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1134 Describing Position and Location Within a Group

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,134 – Describing the Position and Location within a Group.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,134. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit ESLPod.com to become a member of ESL Podcast. When you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode and all of our current episodes. This episode is a dialogue about describing where you are in a group of people. Sounds simple. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Selena: Don’t look now, but a big group of mothers are coming to this house to give you a piece of their mind.

Justin: What?! I meant it as a joke. I didn’t mean anything by it.

Selena: You’ll have to tell that to Sally. She’s at the head of the group and she’s flanked by Maria and Veronica.

Justin: Oh no, not them. I’d rather be confronted by anyone but those three.

Selena: They’re not the only ones. They’re backed by a group of at least 15 parents.

Justin: Maybe some of those on the periphery are just spectators, waiting to see what the rest of the group will do.

Selena: Don’t count on it. They look determined.

Justin: Who are those in the back?

Selena: Those bringing up the rear? I think those are a few fathers with a message of their own.

Justin: What should I do now?

Selena: Start by waving a white flag.

Justin: And then?

Selena: Try a sincere apology, with a healthy dose of groveling.

[end of dialogue]

Our somewhat mysterious dialogue begins with Selena saying to Justin, “Don’t Look now.” The expression “Don’t look now” is used to warn someone that something bad is happening, or that an unwanted person is walking toward you or is nearby. “Don’t look now, but I think that’s your mother-in-law in the car,” speaking of unwanted people. Well, Selena is warning Justin not about a mother-in-law, but “a big group of mothers.”

She says, “Don’t look now, but a big group of mothers are coming to this house to give you a piece of their mind.” “To give someone a piece of your mind” means to clearly state your opinion or tell your opinion to someone, usually in anger or with some frustration toward the other person. “I’m going to give him a piece of my mind” – I’m going to tell him what I think, and I’m going to do it in anger.

Justin says, “What? I meant it as a joke.” We’re not sure exactly what Justin did that has made these mothers angry at him. That’s why it’s something of a mystery, this dialogue. Justin then says, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” When someone says they “didn’t mean anything by it,” he means he didn’t want to hurt or offend other people by what he has said or what he has done.

After you realize that you’ve done something that someone else may consider hurtful, insulting, or harmful, you might say, “Well, I didn’t mean anything by it,” meaning you didn’t intend or mean to cause any harm. Of course, some people say that they didn’t mean anything by whatever they said even though they really did mean to be mean.

You could say to someone for example, “Oh, that’s a beautiful dress. Are you pregnant?” Well, if the woman isn’t pregnant but just is a little overweight, you might be in trouble and you could say, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything by it,” even though perhaps you meant to be insulting to the woman. (Something I don’t recommend, whether she’s pregnant or not.)

Selena says, “You’ll have to tell that to Sally. She’s at the head of the group and she’s flanked by Maria and Veronica.” Selena is describing where the different women are in this group. She begins by saying that “Sally is at the head (head) of the group.” “To be at the head” of something means to be in front, or it could also mean to be the leader of a group. “Who’s at the head of the company?” That would mean “Who is the leader of the company?”

In the dialogue, I think Selena is referring to where Sally is in the group. She’s the first person. She’s at the front of, or at the head of, the group. Sally is “flanked” (flanked) by Maria and Veronica. “To be flanked” by someone means to have someone on each side of yourself – to have someone on your left and to have someone on your right. You are flanked by two people.

Justin says, “Oh no, not them. I’d rather be confronted by anyone but those three.” “To be confronted” by someone is to have someone approach you and begin an argument or begin to fight with you. If you are confronted by your boss, your boss is going to stop you, perhaps, in the hallway and argue with you or perhaps ask why you did something wrong. The idea of a “confrontation,” which is the noun that comes from the verb “to confront” is related to an angry situation. It means someone is angry about something, perhaps even wants to fight you over something.

Selena says, “They’re not the only ones. They’re backed by a group of at least 15 parents.” “To be backed” (backed) by” someone here I believe means to be followed by someone. There is a group of people that are right behind the three women who are in front. “To be backed by” can also mean to be supported by, even financially supported by, a group or a person. Here in Hollywood, when someone says that he is backing a movie, he means he is supporting the movie. “The movie is being backed by him.”

Here, it appears these three women are backed by a group of 15 parents. Justin says, “Maybe some of those on the periphery are just spectators, waiting to see what the rest of the group will do.” The “periphery” (periphery) is the outside part of something, or what we might call the “edge” (edge) of something. It’s not the main part. It’s not the center part of something. We could talk about suburbs being on the “periphery” of the city. They’re outside of the city, on the edge of the city.

A “spectator” (spectator) is someone who watches something, who observes something, but does not participate in the activity. If you go to a professional sports game – a soccer game or a baseball game or an American football game – you’re not actually going down and playing in the game. You are a spectator. You’re watching it. You’re observing it. There’s actually a very well-known, famous magazine in Great Britain called The Spectator, which I read every week on my iPad. You don’t even have to wait for it to arrive from London by mail.

Anyway, Justin says that maybe some of the people on the periphery of this group of parents are just spectators. They’re waiting to see what the rest of the group will do. Selena says, however, “Don’t count on it.” The phrase “Don’t count (count) on it” is used to express doubt that something will happen. “To count on” something is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to rely on something or depend on something.

Justin thinks that some of the people approaching him are just spectators. But Selena says, “Don’t count on it,” meaning you shouldn’t rely on that fact. Don’t be so sure. She says, “They look determined.” “To be determined” means to be committed, to not hesitate or not to be undecided. Justin says, “Who are those in the back?” meaning at the very end of this line of people.

Selena says, “Those bringing up the rear?” “To bring up the rear” is an expression in English that means to be the last person, or perhaps in this case the last group of people, in a line of people. This person or this group is following everyone else. Selena says, “I think those are a few fathers with a message of their own.” “A message of their own” means that these fathers probably are also angry at Justin.

Justin says, “What should I do now?” Selena says, “Start by waving a white flag.” “To wave (wave) a white flag,” literally means to take a piece of white fabric and move it back and forth in the air. The idea is that you are showing that you do not want to fight anymore. It could also mean that you are surrendering. You are telling the other person or the other group of people you are fighting that you don’t want to fight anymore because they have won.

Justin then says, “And then?” meaning, “Then what should I do?” Selena says, “Try a sincere apology with a healthy dose of groveling.” A “sincere (sincere) apology (apology)” is an honest statement that expresses your regret. It’s when you tell someone that you are sorry and that you feel badly about whatever it is you did wrong. Selena advises Justin to try a sincere apology with these parents and a “healthy dose (dose) of groveling.”

A “healthy dose” of something is a large amount of something. We use the word “dose” normally when we’re talking about medicine. You are given, say, pills by your doctor for some illness. The doctor will tell you what the “dose” is – how many pills you should take each day. A “healthy dose” of something, however, just means a lot of something. The word “healthy” here means a lot of.

“To grovel” (grovel) means to apologize for your bad behavior toward a certain person and to tell the person how great they are. “To grovel” means to try to make the person like you by both apologizing and by telling the person how wonderful he or she is. That’s what Selena recommends to Justin – “a healthy dose of groveling.” “Groveling” is the noun form of the verb “to grovel.” We never find out why these parents are so angry at Justin, but clearly he did something very, very wrong.

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

[start of dialogue]

Selena: Don’t look now, but a big group of mothers are coming to this house to give you a piece of their mind.

Justin: What?! I meant it as a joke. I didn’t mean anything by it.

Selena: You’ll have to tell that to Sally. She’s at the head of the group and she’s flanked by Maria and Veronica.

Justin: Oh no, not them. I’d rather be confronted by anyone but those three.

Selena: They’re not the only ones. They’re backed by a group of at least 15 parents.

Justin: Maybe some of those on the periphery are just spectators, waiting to see what the rest of the group will do.

Selena: Don’t count on it. They look determined.

Justin: Who are those in the back?

Selena: Those bringing up the rear? I think those are a few fathers with a message of their own.

Justin: What should I do now?

Selena: Start by waving a white flag.

Justin: And then?

Selena: Try a sincere apology, with a healthy dose of groveling.

[end of dialogue]

You know you’re always going to get a healthy dose of practical, useful English vocabulary when you listen to the scripts written by our wonderful scriptwriter, 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 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
don’t look now – a phrase used to warn someone that something bad is happening or that an unwanted person is nearby

* Don’t look now, but your ex-boyfriend just walked into the restaurant.

to give (someone) a piece of (one’s) mind – to clearly state one’s opinion while expressing anger or frustration toward another person

* If my daughter did something stupid like that, I would definitely give her a piece of my mind.

to not mean anything by it – to not have intended to hurt or offend another person; to have done something without realizing that it would be hurtful, insulting, or offensive

* Quentin made a comment that was inappropriate, but he didn’t mean anything by it.

at the head – in front; referring to the leader or the first person in a group

* Who is that at the head of that line of students?

to be flanked by (someone) – to have someone on each side of oneself; to have something to the left and something to the right

* The university library is flanked by the biology labs and the engineering building.

to be confronted by – to have someone approach and begin to argue or fight with oneself

* The chair of the committee resigned after being confronted by angry members accusing her of taking bribes.

to be backed by – to be supported and followed by someone or something

* The researchers’ book is backed by dozens of studies she conducted on the subject.

periphery – the edge of something; the outside part, not the center

* I saw movement in the periphery of my vision, but I’m not sure whether it was a squirrel or a rabbit.

spectator – observer; a person who is watching something, but is not participating in it

* This stadium can hold up to 30,000 spectators, but it’s rarely full, because few people come to see the games.

don’t count on it – a phrase used to express doubt that something will happen

* The new vice-president is promising to double sales within the next six months, but don’t count on it.

determined – committed; with a sincere and firm plan to do something; not hesitating or undecided

* Seila is determined to be the first in her family to graduate from college.

to bring up the rear – to be the last person in a line, following behind everyone else

* A car will bring up the rear, picking up any runners who are too far behind and cannot continue.

to wave a white flag – to move a piece of white fabric in the air to show that one wants to end the fighting and have peace; to indicate that one does not want to fight

* The battle isn’t going well, but we refuse to wave a white flag.

sincere apology – an honest statement that one regrets something, is sorry, and feels bad about it

* Lila likes to receive roses from her husband, but actually, she would prefer to hear a sincere apology.

healthy dose – a large amount of something; a sufficient amount of something

* The ideal candidate should have a healthy dose of humility and a strong work ethic.

to grovel – to be extremely obedient and attentive to another person’s desires in order to be admired or liked by that person or to apologize for one’s bad behavior toward that person, usually used in a negative way

* Realizing his mistake, Janis tried groveling to get his former girlfriend back, but she had moved on and was dating someone new.

Comprehension Questions
1. Where are Maria and Veronica?
a) At the front of the group
b) At the middle of the group
c) At the back of the group

2. What are the mothers going to do when they give Justin a piece of their mind”?
a) They’re going to educate Justin.
b) They’re going to tell Justin how they feel.
c) They’re going to persuade Justin to agree with them.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
at the head

The phrase “at the head,” in this podcast, means in front, or referring to the leader or the first person in a group: “Those at the head of the group of journalists will have the best chance of filming a good news story.” The phrase “to keep (one’s) head” means to stay calm and rational in a challenging or frightening situation: “It can be very hard to keep your head when receiving that much criticism.” The phrase “to go over (someone’s) head” means to be too difficult to understand: “The professor’s discussion of the political system in ancient Greece went over the student’s head.” Finally, the phrase “to put heads together” means to collaborate or discuss something with another person: “When we put our heads together, we found a solution that we would never have reached on our own.”

to bring up the rear

In this podcast, the phrase “to bring up the rear” means to be the last person in a line, following behind everyone else: “We need a volunteer to bring up the rear and make sure no one gets left behind on this hike.” The word “rear” simply refers to the back or last part of something: “Why do you prefer to sit in the rear of the airplane when most people prefer to sit in the front?” A “rear end” is one’s bottom, or the part of the body that one sits on: “He slipped on the ice and fell on his rear end.” Finally, the phrase “to rear up” means for a four-legged animal to suddenly stand on its back legs: “When the horse saw the snake, it reared up and almost caused the rider to fall.”

Culture Note
Neighborhood Pranks

For some young people, playing “pranks” (annoying jokes) is a common form of entertainment and a way to “get attention” (force others to pay attention to oneself). They might make “prank calls” (pranks that occur over the telephone, asking the “recipient” (the person who receives the call). A classic or traditional prank is to call someone and them: “Is your refrigerator running?” Then, when the person says “yes” (meaning that the refrigerator is working), the “prankster” (the person who enjoys playing pranks), says, “Then you’d better go catch it!” (meaning that the refrigerator is leaving the house, so someone needs to run to bring it back).

One common neighborhood prank is “egging,” where the pranksters throw “raw” (uncooked) eggs at homes, cars, or even people. The egg “explodes” (opens quickly, sending liquid in all directions), makes a big, “smelly” (with a bad odor) “mess” (something that needs to be cleaned), and is very difficult to clean up.

A less “noxious” (unpleasant; harmful; damaging) prank is “TP-ing,” also known as “toilet-papering,” “house wrapping” or “yard rolling.” The pranksters cover a house, car, tree, or yard with toilet paper, wrapping the toilet paper around objects or throwing “rolls” (one unit of toilet paper, where the “sheets” (pieces of paper) are still connected and are wrapped round a cardboard tube) up into trees and over roofs, leaving long “trails” (long pieces) hanging down.

Finally, some pranksters prefer “mooning,” which is the act of partially pulling down one’s pants and underwear to “expose” (show to other people) one’s “buttocks” (bottom; rear end; the part of the body that one sits on). This is considered rude and disrespectful, but teenagers, especially boys, think that it is funny. They might moon people who are walking by, or the might moon from a “passing car” (a car that is driving by) so that they can “escape” (leave the area) quickly.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b