The Darwin Award

The Darwin Award is an honor (award or prize) that is given as a joke to people who have done stupid things to hurt themselves badly or even to kill themselves. It is given out each year.

The “award” was actually started by different people on the Internet. There is no official organization that gives out this award. One of the most well known lists, however, can be found at here.

This award is of course named after Charles Darwin (1809–1882), who is best known for his theories (general principles to explain something) on evolution, or how different forms of life have changed or “evolved” over their long history on Earth.

One idea that came out of Darwin’s theories is often called “survival of the fittest,” which is the concept that the strongest and smartest people survive (stay alive), and the weakest and dumbest do not. As a result, the weakest people do not pass on their genes (genetic material; the characteristics that a person passes onto his or her children) to future generations.

This award is a tongue-in-cheek (not serious) prize for the people each year who have done the stupidest thing to kill themselves or to hurt themselves so that they can no longer have children.

For example, in 1996, the winners included a man who wanted to prove how brave and strong he was by cutting off his own head! In 2000, one of the winners shot himself with his own gun while teaching his wife about gun safety. In 2005, two men who had been drinking alcohol made a bet while standing on an overpass (road or bridge over a freeway). They wanted to know who was strongest. They decided that the winner would be the person who could dangle (hang by their arms) over the freeway the longest. The winner was too tired to climb back up and was killed when he fell.

And with the help of current technology, in 2014, two men tried to take selfies (photos taken of yourself, while operating your own smartphone/camera) with an elephant. The two men were actually touching the elephant’s face when the elephant got angry and trampled (walked on and crushed) them both.

No one is certain why most of the winners have been men.

ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 72. 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.
Posted in Jokes and Humor | 5 Comments

The Stephen King Book You Will (Probably) Never Read

If you went to the movies this past weekend, you may have seen a movie called It. It is a remake (newer version of a film) based on a 1986 novel (book-length story) by Stephen King.  The film is already a big hit (success). In one weekend, it earned over $180 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful films of 2017 so far (up to now) in the U.S.

As you probably know, Stephen King is one of the most famous and successful contemporary (in modern times) American writers. He has published (put in print for sale) 54 novels, 200 short stories, and has had many of his books and short stories adapted (used as the basis to create) into successful films, such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, Stand by Me, Carrie, Cujo, and The Shining.

But there is one novel Stephen King does not want you to read, one that will probably never be made into a film. It’s a book called Rage.

King wrote the novel Rage when he was in high school in 1965. It was later published under the pseudonym (false name an author uses) Richard Bachman in 1977. Rage tells the story of an angry high school student who kills his teacher and then takes the other students hostage (kept prisoner until demands are met). In the years after its publication, several incidents (events) happened that caused King to ask his publisher (company that produces books) to stop printing it.

Between 1988 and 1997, four students in different states — California, Washington, and Kentucky (2) — either killed or held other high school students hostage. All four students either said they were inspired by (got the idea from) the novel or had a copy of the novel in their locker (locked box at school where students keep their books and materials).

After these incidences, King said he believed that the book was a “possible accelerant.” An accelerant is a substance that makes a fire burn more quickly or fiercely (with more force). So in this case, he thought that the book helped those young men put their thoughts into violent (using force to hurt others) action. King thought that the book was hurting people, and that pulling it (removing it so that others can’t buy it) was the responsible thing to do.

Because Rage is no longer in print (produced for sale), it has become one of the most sought-after (looked for and wanted) books by book collectors. If you see one in a used bookstore, you may want to buy it, but even the author himself would recommend that you don’t read it.

~ Lucy

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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Posted in Books and Reading | 9 Comments

How to Cross the Street (in English)

Yes, you already know how to cross the street. You don’t need an English lesson for that. But what about understanding the language on a crosswalk sign?

Watch the short video explanation below. It could save your life someday!

Jeff

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Posted in Language & Terms | 10 Comments

Free English Lesson: Daily English 190 – Taking a Phone Message

Are you thinking about joining our Select English Membership but aren’t quite sure what you’ll get? Watch this FREE episode of Cultural English which shows you exactly what is included in our PDF Learning Guide!

Get started on your first 15 lessons today!

Note: The lessons themselves are not videos – this is just an easy way for us to show you what you get.

Get more information here: Select English Membership.

~Jeff

Posted in Discussing the Episodes | 18 Comments

The Legendary Sunset Strip

The Sunset Strip is a mile and a half stretch (length) of road located on Sunset Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, not too far from Beverly Hills. It is legendary (very famous) for its restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, but also for the celebrities who frequent (visit) the area.

In the early days of Hollywood, “The Strip,” as it is called, was a place for outlawed (not legal) forms of entertainment. Gambling (playing games of chance for money) was illegal in the city of Los Angeles and The Strip was located just outside of Los Angeles city limits. This meant that people who wanted to gamble simply needed to go to The Strip. (Today The Strip is part of the City of West Hollywood.)

In the 1920s, during the period of Prohibition (law which made the making and selling of alcohol), alcohol was served secretly in speakeasies (nightclubs serving alcohol when it was illegal to do so). During the 1920s, even more casinos (gambling businesses) and nightclubs (businesses that serve alcohol, with music and dancing for entertainment) started moving to The Strip, attracting people who worked in the entertainment industry (people who work in television, films, music, and other forms of entertainment).

In the 1930s and 1940s, The Strip developed a reputation (became known to other people) as a playground (place for entertainment) for the rich and famous. People who were important in the world of entertainment, such as famous actors, often visited The Strip. Even famous gangsters (people who work for organized groups of criminals) like Bugsy Siegel owned nightclubs and restaurants in the area.

In the 1960s, however, The Strip began to lose its appeal (become less attractive) to people in the movie industry, but remained popular among tourists and locals (people living in the area).

But in the 1970s, during the rise of the counterculture (a subculture whose values and norms were different from the normal, mainstream values), The Strip became popular again, especially with famous rock bands like Led Zeppelin, who played at well-known Sunset clubs.

Today, The Strip continues to be a hangout (place where someone visits often) for young celebrities and other people looking for entertainment. For instance, you can rub elbows (socialize) with celebrities staying at the famous Chateau Marmont (see “Culture Note,” Daily English 1162) or see your favorite rock groups at the legendary (famous) venues (places for events or entertainment) The Viper Room, Troubadour, or the Roxy Theater.

~ ESLPod Team

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Photo Credit: From Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 484. 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.
Posted in Life in the United States | 14 Comments

Free English Lesson: Cultural English 490 – Muhammad Ali & the Golden Gate Bridge

Are you thinking about joining our Select English Membership but aren’t quite sure what you’ll get? Watch this FREE episode of Cultural English which shows you exactly what is included in our PDF Learning Guide!

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~Jeff

Posted in Announcements | 23 Comments

Thick as Thieves

When I was growing up, my best friend was Marlene. We became friends in the third grade when we were about 10 years old. We hung around (spent free time) with each other all the time. In fact, we were practically (nearly) inseparable (seldom without the other).

You could say that we were “thick as thieves.” A thief is someone who steals things, and thick, in the 1700s, referred to two (or more) people who were close or who were working closely together. “Thick as thieves” was often used to describe two (or more) people who were conspiratorial. To conspire means to have a secret plan among a group of people, usually something to do something that is against the law or something bad.

But the way we use “thick as thieves” today doesn’t typically have a bad connotation (meaning). Thick as thieves is usually used to describe friends who are close and who share secrets with each other. Marlene and I were thick as thieves, telling each other things we would never tell anyone else (thank goodness!).

Today, thick is most often used to mean “not thin,” as in: “If your fishing line isn’t thick enough, it’ll break when you catch a fish.”

Sometimes, thick can be used as a shortened form of thickheaded, a way to describe someone not very intelligent or stupid, or has a difficult time understanding something. It’s an insult when used that way, of course.

Finally, “through thick and thin” means no matter what happens, even through very bad times. Some marriages survive (continue) through thick and thin — just not most Hollywood marriages.

~ Lucy

Posted in Language & Terms | 13 Comments

You Think You’re a Genius? Ditto.

You will sometimes hear Americans use the word “ditto” in a conversation. Ditto is used as a response to what someone else has said to mean “That is true for me, too” or “The same with me,” as in:

Edmund: I am really cold.
Hillary: Ditto! Let’s turn on the heat.

If you ask Americans where the term came from, most would say it comes from making copies (creating a an exact duplicate of an image using a machine). You see, early copiers* (machines used to make copies) were informally called “ditto machines” or “mimeographs,” and produced copies that we called “dittos.”

When I was a kid (many centuries ago), teachers passed out (distributed) dittos in the classroom. When I was teaching in the 1980s and 1990s, I used to spend a lot of time creating dittos for my students (here’s an example of one from Wikipedia). Nowadays, copy machines use a different process to make the copies, so we no longer use “dittos.”

However, the word “ditto” does not actually come from the old ditto machines. As with a lot of words in American English, it has its origins (beginnings) in another language – in this case, Italian.

“Ditto” comes from the Italian word ditto, a form of the verb “to say” (dire). It was used in accounting (keeping financial accounts) or recordkeeping (an account of information) to represent a word so that it didn’t need to be repeated.

When we started using this word in English, we used it to avoid having to repeat a month or year in a date on accounting or legal documents. For example, instead of writing, “on March 2, March 13, March 22” you could write, “on March 2, ditto 13, ditto 22.”

People still express this same idea sometimes in everyday writing, but instead of putting the word “ditto” they use a quotation mark like this: , which is sometimes called a “ditto mark.” This is placed in a column underneath a row that contains the same information, so you don’t have to write it again.

For example, if you arrive at the doctor’s office and you are asked to sign in (write down your name and the time you arrived), you might see people who arrived close to the same time put a underneath the time above it, like this:

Rob Roy        10:15 AM
John Cho            ”
Maria Alma         “

This means that the Maria and John arrived at the same time as Rob, 10:15 A.M.

As I said at the start, the word “ditto” can be used to agree with someone, but often, it is used to say, “I am the same.” So, for example, if I say, “I stink (smell badly) after exercising,” and you respond, “I agree,” you’re saying that you think I stink, too. However, if you respond “Ditto,” you are saying that you, like me, also stink after exercising, which means we both need a bath.

Now you can understand the title of this blog post: “You Think You’re a Genius (very intelligent person)? Ditto.” By responding with “Ditto,” I’m not saying I also think you are a genius, but rather that I think that I am a genius as well.

~ Jeff

* Ditto machines were made by a company called “Ditto Corporation,” although it seems likely the company itself took its name from this same idea as the accounting expression, from the Italian.

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Posted in Language & Terms | 14 Comments

Free English Lesson: Daily English 867 – Talking About Attractive Men and Women

Are you thinking about joining our Select English Membership but aren’t quite sure what you’ll get? Watch this episode of Daily English which shows you exactly what is included in our PDF Learning Guide!

Note: The lessons themselves are not videos – this is just an easy way for us to show you what you get.

Get more information here: Select English Membership.

~Jeff

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Spaghetti Westerns

It’s summertime! Lots of students on summer vacation are flocking to (going to in large numbers) movie theaters.

Students today may be surprised to learn how popular Westerns were before the 1970s. They may be more surprised to learn that some of the most famous classic (well-known and respected) Westerns weren’t even filmed in the U.S.

A Western is a movie about the Western part of the United States during the 1800s, when there were a lot of cowboys (men who ride horses and move cattle (cows) from one place to another), Indians (now called “Native Americans” or “American Indians”), and ranchers (people who owned many cattle).

Even though Westerns were about the American West, in the 1960s, many Western films were made by Italian studios (companies that make movies). These Italian Westerns are known by the nickname (informal name) “Spaghetti Westerns.” (Spaghetti is a common, long type of noodle or pasta from Italy.)

Many Spaghetti Westerns were filmed (recorded) in the Spanish desert (a hot, dry, sandy area) because it looked similar to parts of the American West. Also, because Spaniards spoke Spanish, it was easy to find Spanish-speaking actors to act as Mexicans, usually fighting against the American cowboys.

Spaghetti Westerns were very violent, with a lot of fighting. They were also filmed in a minimalist (simple) style, and many people did not like these movies for that reason. But in the 1980s people began to appreciate (see as being good or worthwhile) Spaghetti Westerns because they realized how influential (having a lot of impact) they were in shaping (causing to change) Americans’ views of the American West.

Three of the most famous Spaghetti Westerns are those in the trilogy (a series of three related movies) called “Man With No Name,” directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone. Before Clint Eastwood became an Academy Award winning director, he was a very popular star (main character) in 1960s Westerns, including in this trilogy.

The three movies in the trilogy are “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The third movie — “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” — is probably still one of the most famous Westerns ever made.

~ ESLPod Team

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Photo Credit: from Wikipedia
* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 80. 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.
Posted in Television and Movies | 12 Comments