If you’ve “seen the elephant,” it means you’ve been in combat. But why an elephant? Martha and Grant also discuss some odd idioms in Spanish, including one that translates as “your bowtie is whistling.” And what names do you call your grandparents?

This episode first aired January 22, 2011. Listen here:

Download the MP3 here (24.9 MB).

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If you’re in Bangladesh, the expression that translates as “oiling your mustache in anticipation of the jackfruit tree bearing fruit” makes perfect sense. In English, it means “don’t count your chickens.”

A discussion thread on Reddit with this and many other examples has Martha and Grant talking about odd idioms in other languages.

A Marine stationed in California says that growing up in North Carolina, he understood the expression fixin’ to mean “to be about to.”

Some office workers say their word processor’s spellchecker always flags the words overnighted and overnighting. Are those words acceptable in a business environment?

You really love peeled potatoes.” That’s a translation of a Venezuelan idiom describing someone who’s lazy. Grant and Martha share other idioms from South America.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word puzzle called “Blank My Blank.”

A woman in Burlington, Vermont, says her mother used to use the expression land o’ Goshen! to express surprise or amazement. Where is Goshen?

A Yankee transplant to the South says that restaurant servers are confused when he tells them, “I’m all set.” Is he all set to continue his meal, or all set to leave?

A woman in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, remembers a ditty she learned from her mother about “thirty purple birds,” but with a distinctive pronunciation that sounds more like “Toidy poipel blackbirds / Sittin’ on a coibstone / Choipin’ and boipin’ / And eatin’ doity oithworms.” Here’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers version.

Martha offers excellent writing advice from the former editor of People magazine, Landon Y. Jones.

A former Texan wonders if only Texans use the terms Mamaw and Papaw instead of Grandma and Grandpa.

Martha shares some Argentine idioms, including one that translates as “What a handrail!” for “What a bad smell!”

A West Point graduate says he and fellow members of the military use the expression He has seen the elephant to mean “He’s seen combat.” Grant explains that this expression originated outside the military.

Do you flesh out a plan or flush out a plan?

Another Argentine idiom goes arrugaste como frenada de gusano. It means “You were scared,” but literally, it’s “You wrinkled like a stopping worm.”

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13 Responses

  1. Ron Draney says:

    During the show listeners were invited to report the names they had for grandparents, so here’s my data point:

    My mother’s parents were “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. Because we saw them less often, my father’s parents were qualified as “Grandma Mary” and “Grandpa Wally”.

    The oddity comes when you jump beyond that in any direction. My great-grandmother was “Granny”, not entirely due to her similarity in personality and bearing to the character from “The Beverly Hillbillies”. It was many years before I realized that other people called their grandmothers by that term. Living with Granny (across the street from us) was Grandma’s older sister (my great aunt), variously called “Granny Jo” or “Georgie”.

    Great aunts and great uncles on all sides were simply “Aunt So-and-so” and “Uncle So-and-so”; both my mother and father were an only child (I’ve never come up with a good way of pluralizing that expression) so we had no actual “Aunt” or “Uncle”. My cousin-once-removed (Georgie’s daughter) was called “Aunt Alice” because she was closer to the age of my grandmother’s younger sister, and it didn’t seem right to call someone that much older “Cousin”.

  2. Jackie says:

    When my daughter (the first grandchild) was first learning to speak, she called my mother “Ama.” That quickly turned to “Ada” and that version stuck. My father is Pop Pop. All of my parents’ grandchildren call them Ada & Pop Pop. My husband’s mother, being Dutch, is “Oma.”

    As for my great-aunts and great-uncles, they were always just plain “Aunt” and “Uncle.”

  3. Heimhenge says:

    Ron Draney said:

    During the show listeners were invited to report the names they had for grandparents, so here’s my data point:

    My mother’s parents were “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. Because we saw them less often, my father’s parents were qualified as “Grandma Mary” and “Grandpa Wally”.


    Maybe this is regional (Wisconsin), or maybe it was just careless pronunciation, but we always dropped the “d” and just said “Gramma” and “Grampa.” But that was on my mother’s side, and we were very close to them … lived in their upstairs apartment in fact.

    But for my dad’s side, it was always “Gramma Heim” and “Grampa Heim” perhaps to just distinguish them form the other “Gramma” and “Grampa.”

    All my aunts and uncles, regardless of generation, were just that. Aunt (first name) and Uncle (first name).

  4. stevenz says:

    I remember reading in Newsweek a long time ago an article about an up an coming Russian politician who was considered in Russia to be “a piano in the shrubbery”. It means someone not totally trustworthy, or shady, I guess. I think it’s hilarious.

  5. tromboniator says:

    Ron Draney said:

    both my mother and father were an only child (I’ve never come up with a good way of pluralizing that expression)


    I’ve had the same problem, and have at times said “only children,” but we all know how that ends up. Sometimes I’ve said they were “onlies,” which gets it across, but I don’t like it. “Neither of my parents had siblings” has become my standard, and if it makes people think I’m a verbal showoff, so be it.

    Both of my grandmothers were twice widowed by the time I was born, so I never addressed my grandfathers. My father’s mother was Grandma or, probably more accurately, Gramma. My mother’s mother wanted nothing to do with anything that implied her age, so she was always Lucy. I have recently become a grandfather myself, and it looks as if I will be Grandpa, or Grampa. My wife, Laura, who in college was known as Llama (pronounced lama) will be Llauma, which she has now adopted as her business name for selling jewelry and other craft-work.

    Peter

  6. johng423 says:

    So… you “flesh out” a plan (add substance to the outline, or add “meat” to the “bones,” so to speak).

    But “flush out” (not “flesh out”) would apply to hunting, right?
    The cougar flushed a rabbit out of hiding, but couldn’t catch it.
    The bird dog flushed out three pheasants that day.

  7. johng423 says:

    A different kind of writing than what Martha linked to (see initial post), but this may be helpful to those who want to learn to write better but do not aspire to be professional writers. [Martha and Grant - I hope you deem this essay worthy to be mentioned on the show.]

    How to Write A Personal Letter, by Garrison Keillor
    http://books.google.com/books?id=1QAAAAAAMBAJ&pg=RA1-PA64&lpg=RA1-PA64&dq=keillor+how+to+write+letter&source=bl&ots=XvHIjJ0o5A&sig=4bfZS4VZiNBC3kv7wfI3l-JOeIo&hl=en&ei=9uVRTdTfKYu88QTRm5XDCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAjgo#v=onepage&q=keillor%20how%20to%20write%20letter&f=false

    NOTE: This is a link to the earliest (1998) publication I could find, but is probably not the original publication of the essay. (At that point in time, 30 million reprints had already been distributed. I don’t know if reprints are still available from the same supplier.) Many other web sites and blogs copy or refer to the same essay, but few if any have a proper or adequate citation to allow the reader to trace the source document. (I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if someone does track down the reference, please post the information.)

  8. kildonon says:

    johng423 said:

    So… you “flesh out” a plan (add substance to the outline, or add “meat” to the “bones,” so to speak).

    But “flush out” (not “flesh out”) would apply to hunting, right?
    The cougar flushed a rabbit out of hiding, but couldn’t catch it.
    The bird dog flushed out three pheasants that day.


    I absolutely agree. It has always been my understanding that to flush out was related to hunting. To bring out or bring forth or forward. ‘Flush out’ wouldn’t mean to flush a toilet. LOL.

    Flesh out seems very strange to me. Have you ever known someone to actually add flesh to someone or something? Maybe a Taxidermist, or if you eat to much you might flesh out. LOL. :D

  9. EmmettRedd says:

    kildonon said: Flesh out seems very strange to me. Have you ever known someone to actually add flesh to someone or something? Maybe a Taxidermist, or if you eat to much you might flesh out. LOL. :D


    Read Ezekiel for a prototypical flesh out.

  10. jwaldon77 says:

    kildonon said:

    johng423 said:

    So… you “flesh out” a plan (add substance to the outline, or add “meat” to the “bones,” so to speak).

    But “flush out” (not “flesh out”) would apply to hunting, right?
    The cougar flushed a rabbit out of hiding, but couldn’t catch it.
    The bird dog flushed out three pheasants that day.


    I absolutely agree. It has always been my understanding that to flush out was related to hunting. To bring out or bring forth or forward. ‘Flush out’ wouldn’t mean to flush a toilet. LOL.

    Flesh out seems very strange to me. Have you ever known someone to actually add flesh to someone or something? Maybe a Taxidermist, or if you eat to much you might flesh out. LOL. :D


    I agree too. I grew up in a community where hunting was a big part of life. Whenever we did something to an idea we flushed it out, which meant to get it out in the open where it was easier to see. Similar to how you flush a bird out of the brush so you can get a clean shot.

  11. dhutchens says:

    Regarding names for grandparents, my grandkids call me Grand Dale. I chose this before I even had children, when I heard bandleader Woody Herman’s granddaughter refer to him as Grand Woody.

  12. Chana C says:

    We call my mother’s parents Bubbe and Zeidy (pronounced B-uh-bee and Z-ae-dee), the Yiddish terms for Grandma and Grandpa. I’ve heard of people using variations of these: Babba and Zeida, and Babu and Zeidu. My father’s mother wanted to be called the Hebrew version, “Savta” because she felt it made her sound younger (the Hebrew version of Grandfather is ‘Saba’). My father’s father and stepmother opted for plain Granpa and Granma (without the ‘d’s).

  13. tchellman says:

    We called my paternal grandmother “Ah-ha,” as in the affirmative. We all called her that because we thought that was her name because that’s all she ever said to our questions. We would ask “Why?” and she would just answer “Ah-ha.”
    Grandpa was always Poppy, but not for the reason you’d think. We called him Poppy because of Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop. I would always read it and when I got to that part would hop and jump on grandpa’s chest. Heaven know’s how he endured it!

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