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Heads Up! It's a Meteor (full episode)
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2011/04/13
9:47pm
San Diego, California
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“Well, Butter My Buns and call me a biscuit!” Martha and Grant talk about great catch phrases from old-time radio comedies. Also, why do we speak of a meteoric rise? Don’t meteors plummet? What do you keep in a Fibber McGee drawer? Plus, myriad vs. myriad of, enamored of vs. enamored with, autocorrected text messages. And Martha shares a trick for eliminating those annoying verbal fillers like “um” and you know” from one’s speech.

This episode first aired April 9, 2011. Listen here:

Download the MP3 here (23.7 MB).

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

They say it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an autocorrected text message to be, well, correct. Listeners like Arnold share their funny autocorrected text messages. And by Arnold, we of course mean Brooke.

Well, shut my mouth and call me Shirley! Butter my buns and call me a biscuit! A listener shares several of these humorous imperatives. Grant explains that the roots of these phrases probably go back to the 1940s. Phil Harris, the bandleader on Jack Benny’s radio comedy, was known for using such colorful catchphrases. An early version was “cut off my legs and call me shorty.”

Martha shares a childhood misunderstanding sent in by a listener. Seems her three-year-old daughter confused the phrase “exposed to the elements” with “exposed to the elephants.”

What do you call an expert speller? A “Words With Friends” enthusiast wants to know. Martha tells her that a great speller is called an orthographer or orthographist, from the Latin roots ortho- meaning “straight” or “correct”, and -graph meaning “to write”. A bad speller, on the other hand, is a cacographer, or as it’s known among them, a kakagrifar.

What is the term for that big inflatable play area you see at the park, or in your neighbor’s yard? Is it a bouncy house? A jump? Grant asks listeners what they call this modern pumped-up playpen.

Our multi-talented Quiz Guy Greg Pliska, served as musical composer for the television documentary Flying Monsters 3-D.

That experience inspired him to create a puzzle using phrases that have the same letter appearing three times in a row. For example, where will you find trumpets and trombones? In the braSS Section.

What do you keep in your Fibber McGee drawer? That’s what some people call a catchall container for household items. Grant traces the term for the drawer back to the old Fibber McGee and Molly radio comedy. Whenever Fibber had to fetch something from the closet, that meant a green light for the sound effects guy to let anything and everything come tumbling out. Classic Fibber!

Why do we say someone whose career on the ascent is enjoying a meteoric rise? Don’t meteors plummet? For that matter, a caller asks, why do we call “heads up!” when a ball is coming towards us? Shouldn’t it be “heads down”? The hosts explain that “meteoric” in “meteoric rise” refers to the speedy, brightly streaking nature of a meteor. As for “heads up,” well, no language is perfect.

Grant shares a word he’s been encountering at conferences: discussant. A discussant is someone who, after a series of papers are presented, takes the microphone to summarize the information given and offer opinions on the matter.

Should you use enamored of or enamored with? Grant explains that while North Americans use both, enamored of is the more common of the two. In Great Britain, it’s enamored of, a construction similar to those in several Romance languages. Enamored by, on the other hand, should never be used. But then, love is always worth expressing, no matter the preposition.

A listener reports that when her cat starts whining, she tells it to shut its kibble-hole. If only cats understood wordplay — or English.

Ben Schott’s language blog Schott’s Vocab on the New York Times website held a contest for modern age greeting cards called Get Web Soon. Among the favorites: “Heartfelt condolences on the loss of your data” and “Congratulations on your relationship update.”

A listener from Tennessee has a saying that doesn’t quite land with his friends: “Is it any count?” Martha confirms that the phrase is most definitely Southern. It originates in the word “account,” and the question of whether something “adds up.”

What does hoot mean? You might describe someone as a real hoot. But is the hoot in the phrase not give a hoot a different kind of hoot? Grant explains that in the positive case, hoot is a shortening of hootenanny, a informal party with folksy music. In the negative sense, however, to hoot at somebody means to disapprove of something.

Is it really possible to change your style of speaking so that you stop using the verbal fillers “um” and “you know”? Yes, you can. Martha relates her experience with dialect-coach-to-the-stars Sam Chwat. He was adamant that by catching ourselves every time we use that conversational crutch, we can consciously train ourselves to avoid it.

Should you use myriad or myriad of? Actually, either is fine. Here’s what David Foster Wallace had to say about the question in his commentary for the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus: “[A]ny reader who’s bugged by a myriad of is both persnickety and wrong —and you can usually rebut sniffy teachers, copyeditors, et. al. by directing them to Coleridge’s ‘Myriad myriads of lives teemed forth.'”

2011/04/14
1:49pm
Atlanta, Georgia
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Hey, guys. Your discussion with the caller Kurt who called in with the “Strip my gears and call me shiftless!” things reminded me of one of the better ones I’ve seen.

Is anyone here familiar with SpongeBob Squarepants? One of the lesser-used characters (alas) is Sandy Cheeks, the squirrel from Texas who lives underwater. In one episode, she utters this gem:

“SpongeBob’s actin’ jumpier than a rattlesnake in a pickle barrel! Wait, what?”

I love the fact that they make fun of the southern proclivity to use sayings like this and then turn it around and make fun of it again by calling attention to how silly it sounds. Even Sandy wasn’t sure what she meant! :)

2011/04/14
1:51pm
Atlanta, Georgia
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Some of Sandy’s other funny sayings are as follows:

I’m hotter than a hickory smoked sausage!
You’re about as ugly as homemade soup!
I like you, SpongeBob. We could be tighter than bark on a tree!
That’d make me happier than a junebug at a porch light sale!
I’ll be over there faster than a barefoot jack rabbit on a hot greasy griddle in the middle of August!

2011/04/15
1:27am
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Re “discussant”: This sounds like the role of a “rapporteur” in conferences I’ve been to here in France. Same thing?

2011/04/15
7:13am
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Kaa,

Have you ever been more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs?

Emmett

2011/04/15
2:08pm
Ron Draney
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Grant Barrett said:

For that matter, a caller asks, why do we call “heads up!” when a ball is coming towards us? Shouldn’t it be “heads down”?


Speaking of expressions that make no sense, how about head over heels? It always turns up in contexts that suggest a reversal of the normal state of affairs: “When I heard I’d won the lottery, I was head over heels with excitement!” Don’t know about the rest of you people, but standing or sitting, my head is above my heels. What would be worthy of remark would be having it the other way round.

People who said it when I was little always used to tell me to put on your shoes and socks before going outside. If I follow those instructions literally, I’m going to end up with the socks on the outside.

And how about all these songs that advise you to put your hands in the air, like you just don’t care? Listen, if I don’t care, chances are my hands are staying at my sides where they belong. I’m going to need some kind of compelling reason to put them in the air.

2011/04/17
6:33am
natatorium
Milwaukee, WI
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“What is the term for that big inflatable play area you see at the park, or in your neighbor’s yard?”

I had heard them called moonwalks, but I wonder if that’s specific to those with a lunar theme. I recently saw the term jump house in one of them micro headlines on the Yahoo. I clicked on it thinking it was perhaps a story about a boogie or blues music and dance club. Instead, it turned out to be about these toxic trampolines.

2011/04/17
7:09am
natatorium
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My first thought was that I don’t give a hoot is a polite alternative to the vulgar I don’t give a sh…oot. Second, I was surprised to not hear mentioned the long form: I don’t give a hoot and a holler. It’s not exclusively negative, since folks might also have had a hootin’ and a hollerin’ good time. Also, you can instruct someone to call or to request your assistance by saying, give me a hoot and a holler.

2011/04/17
10:39pm
Sacramento, CA
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Well do ‘x’ to me and call me ‘y':

I only remember these from the TV show Perfect Strangers. It was a running joke that the character, Balki from the fictional country of Mepos, would use this construction in an odd, slightly improper way – the joke being to emphazise Balki’s third-world backwardness. A good one that I remember was, “Well paint me green and call me gumby!”

2011/04/23
4:08am
lestatbp
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I know I have a million from when I was a kid, but my favorite childhood misunderstanding was from my daughter. We got her a new kitten and told her that it was time to make an appointment to have the kitten fixed. Our daughter got VERY upset – telling us no, we CANNOT get the cat fixed, it is her cat, we are mean parents, etc. I thought to ask her what “getting fixed” was, and she said it meant to kill the cat because nobody wanted it.

Poor girl…that is going to cost me in therapy. ;)

2011/04/29
1:49pm
kmurraytodd
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One of my favorites is from the old Warner Bros. “Tiny Tunes” cartoon. In this case, it was a southern gentleman in the form of an aligator whose expression of surprise: “Well tan my hide and call me luggage!”

2011/11/21
10:56am
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In reference to the Pliska puzzle — the only single word I’m aware of that has three repeated letters in a row without hyphenation is Chewbacca’s race’s homeworld, Kashyyyk.

~~

I’ve never used either enamored of/with, and always use by or over, because both of the latter seem to suggest the topic as a concept, and referring to people as concepts reflects on the philosophy that the only identity that exists outside of one’s own person is a personal estimation of any identity. For instance, the “Cindy” I know may not be the authentic Cindy or the entirely accurate Cindy that Cindy actually is as her own person and that she knows of herself. It’s not really possible to know a person beyond your own personal estimation of him/her, so it would be accurate to refer to someone else as a concept, and shape language to reflect that philosophy.

“I’m enamored ___ Cindy”

The use of “by” seems to imply an additional “the idea of” after it — that I’m enamored by thinking of Cindy or the concept of Cindy, not that Cindy executed a successful plan to enamor me.
The use of “with” seems to suggest that Cindy and I are both enamored by a common, unspecified subject.
The use of “of” just seems awkward entirely, as if enamored were my Robin Hood name, Robin of Locksley, etc.

2011/11/21
12:27pm
Glenn
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If you allow an apostrophe, you can come up with a 4-letter streak without trying too hard. In this case, you can imagine a queue in D.C.

So the tax bill’ll get behind the civil rights bill.

Bill’ll

Clearly, there are many similar examples.

2011/11/21
4:12pm
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Yahooo! (with three letters in a row) was used in Mountain Dew advertising in the 1940’s (I’m pretty sure). I have reported it to the OED since it predates their first quotation by about 30 years. (They may not accept it since it was not in a book, but it was widely in print.)

Emmett

2011/11/22
10:30am
drmajmom
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As soon as you started talking about Phil Harris on the show, I started bobbing my head, hearing him singing music from The Jungle Book – it might be a more contemporary way to remember him.  Here is the Wikipedia introduction to his article:

Phil Harris (born Wonga Philip Harris;[1] June 24, 1904 – August 11, 1995) was an American singer, songwriter, jazz musician, actor and comedian. Though successful as an orchestra leader, Harris is remembered today for his recordings as a vocalist, his voice work in animation (probably most famous later in his career for his roles as bears, one being Baloo in Disney’s The Jungle Book and as Little John in Disney’s Robin Hood) and as a pioneer in radio situation comedy, first with Jack Benny, and then in a series in which he co-starred with his wife, singer-actress Alice Faye, for eight years.

 

Also, here in southeast Wisconsin, ‘hootenanny’ was an activity we used to participate in at summer camp.  The camp counselors would hide the watermelon and the campers had to find it.  Campers would yell “hootenanny” and the counselors who were hiding in the woods would call in response “hoot!”  leading us in the direction of the watermelon.  The hunt would continue until the watermelon was found, carried back to the campsite and shared.

 

Love the show, thanks for all you do!

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