Moonbats and wingnuts and sleepovers, oh my! Martha and Grant discuss political slang making the rounds during this election year. Also: Is it duct tape or duck tape? And what are you supposed to put in a jockey box?

This episode first aired September 20, 2008.

Download the MP3.

 Voting Machine Sleepover
Here’s a bit of political slang now making the rounds: sleepover. No, we’re not talking about another pol caught with his pants down. We’re talking about spending the night with, well, a voting machine. In this week’s episode, we examine this and other examples of political language.

You call the repairman to fix a balky garage door, but when he gets there, it inexplicably works. You summon a plumber, only to find that when he arrives, your toilet’s no longer leaking, and you’re out $150. Or you discover that somewhere between your home and the doctor’s office, your kid’s sore throat miraculously healed. A caller in Traverse City, Michigan, is tearing her hair out over this phenomenon, which she calls phixophobia. But, she asks, might there be an even better word for the way inanimate objects seem to conspire against us? We think so: resistentialism.

 Great Scott!
Great Scott! You’ve heard the expression. But who was Scott and why was he so great? Or was he an impressive Scotsman? Martha and Grant can’t say for sure, although the evidence points toward a Civil War soldier who happened to go by that name.

 Moonbat vs. Wingnut
Our hosts bandy about some more political slang terms and explain their meaning and origin. Or did you already know the difference between a moonbat and a wingnut?

 Musical Word Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski strikes up the band, begins the beguine, and treats Martha and Grant to a musical quiz. Warning: Songs may be sung. Not to worry, though—all three have promised to keep their day jobs.

 Slang “Jockey Box”
If someone handed you something and told you to “stick it in your jockey box,” where would you put it? A Baltimore caller who grew up in Utah says when he used this term on a road trip with a friend, his pal was flummoxed. Is jockey box an expression peculiar to one part of the country?

 Duct Tape vs. Duck Tape
Is that oh-so-handy sticky stuff called duct tape or duck tape? An Emmy-nominated filmmaker is wondering, specifically because he has to instruct narrators to be careful to avoid running together a “T” sound at the end of a word with the “T” sound at the beginning of a word. That has him further wondering if such elision of consonants has created other terms. We offer him an answer and a glass of ice tea. Or would that be iced tea?

It’s Obamarama time! We discuss the growing number of plays on the name of the Democratic presidential candidate.

 Pigeon Pair Slang This
A North Carolina pediatrician is this week’s contestant for an animal-themed version of our slang quiz. He tries to figure out the meaning of dead cat bounce and pigeon pair.

A caller’s question about the word wonky, in the sense of askew, leads to a broader question: What makes a word slang, anyway?

 Jet Black
Why do we say something is jet black? Does it have to do with the color of a 747’s exhaust? Or skid marks on the runway? Or something else entirely? We provide a color with a mineralogical answer.

 Still Working on That
A listener phones with his pet restaurant peeve: When your waiter ask, “Are you still working on that?” Martha and Grant agree and pile on with gusto.

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

Photo by OZinOH. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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13 Responses

  1. katie says:

    “Are you still working on that?”
    I just listened to the end of your show discussing the words a restaurant enployee should use to remove a plate from a diner. I was very disappointed to hear you repeatedly use the word “waiter.” Not only is it archaic, but it is (traditionally) gender-specific. The preferred title for these professionals is “server.”

  2. Thanks, Katie. Many people do use “waiter” as a unisex term, as we did, though we do understand that “server” is preferred by some. However, there are many people who do not like that term, either, as it denotes servility and seems to authorize the kind of rude treatment from customers that waitstaff, unfortunately, are subject to too often. Others like the term “waitron,” but it makes me think of a robot.

  3. bobwmac says:

    Being archaic, I use such expressions as “waiter, waitress” and “actor, actress”.

    Excepting the delightfully sounding, “Madame Chairman”, I eschew the politically correct Newspeak.

    Vive la différence!

  4. I have to admit I still stumble over what exactly to call the person who brings food to the restaurant table. A close friend who waited tables said the same thing, that she preferred the word “server.” But I trip over it every time I try to say it for exactly the reason Grant mentioned, as well as the fact that I can’t figure out where or when this notion of “server” being preferred came from.

    Anyone have any idea where or when this idea arose?

    Can’t stand “waitron,” again for the same reason Grant mentioned.

  5. bigjohn says:

    I prefer it when the waiter/waitress asks something along the lines of, “Can I get you something?” instead of asking the rude question, “You still workin’ on ‘at?” This allows you to reply with, “No, thank you, but you can take my plate”, or, “No, don’t need anything right now, I’m almost finished.” That way he/she can give a sigh of relief and go on about his/her business.

  6. Michael says:

    I have to register a very mild objection to Grant’s description of the term “dead cat bounce” during the quiz. The term is also used, interestingly, in the world of baseball research, referring to a baseball team that wins or loses many more or less games than expected. If a team loses 100 games one year, then loses 85 the next, some of the change may be attributed to a dead cat bounce.

    The expression was explained to me as even a dead cat will bounce, if you drop it from high enough. The meaning, of course, is that performances far outside the norm tend to return to, well, the norm. So a market that shoots up 700 points in a day will probably be down to some degree the next, and a team that loses 100 games may only lose 90 the next year, simply based on luck rather than changes in ability.

  7. There’s a spectacular rant about “Are you still working on that?” by Jennifer Rosen in The Corker Jester’s Guide to Wine.

  8. Carola says:

    I had never heard of a “jockey box.” I was listening to the program in my car, while doing errands, and looked around in order to conclude that the jockey box was the container in the center console. Well, I guess it isn’t, but it ought to be.

  9. Bigjohn, well put, and I agree: If the waiter/server asks whether he can get you anything else, it seems a whole lot less encroaching then asking if I’m “still working,” which makes me feel like I’m the last person in the room still scratching in the answers on the SAT exam or something. Much better to have the server assume responsibility.

  10. jedwardcooper says:

    When discussing “ice tea” and “iced tea”, you forgot to mention how some words did change this way. We say “a napkin” and “an apron”, but I’m pretty sure we used to say “a napron” (well, not we like us, but way back in the day).

  11. Well, yes, the process sometimes called “false splitting” gave us such words as “apron” from “a napron” and “umpire” explained here.

  12. says:

    Ah yes, the Jockey Box can be the source of great intoxicating enjoyment. Take a large cooler; add multiple coils of tubing inside it. Connect one end of the tubing to a beer keg. Attach the other end of the tubing to a spout. Apply CO2 under pleasure to the beer keg. Fill the coil filled cooler with ice. The beer is forced under pleasure through the cooling coils. If done correctly, the beer is drawn chilled with minimal foam. The rest is up to the desires of the beer drinker.

  13. flashart says:

    I really do not see much difference between server and waiter as they both echo servility. It is my understanding there are some rules of etiquette when dealing with waitstaff if you wish to communicate with them without using words. Pushing your plate to the tables edge for example, or removing your napkin and placing it over the plate. I seem to recall there being something to do with the silverware as well such as crossing your fork and knife over the plate but I can’t remember that specifically. Stacking plates, such as placing the bread basket on top of yours also is a very good signal that you are done.