“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue”

bloom-1851462_1920June is here and weddings are in the air (all around us). June is the most popular month for Americans to get married. The second most popular month is October.

December is the most common month to get engaged (promised to marry), according to a 2014 study by the popular wedding website, The Knot. (The name “The Knot” comes from the popular expression “to tie the knot” meaning to get married.)

There are many traditions in American weddings. One of them is related to what the bride (woman getting married) will wear on her wedding day. This saying – “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” – tells the bride that she must wear these four things if she wants to have good luck for her wedding and in her marriage.

What is the meaning behind each of these four things?

“Something old” – This shows a bride’s connection to her past and her relationship to tradition or the old way of doing things. If a bride wears something old, the marriage will have longevity, or will last a long time.

“Something new” – This shows hope for a good future. If a bride wears something new, the marriage will be happy, and be filled with joy or happiness.

“Something borrowed” – This usually comes from another woman who is already happily married. The idea is that the borrowed item will give the new marriage some of the good luck and happiness that the married couple already has.

“Something blue” – This represents love and fidelity (faithfulness and loyalty). It’s not clear why the color blue represents this ideal (principle). There are different theories. Some say blue was worn as a sign of faithfulness by Jewish brides, and the tradition continued from there, since the color blue was later associated by Christians with the Virgin Mary. Others attribute it to a custom related to preventing “evil spirits” from affecting the bride.

Perhaps it was chosen simple because the word “blue” rhymes with the word “new” in this catchy (easy to remember) little rhyme (short poem with words at the end of sentences having a similar sound)!

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 61. 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 | 10 Comments

Look for the Helpers

What should you do when the news is scary (makes you afraid)? Fred Rogers’ mom told him that whenever there is a catastrophe (terrible event), he should “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Many Americans know Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s television program that debuted (began) about 50 years ago, just a short time before Sesame Street, on PBS, the Public Broadcasting System.

No one who saw Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood will ever forget him walking through his door at the beginning of the program singing:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine? …
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Fred Rogers wasn’t the kind of person you’d expect to find on television. He was a simple, kindly man. And he dressed that way, too, in a cardigan sweater (sweater with a zipper) and blue sneakers (casual shoes). And that’s the kind of person he was. In the words of Anthony Breznican, a young American writer, “Fred Rogers was the real thing.”

Mr. Roger’s photo and his mother’s advice recently popped up (appeared) in a number of places on the Internet after some days of bad news. Breznican saw the photo and tweeted (wrote on Twitter) the story of his personal experience with Mr. Rogers.

Breznican wrote* that “as I got older, I lost touch with (forgot about) the show, which kept running through 2001. But in college, one day, I rediscovered it. I was having a hard time. It was easy to feel hopeless. Walking out of the dorm (apartment building for students), I heard familiar music: ‘Won’t you be my neighbor…’

“The TV was playing in an empty common (for anyone to use) room. Mr. Rogers was there, asking me what I should do with the mad (anger, upset) I feel. His show felt like a cool hand on a hot head. I left feeling better.

“Days later, at work, I got into the elevator. There, in the elevator, was Mr. Rogers. I stepped in, he nodded (moved his head up and down) at me, and I nodded at him.”

When the elevator doors opened again, Breznican turned and said, “’Mr. Rogers, I don’t mean to bother you. But I wanted to say thanks.’

“He smiled, ‘Did you grow up as one of my neighbors?’ I felt like crying. Yeah. I was.

“Rogers opened his arms for a hug. ‘It’s good to see you again neighbor.’

“As we walked away, I told him that I’d stumbled on (found accidentally) the show again recently, when I really needed it.

“So I just said, ‘Thanks for that.’ Mr. Rogers nodded. He paused. He sat down and invited me to join him.

“This is what made Mr. Rogers different. No one else would’ve done this. He goes (said), ‘Do you want to tell me what was upsetting you?’

“So I sat. I told him my grandfather had just died. He was one of the few good things I had. I felt adrift (confused). Brokenhearted (very sad).

“Pretty soon he was telling me about his grandfather. He still wished the old man was here. ‘You’ll never stop missing the people you love,’ Mr. Rogers said. ‘Those things never go away.’

“Finally, I said thank you. And apologized if I made him late for an appointment.

Mr. Rogers said, “Sometimes you’re right where you need to be.”

When Mr. Rogers died in 2003, Breznican says he sat at his computer with tears in his eyes. “But I wasn’t crying over the death of a celebrity. I was mourning (feeling sad) the loss of a neighbor.”

You can find Breznican’s complete story on the Entertainment Weekly website, along with some Mr. Rogers videos.

* Most of this story is told the way Breznican wrote it on Twitter; I have shortened it and changed some of the words to make it a little easier to read.

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

Photo from Galaxy fm used under Creative Commons license.

Posted in Life in the United States | 2 Comments

Remembering POWs and MIAs

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, a federal (national) holiday to remember those soldiers (members of the military) who have died in active military service (died while fighting as a soldier).

During the Vietnam War (fought during the 1960s and 1970s), there were many American soldiers who became prisoners of war or POWs – those who are held by the enemy and not allowed to leave during a war. Some soldiers were missing in action or MIA – those whose whereabouts (location) was unknown.

A special POW/MIA flag was created to honor and remember POWs and MIAs, and to remind Americans back home (in the United States) of the need to find out the fates (what happened to a person, or how a person died) of the men and women who serve in the military during wartime.

The POW/MIA flag is black and white. It has a silhouette (an outline drawing) of a man, a watch tower (a tall structure that guards sit in to watch what happens in a prison and make sure prisoners do not escape), and barbed wire (thin lines of sharp metal used to make fences that people cannot cross).

“POW MIA” is written on top, and the phrase “YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN” is written on the bottom.

The POW/MIA flag is flown (placed on a pole for others to see) on six special days in the U.S.: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and National POW/MIA Recognition Day (September 15th).

It is also flown at many military installations (places where members of the military work), police stations, fire stations, and similar places.

In addition, military mess halls (cafeterias; large dining rooms with long tables) often leave one table and chair empty, draped (covered with a cloth) with the POW/MIA flag to serve as a reminder of the soldiers who are missing and symbolize (represent) a chair waiting for their return.

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 716. 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 | 3 Comments

Share Your Spare

Have you ever thought about giving one of your kidneys – the part of your body that cleans your blood – to a stranger, to someone you don’t know?

Scientific progress has made it easier and safer to transplant organs – to move a healthy heart, liver, kidney, or other organ from someone who has died to a living person who needs it. In 2015 about 31,000 transplants were performed in the U.S.

That’s a large number. But the number of people waiting for transplants of all kinds – almost 120,000 – is much larger, and a new name is added to the list every 10 minutes. Even though transplants save or improve the lives of 85 people every day, 22 others die because they can’t get one.

Our kidney’s main job is to clean our blood. When it works well, we don’t think about it. When it doesn’t, we often have to go to the hospital or a clinic several days a week for dialysis, using a machine to do what a sick kidney can’t do.

In the U.S., 600,000 people are on dialysis, and 100,000 of them need a transplant because dialysis is only a temporary solution. But in 2015, only 16,000 people received healthy kidneys. Why so few? Not enough healthy kidneys to transplant.

We are born with two kidneys. And we can easily live with only one. That’s why many people are making the decision to donate (give) a kidney to a stranger.

Last year, Dylan Matthews, a young journalist (news reporter), gave one of his kidneys to a man he’d never met.

Matthews says that he’d thought about giving one of his kidneys for years. “It seems,” he writes, “like such a simple and clear way to help someone else, through a procedure (process) that’s very low-risk (safe) to me.”

Matthews points out that if he “kept walking around with two kidneys when there are more than 100,000 people on the kidney waitlist (waiting list) who would most likely die in the next five years if they didn’t get one,” he would be like someone who sees a child drowning (die from being under water) in a pond (small area of water) but doesn’t do anything because he doesn’t want to get his clothes wet and dirty.

Matthews became friends with one person who had become a donor, then another. And after talking with them he decided that the facts were simple: “it’s awful to need a kidney and really not that hard to give one.” And so, in 2016, he did.

The process took about five months. Testing started in March, was finished in mid-May, and in June he was approved as a donor. On Monday, August 22, he was admitted to (entered) Johns Hopkins hospital so his left kidney could be removed.

The first few days of recovery (return to normal) were difficult. But Thursday, three days after surgery, he went home. On Friday he went out with friends, and on Saturday, he and his father went to a movie.

Matthews says that “giving a kidney was the most rewarding experience of [his] life.” He talks about the choices we make – especially when we’re young – some good, some bad. He believes that this decision was one of his best. “I was…deeply gratified (thankful) to have made at least one choice in my life that I know was beyond a shadow of a doubt (absolutely) the right one.”

Note: The title for this blog post comes from Briana Zavala, a young kidney donor from California, who encourages people to “share your spare (extra)” kidney.

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

Dylan Matthews’ story comes from vox.com.
Photo: screenshot from MPD-SI Newhouse School.


Posted in Life in the United States | 6 Comments

Color or Colour? Spelling as a Political Act

If you’re an English learner, you may be annoyed  at (bothered by) the differences in spelling in American English and British English.

We Americans use “color” and the British use “colour.”

We write “realize” and they write “realise.”

You might think that these differences have simply come about (resulted) naturally over time, but in fact, the changes were intentional (done with intent; not an accident) and largely political.

Noah Webster was probably the biggest influence on how Americans spell today. Webster was a fascinating (very interesting) man. Most Americans know him for his dictionaries. He published his first dictionary in 1806 and later published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1826.

In fact, the name “Webster” is today synonymous with (has the same meaning as) dictionaries to many Americans. (The Webster dictionary is published today under the name of Merriam-Webster.)

Webster lived between 1758 and 1843, and took part in the American Revolution (the war to become independent of Britain). He knew two of the great heroes of that revolution, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. In addition to being a dictionary writer, he was also very political.

He wrote essays, letters, and pamphlets (short printed documents) that expressed his views about the need for the American colonies to break (separate themselves) from Britain.

He believed that a part of that break should be to establish an American brand of (type of) English. He thought that American children should learn from American books, not British ones.

Webster published A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which included a reader (with short texts), a grammar book, and a speller (a list of rules on how to spell words, including word lists). Webster made many changes to spelling in his speller because he thought that British English spelling had been corrupted (changed in a bad way) by British aristocracy (highest class of people in society).

Webster wanted to standardize (make consistent by following rules) the spelling of English and simplify it (make it easier). The speller was later renamed The American Spelling Book and was widely (frequently) used by teachers around the country. It was later known as the Blue-Backed Speller.

It was through Webster’s speller and his dictionaries that American children learned American spelling, so that “theatre” became “theater,” “aeroplane” became “airplane,” and the last letter of the alphabet came to be pronounced “zee” instead of “zed,” as the British still do today.

In the end, politics played a big role (was a large part of the reason) in the establishment of American English.

Who knows how English spelling will change when California secedes (withdrawals officially) from the United States and forms its own country?

~ Jeff

P.S. Don’t confuse Noah Webster with another famous American, Daniel Webster. They were not related (not of the same family). Daniel Webster was a famous lawyer and politician in the 19th century, and also the topic of this short story sometimes read in American schools.

Image Credit: From Wikipedia
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Posted in Language & Terms | 6 Comments

Thank You Always Fits*

Several years ago, saying “thank you” got Chantel Jennings a job.

Jennings, a student at an American university, was studying in Spain when she received an award that included $500 to use any way she wanted. She used it to pay for a one-week trip to Ireland.

When she returned to Spain, she sat down and wrote a thank you note to Betsy Carter, the writer and journalist (reporter) who had created the award. At the end of her note she wrote, “If you have a chance to talk, I’d love to.”

She was surprised a short time later by an email from Carter that encouraged her to call when Jennings returned to the U.S. The two women met and talked, and when Carter discovered that Jennings was a sports writer, she said “You should really come to New York to meet my husband.” Jennings went to New York, met Carter’s husband, an executive at ESPN (a TV sports network), and was given a writing job at ESPN.

When Jennings asked Carter why she was being so nice to her, Carter told her that she had been giving the award for 20 years and that Jennings had been the first person to write a thank you card. She continued, “Journalism – especially sports journalism – needs more people who write thank you notes. I want you in this business.”

Not too long ago, after more than six years, Jennings lost that job and said “thank you” again.

ESPN recently laid off (let go from their jobs) about 100 people to lower their operating costs. Jennings was one of the people who lost their jobs.

Before she left, Jennings wrote: “I’m excited for this next chapter of my life. Don’t get me wrong. This hurts. A lot. But I am profoundly (very, extremely) thankful for the last six and a half years at ESPN and whatever comes next will be built on the foundation (a base, something to build on) I laid there.”

Reading Jennings’ story reminded me of a letter written by C.S. Lewis, who wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the other Chronicles (stories) of Narnia. In it he wrote (in my words): We should be thankful no matter what happens. If something good happens, we should be thankful because it is good. On the other hand, if something bad happens, we should be thankful because it teaches us to be patient (able to wait calmly for a long time or accept difficulties), to be humble (not thinking that we are more important than other people), and to recognize what’s really important in our lives and what isn’t.

I think Chantel Jennings would agree.

* fits means that it’s always appropriate.

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

Story credit: A quick thanks as I go by Chantel Jennings
Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Posted in About ESL Podcast, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Crime Bills

dollar-1362243_1920Let’s talk about money, lots and lots of money.

Currently, the United States prints its bills (paper money) in seven denominations (amounts):  $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. There was a time, however, when higher denominations were printed for specific kinds of transactions (actions related to buying and selling).

In 1861, the U.S. government issued interest-bearing notes (money used as a loan between a lender and a borrower) in four different denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000. In 1878, they were released as United States notes (an older term for paper money).

These notes were actually physically larger in size than our current bills (it wasn’t until 1929 that paper money were produced in today’s size). The larger denominations were meant to be (were intended to be; were designed to be) used by banks and the U.S. government for large transactions.

However, people involved in unlawful (against the law) activities such as drug trafficking (selling and buying large amounts of illegal drugs) and money laundering (hiding the source of illegally-made money) often used these bills as well. In fact, one report a few years ago found that up to 90% of American currency had trace (very small) amounts of cocaine on them!

The use of these bills for illegal activities was one of the main reasons the government decided to stop producing them. They were last printed on December 27, 1945, and were officially discontinued (stopped being used) on July 4, 1969.

Most of the bills started to disappear, and only private collectors (people who buy valuable things for their own enjoyment or as an investment) were successful in preserving them (keeping them in their original condition).

One of those private collectors was Benny Binion, owner of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino (place for entertainment where people play games of chance in hopes of winning money) in Las Vegas. Binion preserved 100 of the old $10,000 bills, and beginning in the early 1960s displayed them for many years in a clear case (box for display). Tourists would often make a special trip just to see them.

Unfortunately, you can no longer see this “million dollar display” at the casino, since it was sold to other collectors. But you can easily lose a million dollars in Las Vegas if you try hard enough!

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 469. 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 | 6 Comments

Charging Bull, Fearless Girl

Monday, October 19, 1987, was not a good day.

On that day, called Black Monday, the value (amount of money something is worth) of stock markets around the world dropped very quickly. A stock market is a place for people to buy and sell shares of stock – small parts of a company. The idea is to buy the shares, hold them for a while, then sell them for more than you paid when you need some money. Black Monday began in Hong Kong, then spread to Europe and the U.S.

The U.S. stock market, often called Wall Street for a street in New York’s financial district (area), lost about 25% of its value that day. Many people panicked (became extremely frightened), but by the end of the year, the stock market’s value was greater than it had been at the beginning of the year.

Arturo Di Modica, an artist from Sicily, responded to Black Monday in an unusual way: he made a sculpture (statue) of a bull (a male cow) and placed it in the middle of New York’s financial district.

Why a bull? On Wall Street, a bull is a person who thinks the stock market, the shares of a specific company, or even the country’s entire economy is going to continue to grow or improve. We’d say that someone like that is “bullish on Apple” or “bullish on America.” A person who thinks things are going to get worse is called a bear.

Di Modica, who had become an American citizen, wanted to send a message that he was bullish on Wall Street and on America. His sculpture, named Charging (attacking) Bull, is no ordinary bull. It is large – 11 feet (3.4m) tall, 16 feet (4.9m) long, and weighs 7,100 pounds (3,200 kg). It is strong and full of energy.

Charging Bull became an “instant hit (immediately popular)”, according to the New York Times, and one city official said that “people are crazy about the bull.” After almost 30 years, many visitors to New York still include it on their must-see lists. Some say it’s almost as popular as the Statue of Liberty.

The story might have ended here except for one thing: a second sculpture, of a small girl, appeared a few weeks ago on the morning of International Women’s Day. This sculpture, called Fearless Girl, stands in front of Charging Bull and appears to be trying to stare it down (look at someone so long that they feel uncomfortable and turn away). A Wall Street company paid to have her made and is using her to promote one of their products and show support for women in leadership.

Di Modica is insulted and upset. He thinks that Fearless Girl is attacking the bull, and that she changes Charging Bull’s message of hope and prosperity (to have enough) into something negative. He wants the city to move her.

The artist who made Fearless Girl disagrees. She said she made sure to keep her soft. She’s brave, proud, and strong, yes, but she doesn’t want to argue or fight.

For now, Fearless Girl will stay. The city of New York has given her a permit (official permission) to be there for 11 months. We’ll have to wait and see what happens after that.

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

Photo by Anthony Quintano is used under Creative Commons license.

Posted in Life in the United States | 5 Comments

Tax Time, Jail Time?

tax-evasion-226717_1280Today is Tax Day in the United States. It’s the last day Americans can file (submit) their personal income tax forms to the U.S. government. (Tax Day is normally April 15th, but since the 15th falls on a Saturday this year, the deadline (date something is due) has been moved to the 18th.)

Every American is supposed to pay his or her personal income taxes, but sometimes people hide their money to avoid paying. That’s why the U.S. government created tax amnesty programs.

A tax amnesty program is a program that allows taxpayers (people who pay taxes, or who should pay taxes) to admit to having committed tax evasion (the crime of trying to avoid paying taxes) and pay a penalty (punishment, usually money to be paid) that is less than what the penalty normally would be.

For instance, under a tax amnesty program,  a taxpayer may be allowed to disclose (share information about) previously unreported income (money earned or received that was not reported to the government) and pay the taxes owed on it without having to pay interest (a percentage of money owed calculated every month or year based on the amount owed) or fines (money that must be paid as a punishment).

The IRS offers offshore amnesty programs specifically for taxpayers who have hidden money in offshore accounts (bank accounts in other countries). The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program was offered in 2009 and 2011, and then as an open-ended (without an ending date; continuing until further notice) program in January 2012. In 2012, the IRS commissioner (head or leader of the agency) announced that the IRS had collected (arranged to received) more than five billion dollars ($5,000,000,000) in back taxes (taxes that should have been paid in the past, but weren’t) as a result of voluntary (according to a person’s will or wish, without being forced to do something) disclosures (telling others about secret information).

Why do taxpayers voluntarily disclose their offshore holdings (things you own that has value or worth)? Because the penalties they pay for voluntary disclosure are significantly (a lot) less than the penalties they would pay if their wrongdoings (the bad things people have done) are discovered and prosecuted (taken to court and charged with a crime) by the IRS.

So if you have been hiding money from the U.S. government and are afraid of getting caught (having your crime discovered), you can fess up (confess; tell others about your wrongdoing) before the cops (police) get wind of it (learn/hear about it).

~ ESLPod Team

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* This post was adapted from the “Culture Note” from Daily English 1124. 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 | 9 Comments

See Less, See More

Seventeen (17) seconds. That’s all.

That’s about how much time people spend in front of a piece of art as they walk through an art museum. An organization, called Slow Art Day, is trying to change that.

Every year in April, Slow Art Day encourages art museums in the U.S. and around the world to choose five paintings for people to look at “slowly” for 5-10 minutes and to show them in a place that makes it easy to do.

They believe that if people take more time to look at fewer works of art, they will learn more about the art, understand it better, and appreciate it more, even if they know nothing about it. They believe that if people see less, fewer artworks, they will see more in each piece of art.

I used to do something similar with my adult ESL students. Let me use one of my favorite paintings – Claude Monet’s Portal (doorway, entrance) of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light (the photo at the top of the page) – as an example. It’s at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles (If you want to look at a larger photo of it, it’s here).

When you first see the painting, it’s easy to see that it’s a cathedral, but there are many things about the cathedral that look different than if you saw it. The lines are soft. Some things aren’t clear and others are missing. The color isn’t what you would expect.

As my students and I talked about the painting and thought about its name – Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light – they began to think differently about what Monet was doing. He wasn’t painting the cathedral. He was painting the light shining on and around the cathedral, the kind and color of light you find early in the morning.

Monet was interested in the mixture (combination) of air, light, moisture (small amounts of water in the air), and temperature around the cathedral. As that mixture changed during the day, so did the way he saw the cathedral and the way he painted it.

Monet made about 30 of these paintings while looking out of the window of a room he rented across the street from the cathedral. He worked on each one for only about 10 minutes at the same time every day so the light was always the same.

Whenever my students looked at a new work of art, I asked them where their eyes went first and where they went after that. And to think about why. With this painting, the answer was almost always the same. They looked first at the dark area at the bottom and moved up from there. The change from dark to light “pushed” their eyes up to the top of the painting. So did the triangles (shapes with 3 sides) at the top of the doors, the one above that with the small circle for the clock, and the one at the top of the cathedral.

My students discovered that they could learn a lot about works of art by practicing “slow art,” taking time to look at them and think about what the artist did and why. The next time you go to an art museum, choose a few works of art and spend some extra time looking at them and thinking about them.  Remember: see less, see more.

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

Photo of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Posted in Life in the United States | 4 Comments