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1051 Getting and Making Threats

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,051 – Getting and Making Threats.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,051. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member today. When you do, you can download the Learning Guides for these episodes that give you, among other things, a complete transcript of everything we say.

This episode is a dialogue between Ruth and Carl about threats – things you say to someone that involve hurting them or harming them in some way. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Ruth: I’m really glad you’re getting so much support from the public. Look at all of these bags of fan mail.

Carl: Only about half of that is fan mail. The rest is hate mail.

Ruth: Hate mail? Who would send you hate mail?

Carl: Lots of people. People who are disgruntled write to me about their grievances.

Ruth: Really?

Carl: Don’t look so surprised. We’ve gotten bomb threats, and I’ve even received a few death threats.

Ruth: Death threats?! Aren’t you worried about your personal safety?

Carl: Not really. Most people are just venting, and others are trying to intimidate me. I’m not going to buckle under just because I get a few letters.

Ruth: But it only takes one mentally unbalanced person to carry through on threats. Have you considered getting a bodyguard?

Carl: No, I don’t need any protection. I just need to keep plugging away and getting things done.

Ruth: I finally know what to get you for your birthday.

Carl: What?

Ruth: A bulletproof vest.
[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Ruth saying to Carl, “I’m really glad you’re getting so much support from the public. Look at all these bags of fan mail.” A “fan” here refers to a person who likes a certain thing or a certain other person, usually a famous person. You can be a fan of a sport like baseball or soccer. “Fan mail” refers to letters that a famous person, typically, receives from people who like that person, who admire that person, who say nice things about that person.

Carl says, “Only about half of that is fan mail. The rest is hate mail.” “Hate (hate) mail” are letters that express anger or disgust for a person. If you really don’t like a person, you might send them hate mail. Well, I don’t think you should. “Hate,” of course, is a feeling of anger and of dislike for another person, a very strong feeling of that. “Hate mail” is something that celebrities – famous people – get, as well as fan mail. Ruth is surprised. She says, “Hate mail? Who would send you hate mail?”

Carl says, “Lots of people. People who are disgruntled write to me about their grievances.” “To be disgruntled” (disgruntled) means to be upset – to be unhappy about some situation or dissatisfied with something. “Grievances” (grievances) are complaints, statements, or descriptions of something you don’t like, some problem that you’re having. The word “grievance” is somewhat more formal than “complaint.” Ruth says, “Really?” Again, she’s surprised. Carl says, “Don’t look so surprised,” meaning don’t be surprised. “We’ve gotten bomb threats, and I’ve even received a few death threats.”

A “threat” (threat) is a statement that you are going to hurt someone or harm someone. It’s a warning that you are going to do something bad to another person. Sometimes people use threats to prevent people from doing things. “If you do X, I will hurt you.” You’re trying to prevent them from doing something by threatening them. A “bomb threat” is when someone says that they are planting an explosive device, a bomb that may go off – may explode – and hurt or even kill people.
“Death threats” are when people say, “I’m going to kill you” – when they tell someone that they will be murdered, basically. Unfortunately, there are people in the world that do that sort of thing. Ruth is again very surprised. She says, “Death threats?! Aren’t you worried about your personal safety?” “Personal (personal) safety” refers to the risk of you being injured or even killed. If you go into certain parts of American cities at night, you might fear for your personal safety. You may fear that someone will hurt you or even kill you. The best thing is to stay away from those places.

Carl, however, is not worried about his personal safety. He says, “Most people are just venting, and others are trying to intimidate me.” “To vent” (vent) here means to express one’s frustrations or dissatisfaction – to say a lot of things that will or may not be true, but it makes you feel better if you say it, if you complain about a certain thing. Sometimes when people get angry, they just need to vent. They just need to get all that anger out by saying things that they don’t like, even if some of those things aren’t really true.

Carl says these people who write hate mail and send him hate mail are “just venting.” Others, however are trying to intimidate him. “To intimidate” (intimidate) means to make someone feel frightened or inferior by showing that you are bigger or better or smarter than that person. If someone intimidates you, that person makes you feel afraid, perhaps even for your personal safety.

Carl says, “I’m not going to buckle under just because I got a few letters.” The phrasal verb “to buckle (buckle) under” means to fail to support yourself in some way or to fail to continue doing what you were doing because you felt pressure or, perhaps, because you were intimidated. “To buckle under” means to agree to do something also that you don’t want to do, but you are forced to do it. You are pressured to do it. Carl says he’s not going to buckle under just because he got a few letters.

Ruth says, “But it only takes one mentally unbalanced person to carry through on threats.” “Mentally unbalanced” refers to someone who has some sort of mental illness – someone who is a bit crazy, quite frankly. “To carry through on” something is a phrasal verb meaning to follow a plan through to completion, to do something from start to finish, to actually do what you say you’re going to do. Ruth is afraid that some mentally unbalanced person is going to carry through on these threats – is going to actually harm Carl.

Ruth asks, “Have you considered,” have you thought about, “getting a bodyguard?” A “bodyguard” (bodyguard) is a person whose job it is to provide security for another person, to keep another person safe. Some of you may remember a movie with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston called The Bodyguard, about a famous singer’s bodyguard. It was a horrible movie, but if you saw it, you know what I mean.

Carl then says, “No, I don’t need any protection.” “Protection” is anything that keeps you away from danger or that prevents you from being hurt. Carl says, “I just need to keep plugging away and getting things done.” “To plug (plug) away” means to continue to do something, especially to continue to do something that may not seem important that you may have to do over and over again, but that has to be done. We often use this phrasal verb when we’re doing something that isn’t very interesting or perhaps even very difficult, but has to be done. You plug away at it.

Ruth then says, “I finally know what to get you for your birthday.” Carl says, “What?” Ruth says, “A bulletproof vest.” A “vest” (vest) is a piece of clothing you wear like a jacket, except it doesn’t have any arms – technically, it doesn’t have any sleeves, which are the parts of a shirt or jacket that cover your arms. A “bullet“ (bullet) is a small piece of metal that is fired from a gun. “Bulletproof” (bulletproof) means that whatever it is, will prevent a bullet from, in this case, going into your body.

A “bulletproof vest” is worn by police officers and other people in case someone tries to shoot them. The vest will stop the bullet. It will make sure the bullet doesn’t enter into the body of the person. You can also have “bulletproof glass” – very thick glass that even if you shot a bullet at it would not break. Most banks in Los Angeles, for example, have bulletproof glass. In order to talk to someone, you have to talk to someone who’s on the other side of the bulletproof glass. They don’t wear bulletproof vests in the bank, I don’t think.

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

[start of dialogue]

Ruth: I’m really glad you’re getting so much support from the public. Look at all of these bags of fan mail.

Carl: Only about half of that is fan mail. The rest is hate mail.

Ruth: Hate mail? Who would send you hate mail?

Carl: Lots of people. People who are disgruntled write to me about their grievances.

Ruth: Really?

Carl: Don’t look so surprised. We’ve gotten bomb threats, and I’ve even received a few death threats.

Ruth: Death threats?! Aren’t you worried about your personal safety?

Carl: Not really. Most people are just venting, and others are trying to intimidate me. I’m not going to buckle under just because I get a few letters.

Ruth: But it only takes one mentally unbalanced person to carry through on threats. Have you considered getting a bodyguard?

Carl: No, I don’t need any protection. I just need to keep plugging away and getting things done.

Ruth: I finally know what to get you for your birthday.

Carl: What?

Ruth: A bulletproof vest.

[end of dialogue]

Our scriptwriter gets only fan mail, never hate mail. I speak, of course, of the wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

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
fan mail – written letters expressing gratitude (thankfulness) and admiration for a person and his or her work

* Early in her career, Jane tried to send personal replies for each piece of fan mail she received, but now she simply doesn’t have enough time.

hate mail – written letters expressing anger and disgust for a person and his or her work

* How many pieces of hate mail does the President of the United States receive on a typical day?

disgruntled – upset and dissatisfied with something; unhappy about something

* We encourage our disgruntled customers to fill out a survey form and tell us how we can serve them better.

grievance – complaint; a statement about what one doesn’t like, or a description of a problem

* The new employee filed a grievance against his boss.

bomb threat – a statement warning a person or institution that one plans to detonate (make explode) a bomb, or that one has already placed a bomb in a particular place

* Every year, at least one college student calls in a bomb threat to try to avoid having to take an exam.

death threat – a statement warning that one plans to kill someone, usually out of anger

* We were alarmed when the head of the company started receiving death threats from competitors.

personal safety – a measure of the level of risk that one will be injured or killed

* Firefighters often sacrifice their personal safety to help others.

to vent – to express one’s frustrations, complaints, and dissatisfaction, saying many things that may or may not be true, because it makes one feel better, but without really expecting one’s words to solve the problem

* At the end of a long week, sometimes it feels great to grab a beer and vent about everything that happened at work.

to intimidate – to make someone feel frightened or inferior by showing that one is bigger, smarter, or better in some way

* Lyle is bigger and stronger than other boys his age and often tries to intimidate the other kids in his school.

to buckle under – to collapse under pressure; to not be able to withstand something; to fail to support oneself in some way

* I’m not going to buckle under and quit just because my boss yelled at me again.

mentally unbalanced – without proper mental health; with a mental illness; not able to think like most people do

* Police officers must be trained to deal with mentally unbalanced citizens.

to carry through – to implement something; to follow a plan through to completion; to do something from start to finish

* The company will have to invest millions of dollars to carry through with this expansion.

bodyguard – a person whose job is to provide security and ensure the safety of another person, often by putting his or her own life in danger

* How many bodyguards do top celebrities have?

protection – things that keep one from danger and help one avoid getting hurt or killed

* Construction workers are required to wear hard hats, heavy boots, and safety goggles for protection.

to plug away – to continue to do something, especially to continue to perform a repetitive, possibly unimportant and repetitive type of work

* Mathematicians have been plugging away at that problem for decades, but they still haven’t found the solution.

bulletproof vest – a piece of clothing that covers the chest and back, but not the arms, and is made from a material that bullets cannot pass through, so it protects people from dying if they are shot by gunfire

* Does the President of the United States wear a bulletproof vest when he speaks in public?

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these is most dangerous?
a) A grievance
b) A bodyguard
c) A death threat

2. What does Carl mean when he says, “I’m not going to buckle under”?
a) He’s not going to stop doing his work.
b) He’s not going to call the police.
c) He’s not going to wear protective clothing.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to vent

The verb “to vent,” in this podcast, means to express one’s frustrations, complaints, and dissatisfaction, usually as a way to relieve stress: “Lula loves her children, but she also enjoys venting her frustrations with other young mothers.” The phrase “to vent (something) on (someone)” means to express one’s anger or frustration by hurting another person: “Please don’t vent your anger on the children.” As a noun, a “vent” is an opening that air flows through: “How often do you clean the vents for your home’s heating system?” Finally, when talking about clothing, a “vent” is a straight opening at the bottom and back of a skirt, dress, or coat: “This tight skirt would be easier to walk in if it had a longer vent in the back.”

to plug away

In this podcast, the phrase “to plug away” means to continue to do something, especially to continue to perform a repetitive, possibly unimportant and repetitive type of work: “Let’s keep plugging away at our jobs, saving money for retirement.” The phrase “to plug (something) up” mean to fill a hole or to block passage in a pipe or tube: “The toilet is plugged up again.” Or, “Let’s plug this crack with something so the wind doesn’t come into the room.” Finally, the phrase “to plug (something) in” means to connect something to a source of power, or to connect two electronic devices together: “Where can I plug in my laptop?” Or, “This printer has a wireless connection, so you don’t have to plug it into your computer.”

Culture Note
Threatening the President of the United States

“Threatening” (saying that one will do something to hurt or kill another person) the President of the United States is a “felony” (a very serious crime). However, many people argue that the law represents a “conflict” (disagreement) with “freedom of speech” (Americans’ right to say what they want, without being told what they can and cannot say). Courts often “issue rulings” (make legal decisions) balancing the president’s safety with American’s right to free speech.

The United States “Secret Service” (the people whose job is to protect the President) is responsible for “investigating” (researching; finding more information about) threats against the president. About three-quarters of the cases they investigate involve people who are mentally ill. The Secret Services shares very little information about the threats and its investigations, because it has found that when the “media” (press; newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV) focuses on a threat against the president, many more threats are made during that period.

People who are found guilty of threatening the president may be “punished” with five to 10 years in “prison” (jail) and a maximum “fine” (money that must be paid as a punishment for what one has done) of $250,000, among other punishments. But additional punishments can “come into play” (be used) if “deemed necessary” (determined to be required). For example, people who have threatened the president online have been placed on “Internet restrictions” (limits on when and how one can use the internet).

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - a