our power. It was something that a higher power, a greater power that controls the world, has decided would happen. You of course just want her telephone number, but it’s a nice way to give it a little more meaning. I don’t think it will work. I haven’t tried it. In any case, “fate” is the idea that this power above all of us is controlling us and that there’s nothing we can do to change things.

The word “destiny” (destiny) can mean something very similar to this second definition of “fate” – a power that is believed to control what will happen in the future. Some people will say, “Well, this is destiny,” meaning the same as “This is fate.” This is something that wasn’t a thing I am controlling, but was supposed to happen. Some people say it was “meant to be” – again, the idea that there is some greater power that is causing things to happen, and that the reason it is happening is because this greater power had decided it.

“Destiny” is often a positive thing, not a negative thing, although I suppose it could be both. But usually we talk about destiny being a positive thing in the same way we talk about “fate” being a negative thing.

Our final question comes from Luis (Luis) Alberto (Alberto) in Colombia. Luis Alberto wants to know how we pronounce the letter “O” versus the number “0.” Well, the pronunciation you just heard, of course – “zero” is the number and “O” is the letter. However, there are times where we pronounce the number as though it were a letter, and so this can in fact be a little confusing, and that’s what Luis Alberto from Colombia is asking about.

For example, the famous character in the movies and novels with James Bond is often described by the number that he is given fictionally in the books and movies. The number is “007,” but it’s pronounced “double-oh seven.” Why “double-oh seven” and not “zero-zero seven,” or even “double-zero seven”? Sometimes, in conversation at least, American speakers and also British speakers will use “oh” to pronounce the number zero, especially if we are giving a long string or long series of numbers. It depends.

For example, there was a famous television show many years ago about a group of high school students in Beverly Hills. It was called “Beverly Hills 90210.” “90210” is the “zip” (zip) or postal code for one part of the city of Beverly Hills here in Southern California. Now, you could say “nine, zero, two, one, zero,” or you could say, “nine, oh, two, one, oh.” Both of those would be acceptable. We sometimes use “oh,” then, to pronounce the number zero in certain sets of numbers. Perhaps we do that because it’s shorter to say “oh” than it is to say the two-syllable word “zero.” I’m not sure.

There are certain cases where you will hear “zero” pronounced as “oh” more likely than in others. A zip code is one example: “nine, oh, two, one, oh.” A phone number will also be pronounced often with an “oh” rather than a zero: “five, five, five, two, oh, six, one, two, three, four.” A credit card number is often given the pronunciation “oh” for “zero.” “one, oh, two, four, five, oh, two, six,” etcetera. And of course “double-oh seven” for the secret agent in your life.

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.

colony – a group of people of one nationality or ethnic group living together in a foreign city or country

* The original British colonies were located on the East Coast of the U.S.

to originate – to have one’s start or beginnings in a particular place

* Pizza originated in Italy, but now there are New York-style pizza and Chicago-style pizza.

to be persecuted – for someone or some group to be hated and treated poorly, usually because of their political or religious beliefs

* The government tried to stop their fight for democracy by persecuting them, putting some of them in prison.

to refuse – to say no; to say that one is unwilling to do something requested by someone else

* Since you ask so nicely, how can I refuse? Of course, I’ll help.

village – a community of houses and buildings that is smaller than a town

* Do the old-fashioned English villages found in many classic novels still exist?

communal – shared by all members of a society or community

* The hostel has private rooms but communal bathrooms that all guest share.

The Great Depression – a period with little economic growth and very high unemployment, beginning in 1929 and lasting until the late 1930s

* Even the best-qualified professions had difficulty finding any type of employment during The Great Depression.

economy – the wealth and resources of a country, including the products and services it produces and consumes

* The economy in this area had traditionally been farm-based, but the emergence of factories changed all that.

sermon – a talk about a religious or moral subject that is usually given during church services

* The pastor gave a sermon about the importance of forgiveness.

to stem – to stop the flow or movement of something

* The nurse tried to stem the flow of blood from Julia’s head wound.

to decrease – to get smaller in number, size, or degree

* Researchers found that a decrease in noise in the home resulted in an increase in student performance in school.

National Historic Landmark – a building, site, or area that has been recognized by the U.S. government as having great historical importance

* There was a big ceremony when the building where the leaders of the rebellion had their historic meeting was listed as a National Historic Landmark.

resolution – a promise to oneself that one will make a serious effort to do something that one should do

* Jonah made a New Year resolution to stop drinking so much beer and gin every night.

promise – a statement telling someone that one will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future

* Ambika made a promise to be here by noon, but it’s already 12:30.

fate – an unknown power that is believed to control what happens in the future so that one’s future is out of one’s own control; the things that will happen to a person or thing, often something negative

* With that bad attitude, your fate is to remain in this terrible job for the rest of your life!

destiny – the things that someone or something will experience in the future, usually something positive; a power that is believed to control what happens in the future, usually something good

* With her design skills and love of building, it’s Kara’s destiny to become an architect.

What Insiders Know
The "German Belt”

The “German Belt” “refers to” (talks about; means) a “band” (horizontal area) across the United States that “stretches” (reaches a long way) from the Oregon coast to Pennsylvania, where many Germans and their “descendants” (people who are born in later generations) live. Today, “approximately” (about) 46 million German Americans live in the United States. Many of them live in the German Belt, but there are German immigrant communities throughout the country.

The State of Pennsylvania “alone” (by itself, not considering other states) has almost four million German American “residents” (people who live in one place). Communities in Ohio and Illinois “top the list” (are ranked higher than others) for having the highest percentage of residents who “claim German ancestry” (say their family members originally came from Germany). In large cities like Madison, Wisconsin and Erie, Pennsylvania, between 20% and 30% of the residents say they have German ancestry.

Many of these people no longer speak German or know much about German culture, but their “communities” (groups of people who live together and share certain values and characteristics) still “hold on to” (keep; maintain) German traditions. For example, there are major German “parades” (celebrations where groups of people walk through the street as an audience watches them for entertainment), such as the German American Steuben Parade in New York City each September. And many communities have Oktobertfest celebrations in the fall, when people “indulge in” (enjoy eating and drinking) “bratwurst” (a type of sausage), “sauerkraut” (chopped, pickled cabbage), “pretzels” (baked, twisted bread sprinkled with salt), beer, and other traditional German foods and drinks while listening to German music and dancing the “polka” and other Eastern European dances.