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0970 Having a Backup Plan

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 970 – Having a Backup Plan.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 970. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

On our website, at ESLPod.com, you can download a Learning Guide for this episode. How? Well, just become a member of ESL Podcast and the Learning Guide is yours. You can also like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod.

This episode is a dialogue between Jerome and Sandy about having a plan in case there’s a problem with what you’re doing. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Jerome: This is a very dangerous undertaking. Do you have a backup plan if anything goes wrong?

Sandy: It’ll work. I’ve come up with contingencies for every possible setback.

Jerome: It’s just that I’d like to know we have some recourse if anything goes wrong.

Sandy: My plan is foolproof. Failure is not an option.

Jerome: But don’t you think we should consider some alternatives? If, God forbid, anything goes wrong, it would be good to have an escape hatch, don’t you think?

Sandy: That won’t be necessary. If anything goes wrong, it’s every man for himself.

Jerome: What?! I thought we were in this together? What happened to, “Stick with me and you can’t go wrong”?

Sandy: That was before I realized what a liability you are.

Jerome: A liability?!

Sandy: In a dangerous plan like this, there are bound to be some casualties – a sacrificial lamb or two.

Jerome: Yes, but I didn’t know you’d double-cross me before we even got started!

[end of dialogue]

Jerome begins our dialogue by saying to Sandy, “This is a very dangerous undertaking.” An “undertaking” (undertaking) is just another word for a project, something that you are doing, often something that is a little difficult – a little “challenging,” we might say. Jerome says, “This is a dangerous undertaking,” meaning you might get hurt. “Do you have a backup plan if anything goes wrong?” he asks Sandy. A “backup (backup) plan” is what you will do if your first plan doesn’t work. We might call it an “alternative” to the plan that you have now.

For example, I want to go to a restaurant that is about 15 miles from my house. To get to the restaurant, I have to take the freeway. I decide to go to this restaurant, but when I get on the freeway, it’s very crowded. There’s a lot of what we would call “traffic” – too many cars, making everyone move very slowly. So, I decide, “No, this is a bad idea.” I have a backup plan, however. My backup plan is to go to a different restaurant that’s only one mile from my house and is easy to get to. Because there were problems in trying to carry out my first plan, I decided to go to my backup plan.

Sandy says, about the plan that she has, “It’ll work,” meaning it will work. She says, “I’ve come up with contingencies for every possible setback.” “To come up with” something is a phrasal verb meaning to have invented or created or thought of something. “Contingencies” (contingencies) are things that might happen. They won’t all happen, probably, but some of these things might happen. This word “contingency” is often used when talking about a plan, especially a formal plan, such as in your business.

You have a plan, but you also think there might be some problems in the future, so you have different possibilities that might happen: if this happens, then we’re going to do this; if something else happens, then we’re going to do that. So, you have all sorts of contingencies – things that might happen that you are prepared for. Sandy says she’s come up with “contingencies” – things that they can do for every possible setback. A “setback” (setback) is when you have a problem with your plan – some difficulty or obstacle that makes it difficult or impossible for you to continue with your original plan.

We often use the term “temporary setback,” meaning it’s a problem now, but it won’t be a problem in the future – it’s just for a short amount of time. Jerome says, “It’s just that I’d like to know we have some recourse if anything goes wrong.” “Recourse” (recourse) is something you can do when you are in a difficult situation, something that you can do to make things better. This is a somewhat formal word. “To have recourse to” something is to have the possibility of using something in order to help you if you have a problem.

If you wake up in the morning and your car has been stolen and you need to get to work, your only recourse might be taking a bus. That would be your recourse – what would help you, in this difficult situation, to do what you need to do. Sandy says, “My plan is foolproof.” “Foolproof” means that it cannot possibly fail. There is no possibility of anything going wrong.

She says, “Failure is not an option.” That expression, “failure is not an option,” is used to emphasize that you have to succeed – you must be successful. You cannot possibly not be successful. If you are, then terrible things will happen. “Failure is not an option” means we must succeed. Of course, just because you want to succeed doesn’t mean you will succeed. Jerome says, “But don’t you think we should consider some alternatives?” An “alternative” is another possible way of doing something. Jerome is asking Sandy to think about what they are going to do if something goes wrong.

He says, “If, God forbid, anything goes wrong, it would be good to have an escape hatch, don’t you think? The phrase “God forbid” (forbid) is used to emphasize that you don’t want something to happen, and you hope that God will prevent it from happening, but it might happen. It’s an expression that we use when we are saying, “Well, I really don’t want this to happen. I hope this doesn’t happen, but we have to be prepared if it does happen.” And that’s what Jerome is saying here. If the plan fails, they need to have alternatives. They need to have an escape hatch.

An “escape (escape) hatch (hatch)” refers to a door that would allow you to escape or get out of something such as an airplane or some sort of space vehicle in an emergency. If you need to get out of whatever you are in immediately because there’s some problem, you might use an escape hatch. This is a way of getting out of a plane or a spacecraft very quickly in case something goes wrong. However, here it is used not literally to mean a door, but rather an alternative or a plan that will allow you to get out of a difficult situation if your original plan doesn’t succeed.

Sandy says, “That won’t be necessary.” They will not need an escape hatch, Sandy is saying. “If anything goes wrong, it’s every man for himself.” That expression, “every man for himself,” is used to show that each person is responsible for his own future and cannot depend on other people to help him. If there is a problem with a plan and it looks like everyone may be hurt or may be in danger, then each person has to save himself, basically, is what this means. “Every man for himself” means I’m not going to help you; you have to get out of this difficult situation yourself. Jerome says, “What?! I thought we were in this together?” “To be in this together” means to be working as part of a team.

Jerome says, “What happened to, ‘stick with me, and you can’t go wrong?’” “What happened to” is a way of saying, “What about the idea you told me before?” or “Is this still true?” And it’s followed by, usually, something the other person said that he doesn’t seem to believe anymore. “What happened to, ‘stick with me, and you can’t go wrong?’” “To stick with” someone means to stay close to someone, to follow someone’s example, or to literally be with someone during the entire plan or during the entire action that you’re doing together. It’s sometimes used to mean, simply, follow what I do; do what I do; learn from me.

Sandy told Jerome, “Stick with me, and you can’t go wrong.” The phrase “can’t go wrong” means that everything will be fine. There will be no problems. Sandy says, “That was before I realized what a liability you are.” A “liability” (liability) is something – or, in this case, someone – representing a disadvantage. If you say this person is a “liability,” you mean this person will cause us problems or this person might prevent us from being successful at doing what we want to do. Jerome says, “A liability?!” He’s surprised that Sandy thinks that he is a problem.

Sandy says, “In a dangerous plan like this, there are bound to be some casualties – a sacrificial lamb or two.” “Bound (bound) to be” means that there will definitely be. It is certain. “Casualties” (casualties) are usually people who die or who are hurt in a war or some sort of accident. “Sacrificial lamb” refers to something that needs to be destroyed or something that needs to be killed in order for you to succeed at your plan. Of course, the thing or person killed isn’t usually very happy about that. The term “sacrificial lamb” comes from the very ancient, old practice of sacrificing, or killing, an animal to honor God or to honor some divine power.

Jerome says, “Yes, but I didn’t know you’d double-cross me before we even got started.” So, Sandy is saying that in every dangerous plan, some people will probably get hurt, but that it’s necessary that that happen in order for the plan to be successful sometimes. Jerome says yes, he understands that. However, he didn’t realize that Sandy would double-cross him before they even got started.

“To double-cross” means to trick or betray someone – to do something that would lose the trust of another person. “To double-cross” means to say, “Oh, yes, I’ll do that,” and then, the very next moment, to do the opposite. The term “to double-cross” can also be used to describe the act of cheating another person.

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

[start of dialogue]

Jerome: This is a very dangerous undertaking. Do you have a backup plan if anything goes wrong?

Sandy: It’ll work. I’ve come up with contingencies for every possible setback.

Jerome: It’s just that I’d like to know we have some recourse if anything goes wrong.

Sandy: My plan is foolproof. Failure is not an option.

Jerome: But don’t you think we should consider some alternatives? If, God forbid, anything goes wrong, it would be good to have an escape hatch, don’t you think?

Sandy: That won’t be necessary. If anything goes wrong, it’s every man for himself.

Jerome: What?! I thought we were in this together? What happened to, “Stick with me and you can’t go wrong”?

Sandy: That was before I realized what a liability you are.

Jerome: A liability?!

Sandy: In a dangerous plan like this, there are bound to be some casualties – a sacrificial lamb or two.

Jerome: Yes, but I didn’t know you’d double-cross me before we even got started!

[end of dialogue]

If you stick with ESL Podcast, you’re bound to learn a lot of English, mostly thanks to our wonderful scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse. Thank you, Lucy.

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

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
undertaking – a project; something that one tries to do, especially a challenging thing

* Being a parent is the greatest undertaking in life.

a backup plan – an alternative plan; what one will do if one’s first plan is not possible or does not succeed

* Brenda is applying for medical school with dreams of becoming a brain surgeon, but her backup plan is to work for a pharmaceutical company.

contingency – something that might happen, especially one of several possibilities

* The risk management team tries to develop a plan for every possible contingency.

setback – an obstacle that makes it difficult or impossible for one to continue or do what one wants to do

* When James broke his leg, it was a setback for his career as a runner, but he focused on recovering and competing again.

recourse – something that one can turn to for help in a difficult situation

* What kind of recourse will we have if the judge decides against us?

foolproof – not vulnerable to errors or mistakes; guaranteed to work properly; without the possibility of something wrong happening

* The company is trying to invent a foolproof car seat so that parents will always know they’ve installed the car seat correctly.

failure is not an option – a phrase used to emphasize that one must succeed and that not succeeding is not allowed

* We must meet the deadline. I don’t care if you’re at the office for 20 hours a day. Failure is not an option.

alternative – another possibility that can be used in the place of something else

* Have you identified an alternative route in case there’s an accident on the main freeway?

God forbid – a phrase used to emphasize that one does not want something to happen, or that something would be unthinkable, and one believes God should prevent it from happening

* Wyatt is at the hospital. God forbid anything goes wrong during the surgery.

escape hatch – an emergency door that allows one to escape from an airplane, space shuttle, or similar vehicle; a way out of a dangerous or difficult situation

* If you’re really not ready for the presentation, you can try to call in sick as an escape hatch.

every man for himself – a phrase used to show that each person is responsible for his or her own future and cannot depend on other people for help or guidance

* If you choose a career in finance, where it’s every man for himself, don’t expect to be part of a team of people who will support you as you learn.

in this together – a phrase used to mean that people are working together as part of a team, helping each other and achieving the same results

* No matter what happens, remember that we’re in this together.

stick with me – a phrase used to tell someone to stay next to oneself and follow one’s example, with the understanding that one will help or protect that person

* This can be a bad neighborhood, but if you stick with me, no one will hurt you.

can’t go wrong – a phrase meaning that everything will be fine and there will not be any problems or obstacles

* As long as you go to the classes and take notes on everything the professor says, you can’t go wrong.

liability – something that represents a disadvantage or something that takes away value; not an asset

* Being tall can be a great advantage while playing basketball, but it’s a liability when working in small spaces.

bound to be – certain to be a certain way; definitely; will be

* There are bound to be difficult times in any marriage, but honesty and clear communication should prevent most problems.

casualty – someone who dies or is hurt (injured) in a war or an accident

* Which storm resulted in the greatest number of casualties?

sacrificial lamb – to be used or destroyed in reaching a goal or purpose

* Do you think the government will try to rescue the hostages, or will they become sacrificial lambs?

to double-cross – to trick, deceive, and betray someone; to do something to lose one’s trust

* If Zoey finds out we’ve double-crossed her, she’ll never forgive us.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these is an alternative?
a) A backup plan
b) A liability
c) A setback

2. What does Jerome mean when he says, “If, God forbid, anything goes wrong”?
a) He doesn’t think God will let anything bad happen.
b) He will not let Sandy talk about religion during this undertaking.
c) He hopes and prays that God will not let there be problems.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
in this together

The phrase “in this together,” in this podcast, means that people are working together as part of a team, helping each other and achieving the same results: “None of us planned to be in this mess, but at least we’re in this together, so let’s do our best.” The phrase “to get (one’s) act together” means to get control of one’s thoughts, words, actions, and/or life: “You’re 25 years old! It’s time to get your act together, get a job, and move out of your parents’ house!” A “together” person is confident, competent, and well-organized: “Norah always seems like such a together person, even when she’s experiencing a lot of stress.” Finally, a “get-together” is an informal event or gathering: “We’re having a small get-together at our house on Friday. Do you want to come?”

bound to be

In this podcast, the phrase “bound to be” means certain to be a particular way: “Regardless of whether you like the movie, it’s bound to be interesting.” The phrase “to be bound by (something)” means to be required to do something by a law, rulem or promise: “Teachers are bound by law to report any cases of suspected child abuse.” The phrase “bound and determined” means that one is fully committed to doing something: “Aiden is bound and determined to become a millionaire by the age of 35.” Finally, when talking about travel, to be “bound for (somewhere)” means to be traveling toward a particular place: “Please buy me a ticket on the first flight bound for Charleston, South Carolina.”

Culture Note
The Terms “Foolproof” and “Idiot Proof”

A “fool” is a person, usually a man, who has very poor “judgment” (ability to make good decisions) and often acts in silly, stupid, and uninformed ways. To say that someone is a fool is an “insult” (something that is rude and offensive to another person).

To say that something is “-proof” means that it cannot be affected in a negative way by something. For example, a “waterproof” jacket does not let rain pass through the fabric, so a person wearing a waterproof jacket “remains” (stays; continues to be) dry. A “waterproof” watch continues working even when it is “immersed” (put into; completely surrounded by) water. So something that is “foolproof” cannot be damaged or otherwise affected in a negative way by a fool.

A foolproof object is so well designed and so simple to use that even a fool has to use it correctly—it would be impossible for a fool to break it or use it incorrectly. A foolproof plan is so simple that it is guaranteed to work well, “regardless of” (without being affected by) the foolishness of the person trying to “implement” (make something happen) the plan. In reality, of course, it seems that some fools can “ruin” (destroy) even “seemingly” (apparently; seeming to be) foolproof plans.

Sometime people use the phrase “idiot proof,” which is even stronger than “fool proof.” An “idiot” is a like a fool, but even “dumber” (less intelligent). So saying that something is “idiot proof” could be offensive, but the meaning is very clear.

Comprehension Answers
1 -a

2 - c