Here’s a riddle: “Nature requires five, custom gives seven, laziness takes nine, and wickedness eleven.” Think you know the answer? You’ll find it in this week’s episode, in which Grant and Martha discuss this and other brain-busters. Also: how did the phrase “going commando” come to be slang for “going without underwear”? And which word is correct: orient or orientate?

This episode first aired October 25, 2008.

Download the MP3.

 Sleep Numbers Riddle
Here’s a riddle: “Nature requires five, custom gives seven, laziness takes nine, and wickedness eleven.” Think you know the answer?

 Go Commando
To “go commando” means to “go without underwear.” But why commando? An Indiana listener says the term came up in conversation with her husband after one of them had a near-wardrobe malfunction. She mercifully leaves the rest to the imagination, but still wonders about the term. Grant says its popularity zoomed after a popular episode of “Friends.” Watch the clips here: part one, part two.

 My Dogs are Barking
A woman who grew up in India says she was baffled when someone with aching feet complained, “My dogs are barking.” The answer may lie in a jocular rhyme.

 Guess the Animal Riddle
Martha is baffled when Grant shares another riddle involving “four stiff standers, two lookers, two crookers, and one switchbox.” Can you figure out the answer?

 Classics Class Quiz
To-ga! To-ga! To-ga! John Chaneski’s latest quiz, “Classics Class,” has the hosts rooting around for the ancient Greek and Latin origins of English words.

 Single Coast Bicoastal
Those who commute coast-to-coast are bicoastals. But what do you call someone who commutes along the same coast—between, say, Miami and New York? A woman who now travels regularly between Northern and Southern California to visit the grandchildren wonders what to call herself. She’s already considered and nixed “bipolar.” The hosts try to come up with other suggestions.

Remember when no one ever thought about adding the suffix “-gate” to a word to indicate a scandal? Now there’s Troopergate, Travelgate, Monicagate, Cameragate, Sandwichgate, and of course, the mother of all gates, Watergate. Grant talks about the flood of “-gate” words inspired by that scandal from the 1970s.

 May vs. Might
An Atlanta listener seeks clarification about the difference between may and might. Might “may” be used to express a possibility, or is “might” a better choice?

 Bottle Room and Shred
In this week’s slang quiz, a member of the National Puzzlers’ League from Somerville, Massachusetts, tries to guess the meaning of bottle room and shred, the latter as used in the context of snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing.

 Orient vs. Orientate
Do you cringe when you hear the words orientate and disorientate? A copy editor in Waldoboro, Maine does. She’d rather hear “orient” and “disorient.” The hosts weigh in on that extra syllable.

They were the last words Abraham Lincoln heard before John Wilkes Booth assassinated him: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside-out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap!” Booth knew that this line from the play Our American Cousin would get a big laugh, so he chose that moment to pull the trigger. A Wisconsin listener wants to know the meaning and origin of that curious word, sockdologizing. If you want to read the whole play, which has some silly wordplay and a dopey riddle or two, it’s online at Project Gutenberg.

 Preventative vs. Preventive
Does one take preventive or preventative measures? A caller in Ocean Beach, California, who just graduated from an exercise science program wants to know which of these terms describes what she’s been studying.

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

Photo by Hisham Binsuwaif. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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16 Responses

  1. nign says:

    Here’s a little explanation and clarification for the Chinese slang “sea turtle” mentioned in this episode.

    The word is in fact a popular Mainland Chinese slang that’s widely known in Taiwan but not locally adopted, at least not by Taiwanese who live in Taiwan.

    It came about because the Chinese shorthand for “oversea returnee” is homophonous with the word for “sea turtle,” and both words begin with the Chinese word/character for “sea,” hence. 🙂

  2. dilettante says:

    … But what do you call someone who commutes along the same coast—between, say, Miami and New York? …

    The seasonal New York (or New England) to Miami traveler is often called a “snowbird”.

  3. Watchman says:

    I was reminded during the episode of a song written in Cockney rhyming slang by the late British eccentric and genius, Vivian Stanshall. He is sorely missed.

    Ginger Geezer

    Geezer, wot a ginger geezer,
    I nearly had a seizure,
    When I clocked him in the Frog.

    Spruced up in me piccolo,
    me tifter and me daisys,
    Bowling down the rubba with me cherry china fido.
    I rolled an oily rag,
    Me cherry bread and cheesed
    You won’t adam wot I sees:

    Some geezer, an ooly ginger geezer,
    A geezer wiv a hooter I suppose –
    I really had to rabbit an’ pork to this geezer,
    Itie-ice-cream freezer,
    Ginger geezer, sees-ya around.

  4. Pam Cadd says:

    Re sockdologizing:

    There’s a wonderfully humorous and suspenseful children’s book, Winter Cottage, in which some children and their father are whiling away the winter in a borrowed house. Father entertains the children by making wonderful pancakes for breakfast in three sizes: sockdollagers, golwhollickers and whales (which cover the whole plate).

    Now I know where the author got sockdollager, which I thought was just a made-up nonsense word!

  5. rikchik says:

    Is “biregional” too simple for the N-to-S California commuter?

  6. Monte says:

    I have an idea for someone who travels between SoCal and NorCal. Since it is SoCal and NorCal (not NoCal, as Grant stated in the episode), and since California has a rich Mexican history/influence, what about the word “Sonora”? It is a Mexican State that borders Arizona, but it encompasses SoCal’s “So”, NorCal’s “Nor”, and has that Mexican flavor.

    Not to be confused with someone from Sonora, CA (which I assume would be Sonoran). Maybe using the word “Sonora” as a noun. So people who travel between SoCal and NorCal would be sonoras. People from Sonora, CA would be Sonorans.

    Anyway, that’s something to kick around.

  7. MarcNaimark says:

    re going commando: I’ve always imagined that commandos would not wear underwear in order to avoid fungus-type problems, because the delicate areas of the body would have better ventilation without an extra layer of clothing.

  8. MarcNaimark says:

    Along the lines of “snowbirds”, how about “fogbirds”?

    I’m not sure this works for the caller’s case, but I like the idea of “happy trailer”.

  9. flashart says:

    Another option would be “Pacific Coast Highwaymen” 🙂

  10. Ed McKnight says:

    How about “No-So-Yo-Yo?”

  11. Gerry says:

    For the North/South California commuter:

    How about TOBOCA?

    TOp and BOttom of CAlifornia.

  12. Pam:

    Father entertains the children by making wonderful pancakes for breakfast in three sizes: sockdollagers, golwhollickers and whales (which cover the whole plate).

    Wah! I want to have breakfast THERE!

  13. markhowe says:

    Never heard the term “going commmando”, but in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1966 we were told not to wear skivvies because the trapped moisture caused jungle rot. As far as I know most of us never wore skivvies for the rest of our lives. Except I was forced to start recently when I had my prostate removed and had a little leakage. But around the house I dispense with them with great relief.

  14. markhowe says:

    I was taught in school that when the H is silent, you say “an” since a vowel normally follows the H. Seems way too logical. Don’t they teach that anymore? Seems like there were several more rules that went along the same lines.

  15. Thanks for the skinny on your skivvies, Mark. We do like getting these firsthand reports.

    And yup, that rule’s logical, all right. “An ‘erb garden,” for example.

  16. Bill 5 says:

    After listening to the Feb 2 repodcast, I brought up “going commando” to one of my buddies who was in Air Force special ops for many years.  He has many stories of working with the various “commando” types that he flew around, dropped, supplied, & picked up — SEALs, Rangers, Delta, British SAS, Kiwi SAS, Aussie SAS, Korean special forces, etc., and he regaled us with one more, about 1980, when he was a 2nd LT in the Philippines.

    The SEALs, in particular, were the over-the-top ones.  And so secretive, that they would not leave their .. poop .. in the woods, where it might be discovered.  His details on this were a bit sketchy, but it was very important that they didn't drop their drawers and leave anything behind.  (Just like some of the ecologically sensitive area back country hikes in the Sierras, now-a-days…)

    Where this all came out was at a particular bar in the Philippines, known as the SEAL Bar.  (Not its name, but its usage.)  Only those who qualified as real commandos could drink there, and the SEALs would check each entering patron to ensure they were “going commando”.  If someone walked in wearing underpants, they would be unceremoniously ripped up and off, and ceremoniously nailed to the wall.

    He mentioned 1980 before I told him you had a 1982 citation, and about the 1996 Friends episode.