What’s the right way to pronounce gyros? Have you ever heard of feeling poozley? Called something great a blinger? Use the expression one-off to mean a “one-time thing”?

This episode first aired October 3, 2009. Listen here:

Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).

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Grant and Martha recommend dictionaries for college students, both online references and the old-fashioned kind to keep at one’s elbow.

If you get hold of some bad sushi for lunch, you’ll wind up feeling poozley. A caller whose in-laws use poozley insists they must have made it up.

A Texas family has a dispute with a prospective in-law who happens to be a chef. Is their favorite spicy chocolate cake properly known as a sheath cake or a sheet cake?

One place where spelling really counts: on a job application. Martha shares some painfully funny proof.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska shares a puzzle in verse, challenging the hosts to fill in the blanks with words that differ by just one letter. Like this: “I never count ___ when I’m going to ___; that method does not work for me. Right around five’s when I burst into hives: I’m allergic to wool, don’t you see?”

In medical terminology, the abbreviation GTTS means “drops” or “drips.” But why?

The hosts debate the right way to pronounce the name of that meaty Greek sandwiches known as gyros. Is it JEE-roh? JYE-roh? YEE-roh? Something more Greek-sounding?

Martha says her recent trip to Barcelona brought to mind a listener’s question about whether the word gaudy has anything to do with the name of the great Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi.

A woman who grew up in Detroit remembers her mother saying, “This one’s going to be a real blinger!” whenever a big storm was coming. What exactly is a blinger?

A one-off is something that is done or made or occurs just once. A Washington State caller who’s curious about the term learns that it derives from manufacturing lingo.

The third edition of Bryan Garner’s book, Modern American Usage is now out. Grant explains why it’s a wonderful reference to consult, even when you disagree with it.

An ophthalmologist in Arcata, California, is puzzled by the way some of his older patients refer to a single lens. Several of them call it a len, not a lens. This gives the hosts a chance to focus on what linguists call back-formations.

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37 Responses

  1. Vamsi says:

    Martha/Grant,

    One of the options for online dictionaries is to use your local library’s online resources.

    San Diego residents can use the Online OED and other goodies from here: http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/catalog-databases/dbdictionaries.shtml

    ~Vamsi

  2. Yes, that’s right Vamsi. I’m a card-carrying library user myself. Some people, however, do prefer to have the printed book. And some schools, alas, do not have the means to pay for institutional access to the finer dictionaries.

  3. Hi, Vamsi — Nice to see you here! And thanks for that link. It should be very useful to lots of folks.

  4. EmmettRedd says:

    “One-off” is common enough here in Missouri.

    I always pronounced “gyro” as GEE-roh or GYE-roh with the hard G. Are there any Greek words where the G takes a soft sound? All the ones I can think of are hard G (not that I am a Greek scholar).

    Emmett

  5. harmonicpies says:

    One of the things I love about this show is when I’m reminded of words or phrases from my childhood. My granny said “sheath cake,” although I don’t remember specifics about how she used it. Her specialty was chocolate meringue pie from scratch and piecrust cookies.

    My first encounter with “gyros” was at the mall food-court, and the proprietors of that shop called it a “year-ohs.” It’s pretty yummy, no matter how you pronounce it.

  6. Jazyk says:

    Besides dia D (D-day), in Portuguese we have hora H (pronounced aGAH), the H-hour. :)

  7. Glenn says:

    Regarding gyro:
    I have a colleague who grew up speaking Greek on Cyprus, and he says /dʒɑɪro/. He has found that many of the employees and stores don’t speak Greek, so when he pronouces it as he would in Greek /hiro/, it sounds so much like hero that they often think he is asking for a sub/submarine/hoagie/hero.

  8. Bill 5 says:

    Chocolate Sheath Cakes –
    Well, I admit I was confused as heck when Chocolate Sheath Cakes turned out to just be chocolate sheet cakes. I’d long known of a cake, usually round and tall, that was encased in a (usually-hard) chocolate icing, truly a “chocolate sheath” cake. (“sheathed”?) Yet when I Googled for the phrase, I found, for example, that cooks.com had 5 pages of chocolate sheath cakes, of which at least the first several were just rectangular sheet cakes with scratch chocolate frosting on top, just as you described — no sheaths at all.

    So, I think there *IS* a chocolate sheath cake out there somewhere, but now there’s also this whole Texas version about which I never knew.

    And, of course, the version about which I was certain is the rare corner case — the vast body of language seems, indeed, to be simply sheet cakes.

    BTW – Did love your explanation that, in Texas, Chocolate Sheet could remind someone of Horse Sheet…

  9. Glenn says:

    Regarding lens:
    While there appear to be a growing number of back-formations of singular nouns from words ending in s, I recall learning of some very old ones indeed, maybe even from the 1200s. In college, we learned that cherry is a back formation of cherise, meaning cherry (singular), related to the modern French cerise, meaning cherry (singular). Also pea is a similar back-formation (around 1700) of the Middle English pease, with the same meaning.

    Some notable singular back-formations in addition to those excellent ones mentioned in the broadcast are:
    syringe (was syrinx (sing.), syringes (pl.))
    primate (from the zoological class primates, plural of primas)
    phalange
    aborigine

  10. Bill 5 says:

    Back-Formed Plurals

    I enjoyed hearing of the people, not realizing their glasses included two Lenses, but back-forming Lens into a single Len.

    In Cub Scouts, there’s a rank called Webelos. The “s” is also an integral part of the word, not a plural; it stands for “We‘ll Be Loyal Scouts!”, preparing the Cubs to transition into Boy Scouts. (There’s also an allegorical tradition of the fictitious “Webelos Indian Tribe” occasionally woven in.) In either case, you wouldn’t leave out the “s”.

    I’ve watched people for several years trying to describe a group of those boys, or just one of them. I certainly see a common usage of Webelos / Webeloses, but I think that the most common is the zero plural.

    However, I occasionally see people drop the “s” to back-form a singular: “In your Webelos den, make sure every Webelo comes to this meeting.”

    Interestingly, I think the pronounciation of the “s” varies. When talking of the program, or of one boy, it’s always the soft s, We-ba-loess. When talking of several boys, it’s usually We-ba-loze.

    Of course, my own favorite is to pluralize it as “Webeli”…

  11. Kaa says:

    On the subject of “sheath cakes”….

    When I was a wee lad (in rural Alabama), I can distinctly remember my maternal grandmother (Nanny) making what she and my mother and uncle referred to as what sounded like “kissterd” pie. Being a wee lad, I wouldn’t touch anything that sounded as non-kid-pleasing as “kissterd” pie.

    Years later, I realized it was a custard pie when I saw one in a restaurant. I wondered why on earth our family called it “kissterd.”

    And when I looked at the recipe in Nanny’s recipe box, I finally got the joke. It seems that when Nanny was typing the recipe–which she had gotten off the back of a condensed milk can–she hit the ‘i’ instead of the ‘u’ in “Custard Pie” and it became “Cistard Pie” henceforth. It was firmly tongue-in-cheek; everyone involved (except me) knew the joke, and we continue to call it “Cistard Pie.”

    I’ll have to tell you about “Aufdenkamp Soup” some day…. :)

  12. Kaa says:

    …and that day is today. Why not? It involves another food that was misheard. :)

    Nanny used to make “Off-in-Camp Soup” when I was younger, too. I always pictured my grandparents and mother and uncle camping when we had it. Basically, “Off-in-Camp Soup” was/is cream of tomato soup made with fresh tomato juice (as in: pick the tomatoes and juice them, then make the soup) and condensed milk (& butter & salt & pepper & baking soda). The name was, once again, a mystery to me until I was old enough to question her about it.

    She first corrected my assumption that it was “Off-in-Camp.” Turns out it was “Aufdenkamp” (pronounced “offen-kamp”). Nanny had gotten the recipe decades earlier (in the mid-40s) from a neighbor whose last name was–you guessed it–Aufdenkamp.

    Nanny died in the spring of 2008, and among other mementos, I got her recipe books and boxes. I’m sure there are lots of other such things in the collection. (Such as “Phyllis Tacos” and “Ida-Lee Pot Pie.”)

  13. Ron Draney says:

    I think I’ve uncovered evidence that the radio show isn’t done straight through as it appears to be. Otherwise we would have been reminded during the “len” discussion of Grant’s earlier casual comment that “gyros” in Greek is singular.

    That aside, what is the plural of “gyros” if one insists upon treating it as a Greek word that must follow Greek grammar?

  14. Glenn says:

    Unless I am mistaken, the Modern Greek plural would be Gyroi. Gyro could conveniently be the accusative singular ( I’d like a Gyro, please.) or possibly an oddball vocative (O Gyro, my hero.) which is used for some -os names (e.g. Tassos. Hey, Tasso! Hand me that Gyro.)

  15. I think I’ve uncovered evidence that the radio show isn’t done straight through as it appears to be. Otherwise we would have been reminded during the “len” discussion of Grant’s earlier casual comment that “gyros” in Greek is singular.

    Evidence? You could just ask! We do it more or less like Car Talk does it, though Martha and I do know the questions beforehand. There’s much more in the world to know about language than there is about automobiles. ;)

  16. Nanny used to make “Off-in-Camp Soup” when I was younger, too. I always pictured my grandparents and mother and uncle camping when we had it. Basically, “Off-in-Camp Soup” was/is cream of tomato soup made with fresh tomato juice (as in: pick the tomatoes and juice them, then make the soup) and condensed milk (& butter & salt & pepper & baking soda). The name was, once again, a mystery to me until I was old enough to question her about it.

    She first corrected my assumption that it was “Off-in-Camp.” Turns out it was “Aufdenkamp” (pronounced “offen-kamp”). Nanny had gotten the recipe decades earlier (in the mid-40s) from a neighbor whose last name was–you guessed it–Aufdenkamp.

    Nanny died in the spring of 2008, and among other mementos, I got her recipe books and boxes. I’m sure there are lots of other such things in the collection. (Such as “Phyllis Tacos” and “Ida-Lee Pot Pie.”)<<

    Nice story, Kaa. And nice that you were able to hang on to those mementos.

  17. Regarding lens:

    While there appear to be a growing number of back-formations of singular nouns from words ending in s, I recall learning of some very old ones indeed, maybe even from the 1200s. In college, we learned that cherry is a back formation of cherise, meaning cherry (singular), related to the modern French cerise, meaning cherry (singular). Also pea is a similar back-formation (around 1700) of the Middle English pease, with the same meaning.

    Another food word along those lines is “caper.”

  18. Bill 5, I like that Webelo story!

    We’re also hearing from a few Texas listeners who say that they’re increasingly hearing a plural verb with “license,” as in “My license are about to expire.”

    Come to think of it, I’d love to get a few more poetic license.

  19. Glenn says:

    Another food word along those lines is “caper.”

    Thanks, Martha. I didn’t know that. I can do without peas, for the most part, but I lurve capers.

  20. EmmettRedd says:

    kaa says

    Such as “Phyllis Tacos” and …

    If they were especially hearty, we could call them “fill-us tacos”.

    Emmett

  21. johng423 says:

    WEBELOS – When I was in Cub Scouts, we were taught the word was constructed from the consonants to show the progression of ranks: W=Wolf, B=Bear, L=Lion, S=[Boy]Scout. Maybe that has changed in more recent Scouting.

  22. johng423 says:

    In our local grocery stores, “sheet” cakes are those of a certain size (because they require the entire sheet of 15×10 inches? to bake); and yes, there are “half sheet” cakes of a smaller size. The term has nothing to do with the flavor of the cake. Makes me wonder (1) if “sheath” cake refers to a particular recipe or flavor (the caller mentioned chocolate with other sweet spices), and (2) if a “sheath” cake also refers to a certain size.

  23. johng423 says:

    ONELINE DICTIONARY SITES – Thanks, Martha, for the tip to try onelook.com as an online dictionary. I put in a word and got a list of links to 20+ various dictionaries. I have been using dictionary.com (which you did not mention) – not as many dictionaries, but the definition entries appear right on the page, often including the etymological information – usually enough for what I need. (The dictionary.com site also has Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, and Translator links on the tool bar at the top of the page.)

  24. Glenn says:

    And we have ethical obligation to support and contribute to http://www.wordnik.com. Grant has certain affiliations there.
    wordnik

  25. CarlSeiler says:

    Glenn said:

    And we have ethical obligation to support and contribute to http://www.wordnik.com. Grant has certain affiliations there.
    wordnik


    Wordnik doesn’t seem to work for me. At first I thought it was just me, but http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com/ indicates that it’s generally down. :-(

  26. Indeed, it was down briefly yesterday. Try it again.

  27. ConstantIrritant says:

    Re: “Ground Zero” (mentioned in the D-Day segment): Many years ago, I worked the the Washington D.C. area, and had to hand-carry a monthly report to an office in the Pentagon. When a colleague was showing me how to get there, she pointed out the small snack bar in the inner courtyard and claimed that it was called “Ground Zero.” The snack bar wasn’t open during the time I made my visits to the Pentagon, and I wasn’t able to verify if that was its real name, or just a black-humored nickname for it.

    CI

  28. Bill 5 says:

    > johng423: WEBELOS – When I was in Cub Scouts, we were taught the word was constructed from
    > the consonants to show the progression of ranks: W=Wolf, B=Bear, L=Lion, S=[Boy]Scout.
    > Maybe that has changed in more recent Scouting.

    My 1964 Wolf Cub Scout Book confirms your version:
    “Webelos has a secret meaning.
    W B L S
    are the first letters of: Wolf, Bear, Lion, Scout.
    When you are eight, you earn the Wolf badge.
    When you are nine, you earn the Bear badge.
    When you are ten, you earn the Lion badge.
    When you are ten and a half, you earn the Webelos badge.”
    The Webelos badge, by the way, is the arrow and sunrise device now called the Arrow of Light.

    Wikipedia also confirms that old construction.

    Here’s the current teaching:
    (Webelos Handbook 2003 p5)
    “The name Webelos comes from ‘WE‘ll BE LOyal Scouts.’ Pronounce it WEE-buh-lows.”

  29. Bill 5 says:

    By the way, the change from Lion to Webelos happened right when *I* was to become a Lion. (Arrgh!) I turned 10 in 1967. I’d been looking forward to becoming a Lion — but Lion went away and the new Webelos program started. That’s what I earned, and then a year later transitioned into Boy Scouts.

    Later, around 1971-72, the Webelos rank badge was renamed the Arrow of Light. The current Webelos rank was developed between Bear and Arrow of Light about 1978, and all changed (except LDS units) to a grade-based instead of age-based system in 1986, which left the Webelos program at about 18 months.

    More history details are at http://www.sageventure.com/history/cub/.

    By the (other!) way, I heard a rumor a week ago — that BSA is succumbing to competitive pressures from Indian Guides and the Daisy girl scouts, and starting a new Kindergarten division — to be known as the Lions! Full circle!

    (Reminds me of Dorothy’s chant — “Lions and Tigers [Wolves] Bears, Oh My!”)

  30. Bill 5 says:

    You might also enjoy our Cub Scout Day Camp neologisms (I was camp director in 2004) for the boys.

    We had to divide some of the activities between the younger and the older boys. The younger boys now included 1st grade Tigers, as well as the 2nd & 3rd grade Wolves and Bears. The older boys were the 4th & 5th grade Webelos, obviously at a different level of capability and interest, as well as wanting to earn Webelos activity pins (like Engineering) instead of the younger boy achievements.

    We came up with two names to describe them, and both are still in use.
    The first was the Tweebs and the Weebs (TWB for Tiger-Wolf-Bear, WEB for Webelos).
    The second one, since at some point Daniel Carter Beard’s and Ernest Thompson Seton’s American Indian influences came back in, came from the Legend of the Webelos Indian Tribe. http://www.boyscouttrail.com/content/story/story-985.asp
    That neologism was: The Animals (TWBs) and The Indians (Webs). Since boys of that age often act wildly, those names became great descriptions for the two groups.

  31. ejborg says:

    The use of the term “one-off”, as described by the caller, is different from the the sense of the term as it was explained by Mr. Barrett. The usage that Mr. Barrett describes works well in a sentence such as, “I’m making an exception in this case because we’re friends, but I’m not doing it for anyone else–this is a one-off deal.”

    But the caller described a situation in which the term “one-off” was used in a way that is not explained by the on-air discussion that followed (i.e., the discussion about manufacturing jargon). As I recall, he was told that the person who’d been dropped from an online forum for an infraction (a punishment to which the caller had taken exception) was a “one-off”, and that the caller should “drop the subject” (in other words, the transgressor would not be allowed back on the site under any circumstances). In this case “one-off” is used as a noun, not as an adjective. It seems to me that this is a variant use of that term as a shorthand for “ONE infraction, OFF the site”–or “zero tolerance.”

    In other words, I think this may be an example of the hijacking of a popular term for use as internet shorthand that formerly meant something entirely different. There must be hundreds examples of this as more and more terms are appropriated online for the sake of brevity.

  32. Ron Draney says:

    Reminds me of the time, pre-9/11, when people would speak of “getting back to ground zero”. They seemed to think this was incrementally more fundamental than “going back to square one”.

    Wacky definition: ground zero. n.phr., Finely chopped Japanese fighter plane.

  33. Nanswer says:

    Dictionaries

    With regards to dictionaries for college students—it is worth checking the Library for the school that the student is going to. Many of them provide access to all kinds of on-line reference books, including dictionaries. Non-students may also be able to access these resources, esp. if it is a public institution. But in any case, I would check into what is available to the student already before buying something (in hard copy or electronic form). I still prefer books myself, but it’s a good idea to get students in the habit of working with the resources provided by their libraries which are often vetted in ways that an internet search is not.

  34. telemath says:

    It was interesting to hear about sheath cakes. I have always heard thme called “Texas sheet cakes”. C’mon, Texas, own it.

  35. Nathan Oliver says:

    I was introduced to the term one-off with a slightly different meaning than the one Grant gave. I interned at a company that made small unmanned aircraft, and the complete ground control setup. There, I recall using the term one-off to refer to a product that has been modified from the standard configuration, usually to suit the needs of a particular customer, with no intention of it becoming a new product. Occasionally, of course, they would realize that the idea was marketable and make it into a standard product, but not always. These weren’t completely custom, so much as a system that might have one or two custom components that integrated into the standard system.

    As I understood it, the distinction was important because engineering costs for standard products was overhead, and wasn’t (directly) passed on to the customer, but the one-off costs were billed directly to the customer requesting them. Also, there were many quality processes for standard products, but if something was declared a one-off, the requirements were much more relaxed.

    With that usage, I’d assumed that it referred to an item/product that had one feature/aspect/component that was different than the standard, or “off of” it.

  36. I have to say that I was distressed and depressed that even you two, Grant and Martha, word nerds exemplar, don’t share my love of old-fashioned printed dictionaries. Even typing the word “old-fashioned” in the last sentence broke my heart a little.

    My wife and I have two unabridgeds on our shelf – a one-volume Webster’s New Universal, and a two-volume Shorter Oxford – one of which came into the relationship with each of us, and which we love running to with any possible excuse. We tried to register for the full unabridged OED when we got married last year, and were extremely disappointed to discover that it’s now only available electronically.

    I just love books – I can’t read fiction off a screen either – and there’s something magically tactile about searching through a huge tome of knowledge to find the word you need, actually touching all that information with your hands, that isn’t replicated by a Google search.

    Go Codices!

  37. Oh, don’t get me wrong! I own hundreds of dictionaries and not as curiosities or collector’s items, either. They’re mostly workaday, normal dictionaries I turn to from time to time when I have questions.

    It’s just that, for many tasks, I can simply search the many dictionaries on my computer or on the Internet and get a decent answer much more quickly.

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