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'Listening In' on Words to the Wise

'Listening In' on Words to the Wise
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I’m Phil Dierking in the Learning English studio with reporter Anne Ball.

So, last week Learning English had a show about some new words in the Merriam Webster online dictionary. We talked about binge-watch and Seussian and other interesting terms. Anne, did you hear the show?

I did! It was fun. And our fans thought so too. They posted lots of comments on our website.

So, why not doing it again, right? Anne, I know you’ve been looking this week for some interesting vocabulary. And, I suspect something kept appearing in the news, over and over.


What word have you got for us to talk about, Anne?

So, here, let's listen now to what White House spokesman Sean Spicer said to reporters. I think you’ll probably guess the words we're looking for, Phil.

"And I think that what he wants them to do is to look into wiretapping, other surveillance, and again as I mentioned before, the other leaks that are threatening our national security."

Of course, the wiretap story. President Trump tweeted that Barack Obama tapped his phones. So, can you tell our audience what that means?

So, wiretapping is a way to listen secretly to a person’s phone calls. It's kind of like a method of spying. Sometimes police do it to catch criminals, for example. Or a government might wiretap individuals to find terrorists.

They use a small device inside a phone that lets them listen to what people are saying on the phone. Wiretaps can also connect directly to phone lines, which is where the expression originates. But on cop shows I have also heard characters talk about being wired. Is that the same?

Oh I love those cop shows! It is similar. Sometimes, an undercover police officer, or intelligence agent, will attach listening devices to their bodies. This lets people in other locations hear whatever the agent or officer hears. They can listen to a conversation.

The information might help them solve a crime, but it can also protect them from danger. Like if an officer or agent is threatened his colleagues will know. They can then send help.

That's right. The immediate surveillance can keep that officer safe.

So, surveillance is another great word to explain, Anne. I'm not sure our listeners know exactly what it means. Actually, I'm not even sure I know exactly what it means.

Well, of course! And it's been in the news a lot. Surveillance is originally a French word, meaning "to watch or supervise." In American English it's used mostly in connection with police and intelligence actions. You often hear it paired with the word "under," like this: “The police have a suspect under surveillance,” meaning they're watching that person.

So you could say also that you kind of placed news reports “under surveillance” this week to find words to talk about, right!

Yeah, Phil, that is right!

I’m sorry. Did that “bug” you?

Oh....Bug. Okay, I get it! Do you want to tell our audience about another form of electronic surveillance?

So, you can secretly listen to activity in a car, a room, even a whole building by bugging it. Bugs are another word for little listening devices.

So this is something that top-secret intelligence and police agents also use. I wonder if that use of "bug" came from the fact that the devices are like a small bug, or that they might annoy the person being listened to.

Well, maybe a little bit of both. But I hope our fans enjoyed listening in on us today.

I had fun! And if you, our audience, like listening in on my conversation with Phil, let us know! Leave a comment on our website, Please let us know if there are some English words you want to talk about!

I’m Anne Ball.

And I’m Phil Dierking.