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595 Topics: National Lampoon; contest versus competition versus match versus game; (in the) meantime versus meanwhile

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 595.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 595. 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 comedy magazine that later made movies. It was called National Lampoon. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Today we’re talking about a company that was responsible for both a magazine as well as, later on, some movies. The company is called National Lampoon. “To lampoon” (lampoon) is to criticize someone or something by making fun of it or by telling jokes about it. National Lampoon began as a magazine that was published from 1970 to 1988. The idea for National Lampoon came from a magazine at Harvard University. As you may know, Harvard University is one of the best universities in the United States. It’s located near Boston, Massachusetts, on the eastern coast of the U.S.

Harvard Lampoon was a comedy magazine. Two students who had gone to Harvard decided, after leaving the university, to start a magazine similar to Harvard Lampoon, but calling it National Lampoon. The Harvard Lampoon magazine made fun of people just at Harvard University. National Lampoon made fun of all sorts of people across the country in the United States. I actually remember National Lampoon as a magazine soon after it started. This would be in the mid-1970s, when I was just getting into high school.

“To make fun of” something or someone means to tell jokes about someone or something. National Lampoon quickly became popular in the U.S. for its humor and its artwork. “Humor” (humor) refers to being funny or amusing. “Artwork” (artwork) refers to any kind of painting, photograph, or image that is used in a magazine or other publication. In 1978, the company that produced the successful National Lampoon magazine decided to get into the movie industry. It made a movie called Animal House.

Animal House was a movie that took place in the year 1962 at an American university. It told the story of some first-year students, what we would call “freshman” students, who were trying to join a certain kind of club called a “fraternity.” A “fraternity” (fraternity) is a club or group of male students at a university campus. The equivalent for women students is a “sorority” (sorority). The words “frater” and “soror” are the Latin words that mean “brother” and “sister.” And in these groups, you call the other members of your group your “fraternity brothers” or your “sorority sisters.”

Now, the fraternity and sorority system – sometimes called the Greek system, in part because the names of these groups are usually letters from the Greek alphabet, such as alpha, beta, kappa (although I don’t think that’s actually the name of any real fraternity or sorority). This Greek system is very popular on many American campuses and has been for many years.

Many colleges and campuses have fraternities and sororities. I was never a member of a fraternity. I never had any friends who were members of fraternities, although I do know people, including some relatives, who became members of fraternities and sororities. Fraternities and sororities have a “reputation” – that is, they are sometimes famous – for having a lot of parties.

Well, the movie Animal House was about a fraternity that had a lot of parties. This fraternity is full of young men who not only like to have a good time by having parties, but also by playing jokes on teachers and other students rather than taking their college life seriously. The dean, or the head of the school, in this movie is trying to get the fraternity removed from this college campus. The boys in the fraternity are trying to do everything to prevent their fraternity from being removed from the college.

The movie became very popular and starred some actors who even today are still famous. They included a comedian who was already popular in the U.S. for being on a popular comedy television show. That comedian’s name was John Belushi, who’s probably the most famous actor in the movie. Other actors included Kevin Bacon and Donald Sutherland, both of whom are still known as actors, both comedic and serious – that is, actors who have made comedies as well as dramas.

All of these actors became famous, although the most famous of the three, John Belushi, died very young at the age of 33. He died of what is unhappily all too common here in Hollywood, an overdose of drugs. “To overdose” (overdose) means to take too much of a drug, and in many cases, to die from it. Well, we’re not here to talk about the sad part of the history of National Lampoon. The movie Animal House is, or was considered to be at the time, a very funny movie, at least by younger people.

National Lampoon was so successful at making money that they decided to make more movies – a series of movies about a family called the Griswolds. This was the National Lampoon Vacation series. The first movie, called National Lampoon’s Vacation, came out when I was in college in 1983. It starred another popular comedian by the name of Chevy Chase.

Chevy Chase played Clark Griswold, the father of the family. The mother, Ellen Griswold, was played by a less well-known actress by the name of Beverly D’Angelo. In the movie, there are two children in the family, a son named Rusty and a daughter named Audrey. In these movies, the father is an optimistic man who tries to do the right thing but always ends up making things confused and difficult, and that’s where the funny jokes of the movie take place.

In the first movie, for example, the Griswold family drives across the United States to visit an amusement park. An “amusement park” is a very large area with lots of different rides and games and other things to amuse you, or to entertain you. Here in Southern California, we have several amusement parks, including Disneyland, the most famous of all of the amusement parks in the U.S., but also Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

These are all amusement parks, where people go and have fun by going on these rides and doing other things that are supposed to be fun. Personally, I don’t like amusement parks. I haven’t been to any of them since I moved to California 25 years ago, although I did as a child, when I was eight years old, go to Disneyland with my family. That’s the last time I’ve been there. But in the movie, the Griswold family goes to an amusement park and they meet some very strange relatives there.

A “relative” (relative) is a person you are connected to, either through blood or marriage. If you’re connected to someone by blood, you are that person’s brother, sister, father, mother, cousin, grandfather, niece, nephew, and so on. You are some connection to them based on the fact that you share some DNA. If you are related to someone or if someone is your relative “by marriage,” that person has married someone that you are a relative of by blood, or what we would call simply a “blood relative.”

So, for example, my wife’s sister is my relative. She’s my “sister-in-law,” but she’s my relative by marriage, not by blood. When I said earlier some of my relatives were in fraternities and sororities, I was referring to my relatives by marriage, not by blood. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were active in a fraternity and a sorority in college. Well, the Griswolds meet relatives who are very strange, and again that was part of the comedy of the movie. This second movie was also a big hit for National Lampoon. A “hit” is something that makes a lot of money, that is very popular, that is very successful.

Even though it was financially successful – it made a lot of money – it wasn’t a good movie. Most of the critics thought it was not a good movie, thought it was a very unfunny movie, but sometimes people go to movies even when the so-called experts don’t think they’re very good ones. National Lampoon made a second movie, called European Vacation, in which this same family goes to Europe, and of course all sorts of crazy things happen. After National Lampoon’s European Vacation in 1989, there was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

After the release of Christmas Vacation, the company National Lampoon began to have financial problems. The magazine was no longer successful as it once was, and in 1989 the company was sold to another company. That company wasn’t very successful in getting the National Lampoon kind, or style, of comedy to be as popular as it was in the 1970s and ’80s, and nowadays no one really thinks about National Lampoon anymore. They’ve pretty much failed to continue that legacy or that history of funny movies. The magazine stopped production in 1998.

Even though National Lampoon is no longer around as a successful comedy organization, it is still remembered as being the place where many comedians made a lot of money and became very well-known – comedians such as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, John Candy, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Harold Ramis. Thanks to those actors and to the Vacation and Animal House movies, National Lampoon is a name that most Americans still recognize even though it hasn’t really been very successful in more than 25 years.

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

Our first question comes from Heydar (Heydar) in Iran. The question has to do with four terms: “contest,” “competition,” “match,” and “game.” Let’s start with “contest” (contest). A “contest,” as a noun, is an event in which people try to win something by being better than everyone else. At your company, where you work, you may have a contest to see who can sell more of your product or service. The salespeople may have a contest to see who can sell more than anyone else, and perhaps if you win this contest, you will be given a prize, a reward, something to show that you have won.

Another word for contest is “competition” (competition). A “contest” or a “competition” both involve people trying to do better than other people. Almost all sports and games are contests or competitions. You can have contests and competitions about things that are not related to sports, of course. You could, as I mentioned previously, have a competition at your company.

There’s another related meaning to the word “competition.” Sometimes we talk about “competition” when referring to other companies or organizations that are trying to do the same thing you’re trying to do, or even other people who are trying to do the same thing you’re trying to do. You might not be involved in any formally organized contest, but you’re both perhaps trying to sell the same thing or similar things to the same group of people. So, for example, Pepsi is competition for Coca-Cola. Pepsi wants to sell soft drinks, soda, to the same groups of people that Coca-Cola wants to sell its products to. That’s another use of the word “competition.”

Finally, we have “match” (match) and “game” (game). Both “match” and “game” can mean the same thing. “Match” is used, in particular sports, usually to refer to either the entire game, the entire competition, or to one part of it. In tennis, for example, there are “games,” “sets,” and “matches.” The word “match” refers to the entire contest, whereas “game” and “set” refer to parts of the larger contest.

I read somewhere that “match” is more of a British English term, or at least comes from games that were associated traditionally with Great Britain, and “game” refers more to sports that started or were popular in the United States. I don’t know if that’s true, but it is true, for example, that we talk about a “cricket match” and a “golf match,” but a “baseball game” and a “basketball game.” You don’t normally talk about a “baseball match.” Even though the words, then, can mean the same thing, they may be used differently depending on the sport that you’re talking about.

I should mention also that the word “match,” as a noun, can also refer simply to someone who is equal to you or is as good as you are in doing something. It might also describe someone who goes well together with another person or is compatible with another person. “He’s a good match for this job.” That means his skills are exactly the ones we need for this position. That’s another definition of “match” not related to the game-related definition.

Our second question comes from Japan, from Ryuta (Ryuta). The question has to do with the difference between “in the meantime” (meantime) and “meanwhile” (meanwhile). The phrase “in the meantime” is used to describe that time when something else is also happening or something else is being done. We also use the word “while” (while) for this same idea. “You cook the vegetables, and in the meantime, I will cook the meat.” While you are cooking the vegetables, during that same time period, I will cook the meat.

The word “meanwhile” (meanwhile) can be used in much the same way as “in the meantime.” It means either while something is happening at the same time, or until something happens. For example, “You take care of cleaning the table. Meanwhile, I’ll make dinner.” You could also say, “We are waiting for my friend to arrive. Meanwhile, let’s play a game of cards until he gets here.”

Our final question comes from Allan (Allan) in Brazil. Allan wants to know the meaning of the expression “can’t hold a candle (candle) to.” What does it mean to say, for example, that “Maria can’t hold a candle to Georgia when it comes to running.” When we say someone “can’t hold a candle to” another person, we mean that person is not as good as the other person. If I say, “Maria can’t hold a candle to Georgia when it comes to running,” I mean that Maria is not anywhere near as good as Georgia is.

Why do we say “can’t hold a candle to?” Well, some people think it’s because in the old days, when you learned a job, you worked with another person who knew more than you did. And in order for the other person to see when it was dark, you, as the person learning the job, would hold a candle – would hold the light so that the other person and you could see what was going on. The other person, of course, was doing the actual work and you were observing. You were watching and learning.

I’m not sure if that’s the correct explanation of the origin or the reason we say that expression, but it makes sense to me.

If you need additional help with your English, go to our website at 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 2017 by the Center for Educational Development.

tell jokes about something or someone

* Malcolm made fun of the way the teacher waved her arms when she talked.

humor – something that is funny or amusing

* He was known for his sense of humor and for telling jokes that everyone found funny.

artwork – an illustration, drawing, photograph, or image, usually for use in publications

* We’ll need some artwork to accompany this article about the start of school.

fraternity – a club or group for male students on a university campus

* Jorge enjoyed being a member of the fraternity and having a group of friends with whom he could eat lunch, study, and go to parties.

dean – the head of a college or university; the head of a college or university department

* The dean refused to meet with students protesting higher student fees.

to overdose – to take too much of a drug; to take a dangerous amount of a drug or medication

* Be careful how many painkillers you take in one day. You don’t want to overdose.

amusement park – a very large outdoor area with rides, shows, games, food, and drinks

* The amusement park had many different rides but some of them were not appropriate for small children.

relative – a person connected to one by blood or marriage

* How many relatives will be staying at our house over the holidays?

hit – something that is very successful; something that is very popular

* Michael Jackson had many hits throughout his career.

financial – related to the management of large amounts of money, especially of a government or company

* Our company isn’t in a very good financial situation. We may have to stop hiring new employees soon.

contest – an event in which people try to win by doing something better than others

* Let’s have a contest to see who can jump the highest.

competition – a contest in which people try to win by being better or faster than other people; an event in which people compete

* Who will win the singing competition and win the prize of a recording contract?

match – a contest between two or more players or teams

* Giselle is the best tennis player on our team and can beat any other player in a match.

game – a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure

* It’s amazing that Abbie can play such a good game of chess at such a young age.

(in the) meantime – during the time before something happens or before a specified period ends; while something else is being done

* Summer vacation is three weeks away. In the meantime, you need to study hard to pass your exams.

meanwhile – until something one expects happens; while something else is happening; at or during the same time

* I’m making dinner now, but meanwhile, if you’re hungry, eat a few of these carrot sticks.

to be unable to hold a candle to (someone or something) – not to be equal to someone; not be nearly as good as someone or something

* This restaurant’s pie doesn’t hold a candle to my mother’s homemade pie.

What Insiders Know
The Harvard Lampoon

In 1876, seven “undergraduate” (student at a college or university earning a bachelor’s degree) students at Harvard University created a “humor” (designed to be funny and make people laugh) “publication” (magazine or newspaper). “Aside from” (except for) “brief” (short; lasting for a short period of time) breaks during World War I and World War II, it has been published “continuously” (without stopping) for almost 150 years. The publication “comes out” (is released) five times each year, and now some of the “content” (text) is also published “online” (on the Internet).

In recent years, The Harvard Lampoon has “branched out” (expanded; started doing new things) by publishing “parodies” (funny exaggerations or versions of something, making them bigger or sillier than they actually are) of popular books. For example, The Hunger Pains as a parody of the popular book series The Hunger Games. “Hunger pains” refer to the discomfort you feel in your stomach when you are hungry, wanting to eat.

Some of the people who have written for The Harvard Lampoon “have gone on to” (have progressed in their careers to) write for popular comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and Friends.

The Harvard Lampoon has a “longstanding” (lasting for a long time) “rivalry” (friendly, but intense competition) with Harvard’s student newspaper, Harvard Crimson. In the summer of 2015, The Harvard Lampoon “tricked” (made someone look foolish) presidential “candidate” (someone who wants to have an elected position) Donald Trump by pretending to be the “editorial staff” (the people who write opinion pieces for a newspaper) of the Harvard Crimson and “endorsing” (saying that someone would be a good elected official and recommending that other people vote for him or her) Donald Trump for President. But this was “tongue in cheek” (without meaning what one is saying; actually meaning the opposite of what one is saying, not to be taken seriously).