Sharpen those pencils! Martha and Grant are doing crossword puzzles on the air again, preparing for their appearance with NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in New York City.

This episode first aired February 23, 2008.

Download the MP3.

 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
Sharpen those pencils! Martha and Grant are doing crossword puzzles on the air again, preparing for their appearance with NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in New York City.

An Atlanta native wants to know why she and her fellow Southerners grew up using the word plum, as in “plum tuckered out.” Martha explains the connection between that kind of “plum” and “plumbers.”

 Driver License
Which is the correct form: driver license, drivers’ license, or driver’s license?

An Austin teenager wants to know why we refer to a girl who behaves boyishly as a tomboy.

 Beano and Macing
This week’s Slang This! contestant tries to guess the meaning of the terms beano (no, not the anti-gas treatment) and macing (no, not the stinging defensive spray).

 Bad vs. Badly
A teacher discusses whether the correct form is feel bad or feel badly. By the way, the Latin proverb Martha mentions here is, “Qui docet, discet.”

 Capitalizing Pronouns
Why do we use a capital letter “I” for the first person singular pronoun, but don’t capitalize any other pronouns?

 Bunny, Bunny
A caller from Maine says she was taught to say “bunny, bunny” at the first of each month for good luck. Then she met someone who says “rabbit, rabbit” for the same reason. What’s the superstition behind these lagomorphic locutions?

 Clue: Pecking Order
Martha has a crossword clue for Grant: “pecking order?”. Six letters, two words, and the last letter is “e.” Got it?

 Crossed Words Puzzle
In honor of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle about—what else?—crossed words. He has invited listeners to submit their own single crossers to A single crosser is two related words that share only a single letter. The most elegant ones will be both long and from a fairly tight category.

 Hush Puppies
A caller wants to know why those deep-fried balls of cornmeal and spices are called hush puppies.

 Pronouncing Route
An ESL teacher puzzles over how to explain to his students the proper pronunciation of the word route. He asks whether the pronunciation “root” has been “routed” by “rowt.”

 Off in the Giggleweeds
A caller is curious about an expression her father liked to use “off in the giggleweeds.” What’s a giggleweed? And no, he didn’t mean marijuana.

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

Photo by Luca Sartoni. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Tagged with →  

18 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I’m a proponent of “driving license,” since I also have a “fishing license” and a “hunting license.” It’s a license to do the activity named….

  2. Hi, Heather — I hadn’t even thought of that, but it’s a good suggestion that we’re now hearing in our email as well!

    I had a friend in college who always used to refer to her “motor vehicle license.” She said it was a subtle reminder to herself and others that it really was a license to operate a huge piece of heavy machinery at high speeds, and one should always take care to operate it with that in mind.

  3. Bill 5 says:

    Bad vs Badly —

    Thanks, Kim, for bringing up such a thorny pair.

    Grant, I completely agree that the sensing, feeling, emotion adverbs are different. To me, they should be treated more akin to “be”, which is unique in its position in English. If I say, “I am bad,” bad is an adjective describing me, not an adverb describing how I am (a bad existence?).

    Similarly, if I say “I feel bad” vs “I feel badly”, I completely agree that in the second case “badly” is a fine adverb describing my feeling mechanism. However, I would assert that the first case is more like “be”, where “bad” describes me. It’s more of an adjective than an adverb, and thus the “-ly” difference is perfectly understandable.

    I haven’t seen this described in any authoritative work, though perhaps Grant & Martha, having read wider in the subject, may have. But, as an English speaker just trying, like everyone else, to invent retroactively the rules for why it might make sense, this makes sense to me.

    Having just solved the world’s problems, or at least the adverbial feeling ones, there’s one other usage that makes me feel bad.

    Just when I get them to say “badly” for true adverbial situations, my kids tell me, “I have to go to the bathroom really badly!”
    For my daughter, I don’t worry. But for my sons, it has been a continual battle. I don’t WANT them to use the bathroom badly!
    Somehow, there are two verbs there, though the second is only implied — I have feelings, and I have to do something, and the adverb applies to the feelings even though I’m only speaking about doing something. UGH!

    I’ve been working on them to say, “I badly have to go to the bathroom.” But when they’re in that state, grammar isn’t on their minds.

    And then there’s, “I have to go really bad!” I can’t even wrap my mind around that one …

    … unless it comes full circle, and “badly” would apply to how you go, and “bad” is the unspoken “feel” adjective!

  4. Michael says:

    FUBAR vs foobar.

    In addition to the acronym FUBAR, there’s the metasyntactic variable “foobar” which, along with foo and bar, is often used in computer programming as an all-purpose variable name.

    I’ve gotten many a dirty look when calling something foobar and the listener hears it as FUBAR.

  5. Michael, that’s probably because “foobar” is a direct descendant of “fubar.”

  6. Peggy Jennings says:

    Regarding the term “hush puppies” for soft shoes… obviously, it’s a brand name so that’s one reason to refer to soft shoes as hush puppies. My dad, always a fountain of unusual phrases and mottoes, used to refer to his soft soled shoes as “brothel creepers.” This always scandalized my brother and me because my dad was a very upright and serious Naval officer. He lived all over the country growing up… any idea where he might have picked that up?

  7. Michael says:

    Grant Barrett said:

    Michael, that’s probably because “foobar” is a direct descendant of “fubar.”

    So foo and bar come from foobar and not the other way around? I hear foo much more often than foobar (in this context).

  8. Highpockets says:

    Bunny, Bunny

    That brings back all kinds of memories for me. My father told me about this superstition when I was little (maybe four or five). The way he told it was that on the first of the month you were to jump off the end of the bed and yell rabbit. I was stalwart in my resolve to do it every month, what kid doesn’t need a months worth of luck!
    I was the luckiest kid on the block until I was nine and we moved to a new house. When the first of the month came around, I got up and jumped off the end of the bed, yelled, “rabbit!” and hit my head squarely on the ceiling light. I’ve never jumped off the bed again, but I still quietly say “rabbit” as I get up.

  9. Grant Sutherland says:

    I was a bit alarmed when I heard Martha explain the origin of the word “plum”, as in “plum worn out”. Even though I’m Australian, and this word is not part of my vernacular, I have heard it lots of times, and have always thought it was spelled “plum”. But when Martha said it had the same origin as the word “plumb” as in “plumb line”, I began to question myself. I had no doubt that Martha was right about the origin of the word, but it was the different spellings that bothered me. Well, a quick trip to AHD3 informed that this sense of the word “plum” is a variant of the informal sense of the word “plumb”, and means utterly or completely. And reading Grant’s post at the beginning of this thread, I see he spells it the same way I do. I hope the caller who raised this topic is aware of the different spellings.

  10. LOL! Great story, Highpockets!

  11. Sam says:

    RE: crossword puzzles

    Crossword puzzles and sudoku are one of the main reasons I like to buy a newspaper everyday. Lately, when I’ve been solving the crossword puzzles in a different manner. I only fill in the vowels, not including the letter Y, leaving everything else blank. When I’m done I leave the puzzle out for someone else to fill in the consonants.

  12. Monica Sandor says:

    “Which is the correct form: “driver license,” “drivers’ license,” or “driver’s license”?”

    And yet another twist: in the UK it’s “driving licence”, i.e. a licence to drive/for the act of driving, rather than seen as a licence issued to/obtained by a driver. (In Canada, mid-Atlantic as always in our usage, it’s “driver’s licence” thus keeping the US possessive but the UK spelling of licence”).

    And no, it shouldn’t be a licenc(s)e to kill!

  13. Sam, that’s hilarious. “Who WAS that masked crossword puzzler?”

  14. dhenderson says:

    Here’s a quiz for Scrabble fans. And here’s my favorite Scrabble story.


  15. Meredith McM says:

    I listen to the show via podcast and am quite a bit behind, thus the late comment. Feel “bad” vs. “badly” has been one of my bugaboos for a long time. My sister and my kids (occasionally) say “feel badly” thinking they are being more careful and correct. I don’t know how to correct them without making them feel bad. Bill 5 has it right. When “feel” is used in the context of emotions (or sensations) it is used as an intransitive verb, just like the verb “to be.” I’m clearly showing my age (or maybe my Catholic school education?) when I say that we learned about transitive and intransitive verbs in grammar school, somewhere around the 4th grade. A useful book I have (Language Handbook, Kuehner and Roque, 1981) explains it like this: a transitive verb requires an object to complete its meaning; an intransitive verb does not. A linking verb , one “that merely link[s] an adjective or noun to the subject” (e.g., “is” or “seems”), is the prime example of an intransitive verb. You wouldn’t say “I am badly”; nor should you say “I feel badly” unless you mean you can’t feel the texture of the wall [transitive] because your fingers feel numb [intransitive]. The book notes that many verbs can be used either way, but this one seems to be the most troublesome one. To be fair, though, the book also notes that “in informal speech, badly is often used as a complement, especially after the verb feel…But this form is not appropriate in writing.” So when I hear someone say “I feel badly about…,” I just try to be tolerant–and feel good about letting go of my school-marmish notions of bad grammar.

  16. Psydragon7 says:

    In reference to the book on superstition that Grant could not remember:

    Could it have possible been “The Evil Eye: A Collection of Superstitions and Strange Happenings” by Lawana Trout ?

  17. Wandrin says:

    Catching up with Podcasts of some older shows, I was listening to the section on “driver license”.

    Since my license is issued from South Dakota, I checked mine. It is an “OPERATOR LICENSE”.

  18. Lisa Schumaker says:

    The way my sister learned it (when she went to college in Nebraska in the 80s) and has passed it on to her kids, is that on the first day of the month, if you say “rabbit” first to someone else, you “win,” and the other person doesn’t get a chance to get you back until the first of the next month. I don’t know anyone else who does this, but it’s a family thing now. I am too impatient to wait a whole month to win over on someone, so I invented an identical game on the second day of the month using the word “warthog” instead. We had never heard of the luck angle; it’s more of a competition. So I’m not going to worry about the cultural estimations of warthog luck-worthiness!