Our Cafe for this week talks about one of the most famous murder cases in the history of my fair (beautiful; nice) city, the O.J. Simpson trial. During the trial, Simpson’s charismatic (charming; appealing; attractive) lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, used every rhetorical (related to the use of language) trick in the book (that has ever existed) to convince the jury that O.J. was innocent. One of those tricks was one of the simplest but most effective strategies in communication: rhymes.
A rhyme is when one word sounds like another word, such as “luck” and “truck” or “leaf” and “grief” (sadness). In the Simpson case, the police had found gloves (what you wear on your hands) with blood on them. Cochran told the jury that the gloves didn’t even fit (were not the right size) for Simpson, and therefore he could not have been the murderer. He told the jury, “If gloves don’t fit, you must acquit!” (To acquit means to decide that he is innocent (not guilty) of the crime.)
Simpson was found not guilty.
Several studies have found that not only do rhymes help us remember things, but that we actually believe statements (things people say or write) that rhyme more than ones that don’t. For example, researchers (investigators; scientists) found that people were more likely to believe this rhyming statement:
What sobriety (not being drunk) conceals (hides), alcohol reveals (shows you).
than this non-rhyming expression that means the same:
What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks (reveals).
One theory is that the brain likes information that is easy to “process” or understand, and rhymes make a statement easier (and faster) to process.
Perhaps this is why so many proverbs (traditional sayings or expressions) in different languages tend to (usually; often) rhyme, such as “Birds of a feather (similar birds) flock (group themselves) together,” where “feather” rhymes with “together.”
Are there rhyming expressions in your own language?
Photo credit: Boxing gloves in Minoan painting on Knossos, around 1500 B.C. Wikipedia CC
I have a special question for you. I have been listening to your podcasts for almost six months. They’re all great. I think they improve my listening and vocabulary knowledge. But are your podcast scripts popular or out-of-date?
I ask because I listen to the news about how to speak English automatically and easily. It says to me that phrases or idioms which are not used in real conversation are being used in textbooks and grammar books in schools by teachers. We need the casual speech, informal idioms and phrases which are used in real conversation and daily common speaking. So what about this?
Thanks a lot for your great job always.
Thanks for your email and I understand your concern. I try very hard to put into scripts only those terms that I think are commonly used in the U.S. today. When I write a script, I often think to myself, “Would I say this?” or “Would I hear people on the street or in a supermarket use this expression?” The nice thing about producing a podcast, rather than a textbook, is that we can change with the times (change according to current conditions). At the same time, we don’t want our podcasts to be out-of-date or dated (seem old-fashioned) in just a few years, so the terms and expressions you hear are those that we think are commonly-used and that will not change significantly in the short term (in the immediate future). So while I think our scripts reflect (represent) how people speak today, we try to avoid fleeting (not staying long) slang and fads, or things that are popular for only a short time. We may talk more about those terms in the blog, but they usually don’t make it into (are not included in) the scripts.
Here’s an example: Right now, I hear people — especially young people on TV — using the word “sick,” which traditionally means being physically ill or in poor health, as an adjective to mean “great,” “fantastic,” or “incredible.” Here are a couple of examples:
- “That new song is sick!”
- “You didn’t like that movie? I thought it was sick!”
My guess is that in less than six to twelve months, we won’t hear this word used in this way anymore. It is for this reason that you won’t see it used in this way in a script. “Sick” will remain, at ESL Podcast, what you pretend to be when you want to get out of (avoid) going to school or going to work.
I hope that answers your question and thanks for listening.
In today’s ESL Cafe 153, Jeff is too polite and gentlemanly to say the phrase “to kick (someone’s) ass.” We’ll let someone else do it for him.
Although “ass” is one of the bad words that parents don’t want their children to say, it is not considered one of the worst curse words. However, it is a little surprising to hear it said by a three year old.
When a three-year-old is asked about monsters (imaginary creatures that are large, ugly, and frightening)…
Mother: And tell Mommy (mother) again what you said you were going to do to him if he came here.
Daugher: I said, I’m gonna (going to) kick his ass*.
Mother: Oh, that’s not nice.
Daugher: If he’s going to come in here, he’s going to kick my ass.
Mother: He will?
Daugher: Yeah…He’ll come out of the movie, come out. He’ll come out and kick my ass.
Daugher: And I can kick his ass.
Mother: Okay, but that’s not a nice word. You should say, “kick his butt.”
*Note that she pronounces the word incorrectly with a “k” sound at the end of “ass,” making it sound like “asK”.
Last week we published an episode called Mending a Broken Heart about someone who is sad because their boyfriend or girlfriend has left them. Most of us have experienced this at some time in our lives (and some of us, many times!). It is one of those common human experiences that everyone understands.
While I don’t normally publish writings that are submitted (send to us) by listeners, I got a note from Kaz in Poland who said that he, too, had his heart broken recently. He wrote a short poem about it after listening to this episode. I put the poem below. The English is easy to understand, I think, as well as the sentiment (emotion) behind it. If you enjoy poetry, you may want to read it.
Good luck to Kaz!
Have I fallen in love?
They say love is suffering.
I didn’t believe, I didn’t understand.
“Love is a delight, a joy,” I thought.
And I’ve been waiting for love, all my life …
Finally, when I lost hope, I saw her …
The Princess Ag … I recognized her from glamour,
From a glow which highlighted the scene.
At first I covered my eyes. But then we started to talk …
When our souls in two months got close, she disappeared.
Heavy grief has fallen on my heart.
Did I say something wrong?
The last of my words were: “We have no debts.”
Did she understand by this, “We are through?”
I meant only I didn’t expect mail she had forgotten to send …
My heart is broken. It’s more than hankering,
That’s simply suction, day and night.
I haven’t known such a feeling yet.
Is that love?
——————————– glamour = an exciting quality that makes people appear special glow = a soft light that comes from a light bulb, a candle, or other source highlighted = to light or to put special attention on grief = extreme sadness hankering = a strong desire to do something
In English Cafe 138, Jeff talked about monster trucks. If you’ve never seen a monster truck and are having trouble picturing (getting an image in your mind) of what a monster truck looks like, here is a montage (collection of pictures or photos) from a recent monster truck show.
The first truck is exactly like the one Jeff drives to work.
In 1997, an article by a writer, Mary Schmich, was published in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. It was called, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” In the writer’s introduction to the article, she said that this was the commencement address or speech she would give if she were ever asked to give one.
This speech became very popular. Many people thought it was clever and funny. In fact, it became so popular, that in 1999, Baz Luhrmann, the well known Australian movie director (of the movie Moulin Rouge) put the speech to music.
Here is the article and the song.
“Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young”
by Mary Schmich
‘Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen (lotion to protect you from the sun).
If I could offer you only one tip (piece of advice) for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis (foundation) more reliable than my own meandering (not on a straight path) experience. I will dispense (give) this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded (become pale; no longer with bright color). But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall (remember) in a way you can’t grasp (understand) now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous (wonderful) you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation (math problem) by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt (likely) to be things that never crossed your worried mind (became a thought in your mind), the kind that blind side (happen to you when you don’t expect it to) you at 4 pm on some idle (not busy) Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless (careless) with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with (tolerate) people who are reckless with yours.
Floss (clean between your teeth with string).
Don’t waste your time on jealousy (wishing you had/are what other people have/are). Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments (good things other people say about you) you receive. Forget the insults (bad things other people say about you). If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Stretch (make straight your body and muscles, usually before exercise).
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t know.
Get plenty of calcium (a mineral that is good for building strong bones in your body). Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken (funny looking dance) on your 75th anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate (criticize) yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good (completely; finally).
Be nice to your siblings (brothers and sisters). They’re your best link (connection) to your past and the people most likely to stick (stay) with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious (valuable) few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps (make the distance smaller) in geography (land and people on Earth) and lifestyle (the way you live), because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable (cannot be take away) truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander (have love affairs). You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize (dream) that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble (show fine qualities), and children respected their elders (people who are older). Respect your elders. Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund (amount of money left to you by parents or other wealthy relatives). Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse (husband or wife). But you never know when either one might run out (have nothing left; disappear).
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia (looking back at good, past times). Dispensing it is a way of fishing (finding and taking out) the past from the disposal (the machine under your sink that cuts up food into small pieces to wash away), wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling (using again) it for more than it’s worth.
In today’s English Cafe 132, Jeff interviewed Carin Chea, an actor as part of our “Ask an American” segment. Carin gave us a behind the scenes (secret or hidden information that most people don’t know) look at what it’s like to be an actor in Los Angeles.
Carin mentioned that one thing an actor needs to have is a headshot, a photograph of one’s head and shoulders, to submit when applying for an acting job. Carin was nice enough to give us a copy of her headshot, so you can put a face to a voice (see what someone looks like after hearing their voice).
When Carin was in the studio (where we record our podcasts), she said she had thought about getting her hair cut short, but that if she did, she would have to get new headshots taken. I guess that’s an occupational hazard of being an actor. An occupational hazard is something that is a drawback, or unfortunately part, of one’s job. You have to think twice (to think carefully before deciding) about changing your appearance!
Carin has been in films, television shows, theater productions (shows), commercials, and many other things. Thanks, Carin, for telling us about life as an actor in L.A.!
In today’s Cafe, we talk about how to become a lawyer in the United States. Lawyers do not have the best reputation in many countries (including the U.S.). There are many jokes about lawyers and how greedy (wanting to have more money) or dishonest they are. Of course, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers, just as there are good and bad members of any profession (occupation).
The dislike of lawyers is not a new thing. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, there is a character who says, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The character is talking about what would be an ideal (perfect) place, one in which there were no lawyers. That was more than 500 years ago, so I guess things have not changed too much!
Here are two of the thousands of lawyer jokes that you can find in English:
Q: What do you have (what do you call a situation) when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand?
A: Not enough sand.
Q: Why did God make snakes just before lawyers?
A: To practice.
*A snake represents the lowest, most evil kind of animal. The idea is that God made snakes to practice how to make lawyers, since lawyers are also evil.
In today’s English Cafe 126, Jeff talked about the famous American painter Grandma Moses. Jeff talked about her style of “folk art” and it’s depiction (representation) of rural life, or life in the countryside. By looking at her paintings, we can get a sense (have an idea) of what life was like in rural American at the beginning of the 20th century.
These are pictures of Grandma Moses, who, as Jeff mentioned, began to paint in her 70′s and lived until the age of 101.