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English Down Under (full episode)
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This week, Martha and Grant discuss terms from Australia, including aerial ping-pong, pumpkin squatter, and…kangarooster? They explain the connection between stereotypes and stereos, and why we call the person clearing tables in a restaurant a busboy. Also, what’s the plural of moose? Meese? Mooses?

Listen here:


Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).

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Great news for language fans: The Australian National Dictionary is now available online for free. It’s full of fascinating words from Down Under. Contrary to what you might think, for example, kangaroosters are pouchless and feather-free, and a pumpkin squatter isn’t a trendy thigh-reducing exercise.

Ever been accused of faunching around? A San Diego listener says her family used this expression to describe the act of squirming fussily or impatiently, the kind of thing that happens when a toddler gets a haircut. She asks if the word is unique to her family.

Say there’s one moose, and then another comes along. Now there are two…what? Meese? Mooses? Moose? A Denver man wants to know the correct plural term for moose. The hosts offer news you can use about moose.

If Grandma thinks you’re coming down with the epizootic, she’ll probably want to put you to bed and bring you a bowl of soup. But what’s an epizootic, anyway? And does being diagnosed with it make you feel better or worse?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle called “Blank the Blank” or “Verb the Noun,” about three-word phrases with a “the” in the middle. It’s harder than you might think, so play along and see if you can “blank” the “blank.”

How about the phrase saddle my nag? No, this phrase isn’t some obscure bit of jargon from world of finance. It’s an expression familiar to Aussie schoolchildren. Martha explains what it means.

If the word is spelled a-s-k, why do so many people pronounce “ask” as “axe”? Grant has a surprising answer, one that goes all the way back to, believe it or not, the time of Chaucer.

If a tippler has one too many, he’s said to be three sheets to the wind. But why three? And why, of all things, sheets?

A Wisconsin listener remembers a boss who used to use an odd expression whenever he wanted to change the subject of a discussion. The boss would say, “Well, wet birds don’t fly at night,” then switch to another subject. Grant explains what the term likely means. Hint: Not much!

Aerial ping-pong: Is it a new Olympic sport? A less intense version of tonsil hockey? Martha reveals the meaning of this Australian English term.

In this week’s installment of “Slang This!” a contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League tries to guess the meaning of the term vigorish. And no, it’s not a Viagra-laced anise liqueur. He also guesses the meaning of the phrase how we roll.

Everyone knows the term stereotype, but did you ever stop to wonder what the word has to do with stereos? Not much, really. But it does derive from the world of printing.

Why do we call the fellow clearing the dishes and silverware a busboy? A Chicago listener isn’t satisfied with the answer, “Because he’s bussing the table.” Grant reveals the terms likely Latin roots.

You’re going to meet yourself coming back. A New York City woman who’s always used this expression is surprised when a friend is puzzled by it. Is it really that unusual? Grant assures her that it’s been around for quite a while.

Christopher Murray

I presume metathesis also applies to George W Bush referring to
new killer weapons, even though it is a vowel and a consonant sound being transposed there, rather than two consonants.

On the subject of aerial ping pong, Martha said that Australian football is soccer, but it is actually a different code. It is more like Gaelic football, but with a spherical ball (and more physical contact).

By the way, Macquarie rhymes with lorry rather than dairy.

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Thanks, Christopher. I asked an Australian friend about pronouncing “Macquarie” and he said the same thing–unfortunately it was after we left the studio. Eeep.

Rick Reid
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Grant and Christopher. Calling Australia Rules Football “aerial ping pong” is a little bit derogatory. It would mainly be used by people in the states where it is not the major football code. I suspect a true fan would not refer to it this way.

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Ah, Rick, you’re right about it being somewhat derogatory. I just gave it another look online, and the Australian National Dictionary puts it this way:

[So called because the play is characterized by freq. exchanges of long and high kicks.] A jocular (freq. derisive) name for Australian National Football…)

Thanks for the clarification, Rick.

London Ontario, Canada
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Perhaps this is an unwarranted connection but in the question about the pronunciation of “ask” as “axe”  Grant mentioned that “bird” was pronounced “brid.”  Of course me being who I am and not being able to leave well enough alone, I had occasion to tell my wife that a little “briddy” told me what she wanted for her birthday, which of course immediately made me think of the term “biddy.” By which I mean the term for a woman as in, “Ms. Lapinski told you? That old biddy can't mind her own business.”

Is there any connection?

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Electricbuddha: Reasonable guess, although it appears “biddy” in the sense of garrulous old woman is adapted from the proper name “Bridget,” and “biddy” as in a hen is, alas, “origin unknown.” I'm surprised that there isn't more of a connection, though, given the many imagined associations between women and birds.

So, what did your wife want for her bird-day? :-)


It’s my understanding (former Navy sailor) that the term “three sheets to the wind” refers to the three main sails (sheets) of the traditional three-masted schooner. If the sails break loose (as in a strong gust of wind), they flap around wildly and the ship wanders aimlessly out of control, as a person (sailor?) might do when “over-served” at a local tavern. wink

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Jerry, that was always the image I had as well, and it's very evocative. But the linguistic sources say it has to do with the ropes being referred to as “sheets.”

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On ‘aerial ping-pong’: this is not really a synonym for the game, but usually a description of a portion of the match (or the match as a whole) that wasn’t very exciting. BTW, in Australia, soccer is usually called soccer because the country has it’s own native football code, Australian rules football (‘AFL’, ‘Aussie rules’ or ‘rules’). Same goes in other English-speaking countries: American football, Gaelic football, Canadian football. In the UK, Association Football (assoc. => soccer) is the dominant sport, so it’s just called football.
In Australia there are 2 other popular codes of football: rugby union football (rugby), and rugby league football. Depending on which sport is your favorite, or where you live, any one of them can be called footy.
In all of these games the ball can be advanced by running or kicking. Long runs, with skillful passing, stopped by crushing tackles makes for a good spectacle. On the other hand, a player might receive the ball, decide he can’t do much with it and kick. It’s more spontaneous but similar to the decision to punt in the NFL. So he kicks the ball, an opponent receives it, makes the same decision, and kicks it back. If this goes on for too long, or too often, you have ‘aerial ping-pong’

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Regarding the plural of moose, I thought of the fraternal organizations of Elks (BPOE), and Buffaloes (AIOOB or RAOOB), and Moose (LOOM). I figured that if the Elks say elks instead of elk and the Buffaloes say buffaloes instead of buffalo, maybe the Moose say something interesting.

They don’t.

Sadly, dictionaries also permit multiple plurals for elk (elk or elks) and for buffalo (buffalo, buffalos, or buffaloes) but not for moose.

Also, none of the dictionaries apportioned the various plurals to different definitions. This surprised me. I thought it might be like medium, where the plural media is good for some uses of the word (e.g. news, or storage devices), whereas mediums would be used for others (e.g. psychics, t-shirts, and value meals).

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I hope you haven’t been inundated with this already… I recently listened to this podcast — Jackie Mason is not dead. I heard him as recently as last year on a radio program.

Ok, I listened to the episode again without the lawn mower running. It was Jackie Vernon, not Jackie Mason. My bad. I will look him up. I don’t remember him.

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