Sneaky contract lingo, advice for writing well, and preserving a dying language. Say you’re scrolling through an online transaction where you’re asked to read the “Terms and Conditions.” Do you actually read them or just check the box and move on? If you move on, watch out for the Herod’s clause. Plus: When does your own communication style make you sound out-of-date? A 50-something boss wants suggestions on speaking with and writing for his younger co-workers. Finally, if we lose a language, how many of our childhood memories perish in the process? Also, “dark as Egypt,” “not quite cricket,” “down to the lick log,” “light dawns on Marblehead,” “sneezing to the truth,” and hot mess.

This episode first aired February 5, 2016.

Download the MP3.

 Herod Clause
When you get to the stage of an online transaction where you’re asked to read the “Terms and Conditions,” do you actually read them? Or do you just check the box and move on? A London security firm once offered free use of a WiFi hotspot, provided the users agreed to sign over their firstborn child “for the duration of eternity.” Sure enough, some people signed. The company called that sneaky contract language a Herod clause, after the Biblical king who ordered the deaths of firstborn babies in Bethlehem.

 Dark as Egypt
The expression “dark as Egypt” means really dark, and is a reference to the story in the book of Exodus of the ten plagues that descended upon Egypt, the ninth of these being complete darkness.

 Down to the Lick Log
If you’re “down to the lick log,” you’re close to the end of negotiations, or nearing some kind of decision. This expression is associated with cattle ranching, a salt lick being a place where the herd congregates. The 19th-century frontiersman Davy Crockett used the term in his autobiography.

 Not Quite Cricket
“Not quite cricket” means not proper, substandard, or perhaps even illegal. The phrase is a reference to the world’s second most popular sport, cricket, and derives from the 19th-century notion that the “Spirit of the Game” is the epitome of good sportsmanship.

 Hot Topics of 2015 Limerick Game
Quiz guy John Chaneski shares limericks about things people were talking about in 2015.

 Thief Finesse
A high school teacher in Indianapolis reports her students use the verb finesse to mean “to steal.”

 Golden Apple Riddle
Here’s a riddle: Within a fountain crystal clear / A golden apple doth appear / No doors or locks to this stronghold / Yet thieves break in and steal the gold. What is it?

 Generation Slang Gap
A 50-something boss in Reno, Nevada, wants suggestions on speaking with and writing for his younger co-workers. When does your own communication style make you sound out-of-date, and when does using younger folks’ slang make you sound like you’re trying too hard?

 Light Dawns on Marblehead
A Massachusetts native living in Washington, D.C. says her professor and classmates had no idea what she meant by a “light dawns on Marblehead” moment. It’s a reference to the town of Marblehead in her home state, on an outcropping of land where the sun first hits the coast. It’s also a pun on Marblehead, meaning someone who’s dense.

 Precious Little Dying Language
Imagine that you’re the last living speaker of a dying language.  What memories do the words of your childhood evoke? What do you miss talking about? Those are questions raised by Precious Little, a play by Madeleine George. Martha reads a moving passage in which an elderly speaker of a dying language counts to 20 in her native tongue.

 Southern Expression “Hot Mess”
The term hot mess refers to someone whose life is chaotic or otherwise somewhat dysfunctional. Heard primarily in the South, hot mess is often used affectionately, suggesting that the person is attractive despite the messiness of their life.

 Sneeze Confirmed the Truth
If someone sneezes while you’re saying something, a Yiddish speaker might say “G’nossem tsum emes,” or “The sneeze confirmed the truth,” meaning that what you just said is true, and the sternutation proves it. An English speaker expresses the same idea with the phrases “sneezin’ to the truth,” “sneezing on the truth,” or “the sneeze confirmed the truth.”

 Etymology of Poormouthing
Someone who’s cheap or just likes to complain that they don’t have much money are said to be poormouthing. This expression goes back to at least the 1850’s, and originated in the American South, although now it’s more widespread.

 Apple Core, Baltimore!
A Madison, Wisconsin, caller says his father will eat an apple down to the core, then call out “Apple core, Baltimore! Who’s your friend?” and if the person doesn’t answer fast enough, his dad will throw the core at him. This game, and variations of it, was recorded by the researchers gathering folklore for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s.

 A Southern Mess
In parts of the South, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the word mess can denote “a witty, clever, or mischievous person.”

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

Photo by Rick. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

TitleArtistAlbumLabel

Carlito Cochemea Gastelum The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow MRI
Bold And Black Ramsey Lewis Another Voyage Cadet
Guardian Angel Cochemea Gastelum The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow MRI
Uhuru Ramsey Lewis Another Voyage Cadet
Dark City Cochemea Gastelum The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow MRI
Arrow’s Theme Cochemea Gastelum The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow MRI
Volcano Vapes Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Out On The Coast Colemine Records

4 Responses

  1. makfan says:

    I heard “hot mess” in the SF Bay Area all the time now. I do kind of like it and think of it just as you described above. Someone whose life is at times a mess but who gets a bit of a pass because they are attractive or perhaps just part of the in crowd.

  2. Ron Draney says:

    If you needed evidence beyond my presence in this forum and that of my neighbor Heimhenge that people are listening to your show in cities where the local public radio outlets don’t carry you, look no further than your first caller this week.

    Mary Jo West (who asked about “dark as Egypt”) was already a very prominent TV news anchor in Phoenix at the time I moved here over thirty years ago, and is well-remembered to this day.

  3. deaconB says:

    It seems odd that “light dawns on Marblehead” is used when someone *finally* catches on to what e3verybody already knows, when the town of Marblehead MA is one of the first places in the US to experience dawn.  As Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “Wotta langiuage!”  There’s also a Marblehead, Ohio on the north coast, in Ottawa County.  (Note that Ottawa County is Put-In-NJay and Port Clinton, but not Ottawa. Ohio which is in Putnam County. Go figure.)  Since the expression is strictly Bostonian, no danger of Marblehead, Ohio being involved.

  4. Heimhenge says:

    Oh yeah, I recall Mary Jo West from when I moved here in the 80s. I hadn’t heard “dark as Egypt” before but immediately got the meaning … and I’m no bible scholar. Surprised that West, coming from a Bible study family, didn’t pick up on that.

    I’ve heard that Marblelhead explanation before, but it had slipped outa my vocabulary. Rarely use it, but occasionally hear/read it.

    Likewise “Apple Core Baltimore!”. I grew up in Wisconsin and that’s one of those dumb childhood games we used to play. Another was when you saw an empty pack of Lucky Strikes on the ground. First one to stomp on it got to declare “Luck Strike!” and do a knuckle punch on another’s shoulder. Was particularly “fun” around construction sites, where the ground was littered with worker trash of all kinds.

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