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A Gazelle on the Lawn

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What do you say if you have guests over and someone in your family has stray food left on the face? In some households, the secret warning is “there’s a gazelle on the lawn.” But why a gazelle? Also, this week: the term for a party to introduce one’s new baby to family and friends, the past tense of the verb “to text”, and why some people use three syllables when pronouncing “realtor.” And did you know there’s a language in which it’s perfectly normal to wash your clothes in Barf? This episode first aired March 21, 2010.

Language of Fires

 A recent fire in Grant’s apartment building has him pondering the role played by fire in English idioms.

Code for “Food on Your Face”

 A listener in Washington, D.C., says that his parents taught him that when guests were over for dinner and a family member had specks of food on his face, the polite way to surreptitiously nudge him into wiping it off was to say, “Look! There’s a gazelle on the lawn.” Is that unique to his family?

Automotive Tom Swifty

 Martha shares a great automotive Tom Swifty sent in by a listener.


 What do you call a party that new parents throw to introduce a baby to family and friends? Kiss-and-cry? Try sip-and-see.

Boogieman Riddle

 Here’s the kind of riddle they were telling more than a century ago: “The lazy schoolboy hates my name, yet eats me every day. But those who seek scholastic fame to hunt me never delay.”

Word Quiz Double Letters

 Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a word quiz about words and phrases that have two sets of a double letter. Here’s an example with a one-word answer: “The place where you learn ‘the three R’s.'”

Realtor Pronunciation

 A Tallahassee listener hates it when realtors pronounce the name of their profession “REAL-a-tor.” Why do they do that?

Texted vs. Text

 What’s the proper past tense of the word text? Texted or text?

Nautical Tom Swifty

 Martha tries to stump Grant with another Tom Swifty, this one nautical in nature.

I Swannee!

 The phrases “Well, I swan!” and “Well, I swannee!” are genteel substitutes for swearing. Where do those phrases come from?

Detergent False Friend

 Martha shares listener email about linguistic “false friends,” those perplexing words in other languages that look like English words, but mean something completely different. A case in point is the detergent popular in the Middle East called “Barf,” the name of which happens to be the Farsi word for “snow.” Skeptical? Behold!

Dried Fruit Names

 Dry a grape and it becomes a raisin, dry a plum and it turns into a prune. Why don’t we just call them dried grapes and dried plums?


 Parents sometimes refer to their rascally kids as honyocks. Where’d we get a word like that?

The Noisiest Vowel

 Another riddle: Why is “O” the noisiest of all the vowels?

People Who Work With Words

 What’s the difference between a lexicographer, a linguist, and a wordsmith?

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

Photo by Paul Mannix. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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