If someone offered you a croaker with an old man’s face, would you accept? You should! Croaker is a slang term for a hundred dollar bill. Did you ever wonder why we turn up the air conditioning to bring the temperature down? Plus, the tricky debate over me vs. I, the byzantine story behind the word byzantine, whether paper toweling is a real noun, and a couple of name games. Also, Grant recommends some dictionaries and teaching guides for the new school year.
This episode first aired Sept. 24, 2011. Listen here:
Download the MP3 here (23.8 MB).
Ever know somebody whose name makes you do a double-take, like a family physician named Dr. Hurt? An Albany, N.Y. listener shares a game of more positive aptronyms. For example, what do you name your daughter if you want her to be a lawyer? How about “Sue”?
Do you use paper towels or paper towelling? While a listener insists her husband’s wrong for his use of paper towelling, Grant explains how certain nouns take a gerund ending. For example, clothes derive from clothing, and the side of a house adorns siding. In the same way, why not tear a paper towel off a roll of paper towelling?
A veteran broadcaster recalls a brilliant example of sesquipedalian language. Fifty years ago, he stubbed his foot on the beach and a group of college boys told him to go to his parents and get an anatomical juxtaposition of the orbicular ors muscles in the state of contraction on the unilateral calcification of the carbuncular metatarsal. Go get, in other words, “a kiss on the foot.”
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a Grant and Martha version of The Odd Man Out Game, wherein one term doesn’t belong in the list of four. Take Martha, Irving, Denzel, and Booker. Which one doesn’t fit? It’s Irving, because “Washington” is his first name, not his last.
Does turning up the A.C. make a room cooler or warmer? A listener grapples with multiple meanings of the word “up.” Martha suggests saying, “Turn up the air conditioning,” not “turn up the air conditioner,” just as you say “turn up the heat,” not “turn up” the heater. Grant observes that the English language is imperfect, and we often have to clarify our statements to make sure people understand us.
When it comes to proper grammar, “Where you at?” ain’t where it’s at. A mother is concerned that her child will pick up such malapropisms as “Where you at?” and “My mother and me went to the store.” Grant argues that the redundant “at” has become such a part of our colloquial speech that it isn’t to be chided in informal usage. However, for those formative years of language learning, Grant recommends the book Learner English by Michael Swan.
What do you name your baby if you want her to become a bank teller? “Penny.” And if it’s a boy? Try “Bill.”
If someone offered you a croaker with an old man’s face, would you take it? Here’s a hint: the face belongs to Benjamin Franklin. A Louisiana native shares this rare term for a hundred dollar bill. Grant suspects that it may derive from the French verb croquer, meaning “to be crisp.” It’s mostly used in informal settings, such as horse tracks and neighbor-to-neighbor transactions. What terms do you use for the Benjamins? Here’s a whole stash.
If you’re looking for dictionary recommendations, you’ve tuned to the right program! For comprehensive, desk-dwelling dictionaries, Grant likes the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th Edition, a two-volume set, and the brand-new American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition, which contains original etymologies, illustrations, and plenty of guides and charts. The latter publication took nearly ten years to complete, and its authority is worth the investment.
When a minister asked, “Who gives this woman to be married?” the father regrettably answered, “Her mother and me.” Well, he regretted it after his daughters ribbed him about his improper grammar — specifically, his disregard for the implied verb. As in, “My wife and I do give this young woman to be married.” Grant and Martha confirm that the implied verb is indeed what seals the deal. Alas, the “me vs. I” squabbles continue!
A physician heard a broadcaster use the term byzantine to describe the current health care system, and wonders about the origin of this adjective. Martha notes that the Byzantine Empire, which began in the 4th century A.D., was notable for its convoluted system of government officials and titled nobility. Additionally, Byzantine art is known for its intricacies and elaborate details. Thus, the word has come to refer to anything exceptionally complicated or intricate.
What do you name a future ophthalmologist? “Iris”!
If a married couple moves because one spouse is relocated for work, is it correct to say the other spouse following them? A listener wonders about the implications of the term “follow,” and how that dynamic works in today’s day and age. Married couples often view themselves as a team of two equals, and sometimes words like “follow” can connote unintended ideas of subservience. Grant and Martha point out that, as relationship dynamics change, so does our language.
If you’d like your son to become a statistician, Martha suggests naming him “Norm”!
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