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1148 Distinctive Facial Features

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,148 – Distinctive Facial Features.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,148. 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, and become a member of ESL Podcast and download our Learning Guide.

This episode is a dialogue between Mona and Leonardo about the way we describe people’s faces. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Mona: How is the portrait coming along?

Leonardo: I’m done with the sketches and I’m ready to start on the painting.

Mona: This commission is quite a godsend for a new artist. If you do a good job with this portrait, you may get other commissions.

Leonardo: It’s all the same to me. I paint them as I see them.

Mona: Well, I hope not exactly as you see them. A portrait has to be flattering, doesn’t it?

Leonardo: You mean I should downplay bulging eyes, hooked noses, and double chins? No way. That’s what makes each face distinctive.

Mona: Maybe that isn’t the best way to think about it. Everybody has an image of themselves in their mind’s eye. You would just be capturing that image.

Leonardo: I’m an artist, not a psychologist. If they have squinty eyes, ears that stick out, a weak chin, or thin lips, that’s what I’m going to paint.

Mona: But this sketch shows a really prominent forehead and a receding hairline. Maybe you could just . . .

Leonardo: No! I have to be true to my art. I’m not compromising.

Mona: [sigh] I was just hoping you could finally make enough money to move off of my couch!

[end of dialogue]

Mona begins by asking Leonardo, “How is the portrait coming along?” A “portrait” (portrait) is a formal painting – or nowadays, photograph – of a person. It could be either one. Normally a portrait is of the person’s upper body – his head, neck, shoulders, perhaps his chest. Many governments have official portraits of their leaders, for example. A famous person might want a portrait of himself or herself. Mona asks how the portrait is “coming along,” meaning how is it going.

Usually when you ask someone how something is “coming along,” you are implying that the person has started it already, and you want to know how much progress he’s made.
Leonardo says, “I’m done with the sketches and I’m ready to start on the painting.” A “sketch” (sketch) is a simple drawing that is made, often when you are preparing to paint something – paint a portrait or a picture. Sometimes people like to sketch just to get ideas for their pieces of art, for their paintings. Leonardo is “done with” – that is, he has completed – the sketches for the portrait.

Mona says, “This commission is quite a godsend for a new artist.” A “commission” here refers to a request for an artist to do something, usually in exchange for money. A rich person may commission a portrait of his family, or of his wife, or of himself. Sometimes governments will give money to artists; they will commission a piece of art – a painting or perhaps a piece of music. Mona says, “This commission is quite a godsend” (godsend). A “godsend” is something that is very fortunate, something that seems to come from heaven, something that is very beneficial for you.

Mona says, “If you do a good job with this portrait, you may get other commissions.” Leonardo says, “It’s all the same to me.” He doesn’t seem to care if he gets other commissions. He says, “I paint them as I see them.” Mona says, “Well, I hope not exactly as you see them. A portrait has to be flattering, doesn’t it?” Mona is saying that Leonardo needs to paint the portrait of whomever he’s painting so that the person looks beautiful, that the person looks good. That’s what we mean by the word “flattering” (flattering). Something that is “flattering” makes someone feel good, or important, or in this case, attractive.

The verb “to flatter” means to tell someone how good they look or how important they are – “to pay someone a compliment,” we might also say. Mona says, “A portrait has to be flattering.” It has to make the person look good. Leonardo says, “You mean I should downplay bulging eyes, hooked noses, and double chins? No way.” “To downplay” means to act as if something were smaller or less important than it actually is. Another verb here would be “to de-emphasize” the importance of something. “To downplay the importance” of something is to act as though it isn’t very important.

Leonardo then lists, or gives us a list of, the features or things that you might see in a person’s face that are not very attractive. These include “bulging eyes,” “hooked noses,” and “double chins.” A “bulging (bulging) eye (eye)” is an eye that sticks out from the surface of the face and it appears to be larger than it should be. Some people have very bulging eyes, very big eyes. The eyes seem too big for the face. A “hooked (hooked) nose” is a nose that seems to have a bend or a curve in the upper half of it.

“Double chins” are chins that are fat. Your “chin” (chin) is the bottom part of your face, below your mouth. If you have a “double chin,” you may have some extra fat in your face that makes it look as though you have a second chin below your regular chin, I guess you could say. Leonardo doesn’t believe in downplaying these features, these things that are part of one’s face, or could be part of one’s face. He says, “That’s what makes each face distinctive” (distinctive). “Distinctive” means different, unique.

Mona says, “Maybe that isn’t the best way to think about it. Everybody has an image of themselves in their mind’s eye.” What Mona is saying is that each person has an image or a way that he sees himself, a way that he imagines himself or she imagines herself. Your “mind’s (mind’s) eye” is the way that you think about something, the way you imagine something. Mona says, “You would just be capturing that image.” She’s saying that the purpose of the portrait is to try to get the image that the person has of himself in his own mind.

Leonardo, however, says, “I’m an artist, not a psychologist. If they have squinty eyes, ears that stick out, a weak chin, or thin lips, that’s what I’m going to paint.” Once again, Leonardo gives us a list of facial features – that is, things that you notice about a person’s face. These include “squinty (squinty) eyes.” “Squinty eyes” are eyes that are partially closed. It almost looks as though the person may be falling asleep.

If your ears “stick out,” your ears go out or extend out from your head farther than what would be normal. Some people say President Obama has ears that stick out, that go out away from his head farther than you might normally expect ears to go. I don’t know if that’s true or not. In general, the phrasal verb “to stick out” means to extend outward from the surface of something.

We also use that phrasal verb to refer to something or someone who is very noticeable, often in a bad way. If you go to the beach dressed in a suit and a tie, you will “stick out” because everyone else will be different – everyone else will be dressed differently than you are dressed. That’s another meaning of the phrasal verb “to stick out.” Leonardo also mentions someone having a “weak (weak) chin.” A “weak chin” is a chin that you almost don’t notice, a chin that doesn’t seem to be very distinctive, almost as though it’s part of your neck or that you don’t have a chin.

Leonardo says he’s going to paint people how they look. He’s not going to try to hide these somewhat unattractive facial features. Mona says, “But this sketch shows a really prominent forehead and a receding hairline.” Your “forehead” (forehead) is the top of your head above your eyes and below where most people have hair. A “prominent (prominent) forehead” is a forehead that doesn’t have very much hair covering it, or perhaps is a forehead that is bigger than you would normally expect.

Your “hairline” (hairline) is the line that is formed by your hair – where your hair ends, if you will, at the top of your head. Now, some, particularly men, as they get older have what’s called a “receding (receding) hairline.” “Receding” comes from the verb “to recede,” which means to draw back or to go back. A receding hairline is when you start losing your hair so that you don’t have a lot of hair at the front of your head.

Some of us have receding hairlines and have decided to simply get rid of all of our hair so you don’t notice it. I know someone like that. Mona is once again pointing out to Leonardo that there are some facial features in his portrait that the person who commissioned the portrait might not be very happy about. Leonardo, however, says, “No! I have to be true to my art.” “To be true to” something means to defend it or to be loyal to it, not to do anything that would hurt it.

There was an old song by the Beach Boys called “Be True to Your School,” meaning, I suppose, that you were supposed to be loyal to your school. In particular, I think the song was about a person’s high school. “To be true to your school” would be to support it, not to say bad things about it. I don’t know if I can be true to my high school. But certainly, some people feel great loyalty to the schools that they attended, that they were students in.

Leonardo was talking about being true to his art. He says, “I’m not compromising.” “To compromise” means to not do what you want to do – to perhaps change things in order to get along with someone else, or in this case, to make the person who commissioned the portrait happy. Mona is disappointed. She says, “I was just hoping you could finally make enough money to move off of my couch.” Your “couch” (couch) is your sofa. It’s a large piece of furniture, usually in your living room, where two or more people can sit.

Mona is complaining that Leonardo is apparently sleeping on her couch, meaning he doesn’t have a place to stay. He doesn’t have his own apartment, so he’s staying with her temporarily. Of course, one of the reasons he doesn’t have his own apartment is that he doesn’t have enough money to go and get his own place to live. Mona is hoping that he can be a successful artist so that he can make money and stop sleeping on her couch.

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

[start of dialogue]

Mona: How is the portrait coming along?

Leonardo: I’m done with the sketches and I’m ready to start on the painting.

Mona: This commission is quite a godsend for a new artist. If you do a good job with this portrait, you may get other commissions.

Leonardo: It’s all the same to me. I paint them as I see them.

Mona: Well, I hope not exactly as you see them. A portrait has to be flattering, doesn’t it?

Leonardo: You mean I should downplay bulging eyes, hooked noses, and double chins? No way. That’s what makes each face distinctive.

Mona: Maybe that isn’t the best way to think about it. Everybody has an image of themselves in their mind’s eye. You would just be capturing that image.

Leonardo: I’m an artist, not a psychologist. If they have squinty eyes, ears that stick out, a weak chin, or thin lips, that’s what I’m going to paint.

Mona: But this sketch shows a really prominent forehead and a receding hairline. Maybe you could just . . .

Leonardo: No! I have to be true to my art. I’m not compromising.

Mona: [sigh] I was just hoping you could finally make enough money to move off of my couch!

[end of dialogue]

Lucy Tse’s scripts are a godsend to those who are interested in improving their English. 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
portrait – a formal painting or photograph of a person, especially of his or her head, neck, and shoulders

* The castle walls are covered with portraits of old kings and queens.

sketch – a simple drawing made with just lines, but not a lot of detail and usually only with a pencil or pen, not with paint, often created as a first draft of a more detailed drawing or painting

* Heather drew a rough sketch of her garden to show where the vegetables and herbs were planted.

commission – a request or command for an artist to do or make something, usually in exchange for money

* The sculptor received a commission to make a new structure near the entrance to the city.

godsend – something that is very fortunate, good, and beneficial, and seems to come from heaven; exactly what one wanted and needed

* Getting that rainfall last week was a godsend. It saved the orange crop.

flattering – pleasing; paying compliments to someone; making someone feel good, important, or attractive

* I wonder if beautiful actresses ever get tired of hearing so many flattering comments about their appearance.

to downplay – to deemphasize the importance or size of something; to act as if something is smaller or less important than it actually is

* The mayor’s office is trying to downplay the delays in repairing the bridge.

bulging eyes – eyes that stick out from the surface of the face and appear swollen and larger than they should be

* Mery is frightened of frogs and toads with bulging eyes.

hooked nose – a nose that seems to have a bend or curve in the upper half

* Marvin is proud of his hooked nose, and jokes that it helps to hold up his eyeglasses

double chin – a layer of fat that hangs below the chin (the pointed part of the face below the mouth and above the neck), making it look like the person has two chins

* If I lost 50 pounds, I could probably get rid of my double chin.

distinctive – notable; making someone or something look different; unique

* Peruvian pan flutes have a distinctive sound that is unlike any other instrument.

mind’s eye – the way one perceives something; the images formed in one’s mind; one’s perspective

* Most people think Cheryl is attractive, but in my mind’s eye, she is gorgeous.

squinty – eyes that are partially closed, with the muscles squeezing the eyelids together, usually to block out a bright light or to help one focus (see better)

* Your son has squinty eyes. Maybe he needs glasses. Have you taken him to the doctor to have his vision checked?

to stick out – to extend outward from the surface of something

* Edgar’s hair is almost impossible to control. It’s always sticking out in strange directions.

weak chin – a chin (the pointed part of the face below the mouth and above the neck) that does not have clear definition and seems to be part of the neck

* Laurence has always disliked his weak chin and decided to grow a beard to disguise it.

prominent forehead – with a very large area of exposed skin at the top of one’s face, between one’s hair and eyebrows

* Sheila asked her hairdresser to cut some bangs that would hide her prominent forehead.

receding hairline – with hair that is gradually falling out, making one’s forehead gradually increase in size

* Mark has had a receding hairline for years. He might be bald soon.

to be true to – to not betray or violate something, especially referring to one’s beliefs; to remain loyal to someone or something

* The chef is true to his Mexican heritage and refuses to use any foods or spices that weren’t available in the village he grew up in.

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Leonardo mean when he says, “I’m done with the sketches”?
a) He has finished negotiating the contracts for his artwork.
b) He has finished the basic drawings and now needs to add to them.
c) He has finished his paintings and now needs to frame them.

2. According to Mona, what should a portrait do?
a) It should make the person feel good about his or her appearance.
b) It should show the person exactly as he or she appears.
c) It should exaggerate the person’s facial features.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
commission

The word “commission,” in this podcast, means a request or command for an artist to do or make something, usually in exchange for money: “The composer was thrilled to have a commission to write the score for a Hollywood movie.” The phrase “to work on commission” means for a salesperson to receive a percentage of the value of the items sold: “The salespeople in this store work on commission, so when you check out, please state the name of the person who helped you so that he or she gets paid.” Finally, the phrase “out of commission” means broken, not working, or not functioning or operating: “Michael broke his leg, so he’ll be out of commission as a soccer coach for the next few months.”

to be true to

In this podcast, the phrase “to be true to” means to not betray or violate something, especially referring to one’s beliefs: “Harold ignored the editors’ advice, choosing to be true to his artistic instincts.” The phrase “to be true to” also means to be loyal to someone: “Do you think your boyfriend will be true to you while you’re studying abroad?” The phrase “to be true to size” means for a piece of clothing to fit as it should, or to have the expected measurements: “Most of our brands are true to size, but this particular brand runs a little big.” Finally, the phrase “tried-and-true” means tested and proven to work: “We offer a tried-and-true software solution that companies can install and begin using immediately.”

Culture Note
Retouching Photos

Most people want to “look their best” (show their best, most attractive appearance) in photos, so it is common for people to “retouch” (improve through minor changes) their photos before printing or sharing them.

One of the most common “techniques” (a way of doing something) used in retouching photos is to remove “red eye,” which is the way that light reflects off a person’s eye, making it appear red in a photograph. Computer software can easily remove the red color, replacing it with a natural eye color. Another common technique is “teeth whitening,” which makes the teeth appear whiter than they actually are.

Sometimes photos are retouched to change the skin color, usually to make the skin slightly darker, making it appear more “tanned” (slightly brown from exposure to sunlight). Sometimes the photos are retouched to make the skin appear lighter or “brighter” (seeming to have more light).

Photos can also be retouched to “remove” (take away; get rid of) “spots” (small areas that are a different color than the surrounding area), such as “moles” (small dark, usually round, shapes on the skin), “blemishes” (pimples or acne), or “bruises” (dark areas on the skin produced by bleeding under the skin, usually as a result of being hit).

Professional photo editors, especially those who work for fashion magazines, take photo retouching “to another level” (to an extreme), actually editing the photographs to “dramatically” (in a big way) change the “model’s” (the person who is being photographed) appearance, typically giving her more “prominent” (easily noticed) “cheekbones” (bones in the face below the eyes), reducing the size of the arms, waist, and “thighs” (upper leg), and increasing the sizes of her breasts.

Comprehension Answers
1 -b

2 - a