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Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu-ca-monga!

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All aboard! This week, a bit about the musical language of railroad conductors’ calls: “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cu-ca-monga!” Also, the origin of the military slang term cumshaw, tips for learning Latin, the influence of Spanish immigrants on English, and the funny story behind why plain-talking Texans say, “We’re going to tell how the cow ate the cabbage.” This episode first aired November 9, 2009.

Railroad Conductor Language

 A trip to the California State Railroad Museum has Grant musing about the way language can change in the mouth of a single individual— in this case, railroad conductors. He recommends a collection of sound files from metros and subways around the world. For different type of stroll down mem’ry lane, check out Mel Blanc’s version of a train conductor here.

Shut Up!

 Does anyone still say “Shut UP!” to mean “No way!”? A forty-something riding instructor says this Seinfeldian locution confuses some of her younger students.

Southern Phrase “I’d Have Liked To”

 A caller wonders why his North Carolina-born partner uses the phrase “I’d have liked to” instead of “I almost” or “I nearly,” as in “I’d have liked to died laughing.”

Rhyming Dance Names Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski starts a whole lotta shakin’ with his puzzle about dances with rhyming names. How about the dance that involves many missteps while dancing to the music of Johann Strauss?

“Ouch” in Other Languages

 Is “Ouch!” a universal word, or does what you say when you stub your toe depend on what language you speak?

Cumshaw Artists

 A Seattle-area veteran remembers that in Vietnam he and others like him were known as cumshaw artists. They were the guys who scared up and “permanently borrowed” whatever their unit needed— gasoline, vehicle parts, or whiskey for a party. He’s always wondered about the appellation.

How the Cow Ate the Cabbage

 The phrase “Let’s talk about how the cow ate the cabbage” means “Let’s talk frankly.” The hosts talk plainly about the naughty tale that may be behind it.

Books for Learning Latin

 It’s never too late to start learning Latin, a language that will deepen your understanding and appreciation of English. Martha offers tips on how to begin: Getting Started with Latin, by William E. Linney, and Virent Ova! Viret Perna! (Green Eggs and Ham in Latin) by Dr. Seuss, with translation help from Jennifer and Terence Tunberg.

Yesterday Follows Today Riddle

 A riddle: There’s a place where yesterday follows today, and tomorrow’s in the middle. Where is it?

Scarf as a Verb

 The word scarf, meaning “to eat rapidly and greedily,” has a long, winding history. Grant helps a listener unravel it.


 A die-hard Tyler Perry fan is curious about an emphatic expression she’s heard in some of his movies: Hell-to-the-no. What’s up with the extra words?

Spanish Influencing English

 A second-generation Mexican-American wonders how much the English language is being influenced by Spanish, especially after a misunderstanding when he turned to his date in the passenger seat and asked if she wanted to “get down.”

On One Foot Riddle

 Another riddle: I stand on one foot, and my heart is in my head. Who am I?

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

Photo by David Wilson. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Getting Started with Latin by William E. Linney
Virent Ova! Viret Perna! (Green Eggs and Ham in Latin) by Dr. Seuss

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