Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound, well, of a certain age? Grant and Martha discuss language that’s lost on other generations. Why is the entree the main course? Shouldn’t it come first? And why is the letter k silent in “knot” and “knight”? Plus, the right way to say “the,” a remedy for the superstition of splitting the pole, names for the toes straight from Mother Goose, the difference between finished and done, and a special word quiz for all you zombie fans!
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This episode first aired October 31, 2011.

Download the MP3 here.

 Outdated Language
Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound out of touch? Are you using outdated slang? Changes in pop culture and catchphrases are always marking the generational gap, from the sitcom characters we love to the way we say something’s cool.

The “Doogie Howser” scene in the movie 50/50 is a perfect example.

 Done vs. Finished
What’s the difference between done and finished? If you’ve completed something, are you done? Or are you finished? Grant and Martha contend that there’s no historical evidence to suggest a difference between the two, although finished is slightly more formal.

 Entrees
Why are main courses called entrees in the US? Why isn’t the entree the first course of a meal? In 19th Century Britain, the entree came after a course of soup or fish, but before the main portion of the meal, such as a boar’s head. Over time, the main course converged into one course, but the name entree stuck.

 “Of” Instead of “Before” the Hour
If it’s ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.

 More Old-Fashioned Language
Grant and Martha share some more terms that make a person sound old-fashioned these days. Ever get a blank stare when you mention the icebox?

 Zombie Word Puzzle
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a zombiefied puzzle called Dead Reckoning. What’s the problem with putting zombies in the legislature? A deadlocked government!

 Pronouncing “Garage”
How do you pronounce garage? Does it rhyme with “barrage,” or do you say it like the British so it rhymes with “carriage”? The variations abound, and they all work.

 Rule for Pronouncing “The”
There’s a rule for the pronunciation of the word “the.” If it’s followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like “/thee/,” as in, the end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with “duh,” as in “the dog”. That’s thuh long and thuh short of it.

 Outdated Word Comebacks
Some outdated words wind up coming back in cheeky and ironic ways. For example, kids these days likely know groovy from Austin Powers, not from the flower children.

 Pole-Splitting Superstition
It’s a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn’t each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there’s a remedy: just say bread and butter! There’s an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that.

And of course, there’s a Facebook page devoted to keeping poles whole.

 Hyperpolyglots
There’s a story going around about a 19th Century priest named Giuseppe Mezzofanti who claimed to speak forty to fifty languages. Hyperpolyglots, or those who speak six or more languages fluently, offer some key insights into learnings language. Michael Erard chronicles all this in his linguistic cliffhanger, Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners.

 Mouthfeel of Words
Is there a term for the way words feel when they’re spoken that has nothing to do with their meaning? The word “suitcase” feels nice to say, unlike rural. “Cellar door” certainly has a different quality than “moist ointment.” Mouthfeel is an oft-noted concept. But in his book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount, Jr., says of his favorite term to enunciate: polyurethane foam. His reason? “It’s just so sayable.”

 Not Those Rubbers, These Rubbers
Depending on what generation you’re from, “Get your rubbers!” could mean put on your galoshes or it put on something else!

 Silent K
Did we ever pronounce the “k” sound in the words “knot” or “know”? The now-silent k underwent apheresis, from Greek meaning “to take off.” In olden days, the word knight also had an initial-k sound, and a “kin-not” was the thing you tie. But nowadays, as Blount would say, the k in knot is silent, “like the p in swimming.”

 Innocent Boner
At one time, a boner was a mistake. And now, it’s — you know. Beware of that outdated usage, grownups!

 Names for the Toes
Do our toes have names? Mother Goose and Scandinavian nursery rhymes gave us variants of Tom Pumpkin, Long Larkin, Betty Pringle, Johnny Jingle, and Little Dick. Sounds cooler than big toe, no? A whole lot more shared here.

 Baseball Riddle
What dessert would you serve a baseball player? Why, a bundt cake, of course!

Photo by amie2105. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard
Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Funky Fever Joe Thomas Feelin’s From Within Groove Merchant
A Place in Space Joe Thomas Here I Come Lester Radio Corporation
Polarizer Joe Thomas Feelin’s From Within Groove Merchant
Dig On It Jimmy McGriff Soul Sugar Capitol Records
NT Kool and The Gang The Best of Kool and the Gang (1969-1976) Mercury
Base Line Syd Dale Cinemaphonic 2: Soul Punch Motel Records
Do I Have To Boogaloo? The Double Dozen Orchestra Dance Date Amphonic Music Ltd
London Life The Syd Dale Orchestra London Life Amphonic Music Ltd
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George & Ira Gershwin Song Book UMG Recordings
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30 Responses

  1. EmmettRedd says:

    You can also have aphereis if you go to the blood bank. They centrifuge out the red blood cells and return them to you. They bag the yellow platelets.

  2. Heimhenge says:

    Grant Barrett said: At one time, a boner was a mistake. And now, it’s — you know. Beware of that outdated usage, grownups!

    Yeah, and at one time, the term woody meant a vehicle with real wood exterior panels.

    And before that, it was a synonym for “wooded.”

    Ngrams says its usage has leveled off since the 40s-50s (the heyday of wood paneled vehicles).

  3. spaltor says:

    There’s a rule for the pronunciation of the word “the.” If it’s followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like “/thee/,” as in, the end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with “duh,” as in “the dog”. That’s thuh long and thuh short of it.

    I first learned this rule back in Elementary School – specifically in select chorus. It’s a very clear memory. We were learning about singing syllables, and how important it was that were were all singing on the same vowel, and someone asked about when to sing “thee” versus “thuh.” And that’s when Ms. Rapkin taught us this rule.

  4. Halszka says:

    Haven’t posted anything in a long while ^_^ I’m so happy for that old, old “kromka” as a Polish term shout out.

    There is one context where the rule of pronunciation for “the” is religiously followed – and preached, and that is English as a Second Language. In every English Language classroom outside the native English speaking zone you will be taught this rule at the very beginning of your schooling. It’s all part of the “th-” allophones pronunciation, which is not at all easy for people who don’t have it in their mother tongues, and part of the great obligatory article tirade (to my mind there’s way too much time spent on such a petty and instinctively-mastered rule, but hey, it’s just me). And as foreigners we are also taught one more exception: all words baginning with “u-” can be preceded with “the” in whichever pronunciation, emphasis or no, due to “u’s” phonetic status (referring to the “j” semivowel preceding the “u” in pronunciation).
    Also, English students throughout the world also get chewed up over the initial “kn-“/”gn-” pronunciation/spelling, too ^_^.

    Also about the call about telling the time. The grammatical construcion of “It’s X (minutes) of Y(hours)” as in “It’s 20 (minutes) of six (hours)” looks very much like, indeed it looks like a calque of the russian syntactic construction for telling the time. In Russian one would say “20 (минут) шестого” (“шестого” means the “six” marked with possessive). And that’s standard, casual way of telling time. I would not be surprised at all to find that it actually is some sort of a syntactic calque brought over by Russian immigrants way back when.

  5. Ron Draney says:

    Did the show not already cover the names for the individual toes? I’m sure I remember Latin terms derived from “little piggy who went to market”, etc.

    In any event, the Scandinavian versions reminded me of one from my own infancy (not that I recall it from then, but from being told about it a few years later) for the facial features. The grown-up would point to each part of the child’s face calling out its name: “Fore bumper” (the forehead), “eye winker” (right eye), “Tom Tinker” (left eye), “nose smeller”, “mouth eater”, “chin chopper”, and finally “gullygullygullygullygully” (tickling the throat up and down).

    Come to think of it, they never paid anything close to the same amount of attention to our toes.

  6. margs says:

    On the topic of “I’m done!” vs. “I’m finished!”:

    In French, a common mistake that early learners make is to use “Je suis fini” in place of “J’ai fini.”
    I bring this up because “Je suis fini,” literally translated, means ‘I am finished’ but actually connotes “I’m dead!”
    “J’ai fini”, the correct term to use, means ‘I have finished’.

    This also makes sense if you replace the verb with another one that denotes a deed that has been completed. For example: One doesn’t say ‘I’m chopped’ when they’ve completed chopping carrots, they say “I have (or I’ve) chopped”

    Since I became aware of this issue in French, I’ve been averse to using “I’m done” or “I’m finished” in English as it brings to mind the idea that one’s ‘being’ is finished and therefore dead (or at least cooked to doneness, as in “Stick a fork in me, I’m done!”) I’d tend to agree with the listener who mentioned that a good correction to make is “the work is done.” I would also add as a second part “I have finished.” “The work is done, I have finished!”
    Anyone agree? Disagree?

  7. Ron Draney says:

    I’m surprised more discussion didn’t result from the suggestion that the with a long E and the with a schwa are two words that happen to share the same spelling.

    I was taught in ninth-grade English that there are actually two words spelled some. One is a sort of plural indefinite article used in sentences like You will find some peanuts in that dish and has an unstressed vowel; the other is a more conventional adjective such as in The preacher took some of the peanuts and has a stressed middle vowel. I’ve asked people from time to time, but it appears this distinction was made only in the particular (generative-transformational) grammar book Miss Smith used for my class.

    (A different sort of homographic problem emerges periodically in a Usenet group that I frequent. One of the other participants is autistic and has said that he’s troubled by the word rare meaning both “lightly cooked” and “uncommon”. I’ve tried with the intent of easing his discomfort suggesting that there are in fact two words that happen to share the same spelling. He’s acknowledged that he grasps the concept but it’s not clear that he feels any better about it.)

  8. Dick says:

    I’m surprised more discussion didn’t result from the suggestion that the with a long E and the with a schwa are two words that happen to share the same spelling.

    It would not only be two words with the same spelling but also the same definition.
    I don’t think we can legitimately call it two different words unless the definition and usage are different.

  9. Glenn says:

    Halszka said:

    The grammatical construcion of “It’s X (minutes) of Y(hours)” as in “It’s 20 (minutes) of six (hours)” looks very much like, indeed it looks like a calque of the russian syntactic construction for telling the time. In Russian one would say “20 (минут) шестого” (“шестого” means the “six” marked with possessive). And that’s standard, casual way of telling time. I would not be surprised at all to find that it actually is some sort of a syntactic calque brought over by Russian immigrants way back when.


    There is an important difference between the English and Russian constructions: they don’t refer to the same time. The temporal relationships are completely different, so they are false calques.

    In English, “20 of 2″ means that in 20 minutes it will be 2 o’clock, or 1:40.
    In Russian, 20 of 2 (двадцать второго: dvatsat’ vtorogo) means that it is 20 minutes into the 2nd hour, or 1:20. (Yes, I do mean 1:20 and not 2:20!)

    To translate “20 of 2″ as English means it into Russian, you would say “minus 20, 2″ (без двадцати два: bez dvatsati dva).

  10. Aodhan of Lindisfarne says:

    The dictionary on this here doomaflatchie lists 12 primary definitions for “of”. Not all of those translate well to Russian by simply rendering a noun in the genitive.

  11. basia says:

    So, I am an elementary music teacher, and I learned a wonderful folk song that we all thought was a lesson in life and death, but now it seems to be about the baby toe? Here are the lyrics:
    There was an old woman and she had a little pig (hmm-mm-mm)
    There was an old woman and she had a little pig (hmm-mm-mm)
    There was an old woman and she had a little pig. Didn’t cost much ‘cause he wasn’t very big. (hmmm-mm-m)

    Now this old woman kept the pig on the farm…
    … prettiest thing she had in the barn.

    Now this old woman fed the pig on clover…
    …and he laid down and died all over.

    The little old woman she sobbed and she sighed…
    …and then she too laid down and died.

    The little old man he died of grief…
    …now wasn’t that a sad relief?

    Now that’s the end of of 1, 2, 3…
    …the man, the woman, and the little piggy.

    There’s bread and butter on the shelf…
    …if you want any more you can sing it yourself.

    I’ll call and sing it for you sometime! :-)

    Ron Draney said:

    Did the show not already cover the names for the individual toes? I’m sure I remember Latin terms derived from “little piggy who went to market”, etc.

    In any event, the Scandinavian versions reminded me of one from my own infancy (not that I recall it from then, but from being told about it a few years later) for the facial features. The grown-up would point to each part of the child’s face calling out its name: “Fore bumper” (the forehead), “eye winker” (right eye), “Tom Tinker” (left eye), “nose smeller”, “mouth eater”, “chin chopper”, and finally “gullygullygullygullygully” (tickling the throat up and down).

    Come to think of it, they never paid anything close to the same amount of attention to our toes.


  12. pixelsound says:

    I grew up in Underhill, Vermont and I heard garage pronounced “gah-rar-ge” plenty. I don”t say it that way. It was sometimes used making fun of the “hick/redneck” type that might pronounce it that way. It is very familiar to me, so I was surprised to hear that y”all hadn”t heard of that.

  13. pixelsound says:

    Re: how words feel when you say them:
    The band Elbow took their name (from Wikipedia:)”…after a line in the BBC TV drama The Singing Detective. A character (Philip Marlowe) says that the word “elbow” is the most sensuous word in the English language; not for its definition, but for how it feels to say it.”

  14. Christopher Murray says:

    “I”m done” sounds wrong to me, making me think of being fully cooked, as Martha suggested. “I”m finished” sounds slightly better, but still makes me think the end is nigh. I would say “I”ve finished.”

    I have heard Americans use the construction “Ten of five” for the time, but I always thought I was mis-hearing “Ten off five.” i.e. It”s not yet on the hour, but ten minutes off.

    “Entree” doesn”t sound particularly odd to me for a course that doesn”t come at the start of the meal. “Entre” is a French preposition meaning “Between.”

  15. Glenn says:

    My heart goes out to nonnative speakers of English. Can you imagine trying to distinguish from among these three when spoken in natural conversation?

    I”ve finished.
    I”m finished.
    I finished.

  16. CheddarMelt says:

    I have never felt too comfortable with the “ten of” construction. I’ve never been quite certain whether the speaker means “ten til” or “ten after.”

  17. Emano says:

    “Mouth feel” of words seems a good term.   I don’t think of words that way, but my 17 year old daughter does.   For years, she has told me that she hates the word “bicker” because it is “gross,” and the word “clench” makes her shudder.

  18. Gemma says:

    How about mouth appeal, like eye appeal? If the latter is beautiful to the eye, then the former can be beautiful to the mouth.

  19. Danny says:

    Grant Barrett said:

    If it’s ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.

     

    On the show, Grant made an offhand comment that when we say “ten till five”, the word “till” is “short for until”. Is that right?? I remember learning that “till” is an OLDER word than “until”, and was never its abbreviated form. Anyone want to weigh in on this?

  20. Glenn says:

    Welcome.

    You are completely right about “till”. Those who write it as
    ’til
    are mistaken.

    I don’t recall Grant’s comment. If he meant it the way it sounds, you caught him in a rare, but welcome blunder.

  21. torpeau says:

    Christopher Murray said:

    “I”m done” sounds wrong to me, making me think of being fully cooked, as Martha suggested. “I”m finished” sounds slightly better, but still makes me think the end is nigh. I would say “I”ve finished.”

     

     

    On a show several years ago, a caller said her father always reminded her that “done” is when the meat has cooked, and “through/thru” was when you are finished with something. That is also is what sounds right to my ear.

     

    (Can’t get rid of that lavender background. Arghhh!)

  22. hippogriff says:

    Some words that should show one’s age go by without notice: dial a number (with push buttons), tape a program (on a chip).

     

    Zombies: It is not dead reckoning, but ded reckoning – from deduced. On cloudy days, the sun and stars can’t be seen to get a position with sextant and chronometer, so it is deduced from speed, compass bearing, and drift. Out of range of Loran stations, it was the most common form until GPS got within a mile of accurate.

     

    In British Columbia, it was GArazh.

     

    The: Words starting with U get elided: thumbrella.

     

    “Outdated” songs get the same way. As Time Goes By was written well before its lasting fame in Casablanca. God Bless America was written in 1917, flopped, and consigned to the trunk until 1940.

     

    Hyperpolyglots: There is a saying that after three, it is easy. I wouldn’t know, being “educated” in Texas, I do well to speak English and almost read French, yet I can see some logic in it from having to archive in several languages in which I have a decipher with translating dictionary ability.

     

    Comfortable words: The mid-20th century essayist, Harry Golden, claimed the best was belladonna and the worst was slalom.

     

    The song about the old woman and the pig is structured very closely on Froggy Went a Courting. The lines ended in mm, mm, grum’ [glottal stop], and the whole thing in mm, mm, and a realistic imitation of a bullfrog’s jug-a-rum sound. There’s bread and cheese upon the shelf, If you want to hear more, you can sing it yourself, is almost a cliché ending in folk songs.

  23. Dick says:

    Hippogriff said:

    Zombies: It is not dead reckoning, but ded reckoning – from deduced. On cloudy days, the sun and stars can’t be seen to get a position with sextant and chronometer, so it is deduced from speed, compass bearing, and drift. Out of range of Loran stations, it was the most common form until GPS got within a mile of accurate.


    See this link for a different opinion:

    <http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2053/is-dead-reckoning-short-for-deduced-reckoning&gt;

  24. The most embarrassing oldster blooper I ever made was referring to”flip-flops” as “thongs.” I miss that usage!

  25. telemath says:

    Melissa T Smith said:

    The most embarrassing oldster blooper I ever made was referring to”flip-flops” as “thongs.” I miss that usage!

    Just last weekend, I heard my mother refer to “flip-flops” as “zorries”.   I haven’t heard that term since I was a kid.

  26. Daniel A. Russ says:

    This was the first episode of your show that I’ve heard, and it was great!

     

    I created an account mostly to chime in with the caller that could “feel” words, and to say that I’ve also been struggling for most of my adult life to explain this to other people.   Although the words I despise (often words with -ood sounds, like rude, or virtually any word with an -ie sound at the end of it) are different from hers, I think my level of revulsion is similar.   The actual definition of a word doesn’t seem to really matter whether or not my brains enjoy it.

    That said, I think your calling this a mild synesthesia is probably the best description that I’ve seen for it – hearing it in connection with hating specific word sounds felt like getting hit by a thunderbolt – so thanks for that.

    Synesthesia

  27. AnWulf says:

    Danny said:

    Grant Barrett said:

    If it’s ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.

     

    On the show, Grant made an offhand comment that when we say “ten till five”, the word “till” is “short for until”. Is that right?? I remember learning that “till” is an OLDER word than “until”, and was never its abbreviated form. Anyone want to weigh in on this?

    Til (no apostrophe) is older than till which is older than until. Old English til > Middle English til, till > New English til, till, until. For me, till is what a farmer does to the ground or a money box. I like til.

    He slepeth…Al nyght  til  the sonne gan aryse. — The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer, c1390
    I just don’t know how to just come out in the blue and say it, so I just wait  til  it comes up… —  The Role of Close Friends in African American Adolescents’ Dating and Sexual Behavior, 2004
  28. hippogriff says:

    Dick: I would have liked to have read your link, but it was disallowed because of “unacceptable characters” whatever that means.

  29. EmmettRedd says:

    hippogriff said:

    Dick: I would have liked to have read your link, but it was disallowed because of “unacceptable characters” whatever that means.

    I think I had the page come up (a few days ago) by removing the last three characters, “&gt”.

    Emmett

  30. Dick says:

    EmmettRedd said:

    hippogriff said:

    Dick: I would have liked to have read your link, but it was disallowed because of “unacceptable characters” whatever that means.

    I think I had the page come up (a few days ago) by removing the last three characters, “&gt”.

    Emmett

    Try this:

     

    <http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2053/is-dead-reckoning-short-for-deduced-reckoning

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