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Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category

Tuesday - June 16, 2015

Writing in English: Verbs That Help Your Reader See

dog_with_glasses_by_danihee-d53949bGood writers think of one thing: how to make what they want to say as clear as possible.

In Writing In English As A Second Language, I quoted (said what someone else said) William Zinsser, who wrote that “your best tools are short, plain…active verbs…. So fall in love with active verbs. They are your best friends.”

Mike Emrick is the play-by-play announcer (person who describes a game on radio or TV) for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. Many people believe he’s the best. The verbs he uses are one of the reasons why. The verbs he uses help his listeners see the action.

Recently someone made a list of verbs Emerick has used to describe Blackhawk games. I’ve chosen a few of them to show how good active verbs can give your reader or listener a better idea – a picture, in fact – of what you’re describing.

You don’t need to know much about hockey to make sense of (understand) Emerick’s verbs. Just remember that in hockey, players skate back and forth on the ice and use sticks to try to hit the puck (small round piece of hard rubber) into the other team’s net, or goal. It’s like soccer on ice.

I’ve chosen two groups of verbs. The first group describes how players hit the puck. The second group describes how the puck moves, especially as it goes into the net.

Here are some of Emrick’s verbs:

Chop – He chopped at the puck. / He hit at the puck as if trying to cut something with a tool.

Finesse – He finessed the puck into the net. / He hit the puck in a skillful or expert way.

Jab – He jabbed at the puck. / He hit at the puck with short quick movements of his stick.

Muscle – He muscled the puck into the net. / He used all his strength to hit the puck into the net.

Sky – He skied the puck. / He hit the puck high into the air.

Swat – He swatted at the puck. / He tried to hit the puck the same way you would try to hit a mosquito or some other insect that was bothering you.

Hop – The puck hopped into the net. / The puck jumped into the net like a rabbit.

Curl – The puck curled into the net. / The puck moved into the net in a curved (not straight), or circular, line.

Trickle – The puck trickled into the net. / The puck moved slowly into the net, little by little.

Skitter – The puck skittered across the ice. / The puck moved lightly and quickly, like a small animal.

If you do a lot of reading and listening, and pay attention to the verbs writers and speakers use, you’ll discover many more good active verbs.

Can you think of some other good active verbs for hockey or soccer? Let’s see how many verbs we can come up with that fit one of the sentences I used above – He _____ the puck (or ball) or The puck (or ball) _____ into the net. Add your verbs to the comments.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo from Deviantart used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - June 2, 2015

Bucket List: The Story of a Word

bucket listFor word lovers, it’s often fun to trace (find or discover) the history of a word. I frequently stop at the Online Etymology Dictionary – etymology is the study of the beginnings, history, and changes in the meanings of words – to do just that.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal tells the story of a word – bucket list – that first appeared just a few years ago but has already become very popular. How popular? I received more than 63,000,000 search results when I googled it (searched for it using Google).

In the popular 2007 movie Bucket List, the word meant a list of things that you haven’t done, but want to do before you die. The movie was about two men who had terminal (an illness that causes death) cancer and tried to do as much as they could before they died. The movie is how most people first learned about the word.

To understand where bucket list came from, you have to go back to an idiom – kick the bucket – that first appeared in 1785. You may have heard that one. If someone kicks the bucket, it means they died. There are several different ideas about where the idiom comes from, but no one really knows for sure.

In 1999, Justin Zackham, the man who wrote the movie, began a list that he called “Justin’s list of things to do before he kicks the bucket” – things to do before he dies. The name seemed too long, however, so he shortened it to “Justin’s bucket list.”

As Zackham’s bucket list grew, he decided that a bucket list would make a good story for a movie. He wrote the movie script (the written form of a movie), and when the movie was completed, everyone agreed that Bucket List was the best name for it.

When words become popular and a lot of people begin to use them, the way they use them often changes. Bucket list is no exception (it’s not different). Zackham first used it to describe the list of things he wanted to do before he died. But a few months ago, President Obama used it in a speech to refer to the things he wanted to do before the end of his presidency (time as president). As a result, the meaning of bucket list has already shifted (changed) to include the things someone wants to do before an important time in their life.

Let me make a prediction (say what will happen). I think that a lot of people will think that bucket list is a cool (fashionable, attractive) new word and want to use it. And they will use it in a variety of new ways – for example, to refer to any list of things that they need or want to do, what we call a to-do list. Some day you’ll be able look in a dictionary and see if I was right.

I’m wondering, what would you put on your own bucket list?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo from irrevspeckay.

Tuesday - May 26, 2015

The Boys of Summer*

Tee_ball_player_swinging_at_ball_on_tee_2010Yesterday was a holiday in the United States called Memorial Day, a day when we honor (remember with respect) those men and women who fought and died for our country in the military. Memorial Day is also the unofficial (not legally, but informally) start of summer for most people in the U.S., since it comes on the last Monday of May.

Summer is associated with lots of different activities – vacations, going to the beach, picnics, barbeques – but for millions of American boys, summer is all about baseball. (Baseball is also played now by some girls, but most girls prefer to play a similar game called softball, which uses a larger, softer ball.)

When I was a young boy, I, too, wanted to play baseball. I grew up in a family where almost everyone played sports. All of my older brothers – all eight of my older brothers – played some sort of sport, and so I decided very early on that I should learn how to play a sport as well.

So when I was five years old, my father signed me up (registered me; put me on a list) to play what’s called “tee-ball.” Tee-ball (also spelled “T-ball”) is a form of baseball, but unlike regular baseball, there’s no pitcher. (The pitcher in baseball is the guy who throws the ball; the person who tries to hit the ball is called the batter.)

In tee-ball, there’s no pitcher because five-year-old boys can’t throw very far, and you can’t really have a baseball game unless the batter has a ball to hit. So instead of hitting a ball thrown by a pitcher, the batter hits the ball off of what is called a tee, which is a cone or stick that sits on the ground (see photo).

I remember very well my first game of tee-ball, down at Griggs Playground, a small park near my house in St. Paul. In my first at bat (when I first tried to hit the ball), I hit it pretty hard. I ran to first base. My team was happy. My older brother who took me to the game was happy. I was happy. So far, so good.

Later on in the game, when my team was out on the field trying to catch the balls that the other team hit, I was told to play a position call “shortstop,” which is the player who normally stands between second and third base. Like all the players out on the field, the job of the shortstop is to catch the ball if it is hit toward him. What could be easier?

After a couple of batters, one rather large five-year-old on the other team came up to the plate (walked to where the batter stands to hit the ball). He swung his bat (moved the long stick to hit the ball) and hit the ball right at me.

I froze (was unable to move my body). The next thing I remember, the ball hit me right in the face. Bam!

I immediately fell down and started to cry.

The coach (the leader of the team, an adult) came out on the field and asked if I was okay. I told him I certainly was NOT okay. I mean, I didn’t expect this game to be painful.

I told the coach I was quitting, right then and there (at that very moment; immediately). I walked off the field and my brother took me home. That was it – the end of my life in baseball after only a few hours.

I never returned to baseball, and, to be honest, was never very good at any sport when I was a child (or now as an adult). But I still love watching baseball, and plan on spending many hours this summer doing just that. I learned my lesson that it is much less painful watching baseball than actually playing it.

~Jeff

* The title of this post is taken from the title of a well-known book about baseball by the same name.

Image credit: Tee-ball, Wikipedia

Tuesday - May 19, 2015

Writing In English As A Second Language

Zinsser_CasualTwo weeks ago I wrote about heroes and told you about a few of mine. Sadly, one of them – William Zinsser – died a few days later; he was 93 years old.

Today I want to remember him by doing something that would surely please him. I want to share with you a speech he gave in 2009 to a group of international students about writing in English as a second language. I have used his words as much as possible.

Zinsser said that he was “hopelessly in love in with English because it’s plain and strong. It has a huge vocabulary of words that have precise (exact) shades (differences) of meaning; there’s no subject, however technical or complex (difficult), that can’t be made clear to any reader in good English – if it’s used right.”

Good English writing, according to Zinsser, begins with good nouns and good verbs. “The good nouns are the thousands of short, simple…nouns…of everyday life: house, home, child, chair, bread, milk, sea, sky, earth, field, grass, road.… When you use those words, you make contact with the deepest feelings and memories of your readers.” Never use a noun, he said, because you think it sounds more impressive.

“Your best tools are short, plain…active verbs…. If you could write…using only active verbs” – like he wishes, she learns, or they discover –  your writing would automatically be clear, warm, and full of life. “So fall in love with active verbs,” says Zinsser. “They are your best friends.”

Zinsser told the international students that there are four principles (basic ideas) of writing good English:

Clarity. “If it’s not clear, you might as well not write it. You might as well stay in bed.”

Simplicity. “Simple is good. Most students from other countries don’t know that. When I read them a sentence that I admire, a simple sentence with short words, they think I’m joking. ‘Oh, Mr. Zinsser, you’re so funny,’ a bright young woman from Nigeria told me. ‘If I wrote sentences like that, people would think I’m stupid.’ Writing is not something you have to decorate to make yourself look smart.”

Brevity. “Short is always better than long. Short sentences are better than long sentences. Short words are better than long words. Don’t say currently if you can say now. Don’t say assistance if you can say help. Don’t say numerous if you can say many…. Don’t call someone an individual [five syllables!]; that’s a person, or a man or a woman…. Don’t say anything in writing that you wouldn’t comfortably say in conversation. Writing is talking to someone else on paper or on a screen.”

Humanity. “Be yourself. Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not. Your product, finally, is you. Don’t lose that person by putting on airs (acting better than you are), trying to sound superior (better than someone else).”

If you want to read more of Zinsser’s suggestions for writing in English, read Learning to write – in English on my web site. And if you’d like to learn more about writing from him, consider getting his book On Writing Well.

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

Photo of William Zinsser from his website.

Tuesday - May 12, 2015

Do You Have Americanitis?

NYC_subway_riders_with_their_newspapersThe suffix “-itis,” pronounced “AYE-tus,” is used in medicine for a physical condition where a part of your body is inflamed, with the area swollen (grown in size), red, hot, and painful. It’s used in the names of many common medical conditions. Arthritis, for example, is an inflammation of the joints (where two bones are connected, usually where you bend), and tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon, the tissue or material in the body that connects muscles to bones.

Sometimes, outside of medicine, we use the suffix “-itis” to refer to a made-up or fake medical condition, usually to be funny. Seniors — students in the final year of high school or college — might have “senioritis,” a condition where students don’t study very hard, their attention wanders (don’t stay on the main subject), and they wait impatiently for the school year to end.

In the late 1880’s, doctors coined a new term (gave a new name) for a set of common symptoms (signs or indications of illness) they noticed in patients. This condition was called “Americanitis.” It’s not clear who first used the term – some say a visiting doctor from England and others say one from Germany – but it became widely used (used by many people) to describe the negative effects of an American way of life.

People noticed that Americans worked long hours and too hard, they hurried or rushed from place to place, and they worried too much. This, they believed, weakened Americans’ nerves, the fibers or long pieces of tissue in the body that send messages from the brain to different parts of the body and back. This weakening, it was thought, resulted in many common medical conditions, including high blood pressure (amount of force used to pump or move blood through the body), heart attacks, stomach problems, and nervous disorders (psychological problems, such as anxiety (worrying too much)), and many more.

As you can tell, Americanitis was a very ill-defined (vague; not having a clear description) condition. If you were working long hours at work and couldn’t sleep, you may have been diagnosed with (said to have the medical condition) Americanitis. If you were taking care of a household (members in a home/family) and had sore muscles and stomach pains, you might have had Americanitis. Americanistis was a frequent diagnosis and many treatments (what can be done to make an ill person better), including electric shock treatment (applying electricity to parts of the body), were prescribed (recommended by doctors).

It’s not surprising that many people who were told or who suspected (believed) that they suffered from Americanitis turned to (looked to for a solution) medicines. In those days, patent medicines (common medications made by a person or a company that do not require a doctor’s prescription) were very popular, and medications were not regulated (need to follow laws) in the way they are now. Pills and tonics (old-fashioned term for liquid medicine) were sold and advertised to cure (fix a medical condition; eliminate an illness) you of Americanitis. If you look at the advertisements, Americanitis was anything and everything you can imagine, and so were the cures.

Within 50 years, doctors stopped taking the idea of Americanitis seriously. Today, the term Americanitis is no longer used in medical science, but many might say that the American lifestyle is still bad for your health.

Do you suffer from Americanitis, or at least the behaviors that people associate with it, such as working too hard, hurrying all the time, and worrying too much? Would you like to buy my cure for that? Only a little electric shock is necessary.

– Lucy

Photo Credit:  Crowded rush-hour New York City train from Wikipedia

Tuesday - May 5, 2015

One More Hero

Terry TaylorI found a new hero a few days ago. I had never heard of Terry Taylor, and I still don’t know very much about him. But I’ve learned enough about him to make him one of my heroes.

Heroes are people we admire (think highly of) for what they have done or the kind of people they are, often both. Sometimes heroes become like teachers to us. As we get to know them, we often find ourselves becoming like them in important ways without consciously (thinking about) trying.

I’ve had a number of heroes – and still do. My grandfather was one. He was a farmer and not well-educated, but he was a student all his life and never stopped learning. When he was 98 years old, he told me about something that he had learned recently, then laughed and said, “You’d think that by my age I would have learned that already!” I’m sure that a lot of my love for learning comes from him.

William Zinsser is another. He was a journalist (news writer, reporter) first, then a much-loved teacher of writing and author of many books and articles. Almost 30 years ago, I read his first book, about writing. Soon after that I read Willie and Dwike, his book about two African American jazz musicians who traveled across the U.S. and around the world, introducing jazz to people who didn’t know about it.

I’ve read almost everything Zinsser has written – about writing, about learning, about the people and places that have helped make America what it is. I admire the way he writes – clearly, concisely (without unnecessary words), and personally. As a result, I’m sure there’s a little of William Zinsser in everything I write.

My newest hero is Terry Taylor. I admire the fact that Terry, who was a mechanic (car repairman), has been riding a bike (bicycle) for more than 70 years. “I ride to live, and I live to ride,” he says. “If I don’t ride, I get real grumpy (disagreeable).” Forty years ago, Terry was one of a group of riders that rode across the U.S. – 4200 miles (6759 km) – to celebrate America’s 200th birthday. Next year, when he’s 78 years old, he hopes to do it again.

I also admire how Terry thinks about growing older. He says that his bike riding has helped him stay healthy and live a long life. “Bicycling helps you grow old gracefully (in a pleasant way). You’re not going to get out of (avoid) growing old, but maybe you can grow old gracefully. I look around at other people my age, and I’m amazed at how old they look. I hope I don’t look that old. I want to be the best I can at whatever age I’m at, physically and mentally.”

Like Terry, I enjoy bike riding. And I admire the way he thinks about getting older and how bike riding helps him do that gracefully. That’s why he’s my newest hero.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Terry Taylor’s story comes from Bicycling Magazine.
Photo of Terry Taylor from Life on Two Wheels by Peter Taylor.

Tuesday - April 28, 2015

How to Look Smart Even If You’re Stupid

noun_10157Let’s say you are about to go on a job interview, or perhaps on a first date (a meeting with someone you are romantically interested in). Your hair looks great. Your clothes are nice. But you are worried about what the other person will think of you. You want to seem like you are an intelligent person, a smart person.

Is there anything you can do to make you look smart, even if you are not?

It turns out (It just so happens) that there are things you can do to look smart, but some of them are not what many people think will make them look smart.

A series of studies (scientific investigations) by a professor at Loyola Marymount University here in Los Angeles found that some of the things you think make you look smart, don’t. For example, here are some things that people think will make them look smart:

  • Putting on (Having) a serious look on your face
  • Holding your hands and arms very still (not moving them)
  • Using big words and complex (complicated) sentences
  • Moving or talking faster than others around you

In the studies, none of these things that people thought would make them look smart actually did. In fact, using big words and talking or moving more quickly actually makes people think you are less intelligent than if you used simpler language and spoke more slowly.

But there were four other things that people thought would make them look smart that actually did make them look smart:

  • Looking at others while speaking
  • Standing or sitting up straight (erect; vertical)
  • Wearing glasses
  • Using a middle initial (first letter of your middle name) when you sign your name

The first three don’t surprise me, but the last one does. Apparently, I will look smarter if I sign my name “Jeffrey L. McQuillan” than if I sign it “Jeffrey McQuillan.” Good thing I have a middle name!

There were also a few things that people didn’t name (mention; say) as ways of making one look smarter that people actually do pay attention to. These include:

  • Having a self-confident expression (looking sure of or really believing what you are saying)
  • Nodding (moving your head up and down when someone else is talking) and gesturing (using your hands to express yourself)
  • Speaking in a pleasant (nice-sounding) voice
  • Using clear (easy to hear and understand) language

Of course, looking smart and being smart are not the same thing. If you aren’t very smart, eventually (at some time in the future) the other person will probably figure it out (realize it). But for now, put on those glasses, sit up straight, and look the other person in the eye. You might just get that job – or a second date – if you do.

~Jeffrey L. McQuillan

Image Credit: Einstein by Robert Beerwerth

Tuesday - April 14, 2015

Indian Fry Bread

1280px-FrybreadWhen I was in middle school (grades 6-8, about age 11-13; also called “junior high school”) and in high school (grades 9-12, about age 13-17), my friends and I would hang out (spend time) at the mall (shopping center with a lot of stores) on the weekends during our summer vacation. One of the things I looked forward to was the food.

We would often buy snacks and drinks from the stands selling food. Instead of a food court — an area in a mall with many fast food restaurants and shared tables for people to sit at to eat — these individual stands would be located throughout the mall, in the middle of the long walkways. A stand is simply a table, cart, or simple structure allowing customers to stand on one side and the employee to stand on the other to do business. To drink, my favorite was the Orange Julius stand, selling a very sweet orange drink that tasted as though it contained 1% orange juice and 99% sugar — delicious!

For food, my favorite was Indian fry bread. While Orange Julius is a national chain (company with many locations), the Indian fry bread stand was a local (belonging to this area or region) business. I didn’t know that when I was growing up. I assumed all Americans knew about and ate Indian fry bread, but of course I was wrong. Living in Tucson in southern Arizona, I was lucky to be introduced to this very yummy (delicious) snack because of the city’s proximity (nearness; close location) to the largest in area (land space) Indian reservations in the United States.

We’ve talked about Indian reservations in several podcast episodes (see, for example, English Cafe 139 and English Cafe 477). Indian reservations were pieces of land set aside (reserved) by the U.S. government for the purpose of forcibly (using force, against someone’s wishes) relocating (moving to a new place) Native American tribes off the land they occupied and onto less desirable (useful or wanted) land. Indian fry bread grew (developed) directly out of the establishment of reservations.

In 1864, one of the Native American tribes, the Navajo people, were forced by the government to leave their lands in Arizona and western New Mexico. The government forced the Navajo to walk 300 miles to a new area north, covering (including) parts of northeastern Arizona, southern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. This march was called the “Long Walk.”

On the new land, the Navajo could not grow the crops (fruits and vegetables grown for food) that previously had been the main part of their diet (what they ate): vegetables and beans. This not only changed their entire way of life, it also threatened (with the possibility of something bad happening) starvation (death because of the lack of food). The government did give them some food: canned goods (food stored in cans), white flour (powder made from grain used to make breads and cakes), processed sugar, and lard (fat from the stomach of a pig).

With these ingredients, the Navajo had to make do (do the best they could with the limited things they had) or die. This is how Indian fry bread was born (created). Indian fry bread is essentially (mainly) dough made from white flour and water deep fried in lard (cooked by placing it entirely in melted lard at high heat). A popular variety (type) — and my favorite — is sprinkled (for small amounts of a substance to be scattered (placed randomly) on top) with powdered sugar (sugar that is very fine (in very small pieces) and looks like dust).

Today, Indian fry bread is considered an integral (necessary and important) part of Navajo culture, and is popular among some of the other Native American tribes in the Southwest as well. It is an important part of cultural gatherings and celebrations called powwows. However, as you can imagine, a diet with a lot of deep-fried dough in lard is not very healthy, and in fact, poor health is a very big problem on many Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation (reservations have their own governments).

While fry bread is an important part of the culture, it is controversial (a cause for disagreement), too. For some, it is a symbol (something that represents something else) of the government’s long history of ill-treatment (doing bad things to other people) toward Native Americans, one that continues to cause health problems for the Native Americans today. For others, though, it represents resilience (ability to stay alive even in very bad conditions).

If you visit Arizona or other parts of the America Southwest and see Indian fry bread for sale, I urge you to try a piece. But for the sake of (for the benefit of) your health, share it with nine of your closest friends.

– Lucy

P.S. There is a controversy (disagreement) about which term to use for the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans. I’m using the term “Native Americans,” but Indian fry bread probably comes from the term “American Indians,” a term used less commonly nowadays (today). If you’re interested, you can read more about that controversy here.

Photo Credit: Frybread from Wikipedia

Tuesday - April 7, 2015

Thank You, Gary Dahl!

pet_rockGary Dahl is not a household (remembered by everyone) name. But when he died last week, newspapers and TV news programs around the U.S. paid homage (did something to show respect) to him.

Dahl was responsible for what Time magazine called “One of the top 10 toy crazes (something that becomes popular suddenly but for only a short time)” of all time. Newsweek called it “one of the most ridiculously (silly or unreasonable) successful marketing schemes (clever plans) ever.”

Dahl’s scheme was born during a conversation with friends in a Northern California bar. They were complaining about their pets and all the care they required – feeding, training, cleaning. Dahl listened for a while, then told his friends that his pet never caused any trouble and required almost no care. They looked at him, and he quietly said, “I have a pet rock.”

He said it as a joke, but it soon became a business idea, and Dahl decided to sell Pet Rocks. He found a couple of friends to provide the money and began to work.

Pet Rocks were ready in time for Christmas 1975 and quickly became the gift that everyone had to have. The small smooth stones, just large enough to hold in your hand, came in a box that doubled (had another use) as a carrier. The box had holes in the sides so the rock could “breath.” And the Pet Rock sat in the box in a nest (a place where birds or other small animals live) of straw (dried stems of wheat or other plant) (see photo).

The best part of Dahl’s idea, and probably the funniest, was the 20-page manual (instruction book) that was included with each Pet Rock. It begins with this warning:

“Your new rock is a very sensitive (easily upset) pet and may be slightly traumatized (to be so upset that it affects you for a long time) from all the handling … required in bringing the two of you together. While you may look in on your new pet from time to time, it is essential (necessary) that you leave your rock in its box for a few days.”

You can read the manual here; it’s easy reading and very funny, especially if you remember that it’s talking about a rock.

More than one million people paid $3.95 each for a Pet Rock. But by February 1976 they had disappeared from the market. Interestingly, they became available again in September 2012 and, if you’d like to have your own Pet Rock, a simple Google or eBay search should help you find one.

Thank you, Gary Dahl, you made us smile, again!

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo (cropped) by MegadriveFanboy used under Creative Commons license.

Tuesday - March 24, 2015

Behind The Secret Door

9679917702_ee7f516e28_bWhen you walk into the Blind Barber, you’ll find what you expect in a barbershop (a place for cutting men’s hair). You’ll see a barber and his customers. You’ll hear “the buzzing (sound) of the shavers (electrical tools for cutting hair) and the snips (sound) of the scissors.” But if you walk through the barbershop and through the door in the back you’ll find something completely different – a bar (a place where drinks are served) where you can order drinks and sandwiches. That is the real Blind Barber.

To get into Dirty Laundry, you have to walk down a dark alley (a narrow street behind buildings) until you see a black-dressed man sitting at the top of a dark stairway and say to him, “I’m looking for Dirty Laundry.” He’ll tell you, “You’ve come to the right place.” Behind the door at the bottom of the stairs, you’ll find a bar, a small room with tables, and another room where musicians perform.

When you arrive at Lock and Key, you’ll find a wall covered with old door knobs (handles you turn to open a door). If you choose the right one, a door will open and you can walk in. If you choose the wrong one, nothing happens unless the doorman helps you find the right one.

The Blind Barber, Dirty Laundry, and Lock and Key are popular modern speakeasies here in Los Angeles. They are a throw-back (similar to something in the past) to the 1920s. Let me tell you the story.

From 1920 to 1933, there was a ban (official order against something) – called Prohibition – against making, selling, and transporting (moving from one location to another) alcoholic drinks in the U.S.

The goal of Prohibition was to reduce social problems, such as crime and corruption (dishonest and illegal (against the law) behavior by powerful people in government and business) and to help increase production (the amount of work done) in factories by making sure that workers stayed sober (not drunk). Unfortunately, it didn’t work so well.

During Prohibition, one of the few places you could find alcoholic drinks was in speakeasies, underground (secret and illegal) businesses where people ate, drank, gambled, and enjoyed music, especially jazz.

Many speakeasies were started during Prohibition. Police tried to shut them down (stop or close them), but as fast as they found and closed one, another would take its place. To try to keep police from finding them, bartenders (people who fix drinks) and waiters (people who serve food) would tell their customers to “speak easy,” to be quiet while inside a speakeasy and to not say anything about them outside.

Today’s speakeasies are legal. And they may be more fad (popular for a short time) than trend (something that will continue). But they are one way to relive (experience again) a small piece of American history.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

 Credit: Eight modern speak-easy bars in L.A., for that insider feeling by Jenn Harris (with photos).

Photo of Club 21, a former speakeasy in New York, is used under Creative Commons License.