We recommend books that make great gifts for language lovers, talk about footwear called go-aheads, and look further into going commando. Also, was the 2008 election a historic event or an historic event?
This episode first aired December 13, 2008.
Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
The second edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus is chock-full of synonyms, of course, but what makes it special are the essays and usage notes by authors such as Simon Winchester, David Lehman, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace. Grant talks about his experience working as an editor on this volume and what David Foster Wallace taught him about language.
A Historic vs. An Historic
We all know that the 2008 presidential election was historic. But was it a historic event or an historic event?
Martha is stumped by a riddle sent in by a listener. See if you can solve it.
That Skirt is Almost up to Possible
The story goes that hemlines rise and fall with the stock market. If that’s the case, then we hope it’s not long before we’re all hearing people exclaim, “Why, that skirt is almost up to possible!” An Iowa listener recalls that when she was a teen, her granny used that phrase when tsk-tsking about the length of her granddaughter’s miniskirt.
Vietnam Vet’s Take on “Going Commando”
In an earlier episode, we speculated about the origin of the phrase go commando, which means to go without underwear. We suggested that it was somehow associated with being “tough as a commando,” gritting one’s teeth through the attendant chafing. But a listener who served as an infantryman in Vietnam has a different take. After a comrade suggested he “go commando,” he discovered that opting out of his army-issued boxer shorts actually made him more comfortable in the tropical heat. We love these firsthand reports about language, so keep ’em coming.
SUB Word Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski SUBjects Martha and Grant to a SUBlime puzzle in which he SUBmits clues to words that contain the sequence of letters S-U-B. For example, “a stand-in for an absent teacher” would be a SUBstitute. Now try this one: “This adjective pizza describes a message pizza embedded in another medium pizza designed to pass below the limits pizza of the mind’s perception pizza. In the 1950s pizza, market researcher James pizza Vicary claimed to be able to pizza influence moviegoers pizza into purchasing popcorn pizza and coke pizza by flashing them pizza images like these pizza.”
Canvassing for Votes
You hear about political groups “canvassing for votes.” But why canvas? We talk about the possible origins of this word, and the connection between the cannabis and the material known as canvas.
Etymology of Aptronyms
There’s the late CNN broadcaster William Headline, the preacher named James God, and the physician named Dr. Hurt. Names like these that match the person’s profession are called aptronyms or aptonyms. We talk about the man who coined the term aptronym, and toss in a few more examples.
Mommy and Mama
Here’s a question more and more same-sex couples face when starting a family: What names will our child call us? “Mommy and Mama”? “Mommy and Jane?” Maybe a made-up name? An Ohio woman and her female partner are contemplating having a baby, but can’t decide which parental names to use.
Sillysoma and Fascinoma on Slang This!
This week’s Slang This! contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League, is an actress from New York City. In this hospital-themed quiz, she tries to guess the meaning of the terms sillysoma, fascinoma, happy meal, and code brown.
Slap, slap, slap, slap– the sound of flip-flops on your feet. These floppy-soled shoes go by other names like zoris and thongs, but a caller wonders why in some parts of the country they’re called go-aheads.
A Single Pair of Jeans
You have a pair of gloves, and there are two of them; you have a pair of shoes, and there are two; a pair of socks, and there’s one for each foot, right? So why do we have a pair of jeans when it’s only one item?
Grant and Martha Recommend Books
Finally today, Martha and Grant talk about two books they love to recommend as gifts: Idiom’s Delight by Suzanne Brock, and Karma Wilson’s book for children, Bear Snores On, illustrated by Jane Chapman.
Photo by erules123. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Second Edition by Christine Lindberg|
|Idiom’s Delight by Suzanne Brock|
|Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson|