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1085 Having Good and Bad Luck

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,085 – Having Good and Bad Luck.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,085. 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. Take a look at our ESL Podcast Special Courses in Business and Daily English. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Blog, and why not like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod? Oh yeah, sure, we’re also on Twitter @eslpod.

This episode is a dialogue between Cesar and Olga about luck, chance, fate. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Cesar: I can’t catch a break. Everything seems to be going wrong these days.

Olga: Maybe your streak of bad luck is because you did something unlucky.

Cesar: What do you mean?

Olga: Have you walked under a ladder or crossed paths with a black cat lately?

Cesar: I don’t think so, but I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe breaking a mirror will bring me seven years of bad luck.

Olga: Say what you will, but it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions, especially the way things have been going for you.

Cesar: I don’t know . . .

Olga: Here, you can borrow my rabbit’s foot and my four-leaf clover. I’ll go home to get you a horseshoe so you can hang it upside down over your front door.

Cesar: I really doubt any of that is going to do me any good.

Olga: You know what tomorrow is, don’t you?

Cesar: The thirteenth?

Olga: Friday the thirteenth. Do you really want to take your chances?

Cesar: I guess not. Do you really think these good luck charms will help?

Olga: We’ll know on the fourteenth, won’t we?

[end of dialogue]

Cesar says to Olga, “I can’t catch a break.” The expression “to catch (catch) a break (break)” means to be lucky, to experience luck when you have been experiencing a lot of problems or bad luck. “Luck” (luck) is the idea that we can have things happen to us even though we don’t do anything about them. We don’t cause them in any way, but somehow the world is arranged so that things will happen to you or not happen to you due to chance. So, “to catch a break” would be to have something good happen to you – to have good luck.

Cesar says, “Everything seems to be going wrong these days.” “To be going wrong” means to be having a lot of problems, to have things result in ways that you don’t want them to. Olga says, “Maybe your streak of bad luck is because you did something unlucky.” A “streak” (streak) is when things happen one after the other – the same thing keeps repeating itself.

This can be a good thing. For example, if you’re a baseball player and you hit the ball every time you get up and it’s your turn to hit the ball, and you do that 10 times in a row or 20 times in a row, we would call that a “streak” – something is happening over and over again. Now, it could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. People talk about a “streak of good luck” or a “streak of bad luck.” That would refer to things that are happening to you over and over again.

Well, in the case of Cesar, he appears to be having a streak of bad luck – when bad things are happening to him over and over again. Now, “luck” by definition is something that happens by chance – at random, if you will. But Olga doesn’t think that Cesar’s streak of bad luck is at random. She says, “Maybe this is happening to you because you did something unlucky.” Cesar says, “What do you mean?”

Olga says, “Have you walked under a ladder or crossed paths with a black cat lately?” Olga is now starting to talk about the belief that some people have that good luck or bad luck isn’t really random. In fact, it’s something that you cause by doing something wrong. In this case, Olga refers to two common, what we would call “superstitions,” at least here in the United States.

A “superstition” (superstition) is a belief in something that cannot be explained by the laws of nature, if you will. Something that seems extraordinary. Superstitions usually revolve around or involve people believing that if they do one thing, then somehow, magically, something else will happen to them. It’s almost like a guarantee, like you’re able to control things in ways that we wouldn’t normally expect you to be able to.

Well, two popular superstitions that are held by some people in the United States are that if you walk under a ladder or if you see a black cat, you will have bad luck. A “ladder” (ladder) is something you use to climb up to the top of something. It’s like a set of stairs, but it goes straight up. You use a ladder, for example, to get to the top of your house to paint it. Some people believe if you walk underneath a ladder – that is, right under the ladder as it is put up against the side of a house or building – you will have bad luck.

Other people believe – more logically, I think – that if you cross paths with a black cat, you will also have bad luck. “To cross (cross) paths (paths)” with someone means to see someone by chance, without planning to meet them. Often we use this expression “to cross paths with” when you have a disagreement or an argument with that person. Here it’s used just to mean to accidentally or by chance see someone.

So if you see a black cat, many people believe you will have bad luck. Now, of course, cats are bad luck in my opinion, and so this superstition sort of makes sense. (You should try to stay away from cats, is what I’m saying.)

Now Cesar says, “I don’t think so, but I’m not superstitious” – I don’t believe in these superstitions. “I don’t believe breaking a mirror will bring me seven years of bad luck.” Cesar mentions another popular superstition, which is that if you break a mirror – something you use to see your reflection in – you will not only have bad luck, you will have seven years of bad luck. I’m not sure where that superstition came from or why people believe it will bring seven years versus, I don’t know, 20 years, but that’s the superstition.

Olga says, “Say what you will, but it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions.” The phrase “say what you will” is used sometimes when you are disagreeing with what another person has said and you want to give your opinion again. You want to restate your opinion. Olga knows that Cesar disagrees with her, but she is going to continue with her belief and continue expressing this opinion.

She says, “It doesn’t hurt to take some precautions.” A “precaution” (precaution) is something you do to prevent getting hurt or harmed in the future. A precaution against having your house robbed is to lock the doors at night. That’s a precaution. It’s a “safety measure,” we might also call it – something you do to keep safe, to prevent yourself from being harmed. Cesar is doubtful of the advice Olga is giving him. He says, “I don’t know.”

But Olga continues on. She says, “You can borrow my rabbit’s foot and my four-leaf clover. I’ll go home to get you a horseshoe so you can hang it upside down over your front door.” Olga now mentions three superstitions that are related to good luck; one of them is to have a “rabbit’s (rabbit’s) foot (foot).” A rabbit’s foot is just what it sounds like. It’s the cut-off foot of a rabbit. Some people believe that this will give you good luck.

I actually had a rabbit’s foot when I was younger. I’m not sure where I got it. I didn’t kill the rabbit to get it, I can tell you that much. Someone did, though. A “four-leaf clover” (clover) is a small plant that has four leaves instead of three. There is a belief that if you have one that has four leaves, you will have good luck.

A “horseshoe” (horseshoe) is just what it sounds like. It’s a shoe, a piece of metal that is put on the foot – or more accurately, the “hoof” (hoof) – of a horse. Horseshoes are used on the feet, or hooves, of horses to protect the horses’ hooves, but some people believe that if you take a horseshoe and you hang it on your wall upside down so that it looks like a “U,” you will have good luck.

Cesar says, “I really doubt any of that is going to do me any good.” Olga says, “You know what tomorrow is don’t you?” Cesar says, “The thirteenth?” meaning the date tomorrow is the thirteenth of the month. Olga says, “Friday the thirteenth.” There’s another common superstition that when the thirteenth is a Friday, that day is particularly bad luck. There were also a series of movies made, horror movies, called Friday the Thirteenth. Those were particularly bad movies in addition, perhaps, to being bad luck.

Olga says, “Do you really want to take your chances?” The expression “to take your chances” means to take a risk, to do something that may harm you or hurt you. Cesar says, “I guess not. Do you really think these good luck charms will help?” A “good luck charm” (charm) is some small item that according to superstition is supposed to bring you good luck. The horseshoe, the rabbit’s foot – these are two examples of good luck charms.

Cesar is asking Olga if she really thinks that these good luck charms will help Cesar with his bad luck. Olga says, “We’ll know on the fourteenth, won’t we?” meaning since tomorrow is Friday the thirteenth, we’ll know the next day – Saturday the fourteenth – if these good luck charms helped you or not. My guess is they probably won’t.

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

[start of dialogue]

Cesar: I can’t catch a break. Everything seems to be going wrong these days.

Olga: Maybe your streak of bad luck is because you did something unlucky.

Cesar: What do you mean?

Olga: Have you walked under a ladder or crossed paths with a black cat lately?

Cesar: I don’t think so, but I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe breaking a mirror will bring me seven years of bad luck.

Olga: Say what you will, but it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions, especially the way things have been going for you.

Cesar: I don’t know . . .

Olga: Here, you can borrow my rabbit’s foot and my four-leaf clover. I’ll go home to get you a horseshoe so you can hang it upside down over your front door.

Cesar: I really doubt any of that is going to do me any good.

Olga: You know what tomorrow is, don’t you?

Cesar: The thirteenth?

Olga: Friday the thirteenth. Do you really want to take your chances?

Cesar: I guess not. Do you really think these good luck charms will help?

Olga: We’ll know on the fourteenth, won’t we?

[end of dialogue]

You don’t need any good luck charms to improve your English. You just need to listen to the wonderful dialogues by our 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 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to catch a break – to be lucky; to experience luck or a fortunate event when one has been experiencing many problems or instances of bad luck

* The house caught on fire, the dog died, and the car stopped working. Why can’t we catch a break?

to be going wrong – to have many problems or troubles; to not be happening as one wanted or intended

* This office expansion is going wrong in every way. Do you think we made the wrong decision?

streak – a long period of good or bad luck; a period of time when many good things or many bad things happen

* The team has been on a winning streak and all the players are in a good mood.

luck – fortune; positive or negative happenings caused by chance, not by skill or one’s actions

* This card game is a game of luck, but chess is a game of strategy.

ladder – a structure formed by two long, vertical metal or wooden poles, with many smaller pieces connecting them, creating steps for someone to climb up high, and thought to bring bad luck if one walks underneath it while it is leaning against something

* This tree is too tall to harvest the apples while standing on the ground. We’ll need a ladder to reach the higher branches.

to cross paths with – to meet someone by chance, without planning to meet that person

* I hope I never cross paths with my ex-girlfriend because she’s still angry with me for breaking up with her.

superstitious – having beliefs that things happen for supernatural reasons, which cannot be explained by the laws of nature

* Quincy is very superstitious and believes that wearing this necklace protects him from evil.

say what you will – a phrase meaning that one disagrees with what another person says, used before restating one’s opinion

* Say what you will about untested herbs, but this tea always makes me feel better when I’m sick.

precaution – something done to prevent something bad from happening, or to protect oneself from something bad that might happen

* During the stormy winter months, it’s important to take precautions like having bottled water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, blankets and a battery-powered radio.

rabbit’s foot – the dried foot of a rabbit, still covered with fur (hair), often kept for good luck

* Race car drivers sometimes hang a rabbit’s foot from their rearview mirror and even kiss it for good luck before an important race.

four-leaf clover – a clover plant with four leaves, instead of the three leaves that are much more common, considered to bring good luck to the finder

* Scientists say that there is one four-leaf clover for every 10,000 three-leaf clovers.

horseshoe – a u-shaped piece of metal that is nailed or glued to a horse’s foot to protect it against heavy use, sometimes hung above a door for good luck

* Patrick believes horseshoes must be hung with the ends pointing up to bring the best luck.

Friday the thirteenth – the thirteenth day of any month when that day is a Friday, thought to bring bad luck

* Many people refuse to fly on Friday the thirteenth, because they think the airplane is more likely to crash then.

to take (one’s) chances – to take a risk; to do something that may create an opportunity for something bad to happen

* Why would you take your chances with a home birth, when you could just as easily go to a hospital and receive medical care from a trained doctor?

good luck charm – a small item that is carried around because someone believes it brings good luck

* This little rock is a good luck charm. Whenever it’s in my pocket, good things happen.

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Cesar mean when he says, “I can’t catch a break”?
a) He can’t take any time off work.
b) He hasn’t experienced good luck in a long time.
c) He keeps dropping things on the floor.

2. What does Olga mean when she says, “Say what you will”?
a) She thinks Cesar talks too much.
b) She respects Cesar’s opinion.
c) She disagrees with Cesar.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
streak

The word “streak,” in this podcast, means a long period of good or bad luck, or a period of time when many good things or many bad things happen: “The fans are really disappointed by the team’s losing streak.” A “streak” can also be a colored line: “The artist’s canvas is mostly red, with a few bright orange streaks.” Or, “Wow, did you see Hailey’s hair? She’s added a bright purple streak above her ear.” When talking about someone’s personality, a “mean streak” is a tendency to be cruel to others: “When Chuck is tired or stressed, his mean streak comes out.” Finally, as a verb, “to streak” means to run naked through a public place to shock or surprise people: “A group of freshmen streaked through campus yesterday.”

ladder

In this podcast, the word “ladder” means a structure formed by two long, vertical metal or wooden poles, with many smaller pieces connecting them, creating steps for someone to climb up high: “Do you have a ladder that’s tall enough to paint the second story of the home?” The “corporate ladder” refers to the positions that one holds in a business or an industry, gaining more experience and responsibility with each position: “He earned his law degree and spent the next twenty years climbing the corporate ladder.” Finally, the “social ladder” refers to how one moves up in society, becoming more respected, powerful, and influential: “Would you ever consider marrying a rich, influential man just to move up the social ladder?”

Culture Note
Good Luck Rituals

Many people “engage in” (participate in; do) certain actions to “ensure” (make sure that they have or get) good luck. One common “ritual” (an action performed repeatedly in the same way) is to “knock on wood,” gently “rapping one’s knuckles” (hitting the bony part where one’s fingers bend) against a table or another wooden surface for good luck. This is especially common when one is talking about something good that might happen, and knocking on wood is thought to make that more likely.

Sometimes people “cross their fingers” for good luck, twisting the index finger and middle finger around each other and holding them up for others to see. Some people even say “cross my fingers” when doing this. The “gesture” (movement of one’s hands) can mean that one hopes something will happen, or can “emphasize” (give importance to the fact) that one is telling the truth, depending on the “context” (what is happening at the time).

Some people even throw salt over their “shoulder” (the top part of one’s arm and torso, next to the neck) for good luck. “Traditionally” (in the past), the salt was thought to “blind” (make it impossible for someone to see) the devil or other “evil” (very bad) spirit that creates bad luck.

Some women cut a “lock” (a section of hair) of their baby’s hair and place it in a “locket” (a necklace with a small box or pocket that holds a picture or another item) that they wear around their neck for good luck.

Finally, many athletes engage in rituals for good luck. For example, many soccer players untie and retie their “shoelaces” (the strings that keep a shoe closed and tight against the foot) before a game. And other ball players get a haircut before each major or important game.

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c