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Archive for August, 2012

Thursday - August 30, 2012

Cute or Butt-Ugly?

At the world headquarters (main offices) of ESL Podcast, there was recently a fierce (very aggressive; with strong emotions) disagreement about a very important issue. I emailed Jeff a story with photos about a self-proclaimed (saying about itself, actually its owner saying about it) cutest dog in the world.  When we both looked at the pictures, we had very different reactions. One of us agreed that it was a very cute dog and the other said that the dog is “butt-ugly.”

Butt-ugly is an informal insult used for something we think is very unattractive, extremely ugly, so ugly that it looks like a butt (the part of the body that we sit on). While this is not a vulgar (offensive) term, it’s not a term you want to use with your mother or boss.

Since we have such different opinions about this dog, I thought I’d ask you. The name of this dog is “Boo” (the sound ghosts and people make when they want to scare someone).  You can see pictures of Boo here and see a video of him here.  Tell us what you think.


I think Boo is...

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By the way, here is a list of the most common pets in the United States.

1. Dog
2. Cat
3. Fish
4. Hamster
6. Turtle
7. Lizard
8. Guinea Pig
9. Gerbil
10. Ferret

Do you have a pet?  Other than dogs and cats, what types of pets are popular in other countries? Have you heard of or had any unusual pets?

~ Lucy

Tuesday - August 28, 2012

From the Sea of Tranquility to the Edge of the Wave

There are only two possible memories you had this weekend upon hearing of the death of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong: watching footage (a video recording) of the landing in history class at school, or thinking of where you were on July 20, 1969, when you watched it live. I fall into (am part of) the latter (last-mentioned) category. And for that reason, I am on the edge of the wave.

A wave, of course, is what moves through water when there is some motion or wind or movement. The ocean water moves in waves.  And, perhaps because I live near the ocean myself, a wave was the first thing I thought of when I heard on Saturday that Armstrong had died, and that I was old enough to remember his historic walk on the moon.

Here’s what I mean: I, having been born in 1963, am among the youngest people in the world who could possibly be old enough to remember the moon landing, to remember where I was when it happened. (I was in my parents’ bedroom, on the bed, watching a small black-and-white television.) Anyone younger than I am (well, perhaps a year or so younger would qualify (meet the criteria)) is too young to have witnessed the event, or at least to remember watching it. So if you were born, say, in 1965 or later, you are likely to have no good memory of Neil Armstrong’s famous words, spoken live, “One small step for man, one giant leap (large step or jump) for mankind (humanity).”

I am on the edge or end of that wave of people on this planet who have this particular memory, just as someone born in 1996 would be on the edge of the wave of those who remember 9/11, or those born in 1923 might remember the great Stock Market Crash of 1929.

We can call these memories “datable” memories (memories of events that we can say happened on a particular date). My earliest one is actually from a year earlier than the moon landing, in 1968. It was, unlike the moon landing, among the saddest of events of that time period: the funeral (death ceremony) for the assassinated (murdered) presidental candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the late (dead) President John F. Kennnedy.

We all have datable memories, I’m sure, and some of these include great historical events such as the moon landing. What is your oldest datable memory? Are you on the edge of a wave for some famous event?


Note: The Sea of Tranquility in the title of this post is an area on the moon.

Photo credit: Ocean wave in Pacifica, California, Wikipedia CC

Monday - August 27, 2012

Podcasts This Week (August 27, 2012)

We are grateful to our listeners for telling us how much our podcast and the Learning Guides are helping them.

We designed the Learning Guide precisely to help you learn English better and faster. Get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

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ESL Podcast 820 – Performing Poorly at Work

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to drop the ball” and “tight.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Employee Privacy Rights.”
“There have always been many questions “surrounding” (around; about) people’s right to “privacy” (the state of having secrets or independence, without other people knowing too much about oneself), and particularly…”  – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 361

Topics: Ask an American – The global economy; insidious versus vile versus despicable; lock and load; fancy versus fanciful

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index.”
“The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is an economic “indicator” (a sign of the current status of something) of how…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 821 – Eating Contaminated Food

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “off” and “sour.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Major Food Poisoning Incidents.”
“There have been many “outbreaks” (occurrences of a disease in many people) of “food-borne illnesses” or “food poisoning” (sickness caused by food) in the…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - August 23, 2012

Kayaking the Los Angeles River

Kayaking?* In Los Angeles? Are you kidding (teasing or joking with) me?

Few people would expect a kayak excursion (short journey organized so that people can visit a place) through Los Angeles on the L. A. River to be one of the hottest tickets (an event so popular that it’s difficult to get tickets for it) in town! But it recently was. Tickets for the excursion sold out in only a few minutes.

If you look at a map of Los Angeles, you’ll see that the L.A. River begins in the mountains north of Los Angeles and flows (moves) through the city. It passes through well-known areas such as Burbank, West Hollywood, and Griffith Park, and finally flows out into the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach.

The L.A. River provided most of Los Angeles’ water until 1913, when the Los Angeles Aqueduct – a man-made river for transporting water – was finished and began to bring water to Los Angeles from the mountains in northern California.

The land on both sides of the river is very low. It’s what we call a flood plain, an area that easily floods (is covered with water) when large amounts of rainwater come down out of the mountains and flows over the banks (sides) of the river. Floods were so unpredictable and so devastating (caused serious damage) that the government lined (covered) the rivers’ bed (bottom) and banks with concrete after a severe (very bad) flood in 1938. Today the river is an important part of the city’s flood control system, but it’s covered with concrete and only a small part of the river enjoys its original bed and banks. Those parts are still beautiful and provide a home for a variety of birds and fish.

Usually the river is off limits to (can’t be used by) recreational users. Some of the water in it comes from storm drains, electric power-generating (producing) plants, and other industrial sources and is polluted. When floods come, the water rises quickly, flows fast, and becomes very dangerous.

The excursion, called Paddle the L.A. River, was the work of an organization named L.A. River Expeditions. It’s a group of concerned citizens and organizations who began working to protect the river in 2008. As a result of their work, the government declared (made an official statement) it to be a “traditional navigable (usable by boats) waterway” in 2010 and gave it the same federal protection as a real river.

In 2011, more organizations joined L.A. River Expeditions and helped create the Paddle the L.A. River boating program and sponsor (organize and support) the first excursion. The number of people and organizations who support the program continues to grow. The program provides recreation (enjoyable activities) and education while helping to clean up the river and change the way people think about it.

Chris Erskine, a Los Angeles Times writer who joined the excursion, writes: “If someone had blind-folded you (covered your eyes) and plopped (dropped) you down here … you might think you’re in Idaho (a state with a lot of beautiful natural areas).”

The Los Angeles River project is a good example of what concerned citizens can do to encourage urban renewal – redeveloping or renovating (repairing, fixing) the bad parts of a city. Perhaps there are similar projects where you live. Urban renewal projects are becoming more and more necessary and common across the U.S. and around the world.

You can see pictures that were taken during the 2012 Paddle the L.A. River excursion on the L.A. River Expeditions web site. Click on the pictures on the side of the home page and use your left/right arrows or mouse to move from picture to picture.

*Kayaks are small, one- or two-person boats originally developed about 4,000 years ago by the native people of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Russia who lived near the Arctic Circle. They used them to hunt and fish on lakes, rivers, and coastal (where the land meets the ocean) waters of the Northern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. Today they’re used around the world for recreation.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Monday - August 20, 2012

Podcasts This Week (August 20, 2012)

This is the time to improve your English. Why not use ESL Podcast in the way that it was intended — with the Learning Guide?

We designed the Learning Guide to help you learn English better and faster, and it’s very easy to use. Get more vocabulary, language explanations, sample sentences, comprehension questions, cultural notes, and more.

Get the Learning Guide and support ESL Podcast today by becoming a Basic or Premium Member!


ESL Podcast 818 – Placing a Drink Order

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “tap” and “house.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Milkshakes.”
“A “milkshake” is a “rich” (with a lot of calories), sweet, cold, and “thick” (a liquid that moves slowly) drink made by…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 360

Topics: Famous Americans – Ralph Nader; how to become an astronaut; with reference to versus with regard to versus according to; to confront versus to encounter; “In God We Trust”

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about the classic science fiction author “H.G. Wells.”
“H.G. Wells is known as one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction,” because his novels and essays “paved the way” (made opportunities available) for…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 819 – Athletes Behaving Badly

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “to get up to” and “to get a hold of.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Professional Athletes in Retirement.”
“In many sports, “athletes” (people who play a sport) “hit their peak” (reach their maximum level of performance) in their 20s or 30s. Professional athletes may have…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - August 16, 2012

A Most Difficult Endeavour

Normally, traveling 12 miles (19 kilometers) is not a great distance. But if you are a space shuttle, that trip can be a major (big) headache.

A space shuttle is a space ship or vehicle that travels, well, into space. Endeavour* is an American space shuttle that first went into space in 1992 and flew its last mission (journey into space) in May 2011. In those 19 years, it circled (went around) the Earth 4,600 times and spent nearly 300 days in space. After all of those years in service (working), it is now retired (no longer required to work). In September and October of this year, it will travel from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles to its permanent (not to be changed) home at the California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles.

To get to the California Science Center, Endeavour will  fly from Florida to California on the back of an airplane, a Boeing 747.  From the Los Angeles International Airport, it will travel on land 12 miles to the museum.  Endeavour is 57 feet (about 17 meters) long and has a wingspan (from one end of the wing to the other) of 78 feet (nearly 24 meters).

Recently, I was at a birthday party for one of my friends and I met a man who works at the California Science Center.  I knew nothing about this upcoming (soon to happen) move of the Endeavour, but he told me all about it. He said that the museum has been making arrangements for its arrival for months.  The biggest problem is that the space shuttle cannot be dismantled (taken apart) and must travel in one piece.  The route (path) that the space shuttle will travel has been very carefully mapped out (planned).  It will take four days to get this huge ship across the city.  It will also require that power lines (electrical lines bringing power to buildings) and traffic lights (red, yellow, and green lights used to control cars and traffic) be moved, and trees be pruned (cut back; made smaller). The space shuttle will travel at a speed no more than two miles (3.2 kilometers) per hour, and at some points on its journey, it will have less than one foot (.3 meters) of clearance (space) on each side. This will be a major undertaking (project; task).

Once at the museum, it will be place on display (for people to see it), and eventually (sometime in the future), the museum will build an addition (add a building) where it will be placed permanently for visitors to see.

The path that Endeavour will be taking is actually not far from where I live.  I hope to catch a glimpse (brief look) of it as it makes its way through L.A. streets. With luck, it will arrive without incident (with no problems).  It would be ironic (happening in the opposite way that one would expect) if the space shuttle made it through 19 years of space travel unscathed (unharmed; safely) only to meet with problems on its final and most dangerous journey — through Los Angeles streets!

~ Lucy

* The word “endeavour/endeavor” means to try hard to do something or to try to achieve something. The space shuttle is named “Endeavour” spelled with an “OUR.” In American English, we use the spelling “endeavor” with a “OR.” I have no idea why it was named using the British spelling.

Photo Credit: STS-130 Endeavour Rollout6.jpg from Wikipedia 


Tuesday - August 14, 2012

The Original Copycat

There’s an old saying (expression) in English, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” To imitate means to do what someone else does, to copy them. Flattery is when you compliment someone, when you say something nice about them. The expression means that doing something the same way as someone else has done it is like paying a compliment (saying something nice) to the other person — you thought what they did was so good, you decided to do it yourself.

Not everyone agrees with this positive view of imitation, however – that copying another person is a good thing. The term copycat refers to a person who copies another, but is almost always used in a negative way, to emphasize the fact that the person has stolen someone else’s idea. Record companies and movie studios, for example, certainly do not consider the pirating (illegal stealing or copying) of their copyrighted (legally protected) songs and movies to be a compliment.

According to a recently published book, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks (Starts) Innovation (Creativity), sometimes being a copycat can be good for creativity and the economy. For example, in the world of fashion design, it is not possible to copyright the look of a dress or a piece of clothing. So when a designer like Gucci creates a beautiful dress, almost immediately there are people who are creating knockoffs of that dress. (A knockoff is an imitation product that looks just like the original.) This causes the designers to come up with new designs frequently, since their old designs can easily be imitated and sold by other people. Knockoffs also create a certain kind of free advertising for a product: More people see what the product looks like and have positive opinions of it (because if it weren’t any good, why would you imitate it?). In fact, a 2009 Harvard Business School study found that women who buy knockoff purses often decide later to buy the real thing.

The same is true in the world of cooking. It is not possible to copyright a recipe (instructions for making food). When one restaurant creates a fabulous- (wonderful) tasting new dish (type of food), other restaurants may copy it. In order to be considered original, chefs (professional cooks) are constantly coming up with (inventing) new recipes. Often these new recipes are based on or have their beginnings in older recipes, so that the creativity comes from adding or changing some element in the original.

Of course, we are not talking about simply stealing someone’s property or taking things without paying for them. But under certain circumstances, imitating or copying what someone else has done can be a good way of spreading new ideas and making them better.

Have you ever copied someone else’s idea in a way that made it better?


Photo credit: Gucci Knockoff Dress, L’Hedonista, CC

UPDATE: I want to be very clear that I am NOT condoning (giving my approval) to any kind of stealing of people’s ideas or goods (things they sell or own), either physical or digital (e.g. audio files, ebooks, PDFs, photos, designs, etc.). I’m not even saying I completely agree with the authors of the mentioned book about whether certain things that aren’t currently (at this time) protected by copyright (such as fashion and cooking) should not be. I’m only summarizing the author’s position. I’m against any sort of taking of things that you don’t own just because you can, legal or illegal, in the name of “imitation.”  Just wanted to make that clear…

Monday - August 13, 2012

Podcasts This Week (August 13, 2012)

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If you enjoy our podcasts, please consider supporting ESL Podcast by becoming a Basic or Premium Member today!


ESL Podcast 816 – Running a Pilot Program

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “pilot” and “stake.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Cultivating Community Support.”
“Organizations and companies try to “cultivate” (grow, develop, and encourage) community support in many ways. For example, if a large store…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

English Cafe 359

Topics: The Leopold and Loeb Trial; Famous Songs:  “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”; tunnel versus channel versus canal; right versus privilege; binge

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Charlotte’s Web.”
“One of the most popular children’s books of all time is Charlotte’s Web. It was written by E.B. White in 1952, and has been read by or to children ever since…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

ESL Podcast 817 – Getting a School Class Schedule

In the Learning Guide: Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear), vocabulary list and sample sentences, and comprehension questions.
In “What Else Does it Mean,” learn the other meanings of “assigned” and “band.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “High School Electives.”
“High school students are required to take “core” (basic; fundamental) courses. These include English, mathematics, history, and sciences, but they can also choose many…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Thursday - August 9, 2012

Are You a Doodler?

During a long telephone call, do you pick up a pen or pencil and begin to draw (make pictures) on a piece of paper? In school do you, or did you, draw in the margins (along the sides of the pages) of your notebook while listening to your teacher and trying to take notes? Do you draw on your notepad (sheets of paper fastened together for taking notes) during business meetings? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you’re a doodler.

Doodling is drawing without really thinking about what you’re doing, usually while doing something else, like talking on the phone, listening to your teacher, or sitting in a business meeting. And many people do it.

The word “doodle” has an in interesting history. According to Wikipedia and other sources, it first appeared in the early 17th century – early 1600s. It meant fool (stupid person) or simpleton (someone with low intelligence). Not a good start!

Before the American Revolutionary War, British soldiers sang a song – Yankee Doodle – to mock (make fun of) the army of the American colonies. They often called the colonists “Yankees”, so when they sang that song, it was like saying “stupid colonists”. Maybe that’s why the colonial army fought so hard!

In the early part of the 20th century a new meaning emerged (appeared). Doodling became an activity that you did absentmindedly (without thinking) while doing something else, like listening to your teacher. And someone who doodled was either wasting time or being lazy.

In 1936, doodling’s reputation (people’s opinion about something) took a turn for the better (improved). In the movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, one of the characters uses scribbles (drawings made very quickly) to help himself think. And he called them … doodles.

Today it seems that doodles and doodling are becoming cool. Google doodles appear on its home page on special days. They are delightful (fun) changes made to the Google logo (a small design that identifies a company) to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous people.

Last year Sunny Brown proposed (suggested) a new definition for doodling. She believes people should think of doodling as “making spontaneous (unplanned) marks to help yourself think.” She and others believe that doodling helps the brain to focus on (pay attention to) our thoughts. And that it helps us organize our thoughts, remember them, and share them with other people in a way that’s easy to understand.

I’m a doodler. I may do some of the doodling I described at the beginning, but it’s usually the kind that Sunny Brown describes. I often carry a notebook so I can doodle to organize my thinking about something. In fact, I doodled to organize my ideas for this blog post. I often use a special kind of doodling called mind mapping. When I was in graduate school, I mind-mapped much of the reading I had to do. When I teach, I often fill the board at the front of the room with mind maps and other kinds of doodles to help my students understand what I’m talking about. In my office, I keep a pile of large sheets of paper for mind mapping close to my desk, and I have a mind-mapping app on both my iPad and laptop.

Many great writers, artists, and scientists have been doodlers. The doodles in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, for example, show a brilliant (intelligent, creative) scientific and artistic mind at work. Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and several other American presidents were doodlers.

Are you a doodler? What kind are you, the absentminded kind or the kind Sunny Brown describes? Or, like me, both?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Tuesday - August 7, 2012

You’re Married. You Can Go.

When I first moved to Los Angeles more than 20 years ago, I discovered a writer, actor, and radio show host by the name of Harry Shearer. At the time, Shearer was writing a weekly column (regular series of articles for a magazine or newspaper) for the Los Angeles Times, but he was becoming much more famous for doing the voices for some of the characters on a (then) new TV series, The Simpsons.  A few weeks ago he wrote an article in Newsweek magazine talking about his marriage which I think is worth retelling (repeating).

In 1992, Shearer traveled to London where he met a woman (Judith Owen) and fell in love. Shearer invited Owen to come to visit him in Los Angeles, and she said yes. She was a British citizen and had apparently never been to the United States before. When she arrived at the immigration desk at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), they asked her the usual question for visitors, “Are you here for business or pleasure (for fun)?” She answered that she had actually come to see the man she planned on marrying someday.

Wrong answer.

You see, the U.S. immigration officials are very suspicious (doubtful about someone or something) of people from other countries who marry U.S. citizens, because they think that many of the marriages are not “real” marriages, but instead are ways for the non-U.S. partner (husband or wife) to get permission to work in the U.S. So the last thing you want to say (the one thing you should never say) when arriving to the U.S. is that you are here to marry an American!

The immigration officials allowed Shearer’s wife to enter the U.S. (after a four-hour interview). Shearer and Owen did in fact get married, but their experience with the immigration office was not over (finished). If you marry a U.S. citizen, some months or years later you need to go to a personal interview with an immigration official, who will decide whether your marriage is real. If they think your marriage is a fraud (a false action or attempt to break the law), the non-U.S. partner could be deported (forced to leave the country).

Shearer and Owen had their interview about two years later. Like many couples in this situation, they prepared for weeks for the interview. They memorized all the personal information about each other that the immigration officer might ask them to make them prove they really did live together. They brought receipts and other documents to show that they had spent time together, including photographs of trips they took. They felt they were ready for any long interview to prove their marriage was real.

When they arrived at the immigration office, the official began the interview with a simple question to Shearer: “When did you two get married?” Shearer answered quickly and confidently, “March 29, 1993.”

Immediately Owen elbowed (used the elbow of her arm to hit) Shearer in the stomach and said somewhat angrily, “March 28!”

The woman looked at the two of them, then said, “You’re married. You can go.” The interview was over; their marriage was real.

Perhaps you have to be married to appreciate (understand and enjoy) this story, but the general message is clear. Sometimes just being yourself (acting normally or naturally) is all you need to do. Everything else takes care of itself.


Image credit: The Simpsons, Wikipedia Fair Use