Fess up: do you have a pet name for your car? How about your computer? Martha and Grant discuss the urge to give nicknames to inanimate objects in our lives. Also, why do we speak of vetting a political candidate? And what in the world is a zoo plane?

This episode first aired October 18, 2008.

Download the MP3.

 Nicknames for Inanimate Objects
Do you spend so much quality time with your computer that you’ve given it an affectionate name? What is it about inanimate objects—particularly technological gadgets—that inspires us to give them special nicknames? Martha raises these questions and Grant reveals his computer’s name.

“If I had my druthers…” A former Texan says the youngsters he works with in his adopted home of Ohio don’t understand this expression meaning “If I had my way.” He wants to know its origin. If you still can’t get enough of the word “druthers,” this video should cure you pretty quickly.

 Tips to Boost Vocabulary
What’s the best way to improve vocabulary and remember the words you learn? When a San Diego listener asks that question, Grant and Martha share vocabulary-boosting practical tips. Forget the flash cards and reach for a library card instead!

 Etymology of Political “Vetting”
We hear a lot about vetting candidates for political office, but where’d we get the verb to vet? Does vetting have to do with “veterans,” “veterinarians,” or something else entirely?

 The Yo-Yo Quiz
John Chaneski’s latest puzzle is “The Yo-Yo Quiz,” and it’s not about famous cellists or first person pronouns in Spanish. The object is to guess the missing word that can be paired with either “up” or “down” to mean different things. For example, try to guess the one-word answer here: “With ‘up,’ it means ‘to laugh uncontrollably.’ With ‘down’ it means ‘to become more strict about an issue.'”

 Poor as Joe’s Turkey
If someone is “poor as Joe’s turkey,” he’s impoverished. A caller raised in the South has heard that expression all his life, but wonders: Who was Joe, and what did his turkey have to do with anything? Things get clearer when Martha explains the original turkey’s owner wasn’t Joe, but the biblical Job.

 Hispanic vs. Latino
Some native Spanish speakers prefer the term Hispanic, while others adamantly insist on Latino. The hosts discuss the origins of these words, and a bit about the controversy over their use.

A San Diego history buff is curious about the word stingaree. This slang term once referred to part of the city’s red-light district, and remains the name of a stylish downtown restaurant and nightclub in the city’s Gaslamp district. Grant illuminates the risque origin of this unusual word.

 Zoo Planes and Zipper Clippers
This week’s “Slang This!” contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League tries to decipher the difference between zoo planes and zipper clippers. She also puzzles over a sentence in which the words brindle and verse used in surprising ways.

 Doorknob Hanging
Ever had a friend who never can quite say “goodbye”? Say you’re finishing up an email conversation, you both say like “so long,” but then up pops another email from him, asking just one more question or mentioning one more bit of news. A caller from Hillsboro, Oregon, wants to know if there’s a word for that kind of lingering, drawn-out goodbye. Martha calls it “doorknob hanging,” but Grant has a more technical term used by linguists.

 Beck and Call
Is the expression beck and call or beckon call? What’s a beck?

Hegemony is defined as “preponderant influence or authority over others.” But how do you pronounce it? Heh-JEH-mun-ee? HEDJ-uh-moh-nee? Heh-GEM-un-ee? A caller’s unsure which pronunciation is preferred.

Grant gives Martha a pop quiz about the meaning of the English word opifex. And no, it’s not a hoofed African quadruped.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by candyschwartz. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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16 Responses

  1. Charles Hodgson says:

    You mentioned that druthers was more likely to be heard in the south and rurally. Neither of which apply to Montreal where I grew up and where I must have picked it up. I’d also only heard it in the phrase “if I had my druthers.”

    Just another data point.


  2. Heather says:

    I was at a party recently where my boyfriend and I were the only non-Jewish people present. As the party was wrapping up, we said our goodbyes to the host, and slipped out. Well, the next day, people said to us, “Where did you go? You just left and we had no idea you were leaving!” Which led to a long discussion about saying goodbye, and one of my friends said (apparently it’s a known saying): “Goyim leave without saying goodbye; Jews say goodbye but never leave!” We thought it was funny, and, given the situation, also appropriate!

  3. “Goyim leave without saying goodbye; Jews say goodbye but never leave!”

    Definitely consistent with my experience, Heather! 🙂

  4. marianapolack says:

    Caducity everybody!!!
    I have to say that as much as I enjoy every episode, I absolutely LOVED this particular one.
    1)When you asked what inanimate object have you felt strongly enough to name and why, I thought , I never name objects as a rule, but a few years ago we (my husband and I ) came back to live in Argentina and had to buy a car. Fernando (my husband) asked me to go with him, and since I don’t care about cars, I told him to go alone.” Just don’t buy anything too conspicuous”. He came back home with a Mercedes Benz!!! . He said it was a used car, and a bargain (the owner had to sell it fast), etc. I called it “La Mecha” which is a nickname for the name “Mercedes”….it is not a pretty nickname, so I thought that it defy the “statement” the Mercedes Benz gives…if the car would have been alive, it would have revolted!

    2)Regarding learning new word from books that I ‘ve recently read,(or re read) and some words have really make an impression on me. They are so beautiful, I can’t keep them out of my mind!!!! This is from Jane Ayre, which I always read every couple of years….

    “He was looking at me with a SELFGRATULATORY air”

    “Under her light eyebrows glimmered an eye devoid of RUTH” (now, that was really powerful!!!!)

    “the old wardrobes were RANSACKED”

    They are so picturesque!!!

    3)I also want congratulate Grant, who explained “stingaree” so eloquently it was a slippery ground and you were as graceful as a ballet dancer could be in his/her turf!!!

    4)Regarding the leave taking ritual and preclosings, I remember I had a boss who at some point on a meeting or reunion , used to start smoothing the creases of his pants…which was his preclosing action (not word), as you call it. It took me a while to understand the meaning of it….specially being from another culture!!!
    Leave taking in Argentina can take a long time!!! Sometimes you end up saying what is really on your mind to stop the ceremony!!! You don’t know what “doorknob hanging” can really mean until you are in Argentina!

    5) Hegemony….of course!!! I only understood what you meant when I saw it written!!! To me, it sounded like you were saying something like “egemini” ! and I was trying to think about something that had to do with twins!

    Anyway, I just wanted to share all that this show made me think of….you DO make me think !!!!

    As Martha said (and very nicely she said it) Chaucito!!!!


  5. dignan says:

    I grew up in Minnesota and I have always know of the concept of “door knob hanging” by the name: “The Minnesota Long Goodbye.” I remember going with my parents to visit family friends and hearing “well we better get going” this meant sometime in the next hour we will actually leave. Because after the initial mention of leaving there was some more chatting, then the move from the living room to the entryway where there was plenty more chatting and plans to be made for the next visit, an offer for more coffee and obligatory insistence on taking some leftovers, plenty of thanks all around, talk about the weather a bit, then the front porch to the car was a whole other step. Finally, the car is out the driveway and the goodbye is over! This happens all the time, not just with distant, rarely seen family, but people who my parents would see often, sometimes weekly. I know that this phenomena is not limited to my family, as I have talked with many of my friends about it and everyone seems to know what this is. Now as I am getting older I catch myself doing it too. Oh no!

  6. marianapolack says:

    The “Minnesota Long Goodbye….” I love how it sounds!!!! Do people in Minnesota would know what you are talking about if you said this?


  7. dignan says:

    People in Minnesota would certainly know what you were talking about. I believe that this term was even used in a community theater standard in Minnesota by the name: “How to talk Minnesotan”

  8. marianapolack says:

    I was in Minnesota a few years ago…(I lived in Michigan at the time)I did not notice anything particular, except that the people were very friendly!!!

  9. Ken Mohnkern says:

    Martha, I love “doorknob hanging” (the phrase, not the act) and will start using it to describe what my family does ALL THE TIME.

  10. I never heard of the “Minnesota Long Goodbye.” I’m now wondering if other states have them as well. Hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be, say, a “Mississippi Long Goodbye,” too.

    Ken, glad you like “doorknob hanging.” You can thank my friend Bob from Kentucky for that one.

  11. Jason says:

    Regarding the “Doorknob Hanging” way of leaving, I’ve heard a related phrase – one used by medical doctors. They call it “The Doorknob Question.” This is when a patient comes in to see a doctor, and on the way out after the appointment is finished, turns and, hand on doorknob, says, “oh, by the way…” Often this is when the patient brings up the real reason he has come to see a doctor. Such as, “thanks Doc, I’m sure I was just sneezing because of allergies. Oh, by the way… I have a lump the size of a grapefruit on my back. Think it’s serious?”

    Many doctors feel that patients do this because they’re embarrassed about a particular question. Others in the medical profession, however, think that patients do this because they don’t feel they have the doctor’s full attention during the meeting, or that the doctor is rushing them through the meeting.

    It’s not quite the same as trying to get a coworker out of your office so you can finish your work, but it does speak to the same “leavetaking” practices you were discussing in the show. I think it might mean that one party in the conversation doesn’t feel satisfied. Even if it’s just idle chatter, two people having a conversation are engaging in a transaction, and each person wants to get their fair share out of it. What seems fair to one person, however, may be completely different than what seems fair to another.

  12. theBB says:

    Well, on the hegemony front, Merriam-Webster disagrees:


    Their second pronunciation uses “g” as in “Grant”, although I gotta say I’ve never heard it pronounced that way.

  13. Kitty says:

    Great episode! As soon as I heard your caller talking about the goodbye that doesn’t end, I thought, “That’s the Minnesota Long Goodbye!” I am from Florida and I’m not sure where I learned the term. Maybe from Garrison Keillor?

  14. NCT says:

    I was catching up on podcast episodes and heard the bit about “druthers”. I can’t believe neither Martha nor Grant mentioned the song from the musical theater production of “Li’l Abner”, “If I Had My Druthers”.

    If I had my druthers,
    I’druther have my druthers
    Than anything else I know.
    While you’druther hustle,
    Accumulatin’ muscle,
    I’druther watch daisies grow.


  15. Naphtali says:

    My friendship circle uses the term “vestibuling” with the accent on the first syllable to describe what passes for leavetaking among us Jews. Someone makes the rounds at a party to say goodbye, then when others leave an hour later, they can be found in the vestibule telling another story.

  16. Brianna says:

    Sorry to bring up an old thread, but I feel that I must share this.

    I have a friend that I work with. Her and her family name things. Not only that but they refer to these things as their names. Not many people know what they are talking about!

    Their trucks are named Gus, Mario, and Flatbed, just to name a few.

    They have names for their phones. She didn’t bother to mention their phone names.

    They even named their house mortgage Oscar.

    It works for them!

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