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A Few Pickles Short of a Jar

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“A few pickles short of a jar,” “a few peas short of a casserole,” “two French fries short of a Happy Meal”—this week, Martha and Grant discuss these and other full-deckisms, those clever ways to describe someone who falls short in some way. Also, what’s the story behind the old phrase “fish or cut bait”? When does the word it’s have an apostrophe? And is “that’s a good question” really a good response? This episode first aired April 10, 2010.


 “Not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree lights,” “The wind is blowing but nothing’s moving,” “A few tacos short of a combo platter.” After Grant tells a story on himself, the hosts discuss euphemistic ways of saying someone’s not playing with a full deck.

Possessive Form of “It”

 Is it ever okay to write the word it’s to indicate the possessive? Is the correct sentence “The dog is chewing its bone,” or “The dog is chewing it’s bone”? It’s easy to figure out once you know the formula: It’s = it is. Grant mentions that there’s an ice cream called “It’s It.”

Fish or Cut Bait

 “Fish or cut bait.” What does it mean, exactly? Stop fishing and cut your line, or stop fishing and do something else useful, like cutting bait?

Norwegian Tann Paste

 In an earlier episode, we discussed linguistic false friends, those words in foreign languages that look like familiar English words, but mean something quite different. Martha reads an email response from a listener who learned the hard way that in Norway “Tann Paste” is not the same as “tanning cream.”

Categorical Allies Puzzle

 Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a puzzle called “Categorical Allies.” After he says a word, you must come up with second word that’s in the same category, and begins with the last two letters of the original word. For example, if he says “Sampras,” then the category is tennis, and the second word is “Ashe.” Now try this first clue: “Sacramento.” The second word would be…?

That’s a Good Question

 If someone says, “That’s a good question,” do you find it annoying or insincere?


 A Texas caller wonders about the origin and meaning of the term ultracrepidarian.

Entomological Riddle

 Grant shares an entomological—not etymological— riddle.

Galloping Horse Expression

 The expression “It’ll never be seen on a galloping horse” means “Don’t be such a perfectionist.” But why? A caller remembers an even odder version: It’ll never be seen on a galloping goose.

Linguistic Reason for Name Confusion

 In an earlier episode, a caller named Todd said that people are forever calling him Scott. He wondered if there was some linguistic reason that people so often confused these names. Grant does a follow-up on why people sometimes mix up names.

Make Ends Meet

 You’re struggling to live on a budget. Are you trying to make ends meet or make ends meat?

All Cornflakes in One Box

 The hosts offer some more full-deckisms, such as “He doesn’t have all his cornflakes in one box” and “She thought she couldn’t use her AM radio in the evening.”

Both and “Bolth”

 A San Francisco man confesses he routinely pronounces the word both as “bolth.” Grant gives him the results of an informal online survey that shows the caller he’s not alone—some 10 percent of respondents said they do the same thing.

Morbid Fascination

 Is there a single word that sums up the idea of morbid fascination?

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

Photo by The Farmstrs. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

New Eastern DayTimeless TimmyUnreleasedTimeless Takeover
Soul of AshleyTimeless TimmyUnreleasedTimeless Takeover
Sound Of The GhostClutchy HopkinsWalking BackwardsUbiquity Records
ContemplationTimeless TimmyUnreleasedTimeless Takeover
FrankensteinThe Edgar Winter GroupThey Only Come Out At NightSony
Song For WolfieClutchy HopkinsWalking BackwardsUbiquity Records
Cut The CakeAverage White BandCut The CakeAtlantic
The ChickenThe JB’sSoul Pride: Instrumentals ’60-’69Polygram Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald and Louis ArmstrongThe Best of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis ArmstrongPolygram Records

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1 comment
  • I dug up this old episode after finding that just about every interview I hear on the radio these days seems to include a guest responding, “That’s a really good question” — and now, after hearing it so often in so many different discussions, I find it really annoying. Apparently (according to several websites advising speakers) it’s being taught as a way to “buy some time.” I’m beginning to wonder if I’d prefer the old “Ah” or “Um” — they’re not so insincere, at any rate!

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