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上一篇:016 Topics: Taking a survey, Special bonus podcast "Secrets to Improving Your English," Housing prices in the US, To have vs. To be and the past participle.

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017 Topics: Nicknames and shortened names, 'To kill two birds with one stone' and 'The early bird gets the worm,' May vs. Can, Using do + verb, "Suite," and to wash down.

时间:2018-05-01   访问量:2153   View PDF
Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café episode 17.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Cafe episode 17. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

This episode of the English Café will be an all-question-and-answer episode. We will answer some of the more popular questions that we have received from you our listeners here at ESL Podcast. Let’s get started.

Our first question has to do with nicknames. We actually get a lot of questions about American names, so I want to talk a little bit about the types of nicknames that Americans have and what a nickname is to begin with. Let’s start with the definition of “nickname” (nickname) – one word. A “nickname” is a familiar, we might call it, or funny name given to a person and used instead of his or her real name. It’s an informal name used perhaps in a family or among a group of friends to refer to someone.

It’s often the case, especially with funny nicknames, that other people give the nickname to the person. The person him or herself doesn’t invent the nickname. When I was younger, in grade school, my nickname was “Shorty.” People would call me Shorty because I was the shortest person in my class. That’s a nickname. Other nicknames that people have are related somehow to an ability they have or their talents in some way. You might call somebody “The Bird” who could jump really high, because they’re up in the air like a bird.

In addition to nicknames, we also have short names which are shortened versions of the longer name. This is quite common in many languages. So, instead of calling someone “Nicholas,” we might call them “Nick” or “Nicky.” Nicholas is their real name, their full name, but we use a shortened version of their name when talking to them. Some people actually prefer the short form of their name. I knew a kid in grade school whose name was Stewart, but he wanted to be called “Stu,” and so that’s what we called him: Stu, a short form of the name Stuart.

Now, there are other terms for names in English that I want to go over with you very briefly. A person’s family name, what is sometimes called their “surname,” is the last name they have, the last part of their full name. So, my last name – my family name – is McQuillan. McQuillan is my “surname” (surname). “Surname” is a little more formal. “Last name” is a much more common way to describe people’s, well, last name – the name that comes last on their driver’s license or legal document.

Your “first name” is obviously the name that is used first in your name, and your “middle name,” no surprise, is a name between your first name and your last name. Not every American has a middle name, but many do. I do. My middle name is “Lawrence.” There’s another, less common, term that is used for your first and/or middle name, and that is your “given name.” If someone asks what your given name is, he or she is asking you for your first name or your first and middle names, not your last name.

Now, just to make things more confusing, some people actually have four names – a first name, a middle name, and what’s called a “confirmation name.” In certain Christian religions, members of the religion go through a formal ceremony in addition to baptism, which is called “confirmation.” Confirmation names are not typically part of your legal name, however. So, my legal name is Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan, but my full name with my confirmation name would be Jeffrey Lawrence Edward McQuillan.

Each one of my names has a shortened form. Instead of “Jeffrey,” I prefer to be called “Jeff.” I don’t use my middle or confirmation names very much, but it if I did, instead of Lawrence, you could call me “Larry.” And instead of Edward, you could call me “Ed” or “Eddy.” For some names, there are a lot of different variations that could be used. For example, the name “Elizabeth” is also “Beth,” “Liz,” or “Lizzie” – all of those could be used for someone whose name was Elizabeth.

Our next question comes from Germany, from Silvana. It has to do with two, what we call, “proverbs” – two sayings that are supposed to be wise, that give you good advice. A “proverb” (proverb) is a famous sentence or saying that gives you some good advice, some good suggestions on how to live your life, for example. Proverbs don’t always give advice. Sometimes they represent some idea in a more interesting way – a metaphorical way, perhaps. The proverbs that we’re going to talk about today are “to kill two birds with one stone” and “The early bird gets the worm.”

“To kill two birds with one stone” means to complete two tasks, two things, by doing only one action. You are able to achieve or accomplish two things by just doing one thing. For example, I am going to walk to the grocery store to buy some milk. In addition to getting the milk, I will also be getting some exercise. I will be able to give my body some physical exercise. I could say that I’m killing two birds with one stone. I’m doing one action, which is walking to the store and getting the milk, but I’m accomplishing two things. I’m getting milk and I’m getting exercise.

That reminds me, when I was growing up, we didn’t go to a big grocery store very often. We instead went to small grocery stores which nowadays we would probably call “mini-marts.” “Mini-” (mini) means small. “Mart” (mart) is a store. So, it’s like a small store that sells milk and bread and basic food items, but doesn’t have a lot of different kinds of food. Mini-marts often sell alcohol in addition to food.

Usually nowadays you see mini-marts connected to gas stations, which makes sense. People are driving to the gas station to get gas, and after they fill up their gas tank, they can buy some milk. “To fill up” is a phrasal verb meaning to make full. So, if you fill up your gas tank, you are putting gasoline into a container in your car called a “tank” (tank) that holds the gasoline. That’s to kill two birds with one stone – you fill up your tank, and you buy some milk.

The second proverb is “The early bird gets the worm.” A “worm” (worm) is basically a very small, thin animal, usually only two or three inches long, with a soft body that is usually brown or black. A worm doesn’t have any legs. It moves by moving kind of like a snake, back and forth, in order to go forward. Now, most humans don’t eat worms, but many birds do. Worms are part of their diet, we might say. They eat worms.

The proverb “The early bird gets the worm” refers to the fact that a bird that, if you will, wakes up, or gets up, early in the morning will find more worms. If you wait until the afternoon, the worms might already have been eaten by other birds. So, the meaning of the expression is that those who start early on something, especially those who get up early in the morning, will accomplish more, or get more done, than those who start later. You’re more likely to get what you want, to get the best of something, if you arrive early or if you start early in the morning.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be early in the morning. It could be just arriving at a place before everyone else. So, if you want to get a good seat at the movie theater, you should go early, before everyone else gets there, and you will get the best seat. The early bird gets the worm. Now, I like getting up early when I can. I like being able to get a lot of things done early in the morning before things get busy, before I check my email. I’m not very good at getting up early, however, even though when I do get up early, I usually get more done.

Our next question comes from Raphael (Raphael) in Italy. Raphael wants to know the difference between two common expressions in English: “May I help you?” and “Can I help you?” In most situations, these two questions mean the same thing. “May I help you?” is a little more formal than “Can I help you?”

If you walk into a store here in United States such as a clothing store, someone who works at the store, a salesperson, may say to you, “May I help you?” Actually, what they’ll probably say to you is, “Are you looking for something?” or “Can I help you find something?” Both “May I help you?” and “Can I help you?” are used very commonly in business situations when you are talking to someone who is a customer. The difference really is just in the level of formality. “May I” is a little bit more formal than “Can I.”

Now, sometimes it depends on how you say these questions, these expressions, that determines the meaning of the expression. The most common meaning is the meaning I have just given you. It’s when someone is offering to help you. Sometimes we might use it as a way of telling someone that they shouldn’t be looking in a place where they are looking for something, or they’re in some place where they should not be.

For example, if you have an office where you work, and you one day go into your office and there’s someone else sitting in your desk. You would be probably a little surprised, and you might say to this person, “Can I help you?” You’re not really asking the person if you can help him or her. You are communicating to that person that they should not be there, that there’s something wrong here. You are in the wrong place or you are in a place where you should not be.

Again, like a lot of things in English, it depends on how you say them. If you emphasize certain words, you may give a different meaning to that expression or sentence. “Emphasis” (emphasis) is the special attention you give a particular word. So, if someone says, “Can I help you?” that means something different than, “Can I help you?”

In the first case, I am emphasizing that I am the one who is offering the help, or perhaps even suggesting that I can help you in a way that other people cannot. If you say, “Can I help you?” you are referring to this person and not that person. You are probably even pointing at the person.

Next question comes from France. It has to do with the verb “to do” when used with another verb. For example, “Did Bill eat his breakfast?” “Yes, Bill ate his breakfast.” You could also say, however, “Yes, he did eat his breakfast.” The use of the verb “do” (“did” is the past tense of “do”) is once again for emphasis. I am emphasizing the fact that Bill ate his breakfast. “Did you go to the store?” “Yes, I went to the store.” If someone doesn’t really believe me, I might say, “Yes, I did go to the store.”

Notice in the first example I said, “I went to the store,” which is the simple past tense of the verb “to go.” In the second example, I used the verb “to do” in the past tense in front of the verb “go.” “I did go to the store.” “Do” in these cases is called an “auxiliary verb.” The word “auxiliary” (auxiliary) here means a helping verb – a verb that helps the other verb accomplish what it wants to accomplish.

Our next question comes from a country very close to France: Belgium. It comes from Paul, and Paul wants to know how we pronounce in English the word spelled (suite). (Suite) in English is pronounced “suite,” just like another word in English, (sweet).

“Suite” (suite) refers to a set of things that belong together, such as a set of rooms – a group of rooms – or a set of furniture, or it could even be a group of computer programs. Microsoft Office is a suite of programs. It includes Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel, and so forth. They are all part of the same group. They’re different, but they’re related in some way.

We also use the word “suite” to refer to a very nice group of rooms in a hotel, or perhaps in a business office building. If you go to a hotel and they offer you a suite, they are offering you a room that is probably a little better, and certainly more expensive, than the regular rooms.

“Sweet” (sweet) is related to taste. Something that tastes sweet typically has sugar in it. I love things that taste sweet. We actually use “sweet” as a noun to describe candy, cookies, and other things that have a lot of sugar or some sweet substance in them. It’s not quite as common anymore, but certainly when I was growing up we would talk about “having sweets” or “not having sweets” (which was more common in my house).

Our last question comes from Mark (Mark) in Germany. Mark wants to know the meaning of a common phrasal verb in English, “to wash down.” “To wash (wash) down” something means to drink something, some liquid, right after you eat something. So, you eat a sandwich and then you wash it down with a glass of Coca-Cola. That would be an example of the phrasal verb “to wash down.” Often we use “to wash down” when we are talking about alcohol. I’m having a nice dinner at a restaurant, and I eat my food and I decide to wash it down with a, I don’t know, glass of beer or a glass of wine.

It doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink, however. It could be any kind of thing that you could drink. It could just be water, in fact . “To wash down” could also mean something closer to the verb “to wash.” “To wash” means to clean something, usually with water. “To wash down your car” would not mean to drink your car. It would mean to wash your car. In that case, “down” is really used for emphasis.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is

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

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2006 by the Center for Educational Development.

nickname – an informal name used to address someone instead of using his or her real name; a word used to refer to someone casually, which is usually based on that person's actual name or personality

* When Toby was young, his parents’ nickname for him was “Toby Tornado” because of how fast he could run.

first name – given name; the first part of one's full name in English, which is specific to an individual person instead of being shared with the rest of the family

* Ms. Brown’s students found out that her first name is Larita.

middle name – the second part of one's full name, which is usually specific to an individual, but which one is not usually called by

* Mary’s middle name was Ann, so some people called her Mary while others called her Mary Ann.

last name – surname; family name; the last part of one's full name, which is shared among members in the same family

* Darren’s last name is Steeves, so most of his patients call him Dr. Steeves.

shortened – for the full length of something to be reduced or cut; for something long to be made into something smaller or shorter

* All of her friends call her Jen, which is a shortened form of Jennifer.

proverb – words of wisdom; a famous sentence or saying that expresses advice, suggestions, or opinions which are considered wise or helpful

* Edmundo is a patient person who lives by the proverb, “Good things come to those who wait.”

to kill two birds with one stone – to complete two tasks by doing one action; to achieve two goals by making one effort

* Betty decided to kill two birds with one stone by walking to the store so that she could get what she needed to buy and also get some exercise.

stone – rock; a hard substance or material naturally created from particles or pieces of earth by pressure or heat

* Lucien hurt his foot when he tripped over a large stone in his yard.

mini-mart – a small store that sells very basic items, such as bread, milk, and alcohol; a small grocery store

* Arnita only needed to buy peanut butter, so she went to the mini-mart instead of the grocery store.

to fill up – to make full; to add something to a container with empty space until that container no longer has empty space

* Matthew was thirsty so he filled up his cup with water.

The early bird gets the worm. – a saying that meanings that the person who arrives or begins the earliest gets what he or she wants or needs

* When the popular new cell phone came out, Veronica got to the store as soon as it opened, explaining, “The early bird gets the worm.”

worm – a small, thin insect, only a few inches long, with a soft body that is usually brown, pink, or black, with no legs, and crawls in the ground

* When Natalya went to her garden, she saw lots of little worms crawling around in the dirt.

May I help you? – Can I help you?; a formal way of asking someone if that person needs help or assistance

* The salesperson approached Eric in the store and asked, “May I help you?”

emphasis – special attention given to a word or phrase so that the reader or listener will pay attention to it; special or extra importance given to something

* The teacher gave a lot of emphasis to the years that the historical events took place, without talking about the importance of those events.

suite – a set or series of connected or related items; a collection of things that belong together

* Employee desks and offices are organized into suites base on the type of work they perform.

to wash down (something) – to drink after eating something; to drink something so that the food one has just eaten will be completely swallowed and out of the mouth

* The chicken dish left a strange taste in Lorette’s mouth, so she washed down the chicken with a glass of soda.

What Insiders Know
State Nicknames

Nicknames are names we give people or places that are not their real names. In the United States, almost every state also has a nickname, which usually takes the form of “the (Something) State,” such as “the Golden State” or “the Show-Me State.” These names are often used to advertise the state as a nice place to visit.

The reasons for most state nicknames are pretty “straightforward” (very simple; very easy to understand). Some are more difficult and “obscure” (not well known; difficult to discover). All nicknames, however, tell us something about the state, its people, and sometimes, what other people think about that state.

As an example, let’s discuss the state nicknames of three states: California, Minnesota, and Arizona. California is most popularly known as the Golden State. The name comes from the early history of the state, when gold was discovered in the mid-19th century. Like a lot of state nicknames, “Golden State” used to appear on California’s car license plates as a form of advertising for the state. Although the original association of the nickname is with the discovery of gold, some people also “link” (connect) the name to California’s “wealth” (money) in the entertainment “industry” (business) and, more recently, in technology and Internet companies.

The State of Minnesota, is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Land is just another word for area or place. The reason for Minnesota’s nickname is rather obvious if you ever visit there: there are a lot of lakes! (Actually, Minnesota has more than 15,000 lakes. Minnesota is also known as the North Star State, since it is in the northern part of the U.S., and as the Gopher State, since you will find a lot of “gophers” (small rodents or animals, like a squirrel) there. The University of Minnesota uses “Gophers” as the name for its sports teams.

Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State because it’s where you’ll find one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S., the amazing Grand Canyon. It is a very large and deep low area in the ground with a river flowing through it.

上一篇:016 Topics: Taking a survey, Special bonus podcast "Secrets to Improving Your English," Housing prices in the US, To have vs. To be and the past participle.

下一篇:018 Topics: Mardi Gras, Getty Villa, Have to v. got to v. going to have to, Hype, "No brainer," Would in the past tense