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Guess What (full episode)
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2010/11/01
7:22am
San Diego, California
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English is full of unusual terms, both old (eleemosynary, favonian) and new (flyaway, catio). Also, the Swahili term that means “sleep like a log,” the multiple meanings of the word joint, cowpies and horse biscuits, what it means to play gooseberry, and how to punctuate “Guess what?” (or Guess what!).


This episode originally aired Nov. 1, 2010.

Download the MP3 here (25.2 MB).

To be automatically notified when audio is available, subscribe to the podcast using iTunes or another podcatching program.

Thinking about a flyaway, or will you spend the weekend gazing out at the catio? Grant explains these terms.

Is subscribing just for magazines and podcasts, or can you subscribe to an idea? A husband and wife disagree over whether the latter is grammatically correct.

The Swahili phrase nililala fofofo means “to sleep really well.” Literally, though, it translates as “to sleep like a log.” Are the English and Swahili idioms related?

In French, tenir la chandelle means “to act as a chaperone,” though literally it’s “to hold the candle.” Another expression that means “to chaperone” is the antiquated English phrase “to play gooseberry.”

License-plate bingo, anyone? Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a radio version.

Who is ‘she’? The cat’s mother?” A Davis, Calif., man remembers his mother’s indignant use of this expression, and he’s curious about the origin.

Should you pronounce the word coyote with two syllables or three?

A Northern California caller that discovers that in Britain, an invitation to share a joint doesn’t mean what it does back home.

Eleemosynary is the title of a play by Lee Blessing. The play celebrates this and other unusual words, including sortilege, charivari, ungulate, favonian, and logodaedaly. Martha saw a production at San Diego’s Moxie Theater, and takes the opportunity to discuss those words, plus the fizzy roots of moxie.

Guess what! Or would that be Guess what? A Honolulu listener asks about the right way to punctuate this interjection. Should you use an exclamation mark or a question mark? How about an interrobang or a pronequark?

A Texas listener says his family often describes a great meal as larrupin’. What does that mean, exactly?

Grant talks about FOIA (“pronounced FOY-uh”), a bit of journalists’ jargon.

Cowpies, horse biscuits, buffalo chips, horse dumplings — why do so many names for animal droppings have to do with food? A caller wonders this, and whether the term cowpie would be an anachronism in a Civil War novel.

2010/11/01
9:20am
dilettante
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Haven’t listened to the episode yet – any mention of the New England Moxie Congress?

2010/11/01
12:23pm
Ron Draney
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I slept like a log last night.

I must have. I woke up in the fireplace.

2010/11/04
4:17am
Emm
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Playing gooseberry is a pretty common expression in England, used when tagging long with a friend and his/her boyfriend or girlfriend. I’ve never thought about the origins. Maybe you feel a bit green (with envy) and sour at being surplus to requirements.

Changing the subject, I loved the word shellacking used by President Obama in last nights’ speech. Never heard it before. Is it common in the US?

2010/11/04
8:39am
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This link says that shellacking is mainly in US and Canada.

Welcome Emm,

Emmett

2010/11/04
9:09pm
srmarco
San Antonio
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So, Martha, what’s the Spanish phrase for cow pies (cow cakes) that you couldn’t say on the air? ;) Is it “pastel de m…”?

2010/11/05
8:23am
Ron Draney
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The caller asking about “Guess what?” was right on the money. I’d add that the online world at least is filled with people who think that any sentence starting with “I wonder” requires a question mark.

2010/11/05
12:29pm
butchieb
Brodhead, Wisconsin
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My daughter, (an English major) and I discussed this issue. We agreed that if someone demanded “guess” that it would be followed by a period or perhaps exclamation point. If the statement was “what”, then it would require a question mark. So, “guess what” would need a question mark because “what” was spoken last. Any validity to this reasoning?

2010/11/05
1:49pm
telemath
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butchieb said:

My daughter, (an English major) and I discussed this issue. We agreed that if someone demanded “guess” that it would be followed by a period or perhaps exclamation point. If the statement was “what”, then it would require a question mark. So, “guess what” would need a question mark because “what” was spoken last. Any validity to this reasoning?


I know what. Let’s find a counterexample – a sentence that ends in what but isn’t a question. Something about that appeals to me, but I don’t know what.

I think “guess what” has an implied object, like “guess what [just happened].” To me it looks more like a command than a query. “Guess what” doesn’t feel the same to me as “What’s your guess?”

2010/11/05
2:24pm
Ron Draney
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I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that “guess what?” is being treated as a question because it takes the place of “you know what?” That really is a question in both form and intent, and because the two are treated as straight-across replacements for one another, they’re seen as requiring the same punctuation.

2010/11/06
1:31pm
Christopher Murray
Ireland
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Here in Ireland, playing gooseberry is familiar, although it now seems more common to hear the person playing gooseberry (the person inhibiting the “courting” couple) referred to as being a gooseberry.

2010/11/07
1:27am
iloomis
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I’m the “guess what” caller. I’m so glad some of you agree that punctuating this expression with a question mark just doesn’t make sense — I was starting to think I was the only one!

In response to the poster who challenged us to come up with similar phrases, I would offer “say when.” In that expression, “when” is also spoken last, but you wouldn’t punctuate it with a question mark. Maybe there are some other examples out there.

Anyway, I agree with Grant that “guess what” is universally punctuated with a question mark — but I still don’t understand why! (Or should that be: “I still don’t understand why?“)

2010/11/07
3:30am
Dan S
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I think the way to properly punctuate it would be:
Guess “What?”!
I don’t think the phrase is at all part of a longer phrase or a rearranging of words to shorten your point. It’s conveying exactly what it means to convey. You say, “Guess, “What?”!”, and wait for the other person to say, “What?”. If they don’t, often they won’t get told “What”, at least that’s how it works in my house. :)

Having said all that, punctuating it that way is way too cumbersome and would never catch on. Since the inflection rises at the end of thephrase I will stick with “Guess What?”. Perhaps capitalizing the “What” makes it look better.

2010/11/07
9:36am
natatorium
Milwaukee, WI
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Horse apples. I grew up as a townie in a rural area. During family car rides in the country, we would encounter what my parents called “horse apples” on the road.

All these food variations are just ways to talk about sh*t without saying sh*t. The reliance on food terms comes from the fact that the production process and the product are in many ways reminiscent of cooking and food (think baking – although you may never enjoy another molasses cookie) much moreso than any other activity, say, carpentry, sculpting, high fashion design, FOX News. Wait…

2010/11/07
2:47pm
Halszka
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We have an equivalent of “sleeping like a log” in Polish: “spać jak kÅ‚oda” and something similar to the English “be dead to the world” – “spać jak zabity” :).

2010/11/08
6:53am
Glenn
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Wow. Unless I miss my guess, zabity means a dead man who has suffered specifically a violent death, murdered, slain, and not someone who has died peacefully of natural causes. What a great image for after a hard day’s work.

Ja spal jak zabity.

2010/11/08
9:00am
Debby with a why
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A gooseberry looks a little bit like an eye, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s the metaphor here — the gooseberry is keeping an eye on the couple.

2010/11/08
9:30am
Debby with a why
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Wikipedia has an explanation to answer one caller’s question: But who’s Kirby? And who’s Bobby? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_pin.

2010/11/08
10:06am
telemath
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Dan S said:

I think the way to properly punctuate it would be:
Guess “What?”!


It’s overpunctuated, cumbersome and perfect. It makes the statement clear from all angles. I love it.

2010/11/08
1:51pm
Glenn
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I know that a lot of people, including an unnamed radio host, assert that “Guess what” ends with a rising inflection. I would never say it with a rising inflection. In fact, my inflection falls pretty sharply. I’m not saying that the punctuation should be based on the inflection, but I can’t imagine hearing it with a rising infection, unless perhaps someone was puzzled and repeating the phrase in question form.

Guess what!
“Guess what?” What does that mean?

By the way, “What does that mean?” also ends with a falling inflection, since the high point is on the word that. Still, it is a question. So I’m not forcing the punctuation by the inflection. I’m just very puzzled about the assertions.

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