In this episode, Martha and Grant honor winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes, those wacky awards for weird academic research, and they help a caller decipher a puzzling word from a personals ad: what does paratereseomaniac mean?

This episode first aired December 8, 2007.

Download the MP3.

 Ig Nobel Prizes
A electronic teenager repellent? An alarm clock that runs away from you to make you’ll wake up? Yep, it’s the Ig Nobel Prizes, those awards for academic research that first makes you laugh and then makes you think. Martha and Grant honor this year’s winners for linguistics and literature.

 Bread and Butter Expression
A caller shares colorful expressions from her Texas-born mother, including turkey tail and I’m gonna snatch you bald-headed. She also wonders why her mother says bread and butter every time they’re walking together and an object in their path makes them step to either side of it.

 Website vs. Web Site
A pair of business partners disagree whether to use one word, website, or or two words, Web site.

 World Capitol Quiz
Greg Pliska presents a groaner of a quiz about world capitals. Let’s just put it this way: the number of puns in this quiz will be Dublin exponentially.

A former resident of Buffalo, New York, puzzles over a strange word in a 12-year-old personals ad. What exactly is a “paratereseomaniac with extensive knowledge of osculation”?

 Utilize vs. Use
A former Navy man has a pet peeve about using the word utilize instead of use.

Did Gary Owen invent the word insegrevious? And is there a category for words that can mean anything you want them to?

 Trailer Queen and Soup Spitter
This week’s “Slang This!” contestant learns the difference between a trailer queen and soup spitter.

 Drive Safely
A wife seeks consolation because her husband always implores her to “drive safe” instead of “drive safely.” Martha says if he really loves her, he’ll use an adverb. Grant says it’s a message of love, so maybe the -ly doesn’t matter so much.

 Freshwater Estuaries
You may have learned that an estuary is where a river meets the sea, but a reference librarian asks whether she should eschew estuary as a word for the confluence of freshwater bodies. Martha and Grant tide her over with some more information.

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

Photo by Nigel Howe. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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25 Responses

  1. Bernard Minster says:

    A former resident of Buffalo, New York, puzzles over a strange word in a 12-year-old personals ad. What exactly is a “paratereseomaniac with extensive knowledge of osculation”

    Simply typing paratereseomania in gives numerous pages with clear and detailed definitions…..perhaps your listener should have done that!

  2. Bonnie says:

    What was the web site address that replaced stumper? This was given to the reference librarian.


  3. Bonnie said:

    What was the web site address that replaced stumper? This was given to the reference librarian.

    The email list that replaced STUMPERS-L is Project Wombat. As it says on the site, “Project Wombat is an e-mail discussion list for difficult reference questions.”

  4. Bernard Minster said:

    Simply typing paratereseomania in gives numerous pages with clear and detailed definitions…..perhaps your listener should have done that!

    Yep, Bernard, that’s true. But A) Not everyone uses the Internet (though I’d rather give up my phone and my postal mail than give up my Internet). B) The word is ambiguous even if you do look it up. Did the man who placed the personals ad mean he was interested in new things or did he mean he was interested in voyeurism? C) It’s an interesting word to talk about, so why not do so? 🙂

  5. It’s weird, though, that if you google the word “paratereseomaniac,” the only citations have to do with our show.

  6. Glenn Peters says:

    I wanted to help you guys out and resolve your debate with “website”. It’s one word! No more need to fight! It’s funny, I remember having this debate with one of our editorial team over ten years ago. (Also note that the wikipedia entry on this lists “website” as the primary entry.)

    The main thing that gets me about this is how people say “Web” as an adjective must be upper case because the Web is a proper noun. We don’t say “Earthbound”, “Lakefront”, or “Seaside”, do we?

    Martha – that old cartoon was also my first introduction to the term “bread and butter” and what leapt into my mind even today as I listened to the podcast. It was also many years before I heard an explanation.

    P.S. “E-mail” has a dash. You’re welcome.

    P.P.S. You didn’t correct the pronounciation of “Oregon” for the estuarian caller. For shame.

    P.P.P.S. I noticed Grant said “fewer than 25 years”. Isn’t that a measurement of time, regardless of having a specific (and large) number of years attached to it?

  7. Thanks, Grey. I think you have a typo there. You meant to type “web site,” right?

    Regarding “fewer”: that’s radio! Mistakes relayed across the country and no taking them back. However, I don’t consider it a mistake. I think the only rule that applies here is that “fewer” is best used with things that can be counted. An exception is often made for a specific count of time, for which it is said we should use “less”—less than 24 hours to go until liftoff—but I choose not to accept the exception. It’s another one of those supposed rules that crumbles when you look into it the least bit. It’s not a rule of English, it’s a rule of preference, and I prefer not to abide by it.

  8. Glenn Peters says:

    I make a lot of typos, but I don’t think that’s one. I think it’s tricky these days to use a quarter century as short period of time, given how fast our language and culture (not to mention technology) change these days.

  9. There’s a long thread about bread and butter at Metafilter.

  10. Greg says:

    I habitually use “website”, not “Web site”. I’m willing to concede that I’m wrong about the spacing, but not about the capitalization. At my job, most of the web sites I use are not on the World Wide Web. They’re on isolated corporate and government intranets. In this context, “web site” means any set of resources (mostly HTML pages) that are accessed via HTTP with a web browser. If “web” is the medium, not the World Wide Web, then wouldn’t viewing a “Web site” be equivalent to watching a “Television show”?

  11. Jazyk says:

    Even though I like to distinguish between adjectives and adverbs myself, I think safe as in drive safe could be considered a flat adverb (Merriam Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage). Here’s what it says:

    A flat adverb is an adverb that has the same form as its related adjective: fast in “drive fast”, slow in “go slow”, sure in “you sure fooled me”, bright in “the moon in shining bright”, flat in “she turned me down flat”, hard and right in “he hit the ball hard but right at the shortstop.” Flat adverbs have been a problem for grammarians and schoolmasters for a couple of centuries now, and more recently usage writers have continued to wrestle with them.

    Originally such adverbs had not been identical with adjective; they had been marked by case endings, but over the course of Middle English the endings disappeared.

    If anybody knows any Swedish, I think this would be something in common between English and Swedish. In the latter, adverbs attach a t to the adjective (Hon löper snabbt – she runs fast; Hon är en snabb löpare – she is a fast runner), so this t or whatever it was originally got lost and then you have the same form for both adjectives and adverbs.

    Greetings from Brazil. I absolutely love the show!

  12. Peter says:

    I think I heard an alternative to “bread and butter” when I was growing up in Chattanooga, TN. I have a vague memory of walking with someone, a girl I think, and passing on the opposite side of a post from her. She said “peanut butter” and told me that I was required to say “jelly”. Notice that both parties were expected to say something. I think this ritual was to explained as warding off bad luck more than as an expression of closeness.

  13. maven says:

    We moved to LA in 1963 and listened to KMPC and Gary Owens. When our children were born we gave them silly nicknames. Dan became Daniel the cocker spaniel. Eve became Evious the Insegrevious. Another use for the word.

  14. Duncan says:

    My paternal grandmother used to say “Bread and butter” when a street sign or similar obstacle came between us while we were walking. In her version, the partner was supposed to reply with “Come to supper.” She was also from Texas, as I seem to remember your caller was.

  15. Thanks for this, Duncan. It’s great to hear all these variations of the phrase.

  16. dhenderson says:

    I just got around to listening to this podcast yesterday, and the “insegrevious” discussion reminded me of several things. The caller asked if there is a name for the class of words with indeterminate definition. You called this particular example a “nonsense word,” and I thought of the malapropisms of Norm Crosby and the bombast of Professor Irwin Corey.

    In a little less comic vein, I’ve also heard what a minefield of potential litigation it can be to respond honestly to a request for a professional reference, if what you have to say about the person (would he be the referee?) isn’t complimentary. The recommendation would be to say something like, “You’d be lucky to get him to work for you,” which, of course, can be interpreted in at least two conflicting ways.

    And, even less benignly, politicians have raised to a high art the practice of misleading with common words. Most recently, the Bush administration has consistently denied any intent to establish “permanent” bases in Iraq. Now we learn that they have convinced the Iraqui government to sign off on a “long-term” presence with no stated time limit. Bush & company were obviously choosing their words very carefully, fully aware that nothing in this universe is truly “permanent,” so they couldn’t be held accountable if we interpreted their earlier pronouncements to mean that there may come a time in the future when we no longer occupy Iraq. It is clearly not their intention ever to leave, for as long as they remain in power.


  17. “You’d be lucky to get him to work for you” — LOL! Wish I’d said that, Dan!

    Good point about nothing being truly permanent. Except change, maybe?

  18. Cathy Techtmann says:

    Dear Martha and Grant:

    A woman called in questioning whether there are freshwater estuaries.

    Yes, freshwater estuaries are found along the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan’s Mink River Estuary that the caller referred to. Over 20 freshwater estuaries are found along Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shore.

    Freshwater estuaries share several characteristics with their salt water cousins. They occur where river water mixes in a shallow coastal wetland with water from the sea, in this case, one of the inland seas we call the Great Lakes. They are ecological transition zones providing important habitat shared by species that use both the river and lake.

    While not influenced by lunar tides, freshwater estuaries have tide-like water level fluctuations called a “seiche” (pronounces “saysh”). Seiches are caused by changes in wind and barometric pressure that create oscillations in lake water levels, “sloshing” lake water into an estuary. The water level change can be dramatic, up to several feet, and can last from minutes to days.

    Freshwater estuaries are recognized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which administers the National Estuarine Research Reserve program to promote estuary research, education, and stewardship. Twenty-seven estuaries are currently designated within this nation-wide network, including one freshwater estuary located on Lake Erie.

    Freshwater estuaries are gaining notoriety because of the new Wisconsin Freshwater Estuary Initiative. Along Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shore, communities and citizens are participating in the process to designate a Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. This will become the second freshwater estuary included within NOAA’s national system and will raise awareness of freshwater estuaries throughout Wisconsin and the Great Lakes.

    Thanks to this initiative, you will be hearing the term “freshwater estuaries” more in the future!

    The Wisconsin Freshwater Estuary Initiative website, is a great place to learn more.

    Cathy Techtmann
    Lake Superior Freshwater Estuary Center Coordination Team Member
    Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, UW-Extension Office
    29270 County G, Ashland, WI 54806 715.685.2671, FAX: 715.685.0036

  19. Seth says:

    Regarding Web site vs. website, I found most of the arguments convincing. (Yeah, that doesn’t help much, does it?) Thankfully we have style guides we can use to excuse whatever it is we need done.

    There is one nuance that hasn’t been introduced in the discussions so far, however, and I feel it needs to be voiced. The idea that World Wide Web is a branded name may be true, but since then the word web with a lowercase w has been used to refer to World-Wide-Web-like structures that aren’t world-wide. This is analogous to the Internet, the global structure of wires and machines and data, and an intranet, which is an Internet-like structure, often for internal use only within an organization. Just as the World Wide Web is just one component of the Internet — other components include e-mail and FTP — so are webs only one component of an intranet.

    When speaking about the World Wide Web, an uppercase W is appropriate. When talking about webs in general, or about a specific and less-than-worldly web, a lowercase w is appropriate.

    The argument that “Web site” must be capitalized because “Web” is a brand is no longer true. Thankfully for people like Grant, there are other valid reasons to keep fighting for the big W still remaining.

  20. Mark says:

    A caller gave a definition of “utilize” something like this: employing an object for something it wasn’t designed for, as a dime in lieu of a screwdriver. No, I thought, “utilize” is simply a stilted substitute for “use.” But Martha said something like, “I’m looking in the dictionary and it agrees with you.” Good, I thought, I was wrong and am about to learn something. But the definition that she read did not resemble at all the caller’s definition! I know that you want to be polite to your callers, but saying that the dictionary agrees when it doesn’t agree merely encouraged the caller to go out and set up his website that will repeat that phony distinction.

  21. Wordsmith says:

    Mark said:
    But the definition that she read did not resemble at all the caller’s definition!

    How did it go, then? I.e., what was the definition that Martha saw in the¹ dictionary?

    ¹The phrase “the dictionary” has always tickled me: as though there is only one dictionary…

  22. Joie de Vivienne says:

    While Hemingway and I have always liked to cling the Chicago Manual of Style as gospel, I have to say that I feel the time has come to admit that the World Wide Web has gone beyond brand name and has been intergrated into the language as a common noun.

    No matter how many equalizers would like us to use “hook and loop tape” rather than Velcro or “adhesive bandages” instead of Band-Aids it remains that brands with longstanding monopolies can and do change the language and are managing to do it at an alarming rate in the information age.

    We no longer capitalize crock pot or trampoline and both started out as brand names in the past 50-75 years.

    I do agree with Grant that the use of “web” is destined to die… The concept is a bit precious. At 25, the use of the phrase “world wide web” seems stilted–I say net more often than not–

    It’s interesting to me that in typical notation of web addresses (in advertising etc) has already dropped the “www.”

    Will enjoy watching it evolve…


  23. Mark (and Wordsmith): I don’t recall offhand which dictionary I was referencing. Was it this?

  24. Seth:

    Regarding Web site vs. website, I found most of the arguments convincing. (Yeah, that doesn’t help much, does it?)

    You’re reminding me of a favorite expression: curate’s egg.


    Well, I still have to agree with Viv here (and think Viv said it much better than I did)!

  25. Joie de Vivienne says:

    My bad, most dictionaries in One Source do seem to capitalize Crock-pot… I guess I’ll just have to limber up before I drag the old electric slow cooker out of the cupboard.

    Well, take a Polaroid and tell me if the picture is still clear in another 30 years…. Meanwhile, I’ll be the girl with her face buried in a pile of Kleenex.