Ready for some crazy crossword clues? The hosts discuss some clever ones, like “hula hoop?” (3 letters). Also, is the correct term jury-rigged or jerry-rigged? Why are Marines called gyrenes? When someone points out the obvious, do you say “duh!” or do you say “no duh”? And what, pray tell, is in a cannibal sandwich?

This episode first aired Nov. 8, 2010.

Download the MP3.

 Clever Crossword Clues
Grant shares some diabolically clever crossword clues. Have at ‘em: Hula hoop? (3 letters). A city in Czechoslovakia? (Four letters). Want to try more? Check out the clues at Clever Clue of the Month and The New York Times Cute Clues.

 Regional Cannibal Sandwich
Hankering for a cannibal sandwich? An Appleton, Wisconsin, woman has fond memories of raw ground round steak on top of rye bread, topped with salt, pepper, and onion. She wonders if it’s a regional dish.

 Duh!
When someone points out the blindingly obvious, a listener might respond with “duh!” There are other options, too, including no duh!, doy!, and der! Grant creates an online survey to find out which terms people tend to use.

 Cotton Candy Homophone
If you’re not yet old enough to understand homophones, you can wind up with some funny misunderstandings. Martha shares a listener’s story about avoiding cotton candy as a child, fearing that it was literally made of cotton.

 Literary Character Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a literature quiz based on descriptions of characters in novels.

 Jerry-Rigged
Something that’s repaired in a makeshift, haphazard fashion, is said to be jury-rigged. Martha discusses the expression’s likely nautical origin and Grant tells how a different term, jerry-built, led to the variation jerry-rigged.

 More Crossword Clues
Crazy crossword clues, Round 2: “Letters from your parents”? (3 letters) and “Sound elicited by an electric can opener” (5 letters).

 Gyrene
An officer from Camp Pendleton is curious about gyrene, a slang term for “Marine.” Grant says it may derive from the Greek word for “tadpole.”

 A Little Hoarse
Martha relates a story from a listener in Valdosta, Georgia, about her four-year-old’s misunderstanding of a homophone in her expression “a little hoarse.”

 Unicode 6
Need to type something in Linear B or Mayan? Want to make Japanese emoticons? Now you can. Grant explains why the release of Unicode 6 has many typescript aficionados doing the happy dance.

 Non-Native Speaker Idioms
When speakers of foreign languages try to adapt their own idioms into English, the results can be poetic, if not downright puzzling. A Dallas listener shares some favorite examples from his Italian-born wife, including “I can put my hand to the fire,” and “The watermelon isn’t always red on the inside.”

 Two Crazy Crossword Clues
Crazy crossword clues, Round 3: Cover of the Bible? (2 words). Source of relief? (7 letters).

 Slick
When did the word slick become a positive word meaning “cool” or “excellent”?

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

Photo by Scott Anderson. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Sock Monkey The Sugarman 3 Sugar’s Boogaloo Desco Records
Hippy Skippy Moon Strut Mighty Show Stoppers Hippy Skippy Moon Strut Freestyle Records
Three Little Words Willis Jackson and Jack McDuff Together Again! Prestige Records, Inc
Coffee Provider The New Mastersounds Keb Darge Presents: The New Mastersounds One Note Records
Insurrection The Soul Jazz Orchestra Freedom No Go Die Funk Manchu Records
Be Yourself The New Mastersounds Be Yourself One Note Records
To’ Gether Willis Jackson and Jack McDuff Together Again! Prestige Records, Inc
65 Bars and a Taste of Soul The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band Together Warner Brothers
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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29 Responses

  1. ssprince says:

    I missed the part of the broadcast about “Gary never worked here” after jury-rigged, jerry-built, etc. (Was canceling a dental cleaning due to sleet.) I don’t know if this sheds any light or enlarges the subject, but Elbridge Gerry of Marblehead MA (as in gerrymander) pronounced his name like Gary. [Wikipedia: Elbridge Thomas Gerry (pronounced /ˈɛlbrɪdÊ’ ˈɡɛri/) (July 17, 1744 – November 23, 1814)]

  2. Ron Draney says:

    Seven letters for “source of relief?” I went off on a geological tangent: “erosion”.

    I wonder if anyone who actually has a cat hesitated even a moment over four letters for “sound elicited by an electric can opener”.

  3. Agnes says:

    I can’t believe Unicode 6 includes Mayan. It’s logosyllabic, most signs are logograms, there are hundreds of them, many are undeciphered, and what is more, no one uses it today. All over the world there are maybe one hundred people who can read Mayan glyphs. Why would anyone bother to include it in Unicode?

  4. Glenn says:

    While it seems a bit of a flight of fancy to include Mayan in Unicode, there have been amazing breakthroughs in the writing system since the 1970s and 80s. The writing system is almost completely understood. There are over 750 000 speakers of Mayan languages living in Mexico today (according to INEGI), and more and more of them are learning the writing system.

    Mayan writing
    Books on Mayan writing
    A fun interactive on Mayan by PBS.
    INEGI

  5. Agnes says:

    On the other hand, today’s Maya dialects are in a similar relationship to the Classic Mayan (which used glyphs as the writing system) as contemporary European languages to Latin. They come from the common source, but for the last 1000+ years have developed in many various directions. So I think that the Mayan fad will be rather short-lived and will finish at Christmas 2012 when nothing happens :-) Then only fanatics like me will keep on studying Mayan glyphs :-)

  6. Glenn says:

    The thing that upsets me about Mayan glyphs in Unicode, is that the richness of the alternates will probably collapse into a single standard glyph.

  7. Lew Kaye-Skinner says:

    I was interested in the call that started out ‘Bon giorno,’ though I’m not certain of the spelling. The caller mentioned the Tower of Babel, which is most often taken as a folk explanation for the variety of human languages. However, the end of the story in Genesis has God saying, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen 11:7 NRSV) It has long been my contention that you don’t have to go outside your own variety of your own language to have misunderstanding. It happens frequently in my home with only one language.

    The call ended with ‘Ciao.’ This morning, in my college-level ESL writing class, I mentioned that Italian word, and many of my Chinese students were shocked. Apparently, the word has another meaning in Chinese (probably Mandarin), but it didn’t come up in a Google search. Can anyone enlighten me?

  8. Glenn says:

    Chinese is full of homophones. You most likely used a falling tone when you said ciao. In pinyin, that would be represented as qiao4. One word 俏 means “smart”. å³­ means “steep hill”. æ’¬ means “pry open”. æ®» means “hard shell”. 翹 means “to tilt”. è­™ means “to ridicule”. All these are pronounced identically. There are still more. If you happened to say it in a high level tone, the result would be an entirely different set of words.

    Perhaps the reaction was simply to hearing a word that fits the phonetics of Chinese so well.

  9. Lew Kaye-Skinner says:

    Actually, the students told me it was a dirty word… and I was saying it as we Americans would say “Ciao” in place of saying “good-bye.”

  10. Glenn says:

    There is a word for sexual intercourse, used in vulgar contexts and in swearing much as we would use the F word, that sounds similar, but not identical to ciao as I would say it in English. In both Mandarin and Cantonese the initial consonant is one that does not occur in English in initial position except in rare loan words. So their ears were a tiny bit off the mark if they mistook ciao for this vulgarity.

    Still, my advice is to avoid that particular greeting and leave-taking pleasantry around native Chinese speakers. Or, better yet, show them the Pinyin qiao or some of the Chinese words above that are pronounced like ciao so that they can being to hear the difference between what you said and what they heard.

  11. Lew Kaye-Skinner says:

    Thanks, Glenn. I bet that’s it. That reminds me of when I first tried out the F word in elementary school; I got a reaction, but it wasn’t one to be hoped for.

  12. MarcNaimark says:

    re “gary-rigged”. I wonder if this might not be a legitimate mistake. You explained the fusion between “jerry built” and “jury rigged”, which gave “jerry rigged”. I can imagine someone hearing “jerry rigged” and imagining that it’s “gerry rigged” (and Google supports me on that). If a second person then read “gerry rigged”, he might read “gerry” as “Gerry”, which is usually pronounced like “jerry”, but could be prounced like “Gary” (that’s the weakest part of my argument).

  13. MarcNaimark says:

    re “put my hand in the fire”. It also exists in French: “je mettrais ma main au feu” (I swear to god).

  14. ovz says:

    It caught my ear that “duh” sounds like the Russian word for “yes” and it is very common in Russian to use “da nu” to express surprise and “nu da” enforce the yes statement. And my feeling is that “duh” is used where one would put “nu” in Russian. I wonder if there is any evidence of slavic origins here.

  15. Zuccherino says:

    Gyrene: one aspect of calling Marines gyrenes that I didn’t hear mentioned is that they are (duh) an amphibious force. When do you see large numbers of amphibians like frogs? When they spawn. So it makes sense (to a Marine, and let me guess that most Marines handled frogs when they were little boys) to call Marines tadpoles. Just a thought! In Italian, gyrenes are called girini, and there’s an old dumb flirtation. What did the father frog say to the mother frog? Facciamo un girino! Which means both let’s go for a walk and let’s have a tadpole.

  16. Jules says:

    The discussion of names for dry cleaning took my mind off on a tangent. When I was in the military, I learned that it had a language all its own this was particularly noticeable in job descriptions. All were included in a master list of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) one of my favorite was the title for dry cleaner. It was “impregnation specialist”.

  17. >>>>All were included in a master list of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) one of my favorite was the title for dry cleaner. It was “impregnation specialist”.

    Say what??

  18. Ron Draney says:

    Makes sense to me. Dry cleaners have to “impregnate” the fabric with the solvent.

    And while we’re speaking of dry cleaning….

  19. telemath says:

    “Impregnation” reminds me of a joke – a female dignitary is visiting the US for fertility treatment. Her translators, in attempting to describe her problem call her “unbearable”, “impenetrable” and “impregnable.”

    And, if this wasn’t tangential enough already…I find it amusing that women are “fertile” or “barren,” but men are “virile” or “sterile.” So, in our collective conscious, women are compared to the good earth, and men are infectious viruses?

  20. Lew Kaye-Skinner says:

    I like the joke. I might use it when talking with my students about the misuse of a thesaurus (which Grant was discussing in an older podcast I was listening to the other day).

    You’re right about our collective ways of thinking about men and women. ‘Virile’ and ‘virus’ are rather obviously from the same root; I believe it’s Latin for ‘man’ and also appears in ‘triumvirate.’ ‘Matter,’ ‘matrix,’ and ‘mother’ also share common roots. Though we may not be aware of the roots of our words, it seems that those primary senses remain somewhere below or beyond our conscious knowledge.

    Older Hebrew lexicons grouped words under their three-letter roots. Does anyone know of resources which group English words in a similar fashion? Such a resource could be of tremendous help in my teaching.

  21. Lew Kaye-Skinner says:

    Just now, I went to onelook.com, which Grant has recommended. It allows such a search, though it doesn’t separate words which come from separate roots. I learned, for instance, that the ‘vir’ in ‘environment’ is from a different root than the ‘vir’ in ‘viral.’

    Still looking for a resource I can share with my international students.

  22. Bill 5 says:

    The light dawns slowly for some, and homonyms are a killer.

    In the late 1960s, in the middle of our war, I remember hearing news articles (radio or TV) about the problems with Buddhist youth in Asia. As a youth myself, and hearing all about the trouble with our (older) boys over there, I found it entirely believable that the youth in Asia had a sea of troubles.

    It was only in a retrospective, perhaps 20 years later, that I learned that during the war, Vietnamese Buddhist monks had been committing suicide via voluntary euthanasia.

    OOOhh….

  23. Bill 5 says:

    (It wasn’t my only dawning. That was also about the time I figured out that the Kinks’ Lola, um, wasn’t a really strong girl…)

  24. nancyinwi says:

    I am catching up on many Way With Words episodes that I’ve missed and I heard the discussion about “cannibal sandwiches”…as a Milwaukee native, I am very familiar with this phenomenon. And we always used ground sirloin, bought from a reputable butcher, and eaten in one sitting, so you never bought much of it at one time. Never heard of using butter on the rye bread though. And someone made the comment that you’d never serve this at weddings. Au contraire. When I was a kid, every wedding reception I went to had “raw beef and onions” which was the more civilized term for “cannibal sandwiches” I don’t imagine this is as popular as it once was with the “don’t eat raw beef” scare, but we still on occasion buy a small 1/4 pound to eat on New Year’s Eve.

  25. Wendy in Oregon says:

    That was my bet, too. Many of us who read beyond our vocabulary come up with mispronunciations in youth that we are startled (OK, mortified) to discover later. I suspect the colleague who talked about Gary-rigged had seen it spelled Brit-fashion, as gerry-rigged. (I had earlier assumed that the spelling came from young WWII GI’s hearing the term in England and assuming it was a pejorative reference to Germans, but it is probably more likely a typical British spelling given that they normally spell the name Gerry rather than Jerry.

    MarcNaimark said:

    re “gary-rigged”. I wonder if this might not be a legitimate mistake. You explained the fusion between “jerry built” and “jury rigged”, which gave “jerry rigged”. I can imagine someone hearing “jerry rigged” and imagining that it’s “gerry rigged” (and Google supports me on that). If a second person then read “gerry rigged”, he might read “gerry” as “Gerry”, which is usually pronounced like “jerry”, but could be prounced like “Gary” (that’s the weakest part of my argument).


  26. Lee says:

    Wendy in Oregon said:

    That was my bet, too. Many of us who read beyond our vocabulary come up with mispronunciations in youth that we are startled (OK, mortified) to discover later. I suspect the colleague who talked about Gary-rigged had seen it spelled Brit-fashion, as gerry-rigged. (I had earlier assumed that the spelling came from young WWII GI’s hearing the term in England and assuming it was a pejorative reference to Germans, but it is probably more likely a typical British spelling given that they normally spell the name Gerry rather than Jerry.


    Ah, memories… I vividly remember pronouncing epitome as EPI-tome as I was reading out loud in class (9th grade world history?) and the immediate reaction of my (even better-read) best friend, who was quite amused. I had read the word before and knew it, and had no doubt heard it pronounced, but somehow had never linked the spelling and the pronunciation. The passage of several decades has done little to diminish the scene in my memory :-)

  27. My Young Padawan says:

    Bill 5 said:

    The light dawns slowly for some, and homonyms are a killer.

    In the late 1960s, in the middle of our war, I remember hearing news articles (radio or TV) about the problems with Buddhist youth in Asia. As a youth myself, and hearing all about the trouble with our (older) boys over there, I found it entirely believable that the youth in Asia had a sea of troubles.

    It was only in a retrospective, perhaps 20 years later, that I learned that during the war, Vietnamese Buddhist monks had been committing suicide via voluntary euthanasia.

    OOOhh….


    What is the connection there to homonyms?

  28. Glenn says:

    The phrase youth in Asia sounds very much like the word euthanasia.

  29. My Young Padawan says:

    Oh. A multiple-word homophone. Thanks for the clarification; I feel a little slow now.

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