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The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who’s on your guest list and why? Plus, anchors aweigh! The slang of sailors includes the kind of BOSS you’d better dodge, a barn you sail into, and the difference between the Baja ha-ha and the Baja bash. All that, and a brain game about body parts, conked out and zonked out, synonyms for synonym, ferhunsed, chronopaguous, nemophilist, sea-kindly, smithereens, standing on my own two pins, and more.

This episode first aired June 1, 2019. It was rebroadcast the weekend of January 13, 2024.

Sailing Slang and Jargon

 After hanging out with San Diego sailing enthusiasts, Martha picked up several bits of slang and jargon. Catenary describes the desirable curve of an anchor chain, from Latin catena, meaning “chain.” A chain that is not pulled up correctly runs the risk of forming castles, irregular piles of links that require untangling or descastling. The route along the coast of Baja California going south from San Diego is usually pleasant and known as the Baja ha-ha (which is also the name of a well-known regatta), but traveling in the opposite direction, from the tip of the peninsula, can be grueling and is known as the Baja bash. One must always be on the lookout for a BOSS, or “big old steel ship,” and sailors approaching their home port like to say they’re nearing the barn.

“Zonked,” Meaning Exhausted

 Calley from Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the word zonked, meaning “exhausted.” Like the word conk, as in conked out, meaning “fast asleep,” zonk originally had to do with a blow to the head.

Synonyms for “Synonym”

 Is there a synonym for the word synonym? Yes, there are two: polyonym and poecilonym, but they’re rarely seen except in collections of unusual words.

Goonus, That Lovable Pudge

 sBetsy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says her family refers to the lovable pudge on babies as goonus. It’s a fond term that can also refer to such things as the swinging belly fat on a cat. Does anyone else say goonus or is it a family word?

Nemophila maculata, or Fivespot, Etymology

 The California superbloom included Nemophila maculata, a white blossom with a dab of purple at the end of each of five petals. It’s also called fivespot. The maculata in the scientific name derives from Latin macula, meaning “spot,” as in immaculate, meaning “spotless.” The Nemophila comes from Greek words meaning “forest-loving.” A nemophilist is someone fond of forests.

Mixed-Up Body Part Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s brain teaser involves mixed-up body parts. For example, suppose he says, “Listen you, stop bothering me or I’m going to give you a toe sandwich!” What part of one’s anatomy did he really mean?

Go Out vs. Go In to the Water

 Maira lives in Puerto Rico and speaks English as a second language. When friends visiting from Minnesota join her at the beach and are ready to swim out into the surf, they say I’m ready to go out. When they’re ready to go back onto the shore, they say I’m ready to go in. But Maira says just the opposite: I’m ready to go in when she’s about to go swimming, and I’m ready to go out when she stop swimming. Why the difference?

Markov Chains and Your Phone’s Autosuggested Text

 Grant responds to a voicemail from Doug in Louisville, Kentucky, who asks whether our phone’s autocomplete function will affect the way we talk and write. The answer is yes, partly because of Markov chains, or models describing a sequence of possible events.

Fahunst, Ferhunsed, Fehoonsed

 Judy from Binghamton, New York, remembers her aunt in Redding, Pennsylvania, using the term ferhunsed to mean “confused.” Sometimes spelled fahunst or ferhoonsed, it means “teased” or “mixed up,” and derives from German verhunzen, meaning to “spoil” or “botch” or “bungle.”

Smithereens Origins

 David in Austin, Texas, wonders if smithereens, meaning “bits” or “fragments,” as in explode into smithereens, refers to little bits of metal left over from blacksmithing. Actually, the origin of smithereen is uncertain, although it may come from Irish English or Irish Gaelic, but no one’s really sure. It may be related to smithers which also means “small pieces.” A similar-sounding word, shivereens, comes from shiver, meaning “splinter” or “fragment.”


 A sea-kindly boat is one that handles well on the ocean. The kindly reflects an old use of the word to mean “suited” or “suitable.”

If You Could Invite Any Two Authors, Living or Dead, for Dinner

 Suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who’s on your guest list and why? Deciding that question may say a lot about you. Martha’s choices: Sappho and Toni Morrison. Grant’s: Akhenaten and Ben Franklin.

Standing On Your Own Two Pins

 The phrase standing on my own two pins goes back to the 1940s and means “standing on my own two legs.”

Infixing and Tmesis

 Scott in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders if the words nother as in a whole nother and abso-bloomin-lutely are real words. Yes, they are! The construction a whole nother is an example of what linguists call tmesis, which involves the insertion of a lexical element that doesn’t make a whole new word. In-fixing, which is quite similar, and might be considered a form of tmesis, involves inserting a lexical element into a word or compound to make a new word. James McMillian’s article in American Speech, “Infixing and Interposing in English,” offers lots of examples.

What is a Deipnosophist?

 A deipnosophist is someone skilled in the art of dinner table conversation.

Does “Eventful” Have a Negative Connotation?

 Joanna from Dallas, Texas, says English is not her first language, and she’s trying to understand the nuances of the words event and eventful. She wonders if the word eventful carries a less positive connotation than the word event. It depends on context, although eventful often has negative associations. You wouldn’t want your surgery, for example, to be an eventful one.

Chronophagous WOMBAT

 Chronophagous is a rare word that means “time-consuming.” WOMBAT is an acronym that stands for Waste of Money, Brains, and Time.

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

Photo by chipmunk_1. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Mode for D.D.The AwakeningMirageBlack Jazz
SlinkyThe AwakeningMirageBlack Jazz
Easy RhythmPiero UmilianiTo-Day’s SoundLuito Records
A Day In The LifeGrant GreenGreen Is BeautifulBlue Note
MirageThe AwakeningMirageBlack Jazz
Lady MagnoliaPiero UmilianiLady MagnoliaEasy Tempo
MarchThe AwakeningMirageBlack Jazz
Put On Your High Heels SneakersGrant GreenIron City!Cobblestone
RailroadPiero UmilianiTo-Day’s SoundLuito Records
Mash ThemeAhmad JamalDigital WorksAtlantic
Black TalkCharles EarlandBlack Talk!Prestige
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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