It’s the art of constructive feedback: If you’re a teacher with a mountain of papers to grade, you may find yourself puzzling over which kinds of notes in the margins work best. Martha and Grant discuss strategies for effective paper-grading. And when your inbox is full of spam and LinkedIn requests, even a bad emailed joke starts to look good. Martha shares one, along with some riddles from Portuguese and Spanish. And that slithering reptile in the garage — is it a garden snake, a gardener snake, or a garter snake? Plus, creek vs. crick, the origins of shank, rhubarb, and ping me, and “the devil is beating his wife.”

This episode first aired October 25, 2013.

Download the MP3.

 Big Hands, Bad Joke
If you have seven oranges in one hand and six in the other, what have you got? “Really big hands”–and a really bad joke.

 It’s a Monkey’s Wedding
When it’s raining and sunny at the same time, Brazilians say there’s a marriage between a fox and a nightingale, and South Africans say it’s a monkey’s wedding. Those images are far happier than an American phrase for the same meteorological phenomenon, “the devil is beating his wife.” In each case, the common thread seems to be that it’s a supernatural occurrence.

When a jacket’s been on the hanger too long, the shoulders get punched out, meaning they become distended. The same principle is behind the term butt-sprung, which describes a skirt that’s distended by the wearer, and now applies to anything that’s worn out.

 Baseball Rhubarb
The sportscaster Red Barber popularized the term rhubarb, meaning a scuffle on the baseball mound. It has now expanded to various kinds of arguments.

 “A” is for Amusing Word Game
Attention Sue Grafton fans: A is for Amusing might be a good title for this week’s puzzle from Quiz Guy John Chaneski.

 Student Writing Feedback
A Florida State University professor is tired of writing the same comments over and over on student papers. He wonders about the most effective written feedback, and specifically, whether there’s a better way to say a paragraph is particularly well-written or clearly written.

 Sitting in a Corner Riddle
I went to Paris, I went to Egypt, I’ve been to New York, and I will be going to Rome. I do this by sitting in a corner. Who am I?

 Garter Snakes
Is that serpent in the garage a garter snake, a garden snake, a gardener snake, or a mouse snake? All are apt names for the same snake, but the original is garter snake, which takes its name from the sartorial accessory.

 What All Men Carry Riddle
A riddle in rhyme: What does a man love more than life /Fear more than death or mortal strife / What the poor have, the rich require /And what contented men desire / What the miser spends and the spendthrift saves/ And all men carry to their graves?

 Creek vs. Crick
In the Northern Midwest, creek is often pronounced crick.

 Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online
Slang lovers, rejoice! Parts of Green’s Dictionary of Slang are being posted online, including an impressive timeline tracking slang involving alcohol.

Ping, as in ping me, meaning “contact me,” comes from the onomatopoeic ping we get from technology such as sonar.

 Male and Female Riddle
There’s a word where the first two letters signify a male, the first three signify a female, the first four signify a great man, and the whole word means a great woman. Do you know it?

 I Know, Right?!
“I know, right?!” is a friendly way to acknowledge that you understand someone.

 Portuguese Riddle
A riddle translated from Portuguese: Why is it that the bull climbs the hill?

 Shank Weapon
A prison employee wants to know about the term shank, that name for sharp weapons made with toothbrushes and pieces of metal. It derives from shank in the sense of the type of animal bone historically used in weapon making.

 Lending Your Time Machine
The good thing about lending someone your time machine? You pretty much get it back immediately. “I know, right?!”

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

Photo by Chi Tranter. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

Green’s Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Shemp Time Robert Walter’s 20th Congress Money Shot Fog City Records
Oxygene (Part III) Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene Polydor
Black Hole Shawn Lee Synthesizers In Space ESL Music
Instant Lawn Robert Walter’s 20th Congress Money Shot Fog City Records
Aj’s Mood Shawn Lee Synthesizers In Space ESL Music
Oxygene (Part IV) Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene Polydor
Head Up Shawn Lee Synthesizers In Space ESL Music
Lowrider’s In Space Shawn Lee Synthesizers In Space ESL Music
Jupiter’s Jam Shawn Lee Synthesizers In Space ESL Music
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

5 Responses

  1. EmmettRedd says:

    I can get the answer to one riddle–“heroine”.

  2. deaconB says:

    On the show, Grant and Martha ignored chiv, and discussed shank without shanking the ball or shank of the evening. Not a criticism; they gave Anita her answer and moved on before listeners got bored. I suppose I can intuit shank of the evening, but I’m perplexed by the origins of shanking the ball.

    In any case, chiv apparently comes from the Romani word for knife.  I can’t think of any other words that come from that language.  Given their persecuted minority status – I’ve read that the Romany fared worse in the Holocaust than the jews – I don’t think a people trying to remain “invisible” would use terms from their language in speaking other languages, but when one draws a weapon, the masquerade is already over.  What other Romani words have entered our language?

    What other languages are most closely related to Romani?

    I have read of things being chived away (decades before the Chive website existed), and from context, it’s more an erosion, rather than the stabbing or slicing one associates with a sharp weapon. I didn’t find this in the dictionaries I checked.  Is this a regional usage, or just too obscure to get lexicographers’ attention, or my error in comprehension?

    I note that apparently in the UK, it’s shiv, rather than chiv.

  3. EmmettRedd says:

    The OxED has:

    chiv(e), n.3 Pronunciation: /t??v/
    Thieves’ Cant.
    A knife.
    1673 R. Head Canting Acad. 12 He takes his Chive and cuts us down.
    1725 New Canting Dict. Chive, a Knife, File, or Saw.
    1819 J. H. Vaux New Vocab. Flash Lang. in Mem. Os-Chives, Bone-handled Knives.
    1834 New Monthly Mag. 40 490 The dreadful clasp-knife called a chiv is exposed and used if necessary.
    1873 Slang Dict. (at cited word), Chive, a knife..the word is pronounced as though written chiv or chivvy.
    1950 R. Chandler Let. 18 May (1966) 78 Chiv, or more commonly shiv, means a knife, a stabbing or cutting weapon, perhaps (but I don’t think so) including a razor, but that is not the meaning.
    1962 John o’ London’s 25 Jan. 82/1 A criminal may use…a chiv, which is a razor, knife or dagger.cant, n.1

    Since I really did not know ‘cant’, here is what the OxED says about its etymology:

    Forms: Also ME–18 kant.

    Etymology: Found c1400; rare before 1600. Words identical in form and corresponding in sense are found in many languages, Germanic, Slavonic, Romanic, Celtic. Compare Dutch kant, Middle Dutch cant, border, side, brink, edge, corner, Middle Low German kant (masculine) point, creek, border, also kante (feminine) side, edge, whence modern German kante edge, corner, border, brim, margin; also Dutch and German kante point-lace. (There is no trace of the word in the older stages of Germanic.) Also Old French cant and modern Norman cant, Walloon can side, Spanish canto, Portuguese canto, Italian canto edge, corner, side, medieval Latin cantus corner, side; with which some compare Latin canthus, Greek ?????? corner of the eye, and Latin canthus tire (? felloe) of a wheel, according to Quintilian a ‘barbarous’ word. The Welsh cant edge of the circle, Breton kan?t circle, circumference, which were thought by Diez to represent an original Celtic word, are held by Diefenbach and Thurneysen not to be native; so that at present we cannot go beyond the Romanic canto, and its possible identity with Latin canthus. The Germanic words were probably < Romanic. It is not clear whether the English word was adopted < Old French or from Low German, or, in different senses, from both.


  4. deaconB says:

    Middle Low German kant (masculine) point, creek, border, also kante (feminine) side, edge

    Wonder how the middle low Germans pronounced creek…. and whether kant and kante are both dead.  Synchronicity?

  5. tromboniator says:

    I note that apparently in the UK, it’s shiv, rather than chiv.

    I’ve known shiv (US) probably since the late 1950s (West Side Story?), certainly early 60s, usually referring to a switchblade knife, sometimes a homemade knife, but almost invariably connected with gangs.