Barack Obama wants to put people to work building roads and bridges. But how about a federal jobs program for out-of-work writers? Also: why do we call it a flight of wine? How did the haircut called a mullet get its name?
This episode first aired January 24, 2009.
Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).
President Barack Obama hopes to boost the economy by pouring federal dollars into efforts to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, much like the old Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. But how about reviving that other jobs program from the New Deal era: the Federal Writers Project. Martha and Grant discuss the pros and cons of subsidizing writers with taxpayer money.
A caller from Juneau, Alaska, says she was tickled when her friend from the South told her he loves “vye-EEN-ers.” It took a while before she realized he was saying Viennas, as in that finger food so often found a can, the Vienna sausage. So, just how common is the pronunciation “vye-EEN-er”?
It’s been called the ape drape, the Kentucky waterfall, the Tennessee top hat, hockey hair, and the 90-10. We’re talking about that haircut called the mullet, otherwise known as “business in the front, and party in the back.” But why mullet?
The word borborygmic means “pertaining to rumblings in one’s tummy or intestines.” Martha explains that it comes from the Greek word borborygmus (“bor-buh-RIG-muss”), a fine example of onomatopoeia if ever there was one.
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a word game in which the object is to guess the color-related terms suggested by his clues. Try this one: What color-coded term is suggested by the phrase “information gained without serious effort”?
What do you call the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk? Depending on where you live, you may call it a tree lawn, a berm, a city strip, the parking, or one of a host of other regional terms for it. In a small part of the country, this narrow piece of land called a devil strip. In fact, this expression figures in a great story about forensic linguistics: When a linguist analyzed a ransom note and saw the term devil strip, he realized this was a telltale clue—one that would lead authorities right to the kidnapper.
Does the English expression falling in love derive from the biblical story of Rebekah and Isaac? A caller thinks so. The hosts don’t think so.
You may have used the expression, Nobody here but us chickens! Would you still use it if you knew its origins lie in a racist joke from the turn of the 20th century?
In an earlier episode, the hosts heard from a woman who, as a teenager, was scolded by her grandmother for wearing a skirt that Granny said was almost up to possible. The woman wondered about that phrase’s meaning and origin. Grant shares listener email about this question, plus information he’s found linking the term to James Joyce’s Ulysses.
This week’s “Slang This!” contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League
tries to pick out the real slang terms from a puzzle that includes the expressions board butter, cap room, mad pancakes, and mad gangster.
Is the proper expression in regards to or in regard to? In regard to this question, the hosts say, the answer is clear and unambiguous.
A sampling of several kinds of wine is called a flight. But why?
And while we’re on the subject of sampling lots of different savory things, what’s the difference between a smorgasbord and a buffet? Or is there one?
A Way with Words is sponsored by Mozy: