VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES. Today's word, pan, takes us back to the days of the gold rush in California.
On January twenty-fourth, eighteen forty-eight, a man named James Wilson Marshall discovered gold in the territory
of California. The news spread quickly. Thousands rushed west. They traveled on foot, by horseback and by
boat to reach the gold fields. By eighteen forty-nine, the great gold rush was on.
and cities grew overnight. Throughout
the territory – in the mountains, along the streams and rivers – thousands of
people searched for gold. They had food
to eat and blankets to cover them. They
also had mules to ride, and picks and pans to search for gold.
found areas of mountain rock thick with gold.
These men got rich. But such
areas were few and quickly claimed by the first men to find them. Others searched for gold in the rivers
coming down the mountains. They were
after pieces of gold that the rains had washed down from above.
The only way to find this gold was by
panning. First a gold miner put dirt in
a metal pan and added water. Then he
shook the pan so that the water would wash the dirt. Slowly, he poured the water out of the pan. If he was a lucky miner, pieces of gold
Across the nation, newspapers carried
stories of the gold being found. One
told how thousands of people climbed the mountains looking for gold. Some stories told how others followed the
rivers and streams with pans. Each one
hoped that the place he claimed panned out well –had some gold.
For many, gold mining did not pan
out. For a few, it panned out
well. But in time, huge machines were
built that could wash many tons of dirt at a time. Panning died out.
The word, however, remained in the
language. Today, Americans still say, "It panned out well," when something they have done pleases them. A business, a discovery, a simple event pans
out well if it is successful.
Unhappily, sometimes things do not pan out.
recent years, the word pan has taken on another meaning. Today, it also means to criticize. How it got this meaning is hard to
discover. But the job of a critic is to
sometimes pan the work of a writer, artist or singer.
critics may pan a movie or play so severely that no one will go to see it. There are times, however, when a play became
highly successful, even though most of the critics panned it without
mercy. The pans should have washed out
the play. But, as actors have pointed
out, sometimes a critic's pan turns up gold.
This VOA Special English program, WORDS
AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Herb Sutcliffe. I'm Warren Scheer.