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601 Topics: Questions Answered: Whose Line is it Anyway?, to shiver versus to tremble versus to quiver; something versus something else; to bite the bullet; to blow (something) apart; to shy (away) from

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Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 601.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 601. 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. This is an all-questions-and-answers edition of the English Café where we will answer lots of different questions that we have received. We get more questions than we can possibly answer, but today we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can. Let’s get started.

Our first question comes from Deivid (Deivid) from Brazil. The question has to do about the title of a popular comedy show both in Great Britain and later in the United States. The show was called Whose Line Is It Anyway? This was a popular TV show – in fact, at the time of this recording I think it might still be going on – that has been around now for more than 30 years and is and has been popular with both British and American audiences.

In order to talk about the show, let me just talk about some of the words that are in the title. None of them are very complicated. Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the title of the show. The word “line” is the most important one in the title, because that is the word that has a couple of different meanings. The meaning here is a line or a sentence in a play or a movie or a television show. It’s the words that the actor speaks. So, “I have a line,” meaning I have a sentence. I say something, and then you have a line – you say something.

In acting, we talk about the actors memorizing his or her “lines.” The “lines” are the words that they have to say in the play or the movie or the TV show. Some actors complain, “I don’t get very many lines.” This is something you might hear here in Los Angeles if you go to a restaurant or something. Someone may be talking about his lines or the fact that he doesn’t have very many lines, meaning he doesn’t get to appear very long in the movie or the TV show.

Well, the title of this show Whose Line Is It Anyway? is referring to who is going to say the next thing. Now, you might wonder, “Well, why would that be a question?” I mean, in most TV shows and movies or plays, the lines are written by the playwright or the screenwriter – the people who write the material, write the story. Well, Whose Line Is It Anyway? is not a show, a television show, that is written in advance, meaning it is what we call an “improvisational,” or simply an “improv (improv) show.”

“Improvisation” comes from the verb “to improvise” (improvise). “To improvise” means to make something up or invent something as you are doing it, without any preparation or planning or thinking about it, or even knowing what you are going to have to do. This is a form of comedy – improv – that is very popular in the U.S. and in other countries as well, I’m sure.

What happens is the actors and actresses – the comedians, really – are given a situation and then they have to make up the lines. They have to invent the story and what they’re going to say right there as it’s happening. The amazing thing about improv comedy, if you’ve ever seen it either live (that is, by going to a place where the actors are) or on a television show – is how quickly the actors and actresses have to think. They have to think very quickly and say something that’s funny.

Here in Los Angeles, there are a couple of what we call “comedy clubs” (clubs). These are not clubs in the sense of organizations, but rather places where you can go and see a comedy show – a comedian stand up and tell jokes. There are a couple of famous improv clubs – some people might call them “theaters” – here in Los Angeles where comedians go, and every night they say something different because it’s a new situation, a new story. The situations are of course supposed to be funny.

Some of the most famous comedians in American movies and television started their careers, started their acting careers, their acting jobs, in improv clubs or doing improvisation. It requires a very quick – that is, a very fast-thinking – actor in order to do good comedy improvisation.

The television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? started in Great Britain. It was a show on the BBC beginning in the late 1980s. It was so popular that eventually American television decided it would also produce a program with the same kind of format. The format, or the way the show is structured or set up, is very simple.

There are four comedians who participate or do the actual improvisation, and there is one person – the host – who gives them the situation, and then the actors have to do something, for a period of two or three minutes usually, that is completely improvised. They have to make up the story and make up the jokes right there as they do it.

This is then filmed in front of a live audience – that is, there are people there who are laughing at their jokes – and then they take that and they edit it: they cut it down, they take the funniest parts, and they make it into a one-half-hour or thirty-minute television show. Whose Line Is It Anyway? was on American television for a very long time. It started in 1998 with a comedian by the name of Drew Carey – he was the host – and it continued for almost 10 years until 2007.

More recently, they started the show up again. I’m not sure if it’s still on television, but it is now on again with a different host. So that’s a little bit about Whose Line Is It Anyway? and improv comedy.

Our next question comes from Yoshi (Yoshi) in Japan. Yoshi wants to know the meaning of three different words: “shiver,” “tremble,” and “quiver.” Let’s start with “shiver” (shiver). “To shiver” means to shake or move your body back and forth very quickly – not in a wild way, but in a very small way. Your arms, or your hands on your arms, begin to move back and forth in a very small but sudden way so that someone can see that there’s something wrong with you.

Normally we shiver when it is very cold. It’s the body’s natural reaction when you start to get very cold. Your body begins to move back and forth. That’s called “shivering.” Sometimes we use this verb to describe what happens when someone gets very excited. You might also “shiver with excitement,” we would say.

Similarly, your body might also react in this same way when you are very afraid, when you are scared of something. You might shiver with emotion – “shiver with fright,” we might say. So, something that is very exciting or something that is very scary might make your body shiver. “Tremble” (tremble) is a verb that means, in terms of the physical action, something very similar to “shiver.” “To tremble” means to have your body move back and forth in a very small but noticeable way.

Once again, like “shiver,” it could be because you are afraid of something. “I trembled with fear” (fear). Or it could be because you’re very happy and excited about something. “I trembled with excitement.” Unlike “shiver,” we sometimes use the verb “tremble” to talk about what happens to our voice, to the sound coming out of our mouth when we are excited or when we are full of fear. “My voice trembled,” you could say.

“Tremble” has another meaning, not related to the human body. The entire earth, the ground, can tremble when we are having an earthquake. “To quake” and “to tremble,” then, can mean the same thing. “To quake” (quake) also means to shake, to move back and forth. If you’re having an “earthquake,” the entire earth is moving back and forth. That verb “to tremble,” then, can also be used to describe an earthquake

The verb “to quake” usually refers to the whole earth moving, but it is possible to use the verb “to quake” to mean the same thing as “to tremble” when we’re talking about the human body. Mostly you’ll hear that use of “to quake” with a certain expression: “to quake in your boots” (boots). Your “boots” are large, heavy shoes that you can wear. “To quake in your boots” means to be very fearful, to tremble because you are afraid of something.

Sometimes that expression, “I’m quaking in my boots,” is used sarcastically – that is, it’s used to mean the opposite of what it actually says if you just read the words. It depends on the context. It depends on the way it is said. You may say that when you’re not afraid of someone, or if someone says something to you that is supposed to make you fearful but you’re not. You’re almost laughing at the person. “Oh, I’m quaking in my boots.” If you say it that way, it means you’re not afraid at all.

The final word Yoshi wants me to talk about is “quiver” (quiver). “Quiver” is not as common as “shiver” or “tremble” in conversational English, but it means basically the same thing – a small, quick motion with your body, a shaking of the body. You could quiver with fear. You could quiver with excitement, just as you could tremble with fear or tremble with excitement.

“Quiver” does have one other meaning, as a noun. A “quiver” is a small case or container for something called an “arrow” (arrow). An “arrow” is a long, thin weapon that is used with something called a “bow” (bow). You’ve seen bow and arrows probably in old American movies that featured American Indians fighting the white settlers moving into the American West back in the nineteenth century.

If you’ve ever watched a movie about King Arthur or the Middle Ages, one of the primary weapons used was the bow and arrow. The “bow” is a long instrument that has a string attached on it, and you put the arrow onto the string and pull it back, and when you let go of the string, the arrow flies into the air. Well, you keep your arrows on your back, if you are a bow and arrow hunter or soldier, in something called a “quiver.”

Believe it or not, there are still places in the U.S. where people use bow and arrows to go hunting. My uncle was a hunter and used to hunt deer in Wisconsin with a bow and arrow because that was allowed, that was legal, during a certain time of the year. I’m not sure if it still is, but it probably is. Hunting is still a popular sport, even though some people don’t like it now, in many parts of the U.S., especially in the Midwestern part of the U.S. where I grew up.

Our next question is from Mohammed (Mohammed) in a mystery country. We’ll call it Atlantis. Mohammed from Atlantis wants to know the meaning of two different expressions or terms. One is the expression “something else.” What do we mean when someone says, “Well, that is something else!” The second is simply the word “something” by itself. Well, this is an interesting question because like a lot of things in all languages, it depends on the context; it depends on the situation in which you use the word or the expression.

If someone says, “He’s something else,” that person might mean that the person about whom he’s talking has done something wrong, or is weird, or is strange, or is unusual in some way. It might be a really good thing or it might be a very bad thing – it just depends on the situation. Often we use this term “He’s something else” or “She’s something else” when perhaps we’re so surprised by how good or bad they are, we don’t have another way of describing that person.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your boss tells you on Friday afternoon at four o’clock that you have to stay and finish this big project before you go home tonight, and it may take you four or five hours to finish the project. Well, you and your coworkers, the people you work with, aren’t very happy with your boss. You might say to each other, “Wow, he’s something else – making us work another four hours on a Friday afternoon.”

There, clearly “something else” means a bad thing, maybe something so bad you don’t want to mention it in public. However, you could also use this expression to say someone is very good. You could be watching your favorite baseball team, which of course is the Los Angeles Dodgers, right? You’re watching the Los Angeles Dodgers and you see a particular player hit a home run, score lots of points. You might say, “Wow, that player is something else” – you mean he’s amazing. He’s wonderful. He’s great.

In both cases, you’re saying that there’s something different or unusual about this person, unusually good or unusually bad. Similarly, if you just say, “He’s something,” or “She was something,” you’re also saying this person is unusual, but it’s typically something that is only good. “He was something” means he was really, really good. With “something else,” it could be good or bad.

Now, I asked somebody else – speaking of something else – about this expression, and she thought that “something else” is almost always bad. It’s not something that’s a good. I’m not sure if I agree with that, which actually shows how interesting language can be. People use language and sometimes don’t even agree about what the general uses are.

So, if you believe me, and I think you should, “something else” could be good or bad, though may be more typically bad than good, whereas “something” is always good. “He is something” means he’s great. He’s unusually good.

Let’s move on, then, to our next question. This one comes from Barasheed (Barasheed) in Saudi Arabia. The question has to do with the expression “to bite (bite) the bullet (bullet).” A “bullet,” like an arrow, is a weapon or something that is used in conjunction with a weapon. A bullet is used with a gun or a rifle. It is shot or projected, much like an arrow is, at something to hit it, often to kill it.

So, why would we bite a bullet? “To bite” is to put something in between your teeth, in your mouth, and close your mouth on it. Why would anyone bite a bullet? First, let me explain that the expression means to do something difficult or unpleasant, something we don’t want to do but have to do. “I don’t want to talk to my boss about problems I’m having with this project, but I’m just going to bite the bullet.” I’m going to do it even though I don’t really want to do it, because I have to do it.

It’s not clear exactly where this expression comes from. One theory is that it comes from the old days, when someone had to have surgery or some medical procedure and needed something to bite on because of the pain. It was common, at least we think, for people to bite on a solid object, such as a stick or a piece of leather or perhaps a bullet, to help a person endure or put up with the pain that would be associated with some medical procedure. Pain, of course, is very unpleasant, but it has to be done, otherwise you may die, for example.

Fortunately in most places, in most countries, it’s not necessary to bite a bullet during a medical procedure, but you may have to do things that are unpleasant but necessary. In those situations, we might use this expression “to bite the bullet.” The word “bite” can also be used as a noun to mean something to eat or a quantity of food. “Let’s go out for a bite” or “Let’s go out for a bite to eat” means let’s go to a restaurant and get some food to eat.

Our next question comes from Alan (Alan), also in a mystery country. Once again, like Mohammed, probably in the Lost City of Atlantis, or the Lost Island of Atlantis, I guess. Alan wants to know the meaning of the expression “to shy (shy) away from” something. The word “shy” is usually used as an adjective to express the idea that someone doesn’t like to reveal himself, or doesn’t like to talk to other people, or is perhaps afraid or nervous of meeting other people. If someone says, “Oh, she’s very shy,” he means that she is afraid of talking to other people or doesn’t like talking to other people.

“To shy away from,” however, as a phrasal verb means to not do something, perhaps because you are afraid or perhaps because you are nervous about doing it. “I shy away from” can also mean simply I avoid that particular action or doing that particular thing. You could say, “I shy away from talking to people who are drunk because I’m a little afraid of what will happen. They’re unpredictable.”

You may also use this expression when giving someone advice. “I would shy away from putting too many pictures of yourself on Facebook.” I would avoid doing that, perhaps because something bad could happen in the future. Someone may see your pictures and decide not to hire you. This has, of course, happened many times. So if I were you, I would shy away from that. I would be fearful of doing that because of the bad consequences that might follow from doing that.

The word “shy” has another very different meaning in an unrelated expression, “to be just shy of” something. “To be just shy of” means to be just short of, to be a little less than some quantity or amount. For example, you could say that “599 is just shy of 600.” It’s very close to that quantity, but not exactly that quantity. It’s less than that quantity.

If you want to have 500 friends on Facebook or followers on your Twitter account, and you only have 490, you could say, “Well, I’m just shy of 500.” Notice, it doesn’t have to be one less. It could be 10 less or 20 less, depending on your definition of what it means to be “just less than” or “just under” a certain number.

Our final question also comes from Alan. Alan sure had a lot of questions. Alan wants to know the meaning of the expression “to blow (blow) something apart (apart).” The verb “blow” has a couple of different meanings. Let me start first with the meaning that Alan asks about.

“To blow something apart” means to use something such as a bomb or an explosive to destroy something. If I put, say, a stick of, a piece of, dynamite, which is an explosive, and light it inside of a car, it would blow the car apart perhaps, depending on how powerful it was. Or if you put a bomb inside of a car and the bomb exploded, it went off, it would blow the car apart. The car would come apart in pieces. It would no longer be one thing. It would be many little things because it had been blown apart.

“To blow apart” is related to another phrasal verb, “to blow up” (up). “To blow up” means to destroy something. “To blow apart” means to destroy something, often by putting the explosive or the bomb inside of the thing that you want to destroy. There is another, less common meaning of the phrasal verb “to blow apart.” It’s actually the one that Alan asks about. He gives us a sample sentence in which this phrasal verb appears – or does it? He says, “The wind was blowing the leaves of the tree apart.”

Well, in that case, I don’t think we’re actually talking about the phrasal verb “to blow apart,” the one I just defined. The word “apart” is often used as an adverb to mean at a distance from something else. So, if one house is located here, and another house is 500 feet south, these two houses are “apart” from each other. They are at a distance from each other. Really that’s the meaning in the sentence Alan gives us. “The wind was blowing the leaves of the tree apart.”

“Leaves” are, of course, the things that grow on a tree that often fall down as the seasons change. Leaves are often green. Sometimes, in some trees, they change colors and then they die and fall to the ground. The wind could then blow those leaves apart from the tree, so that they are now separated from the tree, at some distance from the tree. I think that is really the meaning that Alan is asking about, even though we’ve now defined another meaning that is a phrasal verb, “to blow something apart.”

I mentioned the verb “to blow” actually has many different meanings in English, or at least more than what we’ve just discussed here. Let me briefly give you a couple of more meanings. The verb “to blow” is usually associated with some sort of wind or force of air. “The wind is blowing,” we say, meaning the wind is moving with a certain force, often causing other things to move with it.

This leads to other phrasal verbs connected with this idea of a strong wind or force of air. “To blow over,” for example, means that something falls down – something that was vertical becomes horizontal because of the force of a wind. “The tree blew over last night because the wind was so strong.” We can talk about the clouds in the sky “blowing over.” There, the phrasal verb doesn’t mean something falls down, but rather something moves away quite quickly.

Interestingly, we use that phrasal verb “to blow over” also to mean for something, some problem, to go away after a certain amount of time. “My boss was really angry about this, but in time this will all blow over and he’ll forget about it.” There, “blow over” means that some problem will disappear after a certain amount of time.

Finally, “to blow” can also mean to fail at something, if someone said, “I blew it” or “I blew my chance.” “Blew” (blew) is the past tense of “blow.” Someone could also say, “Don’t blow it.” In all of those expressions, “blow” means to fail or not to succeed or not be successful. It’s somewhat informal in that context. We would tell our friend, “You have a good chance at getting this girl’s number” – telephone number – “don’t blow it.” Don’t be stupid. Don’t say something stupid.

That’s all we have time for on this Café.

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.

Glossary
Whose line is it? – Whose turn is it to speak the words in a play, film, or other type of performance?

* Whose line is it after Jeremy finishes his long speech at the beginning of the play?

anyway – when asking a question, used to emphasize that the speaker wants to know the facts or the truth; used in conversation to change the subject or resume a subject after an interruption

* Why are you interested in my plans, anyway? You said you were busy this weekend and couldn’t spend time with me.

to shiver – to shake slightly because one is cold, afraid, or excited

* Walking in the snow without a coat on made her shiver from head to toe and regret going outdoors.

to tremble – to shake slightly because one is weak, nervous, or excited; to shake slightly because of some force

* Mia trembled with fear as the bully walked toward her in the schoolyard.

to quiver – to shake with a small, quick motion

* The slow breeze caused the leaves on the trees to quiver.

something – a person or thing that is important or worth noticing

* He’s really something! He received scholarships to the top three universities in the country.

something else – someone or something that cannot be described in words; something or someone unusual; someone or something that is truly great

* Your uncle is really something else! He lives by himself in the forest with no electricity and no running water.

to bite the bullet – to do something unpleasant or painful because it is necessary even though one does not want to do it

* When are you going to bite the bullet and finally ask your boss to give you a raise?

to blow (something) apart – for the force of the wind or air to move two things apart; to destroy something with great force so that it breaks into many parts

* The breeze blew apart the curtains so we could see the visitors arriving as they walked up to the front door.

to shy (away) from – to try to avoid something because of nervousness, fear, dislike, or other feeling or emotion

* Even though Mandy is a great pianist, she shies away from performing in public because it embarrasses her.

What Insiders Know
The Actors Studio

Most professional actors, theater “directors” (the person who is in charge of the actors and staff), and “playwrights” (people who write plays for the theater) belong to a membership organization called the Actors Studio. Founded in 1947, it originally provided training for actors in New York City. Today, there are two locations: one in New York City and one in West Hollywood, California.

The Actors Studio has “developed a reputation for” (become known for) “refining” (improving) techniques for actors and for training actors in a “private” (not seen by others) environment where they can “take risks” (try new things that might not work) without “jeopardizing” (putting in danger) their work on “commercial projects” (projects for which they are being paid). Members develop their work and, when they think it is ready for “public viewing” (to be seen by people who are not members), audiences are invited to come for free. This “model” (way of doing things) “inspires” (causes and creates) creativity and allows the actors, directors, and playwrights to “experiment” (try new things) and “advance” (improve) their “craft” (the artistic purpose of their professional career).

The Actors Studio is not a school for training “aspiring actors” (people who want to become actors). Instead, it is a studio where the professionals who are members can practice and develop their skills. Becoming a member requires passing a series of “auditions” (an opportunity to demonstrate one’s skills in front of judges or evaluators, especially in acting or music), beginning with a five-minute, two-person “scene” (part of a play or movie). Members must be at least 18 years old and must “reside” (live) in New York City or Los Angeles. The audition and membership are free, but the Actors Studio does accept donations.