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A Moniker for Your Monitor

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Fess up: do you have a pet name for your car? How about your computer? Martha and Grant discuss the urge to give nicknames to inanimate objects in our lives. Also, why do we speak of vetting a political candidate? And what in the world is a zoo plane?

This episode first aired October 18, 2008.

Nicknames for Inanimate Objects

 Do you spend so much quality time with your computer that you’ve given it an affectionate name? What is it about inanimate objects—particularly technological gadgets—that inspires us to give them special nicknames? Martha raises these questions and Grant reveals his computer’s name.


 “If I had my druthers…” A former Texan says the youngsters he works with in his adopted home of Ohio don’t understand this expression meaning “If I had my way.” He wants to know its origin. If you still can’t get enough of the word “druthers,” this video should cure you pretty quickly.

Tips to Boost Vocabulary

 What’s the best way to improve vocabulary and remember the words you learn? When a San Diego listener asks that question, Grant and Martha share vocabulary-boosting practical tips. Forget the flash cards and reach for a library card instead!

Etymology of Political “Vetting”

 We hear a lot about vetting candidates for political office, but where’d we get the verb to vet? Does vetting have to do with “veterans,” “veterinarians,” or something else entirely?

The Yo-Yo Quiz

 John Chaneski’s latest puzzle is “The Yo-Yo Quiz,” and it’s not about famous cellists or first person pronouns in Spanish. The object is to guess the missing word that can be paired with either “up” or “down” to mean different things. For example, try to guess the one-word answer here: “With ‘up,’ it means ‘to laugh uncontrollably.’ With ‘down’ it means ‘to become more strict about an issue.'”

Poor as Joe’s Turkey

 If someone is “poor as Joe’s turkey,” he’s impoverished. A caller raised in the South has heard that expression all his life, but wonders: Who was Joe, and what did his turkey have to do with anything? Things get clearer when Martha explains the original turkey’s owner wasn’t Joe, but the biblical Job.

Hispanic vs. Latino

 Some native Spanish speakers prefer the term Hispanic, while others adamantly insist on Latino. The hosts discuss the origins of these words, and a bit about the controversy over their use.


 A San Diego history buff is curious about the word stingaree. This slang term once referred to part of the city’s red-light district, and remains the name of a stylish downtown restaurant and nightclub in the city’s Gaslamp district. Grant illuminates the risque origin of this unusual word.

Zoo Planes and Zipper Clippers

 This week’s “Slang This!” contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League tries to decipher the difference between zoo planes and zipper clippers. She also puzzles over a sentence in which the words brindle and verse used in surprising ways.

Doorknob Hanging

 Ever had a friend who never can quite say “goodbye”? Say you’re finishing up an email conversation, you both say like “so long,” but then up pops another email from him, asking just one more question or mentioning one more bit of news. A caller from Hillsboro, Oregon, wants to know if there’s a word for that kind of lingering, drawn-out goodbye. Martha calls it “doorknob hanging,” but Grant has a more technical term used by linguists.

Beck and Call

 Is the expression beck and call or beckon call? What’s a beck?


 Hegemony is defined as “preponderant influence or authority over others.” But how do you pronounce it? Heh-JEH-mun-ee? HEDJ-uh-moh-nee? Heh-GEM-un-ee? A caller’s unsure which pronunciation is preferred.


 Grant gives Martha a pop quiz about the meaning of the English word opifex. And no, it’s not a hoofed African quadruped.

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

Photo by candyschwartz. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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