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591 Topics: Famous Americans – Esther Williams; latest versus recent versus current; to put (something) on (one’s) account; sneak peek

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 591.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 591. 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. On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous American, famous for a couple of reasons, a woman by the name of Esther Williams. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Esther Williams was born in August of 1921, in what was then the small town of Inglewood, California. Inglewood nowadays is basically a suburb of the city of Los Angeles. It’s located about 12 miles from Los Angeles, about 10 minutes from my house. Young Esther began swimming at a very early age. By the time she was a teenager – by the time she was between the ages of, say, 13 and 19 – she was already a champion swimmer.

A “champion” (champion) is someone who has won a lot of contests, a lot of competitions. A champion is someone who is better than anyone else. You can be a champion in sports; you could also be a champion in any other sort of game or competition. You could be a chess champion. You could be a debate champion. You could be a champion of potato chip eating or hot dog eating. I think I want to be a champion of macadamia nut eating – the person who can eat the most macadamia nuts. I love macadamia nuts.

Anyway, we were talking about Esther Williams. Young Esther was a great swimmer. By the time she was only 18 years old, she had won three national titles. A “national title” (title) is basically a national championship – someone who is the very best. In American baseball, we call the national title the World Series champion – the person, or rather the team, that wins the final championship in baseball. The national title in football is given to the winner of the Super Bowl.

Esther Williams won three national titles by the time she was 18 years old. She also won a place on the United States Olympic team in 1940. Unfortunately for Williams, the 1940 Olympics, as you probably know, were never held. They never took place. They were going to take place in Norway, but were cancelled because of something called World War II. Since Esther wasn’t able to compete, wasn’t able to take part in the Olympics, she decided instead to go to the World’s Fair, which was being held that year right here in the United States, in San Francisco.

The “World’s Fair” (fair) is an international event that takes place in different cities, that usually has representatives from many different countries showing off, or showing people, their achievements in technology, in science, and in art. I went to a World’s Fair when I was a young child back in 1974. I was 12 years old, and the World’s Fair was held in Spokane, Washington. I and my brothers and sisters – well, some of them – went to the World’s Fair with my parents. It was a very interesting experience.

This World’s Fair was held in San Francisco back in 1940 – the one we’re talking about, that is. Esther Williams decided to go and be part of something called an “aquacade.” Now if you’ve never heard of an “aquacade” (aquacade), don’t be disappointed. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I had never heard of it either before researching this topic. An aquacade is a performance that includes swimming, diving, and dancing, basically, in the water with music.

“Aqua” is the Latin word for “water.” “Diving” (diving) is the sport of jumping into the water, or in some cases, basically falling into the water, often from a very high place. Williams was one of the swimmers who was part of this aquacade. While she was performing, there was someone from a Los Angeles movie studio who was watching her, someone we would call a “talent scout.” “Talent” (talent) is ability to do something. Some people have a talent for singing. I am not one of them.

A “scout” (scout) is a person whose job is to look for people who are talented at something. If you play sports, you may have heard of scouts who work for professional teams. They go out and they try to find the best young players in soccer, or baseball, or football, or whatever the sport might be.

Well, the person at the 1940 Aquacade from the Los Angeles studio was a talent scout, and he was looking for performers, people who had a lot of skill who would perhaps be interested in working in the movie industry, or the movie business, making movies. A “movie studio” (studio) is a company that makes movies or films. This talent scout thought that Esther would make a good movie actress, and so he asked her to sign a legal agreement, what we would call a “contract,” to be part of a movie.

Two years later, in 1942, Williams in fact, “appeared in,” or was an actress in, a film, a movie, called Andy Hardy’s Double Life. The movie starred, or had as its main actor, a young man by the name of Andy Rooney, and he played the character Andy Hardy in the movie. The story is about a young man whose name is Andy Hardy who has a “double life” – who seems to lead, or seems to have, two different lives.

In the movie, he asked two different women to marry him. He asks his girlfriend, a woman who is already romantically involved with him, to marry him, but he also asks his best friend to marry him – which is a little strange, but of course, it’s a comedy and it’s supposed to make you laugh. Andy Hardy’s best friend in the movie is also a wonderful swimmer, and that’s the role, that’s the character, that Esther Williams played in the movie.

This movie was actually part of a series of movies, a number of different movies about this same character named Andy Hardy and his different adventures – the things that he did. The movie was very popular, and it made Esther Williams a popular star in American film. She became so popular, in fact, that the movie studio decided to create a new kind of film, a new kind of movie, just for her to play in to show her biggest talent, which was of course swimming. They called this new kind of movie an “aqua musical.”

Remember, “aqua” is related to water. A “musical” is a movie in which the characters sing and dance as well as act. So, these new aqua musicals starred, or had as the main character, Esther Williams, of course, swimming in a swimming pool with music. Williams’s first aqua musical (I can’t help but laugh when I hear that term) was released in 1944, meaning it was made available in 1944 for audiences to watch it. It was called Bathing Beauty. The word “bathing” (bathing) can mean to clean yourself with water, but here it has to do with someone swimming.

Williams – who was a very attractive, good-looking woman, some people say – played the main character. She was the star of the movie. The movie is about a woman who leaves the man she is supposed to marry, and instead becomes a swimming teacher at an all-girls school. The movie had many scenes of Williams in the water performing, swimming beautifully to what were, we would call, “choreographed swimming moves.”

The verb “to choreograph” (choreograph) means to create a series of steps and movements for a performance, usually with music. Normally, we think of “choreographing” as related to dancing, to music, but here, we’re talking about dancing to music, but in the water, if you will. So, swimming to music. The scenes with Williams performing in the water still are amazing to watch, if you go and find one of the old videos, say, on YouTube.

Sometimes she swam and performed very complicated, or very complex, dance sequences all by herself. A “dance sequence” (sequence) is basically a series of movements or steps with music. In some of the scenes, or parts of the movie, there were several swimmers in the water moving in the same way. We would call this “synchronized swimming.” “Synchronized” (synchronized) means doing motions or doing something at the same time and at the same speed.

Nowadays, “synchronized swimming” is so popular that it is an Olympic sport. In fact, my wife’s brother-in-law’s sister – my brother-in-law’s sister – is one of the best synchronized swimming judges in the world. She was one of the judges at the 2016 Rio Olympics, one of the seven or eight judges who decided the winners of the medals in synchronized swimming in Rio. She represented the United States as a judge. I, unfortunately, don’t know anything about synchronized swimming.

Back to Esther. Over a period of nine years, Esther Williams made several different aqua musicals – Easy to Wed, Neptune’s Daughter – a couple of the movies had great titles, like Dangerous When Wet. Dangerous When Wet is a story of a young woman who tries to swim between France and England across what is called, at least in England, the English Channel.

She falls in love with a young, handsome French fisherman during her training, during her practice for this great swim. The fisherman was played by Fernando Lamas, who became Williams’s third husband several years later in 1969. All of these films were very popular even though the stories are somewhat silly. They’re not serious movies. But people loved watching the way that Williams could swim.

In 1952, she was in a movie called Million Dollar Mermaid. A “mermaid” (mermaid) is a fictional creature who is half woman, and half fish. Fortunately, the woman part is the top of her body and the fish part is the bottom of her body. In any case, the Million Dollar Mermaid was the story of a real swimmer, an Australian woman named Annette Kellerman, who became a professional swimmer and an actress after having lived through, or survived, a terrible illness as a child. Esther Williams’s nickname, after that movie, was “America’s Mermaid,” of course.

Williams stopped making movies in 1960, but she continued very much to be active in the world of swimming. She spent the next 53 years focusing on or promoting swimming and swimming products. She also became a strong supporter of the sport that I mentioned earlier, “synchronized swimming.” These synchronized swimmers were, of course, doing exactly what Williams did in her aqua musicals.

Williams died not that long ago, in June of 2013, here in Los Angeles. She was 91 years old. Instead of being buried in the ground, her body was “cremated” (cremated), meaning basically it was burned. They then took what was left of the body – what we would call her “ashes” (ashes) – and put them into the Pacific Ocean, which is next to us here in Los Angeles. This way, even in her death, Williams could be in the water.

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

Our first question comes from Steffen (Steffen) in Germany. Steffen wants to know the meanings of “latest,” “recent,” and “current.” This is a very good question, since all three of these terms have similar meanings. Let’s talk about the first one, “latest” (latest). “Latest” is often used to talk about the news – things happening in the world – or fashion, the kinds of things that people wear.

If we talk about the “latest news,” we’re talking about things that have happened in the past week, day, or perhaps month – things that have happened very close in time to right now. Similarly, with the “latest fashions,” we’re talking about things that people are wearing now or people have started wearing in the past few months or past year, perhaps. That’s the meaning of “latest.”

“Recent” (recent) can mean the very same thing as “latest” – things that have occurred not long ago, or things that have begun a very short time before now. “Recent” can be used to describe events, things that have happened. If I say, “Recent events have caused me to think again about my plans,” I mean that things that have happened not too long ago – a week ago, a month ago, perhaps a few months ago.

Sometimes “recent” and “latest” mean the same thing, but sometimes they don’t. “Latest” can be used to describe the most recent thing. So let’s say, for example, you have an application on your phone ­– an app – and the person who makes the app has an update. They change the app. Usually these updates or changes are given numbers.

So let’s say you have the app beginning with 1.0, and then there’s 1.1, and 1.2, and so forth. The “latest update” would be the most recent one. Let’s call it 1.2. But if 1.1 had been released only, say, three weeks ago, I could refer to “recent updates.” 1.1 and 1.2 are both recent. They both happened relatively in the not-too-distant past, not too long ago, but the “latest update” is the one that happened most recently.

So “recent” and “latest” do have similar meanings, but “latest” in this case would always refer to the most recent. “Recent” could refer to several things that have happened in the past – say a month or two months or three months, not necessarily the latest thing, the most recent.

Finally, we have “current” (current). “Current” has a couple of different definitions, but as it relates to the other two terms here, “current” means taking place or happening now. It’s not referring to something going on in the past. It’s referring to something which is happening in the present moment. “The current weather outside here in Los Angeles is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.” That’s the weather – or rather, I should say, that’s the temperature right now as I’m recording this episode, this lesson.

“Current” emphasizes what’s going on right now. Some things that are “current” could have started a week ago, or a month ago, or a year ago. For example, “The current fashion here in Los Angeles is for people to wear hats.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it’s true. I see a lot of men nowadays with hats on in Los Angeles. That’s the “current fashion,” but that might have started a year ago or six months ago, but it is definitely going on now. So “current” doesn’t tell us when something happened – it just says it’s happening right now.

Okay. Let’s move on to Ella (Ella) in China. Ella wants to know the meanings of the word “account” (account). She especially wants to know what it means when someone says “to put something on his account.” Well, “account” has many meanings in English. I’ll try to go through them briefly and then talk about the meaning that Ella is asking about – specifically, “to put something on your account.”

“Account” can refer to a description of something. Usually we use this in a more formal sense to talk about the history of, or the story of, a certain event. “I’m going to give you an account of what happened yesterday.” I’m going to describe the exact events, the exact things that happened yesterday. That’s one meaning of “account.”

The more common meaning of “account” is some sort of arrangement that you have with another company to use that company’s services for something. For example, when you go on the internet and you buy something from a company such as Amazon or Apple or Google, you normally have to “create an account.” You have to give them your name and your email address and perhaps your phone number – and if you’re buying something, your credit card number. You are “creating an account.” Basically it’s just a set of, or pieces of, information that are stored on a computer about you.

When you use a website, you have to log in to use your account. You have to “log in to your account,” we might also say. That just means you put your information in and the computer recognizes you and gives you information or gives you what you need from that website.

If you have money in a bank, you have an agreement with the bank where you give them money, and they keep your money and give it back to you when you want it. You have an account with the bank. It’s an agreement that you give them money and they keep the money for you. So, if you go to the bank’s computer, you will find information about your account, which includes the money that you have given them so that they will keep it.

An account, then, is a kind of agreement that you have with the company when you are doing business with a company, when you are doing something related to that company. Not all accounts, of course, require that you buy something. If you have an email address, you have an “email account” with some company – perhaps it’s with Google or perhaps it’s with your own company. That’s another kind of agreement that involves you doing something with another company or another organization. It doesn’t require you buy anything necessarily.

Now, sometimes companies will sell things to you and not require you to pay right away. You could, for example, buy something, if you’re a business, from another business that you need, but not give them money for it immediately. When you do that, that’s called “putting something an account,” and this goes back to Ella’s question. “To put something on an account” means, at least in one possible situation, to buy something and pay for it later.

“Account” actually has even more meanings than what I’ve given here. I’ll give you just one more definition or meaning of “account” that is part of a common expression, which is “to take something into (into) account.” “To take something into account” means to consider something, to include certain information when you are making a decision or when you are forming an opinion about something.

I will take into account the fact that my students are very tired when I grade their exams – when I give them a mark, when I give them a score. Because they were tired, they probably didn’t do as well on the exam, so I won’t be very hard on them. I won’t give them a bad grade. I will “take that into account.” I’m just kidding, of course. As a teacher I would never take that into account, but that’s just an example.

Our final question, then, comes from the interestingly named “Jelson” – I like that name – (Jelson) from Brazil. Jelson wants to know the meaning of the expression “sneak peek.” It’s a nice expression. “Sneak (sneak) peek (peek)” is when you get to look at something before everyone else or before that thing is officially or formally released.

The most common use of this expression – at least here in Los Angeles, here in Hollywood – is for a movie. A “sneak peek” of a movie would be being able to see the movie before the movie is actually released in theaters around the country or around the world. I’ve gone to a few sneak peek showings or viewings of movies. Let’s say a movie is going to be in the movie theaters next week, but the movie studio decides to do a “sneak peek” just for a small group of people here in Los Angeles. They get to see the movie before everyone else does.

By the way, the word “peek” (peek) refers to looking at something quickly, briefly, and sometimes even secretly. “I peeked at the beautiful girl through the window.” I opened my window and looked at her briefly – not in a bad way, of course. Don’t get confused, by the way, with another word that is pronounced exactly the same, “peak” (peak). “Peak” in that spelling means the top of a mountain. We’re not talking about mountains here. We’re talking about sight – about seeing or looking at something.

That’s all we have time for today.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

champion – a person who has won many competitions and is thought to be the best in a sport

* Many of the athletes who complete at the Olympic games are champions in their own countries.

national title – a country’s top achievement or win in a sport

* Lars and Marta won the national title in ice dancing in 2011.

world’s fair – an international demonstration of the different achievements in technology, science, and art in countries around the world

* At the world’s fair, we saw demonstrations of new machines used for farming.

aquacade – a performance that includes swimming, diving, and dancing in the water set to music

* Nearly fifty swimmers and divers performed in the aquacade.

diving – the activity or sport of jumping or falling into the water, often from very high places

* Hazan had a diving accident, hitting his head on the bottom of the swimming pool.

talent scout – a person whose job is to look for talented performers or highly skilled people who can be hired, especially in sports and entertainment

* A talent scout saw Justine sing in a bar and thought she could be a successful recording artist.

aqua-musical – a movie that includes singing, swimming, and diving

* In this aqua-musical, the main characters meet on the beach and fall in love.

to choreograph – to create a series of steps and moves for a performance

* It was clear that the dance had been carefully choreographed because each of the dance movements was perfectly timed to the music.

dance sequence – a set of rehearsed dance steps set to music

* The students learned the dance sequence from the movie Grease as part of their end-of-the-year performance.

synchronized – arranged or coordinated to occur at the same time and speed

* The bank robbers synchronized their actions so that all of the security guards would be attacked at the same time.

mermaid – a fictional beautiful creature whose top half is a woman and whose bottom half is a fish

* There’s a legend that a young mermaid lives in the ocean and appears only to handsome sailors.

synchronized swimming – the sport in which teams of swimmers perform the same movements at the same time to music

* In synchronized swimming, the smallest mistake in movement could ruin a performance.

latest – most recent, especially news or fashion

* What’s the latest news about the baby? Has Sara given birth yet?

recent – having occurred not long ago; having begun a short time before

* Due to recent increases in sales, we’ll be hiring at least 10 new employees in each of our office.

current – occurring now; existing in the present time

* Our current location is Philadelphia, but we hope to make it to Boston by tonight.

to put (something) on (one’s) account – to buy something on credit; to have one’s purchases placed on record to be paid for later

* We have a business account at this office supply store. We can put the computer supplies on the company’s account instead of paying cash.

sneak peek – an opportunity to see something before it is officially available to a larger group or audience

* Will museum employees get a sneak peek of the new exhibit before visitors are allowed to see it?

What Insiders Know
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Sports Illustrated is a popular magazine that “covers” (has stories about) American sports and “athletes” (people who play sports). Each year since 1964, it has published one “issue” (one publication in a series of a magazine) each year known as the Swimsuit Issue, which “features” (shows; highlights; emphasizes) “scantily clad” (not wearing very much clothing; with a lot of skin exposed) “models” (beautiful men or women who often appear in magazines and advertisements) in “tiny” (very small) “bikinis” (two-piece swimsuits) or sometimes even less.

The swimsuit issue was originally created to generate interesting in the magazine in the winter months, when there are fewer sports to write about. But now, it is one of the best-known issues of the magazine. Most of the women are models and some are “supermodels” (the most popular, best paid models), but some have been female athletes, “cheerleaders” (people who shout and dance during sports events to encourage the audience to cheer) and even the popular singer Beyoncé.

The issue faces “mixed” (some good, some bad) “reception” (how something is perceived and received by others). Some people view the issue as an appropriate way to admire the “female form” (shape of a woman’s body) and promote “fitness” (health and strength). Others believe the images lead to the “objectification of women” (viewing women as sexual objects, not respecting them as human beings). Each year, some people cancel their “subscription” (an arrangement to pay for each issue of a magazine during the year) “in protest” (to show that they disagree with or disapprove of something) after receiving the Swimsuit Issue, but many other people “eagerly” (with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement) wait for it to arrive in their mailbox, and “still others” (an additional group) buy the Swimsuit Issue “off the rack” (at the store, without a subscription) each year.