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0847 Experiencing a Blackout

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 847: Experiencing a Blackout

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 847. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

We have a website at eslpod.com. We have a Learning Guide membership that you can get to support this podcast. Just go to our website for more information.

This episode is a dialog between George and Inga about what happens when you don’t have any electrical power. Let’s get started.

[start of dialog]

George: Whoa, what happened?

Inga: The lights went out. Did we blow a fuse, or is this a blackout?

George: Well, I don’t see any lights on in any of the houses down the street. It’s pitch black out there.

Inga: So it’s another power outage. Somehow the circuits got overloaded again. I wonder how long we’ll have to do without electricity this time.

George: I wonder if it’s our power grid or if this is a citywide blackout. All right, we’d better light a few candles. There’s no telling how long this will last.

Inga: No, it’s not like last summer when we had rolling blackouts because of the surge in demand due to the heat. Do you remember how we passed those hours of darkness?

George: Yes, I do. What are you suggesting?

Inga: I’m just saying that there’s no reason to waste a perfectly good blackout.

[end of dialog]

Our dialog begins with George saying, “Whoa. What happened?” “Whoa,” usually spelled (whoa), is an expression of surprise. “What happened?” George asks. Inga says, “The lights went out,” meaning the electricity has stopped. There is no more electricity to the house or the building, or perhaps, to the whole area where you’re living. Inga says, “Did we blow a fuse, or is this a blackout?” “To blow (blow) a fuse (fuse)” means that you are using too much electricity at a certain part of your house. The “fuse” is something that protects your house, protects the things in your house if you try to get too much electricity into a certain area.

Most houses nowadays don’t have fuses, which are little devices, little things, little objects that you put into your electrical, what we call the “electrical panel” in the back of your house, wherever it is. Nowadays, they use things that are called “circuit breakers,” which are just basically switches. “Fuses” are things that you actually have to take out and replace. In the house I grew up in, many years ago, we had fuses. Now, the house I live in now has these new switches called “circuit breakers.”

Inga is asking if she and George have blown a fuse or if this is a “blackout.” A “blackout” (blackout) – one word – is when an entire area, sometimes an entire city, loses power, loses electrical power. There is no electricity available anywhere. “Blackout” could also be when you don’t remember something after drinking a lot of alcohol. That’s also called a “blackout,” but here it means when you don’t have electrical power for a large area of a city.

George says, “Well, I don’t see any lights on in any of the houses down the street.” George goes out and looks to see if there’s electricity in the other houses and he doesn’t see any. That means it’s probably a “blackout.” George says, “It’s pitch black out there.” The expression “pitch (pitch) black” means extremely black, with no light whatsoever. Inga says, “So, it’s another power outage.” A “power outage” (outage) is the same as a blackout. It’s a period of time when there is no electricity available.

Inga says, “Somehow, the circuits got overloaded again.” A “circuit” (circuit) is a path that electricity follows between two points. Inga here is referring probably to the power plants – the place where the electricity is generated, that somehow their circuits got overloaded. “To be overloaded” means that there is too much demand, in this case, for electricity and the place that is generating the electricity can’t produce it fast enough. And so, the circuits overload and nobody gets any power at all.

Inga says, “I wonder how long we’ll have to do without electricity this time.” “To do without” means not to have. Electricity, you probably know, is power – energy that is carried through wires and cables, used to operate almost everything that is in your house that’s a machine. Mostly, these are things that run on or are powered by electricity. Except me - I’m powered by happiness! I’m powered by your emails, your positive feedback. That’s my power.

George says, “I wonder if it’s our power grid or if this is a citywide blackout.” A “power grid” (grid) is a network of power companies and users of electricity that are connected together. Power grids usually are very large. A “citywide blackout” would be a blackout that only affected one particular city - “citywide” (citywide) is one word, meaning across or covering an entire city.

George says, “All right, we’d better light a few candles.” A “candle” (candle) is a small object, usually made of wax that has something that you can light so that it burns. We call it a “wick” (wick). It’s basically a piece of string that burns in the center of the wax and provides light. Many restaurants have candles at night. It’s considered, perhaps, romantic. You may have candles in your house. But George isn’t trying to be romantic here; at least, I don’t think he is. He instead, wants to get some candles so they have some light. George says, “There’s no telling how long this will last.” The expression “There’s no telling” is used to mean that it’s impossible to know what will happen or when it will happen. There’s no telling how many beautiful women will be waiting for George Clooney or Brad Pitt to get their autographs, their signatures - there’s no telling – could be hundreds, could be thousands, I don’t know.

Inga says, “No, it’s not like last summer when we had rolling blackouts because of the surge in demand due to the heat.” A “rolling (rolling) blackout” is when the power company decides to stop giving power to different areas. First one area, then another area, then another area, so that they’re able to continue generating or producing enough power at least, for everyone for a certain amount of time, but not for everyone for the entire time. Instead of just one part of the city not having power, they do a rolling blackout where they give one part of the city power for four hours, let’s say, and another part of the city power for four hours and so forth.

A “surge” (surge) is a sudden increase in something that usually only lasts for a short time. Surge has a couple of different meanings in English, however. Take a look at our Learning Guide for some additional ones of those. Inga is saying that last summer there was surge in demand due to the heat. In other words, because it was so hot, more people were using the air conditioners to keep themselves cool. This caused an increase in the demand for electricity – a surge in the demand, and because of that sudden increase, the power company didn’t have enough power for all the different parts of the city. This happens occasionally. It happened in California, I remember, oh, maybe seven, ten years ago. It was happening quite a bit, maybe longer. It hasn’t happened very recently here, but it still does happen in other cities.

Inga says, “Do you remember how we passed those hours of darkness?” She’s asking George if he remembers what they did last summer during the rolling blackouts, when they did not have electricity. That’s what she means by “those hours of darkness” without light. George says, “Yes I do. What are you suggesting?” Inga says, “I’m just saying that there’s no reason to waste a perfectly a good blackout.” “Perfectly” here means completely. It’s a word used for emphasis here. It’s often used before the adjective “good.” “It’s a perfectly good sweater.” “It’s a perfectly good car.” You’re saying that there’s nothing wrong with it. Inga, however, is suggesting that she and her husband George can take advantage of this blackout, somehow - perhaps of course, in some romantic way.

Now let’s listen to the dialog this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialog]

George: Whoa, what happened?

Inga: The lights went out. Did we blow a fuse, or is this a blackout?

George: Well, I don’t see any lights on in any of the houses down the street. It’s pitch black out there.

Inga: So it’s another power outage. Somehow the circuits got overloaded again. I wonder how long we’ll have to do without electricity this time.

George: I wonder if it’s our power grid or if this is a citywide blackout. All right, we’d better light a few candles. There’s no telling how long this will last.

Inga: No, it’s not like last summer when we had rolling blackouts because of the surge in demand due to the heat. Do you remember how we passed those hours of darkness?

George: Yes, I do. What are you suggesting?

Inga: I’m just saying that there’s no reason to waste a perfectly good blackout.

[end of dialog]

There’s no telling how many more scripts our scriptwriter will write in the future, but we hope that it will be, in fact, many more. Thank you scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to blow a fuse – to use so much electricity in one circuit (path) in a building that the fuse (a protective device) shuts off the electricity

* If we use the microwave, the blender, the coffee maker, and the toaster at the same time, it blows a fuse.

blackout – a period of time when there are no lights, usually because no electricity is available

* During times of war, the country sometimes had planned blackouts to conserve energy.

pitch black – extremely dark, without any light

* Last night, the sky was so cloudy that we couldn’t see the moon or any stars, making it pitch black outside.

power outage – a period of time when there are no lights, usually because no electricity is available

* It’s common to have power outages during strong windstorms, but the power is usually turned back on within a few hours.

circuit – a path for electricity to follow between two points

* Which of these circuits is for the kitchen?

overloaded – with too much demand for something, so that it stops working and is no longer available

* As soon as the company announced the sales prices, its phone lines and website were overloaded by too many buyers.

electricity – power; energy carried through wires or cables, used to make machines operate and to provide light and heat

* Their electricity bill is highest in the wintertime when they use an electric furnace to heat their home.

power grid – a network of utilities and the users of electricity, connecting them to supply electricity when and where it is needed

* Are there regional power grids, or is the entire nation using a single power grid?

citywide – across a city; covering the entire area of a city; not leaving any part of the city unaffected

* The police officers are reporting a decrease in crime rates citywide.

candle – a solid piece of wax that surrounds a string that is lit on fire to provide light from a flame as it burns very slowly

* Make sure you blow out all the candles before you fall asleep, or you might accidentally start a house fire.

there’s no telling – a phrase used to mean that it is impossible to know what will happen or how or when it will happen

* There’s no telling how many young people were killed in the war.

rolling blackouts – the controlled shutdown of power in one area for a certain period of time, followed by another area and then another area, used to distribute energy fairly and keep the system active when people are demanding more energy than what is available

* Almost everyone lost power for a few hours during the rolling blackouts, except for people in homes near the hospital, which never lost power.

surge – a sudden increase that lasts for a short period of time

* Toy companies experience a surge in sales in the months before Christmas.

darkness – without light; blackness

* Some people say that living with depression is like living in darkness.

perfectly – completely; entirely; a word used to emphasize the adjective that follows it

* Why are you throwing out that perfectly good food? Put it in a container and I’ll take it to work for lunch tomorrow.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these things is planned?
a) A blackout.
b) A power outage.
c) Rolling blackouts.

2. Which of these things provides light?
a) A power grid.
b) A candle.
c) A surge.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to blow a fuse

The phrase “to blow a fuse,” in this podcast, means to use so much electricity in one circuit (path) in a building that the fuse (a protective device) shuts off the electricity: “Can I charge my electric car in your garage, or will it blow a fuse?” The phrase “to blow a fuse” also means to become very angry very quickly and lose control of one’s words and/or actions: “It’s never appropriate to blow a fuse and yell at your colleagues like that in the workplace.” Finally, someone who has “a short fuse” has a short temper and becomes angry very quickly and easily: “Olivia’s father has a short fuse, so she is scared to tell him about her poor grades.”

surge

In this podcast, the word “surge” means a sudden increase that lasts for a short period of time: “During the war, there was a surge of emigration as people tried to leave the country.” Or, “What could be causing the surge in tropical diseases?” The word “surge” can also refer to the movement of a lot of people: “Ingrid lost her children in the surge of the crowd.” An “electrical surge” refers to a sudden increase in the amount of electricity traveling on a wire or cable: “The power company is looking for ways to prevent against electrical surges.” Finally, a “surge protector” is a long, rectangular device that one can plug expensive electronic devices into to protect them from sudden changes in the amount of electricity that is available: “It’s always a good idea to use a surge protector for computer equipment.”

Culture Note
Notable Blackouts

The two most “notable” (important and worth noticing or talking about) blackouts in the United States “occurred” (happened) in the northeastern part of the country and affected millions of people.
The northeast blackout of 1965 affected more than 30 million people over an 80,000-square mile area extending into Ontario, Canada and much of the northeastern part of the United States. Some people were left “in the dark” (without electricity) for as much as 12 hours. The blackout was caused a few days earlier, when workers had “installed” (put in place) a safety device incorrectly. As a result, the “power line” (cable) with that safety device was incorrectly “disabled” (changed so it no longer worked) and the demand for power was “shifted” (moved) to other lines, which were then overloaded and also became disabled.

The northeast blackout of 2003 occurred in mostly the same area, but it affected about 55 million people. For most of the affected “population” (group of people), power was restored between seven and 16 hours after the blackout had begun. “Initially” (at first), some people “feared” (were worried that) the blackout was due to “terrorism” (coordinated efforts to scare people by harming or killing civilians), but soon it was clear that the blackout had been caused by a power surge that affected the power grid. The power surge was “attributed to” (thought to have been caused by) high electrical demand due to the use of air conditioning equipment and fans on a hot August day.

Many people have “pointed to” (emphasized as an example) these and other blackouts as “evidence” (proof; something showing that something else is true) that the United States has an “outdated” (not modern) power grid that needs to be “updated” (improved).

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b