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It's in My Wheelhouse (full episode)
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2011/03/07
8:32am
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What was your first word? Grant and Martha talk about how children acquire language. Also, if you say that something’s in your wheelhouse, you mean that it’s within your area of expertise. But why “wheelhouse”? And what does it mean to be “high as Cooter Brown”?

This episode first aired March 5, 2011.

Download the MP3.

 Metagrobolized
Grant and Martha talk about new and unusual language. If something has you puzzled or mystified, you’re metagrobolized. If you’re speaking voice sounds like grunting, you’re said to be gruntulous. And what does spox mean? It’s journalistic slang for “spokesperson.”

 Musical Repeats
Some musicians are having a dispute over the word repeat: If the conductor says, “Repeat this section two times,” how many times should they play the passage? Twice? Three times?

 Bromides
You know those dull sports clichés like “We came to play” and “He left it all on the field”? They’re called bromides. The hosts explain the connection between the tired platitude and the sedative called potassium bromide. The answer involves a book by the humorist Gelett Burgess called Are You a Bromide?

 Epikeia
In theology, epikeia involves observing the spirit of a law rather than the literal rule. Grant explains how in many cases, epikeia actually serves a greater good. Thomas Aquinas defends cases of epikeia in his Summa Theologica.

 The Oxcars Quiz
In honor of the 2011 Academy Awards, Quiz Guy Greg Pliska offers his own puzzle version, The Oxcars. The trick is that the nominees for Best Picture at the Oxcars have the same titles as this year’s real nominees for the Oscar, but with one letter changed. Example: What was this year’s installment of the hit animated series about headline news? Why, that would be “Top Story 3.”

 Good Leather
A Wyoming native asks about the origin of her father’s term of approbation, good leather. Grant thinks it might be from baseball, where good leather means “good fielding with a leather ball in a leather glove.”

 Origin of Nosy
Are we a nosy species? A listener married to a woman from Bangladesh explains how a Bengali term that translates as “nose-going” reflects the naturally inquisitive style of Bangladeshi culture. In many languages, the nose figures prominently in words and idioms involving inquiry or investigation. Martha notes a Spanish term, olfatear, related to the English olfactory, meaning “to sniff or pry into.”

 Proverbs with Staying Power
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The hosts discuss this and other modern proverbs with staying power.

 Acetabulum
A dental student wonders about acetabulum, the anatomical term for the hip socket. Martha traces it back to the Latin word for “vinegar cup.” In ancient Rome, households had a vinegar cup on the dinner table for dipping bits of food. The cup bore an astonishing similarity to the human hip socket. Many of our body parts came to be named after familiar, mundane items. The word pelvis, for example, comes from Latin for “basin.”

 Couthy
Who doesn’t love a couthy lad? Grant plugs this Scottish adjective for someone who’s sociable.

 International Full-Deckisms
Simon Ager’s site Omniglot.com is stacked with full-deckisms from around the world. In English-speaking countries, someone who’s not quite with it is said to be “two sandwiches short of a picnic.” In Germany, however, this is described with the question “Are you still ticking on time?” An earlier episode of “A Way with Words” addressed full-deckisms, those clever phrases describing someone who falls short in some way.

 Early Language Acquisition
How do children acquire language? Do they start with nouns, like “Mama” and “cat,” then graduate to verbs and other parts of speech? Grant explains that language acquisition starts even earlier, with children simply emulating sounds they hear. Around the world, kids learn to speak in remarkably similar patterns.

Linguistic Society of America page on language acquisition.

How Children Acquire and Produce Language (BBC, 2001)

How Babies Learn Language from University of Southern California.

 Baseball Wheelhouse
If something is in your wheelhouse, it’s well within your area of expertise. According to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the term wheelhouse refers to swinging a bat when the ball is right in your crush zone.

 Raining Chair Legs
When it’s raining cats and dogs, the Greeks say, “It’s raining chair legs!” Omniglot has many more terms for downpours around the world.

 Cooter Brown
Who is Cooter Brown? And just how high is he? His name appears in lots of phrases, including “high as Cooter Brown,” “drunk as Cooter Brown,” “dead as Cooter Brown,” “fast as Cooter Brown,” and “fertile as Cooter Brown.” The earliest known references to him appear in African-American publications in Atlanta in the 1930s. Cooter Brown, also known as Cootie Brown, even made his way into the work of Langston Hughes. Yet the identity of Mr. Brown remains a mystery.

 In Silico
If you listen to the show via podcast, then you might say it’s coming to you in silico. This computer science term means “performed on computer or by computer simulation.” It’s the equivalent of in vitro, or “in glass,” or in vivo, “in a living body,” used in biological experiments.

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

Photo by MITO Settembre Musica. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

Are You a Bromide by Gelett Burgess
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson

Music Used in the Broadcast

Selfish Gene Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Inspiration Information, Vol 4 Strut
Darker Side Of Night Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Inspiration Information, Vol 4 Strut
B For My Name Beastie Boys The Mix-Up Capitol Records
So Far To Go (Inst) J Dilla The Shining Instrumentals BBE
It’s Your World (Inst) Slum Village Prequel To A Classic Barak Records
Water No Get Enemy Fela Kuti Expensive Shit / He Miss Road MCA
14th St. Break Beastie Boys The Mix-Up Capitol Records
Bahama Soul Stew Funky Nassau Bahama Soul Stew Kaydee
Sinuhe Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Inspiration Information, Vol 4 Strut
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
2011/03/07
10:10am
Jackie
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The phrase “in his wheelhouse” is also used in ice hockey. When a player takes a pass in perfect position to shoot the puck on net without readjusting in any way, it’s said to be in his wheelhouse. I’m not much of a baseball fan. I had no idea that’s where the phrase came from.

2011/03/07
12:43pm
bigjohn756
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My younger daughter’s first word was spoken while we were visiting the Brookfield Zoo in Chicagoland. It was hippopotamus! We were at the hippo display and had used the term several times. My wife was holding Anne and I asked her if she could say ‘hippopotamus’, and she did. Her mother and I were flabbergasted.

2011/03/07
12:45pm
bigjohn756
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Oh, I forgot to say that she was less than one year old when she said that.

2011/03/07
4:49pm
Wenny
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“Good leather” caught my ear and I had to write in — it’s a rodeo term. The ‘leather’ is slang for a saddle in bronc riding. If a bronc rider ‘parted leather’ or ‘lost leather’, it meant he got bucked off. If the rider managed to stay on his bronc, he had ‘good leather’. So if someone slaps you on the back and says “Good leather!” after you’ve finished a project, it means you stuck to it and did a good job.

2011/03/10
4:05pm
johng423
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If you’re speaking voice sounds like grunting, you’re said to be gruntulous.

Did you mean “your speaking voice”?
Is this another example similar to “there” and “their”? (In that separate thread is where I expressed my opinion about homophone errors.)

2011/03/12
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The quiz from this episode made me wonder, does it bother anyone else that the title “The Kids Are Alright” was changed to “The Kids Are All Right”? Are they genetically incapable of being wrong? Or are they paralyzed down the left sides of their bodies?

Melinda in Tucson

2011/03/14
7:57pm
My Young Padawan
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Melinda in Tucson said:

The quiz from this episode made me wonder, does it bother anyone else that the title “The Kids Are Alright” was changed to “The Kids Are All Right”? Are they genetically incapable of being wrong? Or are they paralyzed down the left sides of their bodies?

Melinda in Tucson


As far as I know, the film The Kids Are All Right was always spelled that way. The Kids Are Alright is a different film, which I believe is about The Who, taking the title from the song “The Kids Are Alright”. In fact, there are many grammar snobs out there who insist that “alright” written as one word is wrong or at least a nonstandard or dialect form of the older expression “all right”.

2011/03/15
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My Young Padawan said:

Melinda in Tucson said:

The quiz from this episode made me wonder, does it bother anyone else that the title “The Kids Are Alright” was changed to “The Kids Are All Right”? Are they genetically incapable of being wrong? Or are they paralyzed down the left sides of their bodies?

Melinda in Tucson


As far as I know, the film The Kids Are All Right was always spelled that way. The Kids Are Alright is a different film, which I believe is about The Who, taking the title from the song “The Kids Are Alright”. In fact, there are many grammar snobs out there who insist that “alright” written as one word is wrong or at least a nonstandard or dialect form of the older expression “all right”.


I remember seeing an article about the name change, and thinking how absurd that seemed. I was taught (very explicitly) that “all right” is a literal phrase meaning “not left” or “not wrong”, and “alright” is a word meaning “adequate, acceptable, or okay”. To my knowledge, it’s been taught this way for at least 35 years, and I would have lost a letter-grade in English for the usage now being touted as “correct”. The word is not just a slang form of the phrase, it has a completely separate meaning. Or was my English teacher smoking crack?

2011/03/16
8:33pm
My Young Padawan
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Melinda in Tucson said:

My Young Padawan said:

Melinda in Tucson said:

The quiz from this episode made me wonder, does it bother anyone else that the title “The Kids Are Alright” was changed to “The Kids Are All Right”? Are they genetically incapable of being wrong? Or are they paralyzed down the left sides of their bodies?

Melinda in Tucson


As far as I know, the film The Kids Are All Right was always spelled that way. The Kids Are Alright is a different film, which I believe is about The Who, taking the title from the song “The Kids Are Alright”. In fact, there are many grammar snobs out there who insist that “alright” written as one word is wrong or at least a nonstandard or dialect form of the older expression “all right”.


I remember seeing an article about the name change, and thinking how absurd that seemed. I was taught (very explicitly) that “all right” is a literal phrase meaning “not left” or “not wrong”, and “alright” is a word meaning “adequate, acceptable, or okay”. To my knowledge, it’s been taught this way for at least 35 years, and I would have lost a letter-grade in English for the usage now being touted as “correct”. The word is not just a slang form of the phrase, it has a completely separate meaning. Or was my English teacher smoking crack?


Both are possible. The OED has one adverb definition of “alright” as an obsolete word from Old and Middle English. It also lists “alright” as a common spelling of “all right”, but one of the citations includes the following:

1926 H. W. Fowler Mod. Eng. Usage 16/1 There are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen‥in MS.

I am currently in college and graduated with my high school diploma in 2009, and I was always taught that “alright” is nonstandard.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “alright” as “ALL RIGHT”, with the following usage note:

usage The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing *the first two years of medical school were alright— Gertrude Stein*.

2011/03/17
5:49pm
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My Young Padawan said:

Melinda in Tucson said:

My Young Padawan said:

Melinda in Tucson said:

The quiz from this episode made me wonder, does it bother anyone else that the title “The Kids Are Alright” was changed to “The Kids Are All Right”? Are they genetically incapable of being wrong? Or are they paralyzed down the left sides of their bodies?

Melinda in Tucson


As far as I know, the film The Kids Are All Right was always spelled that way. The Kids Are Alright is a different film, which I believe is about The Who, taking the title from the song “The Kids Are Alright”. In fact, there are many grammar snobs out there who insist that “alright” written as one word is wrong or at least a nonstandard or dialect form of the older expression “all right”.


I remember seeing an article about the name change, and thinking how absurd that seemed. I was taught (very explicitly) that “all right” is a literal phrase meaning “not left” or “not wrong”, and “alright” is a word meaning “adequate, acceptable, or okay”. To my knowledge, it’s been taught this way for at least 35 years, and I would have lost a letter-grade in English for the usage now being touted as “correct”. The word is not just a slang form of the phrase, it has a completely separate meaning. Or was my English teacher smoking crack?


Both are possible. The OED has one adverb definition of “alright” as an obsolete word from Old and Middle English. It also lists “alright” as a common spelling of “all right”, but one of the citations includes the following:

1926 H. W. Fowler Mod. Eng. Usage 16/1 There are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen‥in MS.

I am currently in college and graduated with my high school diploma in 2009, and I was always taught that “alright” is nonstandard.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “alright” as “ALL RIGHT”, with the following usage note:

usage The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing *the first two years of medical school were alright— Gertrude Stein*.


For decades it they were taught as two separate, distinct phrases, both being proper and acceptable. Now they’re not only saying ‘alright’ is wrong, they’re saying it was never acceptable. Revisionist history. I’ve come to accept that in History class, but I never expected it in English.

2011/03/21
3:26pm
tromboniator
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For decades it they were taught as two separate, distinct phrases, both being proper and acceptable. Now they’re not only saying ‘alright’ is wrong, they’re saying it was never acceptable. Revisionist history. I’ve come to accept that in History class, but I never expected it in English.


I think one of the problems here is that we tend to assume that what we were taught in a given era was universal in that time. My experience is that teachers make the same assumption: what they were taught is correct, so they pass it on as The One Correct Way. I was taught fifty years ago that “all right” was right and alright was just an incorrect copycat of already. What “they’re” now saying depends a good deal on who “they” are

Peter

2011/04/10
3:59pm
natatorium
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To paraphrase The Doobie Brothers.: “Alright” is just alright with me!

Melinda from Tucson, writers for journalistic and business publications, and speakers of fictional dialogue, I have your backs.

2013/11/14
8:28am
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To resurrect this old thread….

I ran across this article on Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/southern-sayings-2013-10

The author tells the origins of a number of southern sayings. I remembered hearing “Cooter Brown” on this episode of A Way With Words, and I listened again to that call. I also looked up Cooter Brown on Wikipedia and found this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooter_Brown If you follow the references, the top story basically comes from someone calling up a bar called “Cooter Brown’s” and asking them where the name came from. Really? Oy.

Grant, are there any citations to back up ANY of those wild stories in the wiki article? The author of the article took the first one to be definitive, and basically lifted it, reworded it, and put it into her article. Which now makes everything ELSE in her article equally suspect.

2013/11/16
9:40am
Robert
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Some of us want the truth, some settle for what’s good.

2013/11/16
11:49am
deaconB
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Revisionist history. I’ve come to accept that in History class, but I never expected it in English.

I expect it in History.  It’s written to please the winners of the war.  I’ll accept it in English.  What bothers me is revisionist physics. If you went to school in the 1970s or earlier, everything you know is wrong.

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