(Extra) Ordinary People

Sunday began gray in Huntington Beach, a popular southern California beach city. And cool, almost cold.

Surfers were out early, trying the larger waves brought by recent storms. Seagulls circled above, as they do, looking for something to eat – fish, and if not fish, some small scrap (piece) of food dropped on sand or sidewalk. And screaming when they couldn’t.

Then the runners began to arrive. Some crawled out of (got out of) cars at designated (specially marked) drop-off points. Some stepped down out of shuttle buses (buses that go back and forth between two places). Others wandered in (walked or traveled) from who knows where. They came from all 50 states of the U.S. and 17 foreign countries, more than 15,000 of them.

They gathered under a banner (sign) that read “Surf City Marathon/Half Marathon” stretched across (placed over) Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, that follows the coastline of California for more than 655 miles (1,054 km).

This was no Boston Marathon, or New York, or even Los Angeles. There were no elite (top; among the best) runners. But your cousin was there. And your friend from work. And the guy from down the street.

Some looked like runners. Others didn’t, like the woman behind me who said, “I’m going to take it easy, then run like h*** for the last 5k (5,000 meters).” I’m not sure she could have run that hard for 500 or even 50.

When the time came, the runners started in waves (groups), fastest first. And in a few minutes, they disappeared down the road.

If you had wandered among the spectators waiting for the runners to return to the finish line, you would have discovered that this was more party than competition. An opportunity for family and friends to celebrate and cheer for Colin or Joe or Vanessa or whatever their names were.

There were balloons. Homemade signs. And a band, three old guys on the sidewalk, playing rock-and-roll favorites. They were good! Lines at coffee shops along PCH grew until they stretched out the doors and onto the sidewalks. With coffee in hand, people wandered around or found a place to sit and talk and wait.

After two or three hours, the runners began to return. They would do that for several hours more. And as they arrived, we began to hear their stories.

Dorothy says this will be her last half marathon. She walked, not ran, her first 25 years ago. She walked it again Sunday with her daughter, her granddaughter, and her great-granddaughter. The Orange County Register, a newspaper, reported that, for the last several years, Dorothy has written her age on the back of her t-shirt followed by “Come walk with me”. This year the number was 90.

There was the story of the short brown rope. I saw, but didn’t get the names of, two women running side-by-side as they neared the finish line, each holding one end of a short brown rope. When I looked a second time, I understood: one of them was blind. Her friend had run beside her the entire race, holding onto the rope so her blind friend could run free.

Adam’s story started 11 years ago. That’s when he was told that he would never walk again because of a car accident. Two years ago he walked for the first time since his accident, thanks to an exoskeleton – a science-fiction-like device that attaches to his legs and uses small motors to make it possible for him to walk. Even with help he can only walk half as fast as other people. But he walked the last three miles Sunday, part of the one-million steps he hopes to walk in races like this to raise money – $1 per step – so others who have suffered injuries like his can walk again, helped by similar technologies.

Ordinary people. Doing extraordinary things.

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

Surf City Marathon/Half Marathon photo by W. Ediger.

Posted in Life in the United States | 3 Comments

NEW Daily English and Cultural Lessons – February 2017

icon_51812New lessons are released the first day of each month.

Here are a few of the new lessons available for February 2017.

To listen to these and other Daily English and Cultural English lessons, become a Select English Member today!

………

DAILY ENGLISH 1286 – Experiencing Headaches

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 lie” and “to stock.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Common Headache Cures/Home Remedies.”
“When a headache ‘strikes’ (happens or occurs with negative consequences), there’s little…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

CULTURAL ENGLISH 594
Topics: The Black Loyalists of the American Revolution; alert versus alarm versus warning; haze versus mist; pronouncing “advantage” and other “nt” words

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Longoria Affair.”
“Felix Longoria was a Mexican American soldier who fought in World War II…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

DAILY ENGLISH 1287 – Using Adapters and Converters

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 “plug” and “outlet.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Roy Sullivan – Survivor of Seven Lightning Strikes.”
“Many people say that the ‘odds’ (probability; likelihood) of being ‘struck’ (hit)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Presidents By Any Other Name

mount-rushmore-55477_1920This month, we’ll be celebrating President’s Day on the 20th of February. Actually, the holiday is officially called “Washington’s Birthday” because, well, we’re celebrating the first president of the United States, who was born on February 22, 1732. However, most Americans know it informally as President’s Day and as a day to remember all presidents, not just our first.

The current president of the United States is our 45th president. Presidents of the United States are often given nicknames, informal names they’re known by. So far, President Trump hasn’t been given a commonly-used nickname, though there are many people with definite ideas.

A nickname can be a shorter version of the person’s real name. Sometimes people give presidents nicknames because of something in their past. Abraham Lincoln was given the nickname “Honest Abe.” The story goes that when Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was young, he was the manager of a small store. When he saw that a customer had been charged (required to pay) too much money for an item, he closed the store and walked to the customer’s house to return the money. He was given the nickname “Honest Abe” because of this and other similar stories.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) was nicknamed “Teddy.” A newspaper started calling him this as a shortened version of Theodore after an incident (occurrence) while hunting (searching for and killing animals for sport or food) for bears (see English Cafe 300). The name became popular, and soon a toy company made a stuffed animal (a soft toy made to look like an animal) in the shape of a bear and called it a “Teddy bear” after Theodore Roosevelt. To this day, we still call similar toys teddy bears.

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was a popular actor before he became president. In one of his films, he played a character called “The Gipper” which was based on a real person, an American college football coach (leader of a team). Reagan had many fans when he was an actor. These fans started calling him “The Gipper” because they liked him in that role (character in a film).

As you probably know, two U.S. presidents shared the same last name because they are father and son. George Herbert Walker Bush (1989-1993) was the father of George Walker Bush (2001-2009). Both men were president within a few years of each other. In order to lessen (reduce) the confusion, the older Bush is sometimes called “Papa Bush.” The son is often called “Dubya,” which is the way Texans and other Southerners pronounce his middle initial (letter representing a  name), “W.”

* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 392. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Posted in Life in the United States | 3 Comments

NEW Daily English and Cultural Lessons – February 2017

icon_51812New lessons are released the first day of each month.

Here are a few of the new lessons available for February 2017.

To listen to these and other Daily English and Cultural English lessons, become a Select English Member today!

………

DAILY ENGLISH 1284 – Discovering a Minor Theft

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 “value” and “to nip (something) in the bud.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Petty Theft and Grand Theft.”
“Theft is always a crime, but there are ‘degrees’ (different levels of seriousness) of theft…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

CULTURAL ENGLISH 593
Topics: The Righteous Brothers – “You’ve Got That Loving Feeling” and “Unchanged Melody;” ingrate, malcontent, and ungrateful; to allow versus to authorize; pronouncing morning versus mourning

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “Types of Soundtrack Recordings.”
“A ‘soundtrack’ is any ‘recorded’ (able to be played repeatedly) music that ‘accompanies’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

DAILY ENGLISH 1285 – Types of Commendations

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 “entry” and “ribbon.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Common Elementary and Secondary School Academic Awards.”
“In the United States, schools often have “assemblies” (times when all students…”- READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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Rescued By The Pineapple Express

Shasta DamIt’s either feast or famine.

Feast refers to a large meal, especially one that celebrates something, like a wedding. Famine refers a shortage (too little) of food, often so much so that people suffer or die because they do not have enough to eat.

Today we use the phrase feast or famine as a metaphor to talk about situations when there’s either too much of something or too little.

When I wrote about California’s drought (a long time with little or no rain) in 2014, it was three years old. It continued for three years more. Our water supply became dangerously low. Most of our reservoirs, large lakes for storing water, were nearly empty. So much of our underground water had been pumped out (purposely removed) that the ground above it dropped (fell down) in some places. The snow in the mountains that provides our water when it melts in spring and early summer didn’t come, and when it did, it didn’t last long. It was the driest five-year period (length of time) in almost 140 years. It was, you could say, a water famine.

Today, in contrast, we are experiencing a feast of water, almost too much water. Our water year – the date we begin to measure rain and snow each year – begins October 1. Since last October, Los Angeles has received more than 200% – twice as much – of the amount of rain we usually get during the first few months of our water year.

Our reservoirs aren’t full yet. But nearly all of them are at or above their average level – the amount of water they usually contain from one year to another for many years. The snowpack (snow that collects on the ground) is deeper than it has been; we’ll know how much deeper on April 1, when scientists measure it. One area, near Yosemite National Park, has received 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) of snow!

What happened? How did five of the driest years in history become one of the wettest? The answer, or at least part of it, is the Pineapple Express.

The atmosphere is the envelope (surrounding layer) of oxygen and other gases around the earth. In the atmosphere above the eastern Pacific Ocean, there’s a powerful air mass (large amount of) that often pushes winter rain and snow storms away from California. If it doesn’t break up (into pieces) or move, we don’t get rain or snow.

This year, this air mass has broken up, moved around, and opened the door for the Pineapple Express to bring rain and snow to California.

What is the Pineapple Express? Think of it as a river in the atmosphere that starts near Hawai’i – that’s why we call it the Pineapple Express, since pineapples are grown there. As it travels from Hawaii, it collects water which, when it arrives in California, becomes rain and snow storms that may last for several days, resulting in large amounts of rain and snow. This year the Pineapple Express has been busy.

If you’d like to see a good example of how much rain we’ve received, visit the KQED Science website, where you can look at satellite photos of three of our reservoirs. You can use your mouse or finger (on a tablet) to move the control back and forth to see how much water there was a year or two ago and how much there is today. I think you’ll agree: it looks like we may be moving . . . from famine to feast.

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

Photo of Shasta Dam courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Posted in Life in the United States | 6 Comments

NEW Daily English and Cultural Lessons – January 2017

icon_51812New lessons are released the first day of each month.

Here are a few of the new lessons available for January 2017.

To listen to these and other Daily English and Cultural English lessons, become a Select English Member today!

………

Daily English 1282 – Working in a Scientific Field

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 “partner” and “to have every confidence.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Best Exhibits/Highlights of the Top Science Museums.”
“The United States has many ‘science museums’ (places where people can go to learn about science and interact with experiments)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Cultural English 592
Topics: American Authors – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; area versus zone versus region; to come along; to burn bridges

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Ozark Folk Center.”
“The Ozark Folk Center is a state park that ‘showcases’ (features; shares with people in a public way) the culture and history of…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Daily English 1283 – Forgetting Somone’s Birthday

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 double up” and “(one) knows best.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Classic Birthday Party Games.”
“Before eating birthday cake and opening gifts, birthday party ‘guests’ (the people who come to a party) might play some of these ‘classic’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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It’s All About “I”

letter-1057951_1280Have you ever wondered why some words in English are capitalized (in big letters; type of letters at the beginning of sentences) and some words are not?

Lucy has written about this topic before (see a couple of interesting posts here and here), but we recently received a question from Philipp in Switzerland asking why the pronoun “I” is capitalized, while other pronouns such as you, we, he, she, and it are lower case (written in small letters). Here’s a brief explanation.

From around 700 to 1200 A.D., people in England used different forms of English from the English we use today, what we now call “Old English” and “Middle English.” Old English was heavily (greatly) influenced by the Anglo-Saxons of German heritage who conquered (defeated and took control of) Britain. In Old English, and later in Middle English, the first person singular pronoun — “I” — was spelled “ic” or “ich.” In Old/Middle English, this pronoun was not capitalized.

Over time, the pronunciation of “ic” or “ich” changed and the “c” or “ch” were dropped (removed; deleted). The written form changed to match (be the same) and became just “i.”

But people who produced manuscripts (texts; written language) didn’t like the stand-alone (by itself; not with anything else) letter. It looked strange. It looked like a mistake. It looked like it should be part of another word, or like a misspelled (spelled incorrectly) word.

So the scribes (people who copied written texts before the invention of printing) made the letter taller, and it eventually lost its dot (the small circle mark above). By the 1200s and 1300s, the capitalized “I” was widely used.

At first, there was a distinction (difference made) between the “I” at the beginning of a sentence, which was bigger, and the “I” that appeared in the middle of a sentence. But over time, that distinction disappeared and people simply used the same “I” for everything. That’s the “I” we use today.

But language is constantly changing. Who knows? When we are finally conquered by the Canadians, perhaps we’ll all speak like Justin Bieber, eh? I hope not to live that long, though.

~ Jeff

Posted in Language & Terms | 5 Comments

NEW Daily English and Cultural Lessons – January 2017

icon_51812New lessons are released the first day of each month.

Here are a few of the new lessons available for January 2017.

To listen to these and other Daily English and Cultural English lessons, become a Select English Member today!

………

Daily English 1280 – Describing Poor Audio Quality

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 “static” and “tinny.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Vinyl Revival.”
“The way in which people listen to music has changed ‘dramatically’ (in major ways) over the past few decades…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Cultural English 591
Topics: Famous Americans – Esther Williams; latest versus recent versus current; to put (something) on (one’s) account; sneak peek

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.”
Sports Illustrated is a popular magazine that ‘covers’ (has stories about) American sports and ‘athletes’ (people who play sports)…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Daily English 1281 – Going to the Playground

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 “bench” and “swing.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Waterparks.”
“During the warm summer months, many Americans love going to “waterparks” (large, outdoor theme parks where people can play…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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The Word Of The Year Is . . .

the_persistence_of_memory. . . is surreal.

In the early 1800s, Noah Webster wrote the first American dictionary to show how American English is different than British English. His dictionary, now called Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is probably the most-used American English dictionary. Most of us grew up on it (used it in school from the time we were young).

Today Merriam-Webster tracks (records) the words that people look up on their website and apps. And at the end of the year, they identify the words of the year, words that were looked up (searched for) more than others. There are two kinds: first, what we might call everyday words – words that are looked up frequently all year, every year.

The second kind are words that people looked up because of events in the news. After something happens – in politics, popular culture (music, television, movies, etc.), or sports – the number of times people look up these words spikes (goes up suddenly). A short time later, the number drops. When we look at these words, they often tell us what people think or how they feel about those events. Surreal belongs to this second group.

Surreal describes something that is very strange, unreal, or difficult to understand, like something from a dream. It comes from the world of art. Surreal art – like the photo of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Time – shows usual objects in unusual ways. Watches are usual. Hanging watches over tree branches and other objects are unusual. Common synonyms for surreal include unbelievable, fantastic (from fantasy; imagined but not real), unreal, and unusual.

Surreal spiked several times in 2016. The first was in March after the terror attack in Brussels, Belgium. It appeared twice in July – after the coup attempt (attempt to take control of the government) in Turkey and after the terror attack in Nice, France. The last and largest spike came after the U.S. presidential election. All of these were events that people had trouble understanding, describing, and thinking about.

Some other words had significant spikes during 2016. The musician Prince’s death last year sent many people to the dictionary to look up icon – someone many people know about and consider an important person. The Revenant, the movie that Leonardo DiCapro starred in and won an Academy Award for, caused many to look up the word revenant – a ghost or someone who has come back from being dead.

Did any events from 2016 send you to the dictionary? What did you look up?

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

This post was based on information from the Merriam-Webster website.
Photo of Persistence of Memory courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Posted in Language & Terms, Life in the United States | 12 Comments

NEW Daily English and Cultural Lessons – January 2017

icon_51812New lessons are released the first day of each month.

Here are a few of the new lessons available for January 2017.

To listen to these and other Daily English and Cultural English lessons, become a Select English Member today!

………

Daily English 1278 – Applying to a Selective School

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 “private” and “interview.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “Charter Schools.”
“‘Charter schools’ are schools that receive ‘public funding’ (money from the government) but operate outside…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Cultural English 590
Topics: The Amana Colonies; resolution versus promise; fate versus destiny; saying “oh” or “zero” when reading numbers aloud

In the Learning Guide:  Get a full transcript (written version of every word you hear).
In “What Insiders Know,” you will read about “The German Belt.”
“The ‘German Belt’ ‘refers to’ (talks about; means) a ‘band’ (horizontal area) across the United States that ‘stretches’…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

Daily English 1279 – Baking for People with Dietary Restrictions

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 “baked goods” and “peanut.”
In the “Culture Note,” learn about “The Advent and Popularity of Cake Mixes.”
“A ‘cake mix’ is a boxed item sold at stores that contains mixtures of ingredients that ‘simplify’ (make easier) the process…” – READ MORE in the Learning Guide

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