Let’s put the moose on the table: You have questions, and Grant and Martha have answers. For example, why would someone have an albatross around the neck? And what’s so cool about bees’ knees, anyway? Plus, jockey boxes, bailiwicks, and cute names for loved ones, from snookums to bubula. If a bartender ever serves you a mat shot, don’t try to beast it. You’ll regret it in the morning.

This episode first aired June 25, 2011.

Download the MP3.

 Terms of Endearment
What pet names do you have for your loved ones? In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten shares the name his Mother used to call him — bubala, a term of endearment grandmothers might use in addressing children. We have all kinds of substitutes for the names of those we care about: sweetie, honey buns, snookums, etc. Martha opts for the Portuguese fofinha, meaning “fat, cuddly baby.”

 Cute as Bee’s Knees
What’s so cool about bees’ knees, anyway? The bee’s knees, a phrase meaning “cool” or “great,” dates back to the flapper era of the 1920s. It relates to an old definition of the word “cute,” referring to something small and nicely formed. The knees of a bee are just that, after all.

 Jockey Box
A bartender wonders about the origin of the term jockey box. In his world, a jockey box is a metal container for ice. However, in some parts of the western U.S., a jockey box is the glove compartment of a car, and much earlier, the term referred to boxes attached to the side of chuck wagons for holding feed or water. The caller also shares another bit of bartending slang, the so-called mat shot or Matt Dillon. It’s a glass of whatever liquor collects on the rubber mat on the bar, which some enterprising patrons order as a prank or a test of a strong stomach.

 Mixed English Accents
A listener in Romania learned English in the Southern U.S., but after going back home to where a British English is taught, people are having a hard time understanding his accent. Where we learn a language plays a big role in how we speak it.

 Centricity Word Game
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game called “Centricity”, emphasis on the “city.” For example, “Mickey ate all the fruit, leaving Minneapolis.” And as George H.W. Bush said to George W. Bush, “You can be president Tucson.”

 Moose on the Table
Has your boss ever used the expression “Let’s put the moose on the table”? This management buzzphrase, meaning “let’s address the problem everyone’s been avoiding,” is relatively new, showing up in print around the early 1990s. The phrase pops up in books by former Eli Lilly CEO Randall Tobias and management guru Jim Clemmer. In Clemmer’s book Moose on the Table, he tells a possible origin tale about a baby moose that crawled under a buffet table, only to be avoided by the patrons as it stank up the banquet hall.

 Albatross Around Your Neck
What does it mean to have an albatross around your neck? A political pundit, referring to a current candidate, mentioned “an alcatraz around his neck.” The proper version, with an albatross, originates from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, wherein a sailor shoots an albatross, bringing down a curse on the boat, and his shipmates force him to wear an albatross around his neck as a symbol of shame. Grant notes that the name “albatross” likely derives from the Portuguese or Spanish “alcatraz,” meaning “pelican” or “sea bird.” So perhaps an alcatraz around the neck isn’t so far off after all.

 Beast Mode
If something’s “the bee’s knees,” you can bet that it’s also beast. A sixth grade teacher wonders about the term beast being thrown around by her students. This synonym for “cool” or “good” is also used as a verb, as in “I beasted that exam,” or “I did extremely well.” The slang term “beast” is common slang in sports, as in, “That player is a beast on the field.” Former Cal running back Marshawn Lynch is notably famous for his signature playing style, beast mode.

A few weeks ago, a listener was looking for a term to describe the copy of The Emperor’s New Clothes that he’d read many times as a child. In this picture book, the naughty bits were always cleverly covered up. Thinking he wanted a synonym for “fig leaf,” Martha had offered the word antipudic, from the Latin pudor meaning “shame.” Many listeners responded, suggesting that the word he really wanted was bowdlerize, meaning “to remove improper or offensive material.” This eponym comes from Thomas Bowdler, whose sister ghost-edited The Family Shakespeare in 1818 containing censored versions of Shakespeare’s plays.

 Baby Department
If you go to a department store, you’ll see the Men’s department, the Women’s department, and the Children’s department. So why do so many stores have a department that’s called simply “Baby”? Grant attributes the non-possessive nomenclature of stores like Baby Gap to tradition in the retail industry.

 Messing Up Names
A listener from San Diego, California, named Lois has been called Louise, Lori, Lauren, Louisa, and Rosa, to name a few. And of course, the Scott/Todd mix-up phenomenon continues. Do people ever mess up your name?

 Vet Someone
What does it mean to vet a political candidate? The word “vet” comes from veterinarian, specifically the ones who would examine a horse before a race to make sure it was healthy and eligible. Similarly, one might vet a candidate to make sure they’re up to snuff. The novelist John le Carre popularized the term in his political stories.

 Wind Pudding and Air Sauce
A listener from Wisconsin adds to the discussion on wind pudding and air sauce, explaining that where he’s from, wind pudding is old loggerspeak for “baked beans.”

 Proununciation of Biopic
How do you pronounce biopic? The proper way to mention the genre of biographical motion picture has always been “BUY-oh-pick,” as opposed to the mirror of myopic. It’s not unusual to mispronounce a word if the spelling does not clearly indicate how to say it. For example, Grant notes a common error people make in pronouncing misled to rhyme with “chiseled.”

If something’s not in your bailiwick, it’s not in your jurisdiction or area of control. But what exactly is a “bailiwick”? Martha explains that the two words which make up the term — bailiff and wick — have specific meanings in Middle English. A bailiff, in the time of kings, was “a public minister of a district,” and a wick was simply a “town” or “village.” For example, Gatwick literally referred to a “goat village.” And Greenwich literally meant “green village” or “village on the green.”

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

Photo by Todd Huffman. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten
Moose on the Table by Jim Clemmer
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
The Tasman Connection Don Burrows The Tasman Connection Cherry Pie
Trini Baby Claude Papesch Hammond Electrique EMI
Dirty Red Funk Inc Hangin’ Out Prestige
Lucretia Macevil Claude Papesch Hammond Spectacular EMI
I Can See Clearly Now Funk Inc Hangin’ Out Prestige
Freaky Frankie Lefties Soul Connection Skimming The Skum Melting Pot
Red Triangle The Bamboos 4 Tru Thoughts
Another Day In The Life of Mr. Jones The Bamboos Step It Up Tru Thoughts
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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14 Responses

  1. telemath says:

    Re: biopic and misled

    The word that has tripped me up time after time is “sundried.” For some reason, I first read it as a past tense variation of “sundry” as in “various and sundry.” I read “sundried raisins” and wondered, “How do you sundry a raisin?” A hypen would have helped. “Sun-dried” would be easier to read.

  2. johng423 says:

    A word I always have to look at twice is “miniseries.”
    Sometimes it looks like a plural – would “minisery” be a variant form of “misery”? Or could it be a noun form of the (imaginary or unknown) verb “miniss”?
    At other times I might think it is a misspelling of “ministries” (change the first “e” of “miniseries” to a “t” to get the plural of “ministry”).
    Like telemath said about “sun-dried,” a hyphen would help and “mini-series” is easier for me to catch the first time around. If I don’t have to follow a style guide (i.e., it’s not a formal situation) and that hyphen helps communicate more clearly and avoid confusion, I’m OK with it.

  3. MarcNaimark says:

    Regarding “baby” department in department stores, etc.

    One thought: Just seeing “babies” would make one think that babies were for sale. This would also apply to other categories of persons, but I’m not struck by them as I am by “babies”.
    Another thought: Baby clothes are often sold not with the clothing of other categories of persons, but with other products for babies (see Target.com for an example of this). Perhaps this is considered a shortening of “baby products”?

  4. Glenn says:

    Fo’ shizzle I remember as a boy reading misled as mizzled. Funny, but another one I remember is puny as punny.

    On the discussion of “funny hehe or funny haha?” we didn’t have that delightful phrase, but would often ask for clarification of the descriptor funny with the question “funny haha or funny odd?”

    [edit: added the following]
    By the way, like Charlotte in Duluth, I am a regular listener to the Stuff You Should Know podcast. I e-mailed Josh and Chuck, the podcast hosts whose differing pronunciations of biopic inspired Charlotte to call in. They enjoyed listening to the AWWW podcast, and called it (perhaps ironically) “quite an honor to have people out there in the great wide world seeking … help in understanding our mistakes.”

    Let me commend to you their podcasts in general:
    Stuff You Should Know (SYSK)

  5. tromboniator says:

    MarcNaimark said:

    Regarding “baby” department in department stores, etc.

    One thought: Just seeing “babies” would make one think that babies were for sale.

    Well, sure; but the same is true of Women or Men. How about Babies’?

    Glenn said:

    “funny haha or funny odd?”

    I recall a Western on TV in which the question arose: “Funny haha, or funny peculiar?” And in a cartoon: “Funny haha, or funny sheesh?”

  6. Ron Draney says:

    MarcNaimark said:

    Another thought: Baby clothes are often sold not with the clothing of other categories of persons, but with other products for babies (see Target.com for an example of this). Perhaps this is considered a shortening of “baby products”?

    Target’s signage has always been a little “out there”. I snapped this picture in one of their bricks-and-mortar stores over five years ago:
    Target menswear

  7. Glenn says:

    Ron Draney said:

    Target’s signage has always been a little “out there”. I snapped this picture in one of their bricks-and-mortar stores over five years ago:
    Target menswear

    Wow. So much to say over one small photo. Men do, in fact, swear. But do they wear slingback pumps? Perhaps those who do are the Target demographic for this sign.

  8. Christopher Murray says:

    Here in the British Isles, we have departments called menswear, womenswear and childrenswear, but some shops spoil the ambiguity by having a ladieswear department. I can’t recall what the baby department is usually called.

  9. Glenn says:

    My wife provides my e-mail address when signing up for spam. One e-mail came from a ladies” clothing line, Free People, but touted Menswear in the subject. I opted to take a peek. I was a bit surprised to discover that Menswear is now a term for women”s clothing styled loosely on menswear — wing-tip shoes, tuxedo-like outfits, etc. — but in no way intended for men to wear!

    Menswear shorts (whoops, I mean “Menswear short”)
    Menswear shoes

  10. Dick says:

    Glenn, I have never before seen this term used for women’s clothing.   Nor have I seen the word short used for a pair of shorts.   Maybe we are dividing the compound word in the wrong place.   It might be men-swear when they buy something they can’t use.

  11. hippogriff says:

    Jockey Box: There is a similar box to the chuck wagon example under the caboose, between the trucks (wheels), it is called a possum belly. Being marsupials, that is where the joeys are initially carried. Like the wagon example, that is where major tools are kept.


    Georgian accent: I knew a similar case who learned English in Lufkin, TX “in the heart of the piney woods” who sounded a lot like Gomer Pyle. This was his normal way of talking, but I think he put it on a bit thick taking six seconds in “go ’round the room” introductions to drawl, “My name is Takioshi Abe from Kobe, Japan.” He always got a big grin from the laughter of the others.


    Hiding “naughty bits”: There is a show biz term for this, I have seen a couple times online, but can’t find now. A good example was a British comedy show with a recurring skit called Nude Practice, about veterinarians who worked without clothes. Some details involved removing the concealing objects, only to reveal yet others blocking the view.


    Bubula: Good joke, like the cartoon showing an embarrassed mother saying, “And she told the teacher her name was ‘Mary Stop’.”


    Telemath: I had the same problem in grade school geography (early 1940s) with national product listings ending in “sundries” and wondering why raisins were such a major export of so many countries.

  12. Dougfrombrazil says:

    Hi Guys!

    I’m a Brazilian teacher of English and have been a fan of your podcast since I came across it online while searching for some listening practice. I’ve a degree in English Language Teaching and Literature. I’m currently doing my master’s in phonology, and, although etymology is not exactly my field of specialization, I must admit that it fascinates me. It’s so interesting to trace words back to their origins and find out how they came to mean what they mean today. These couple of months I’ve been listening to your podcast have been really insightful – I couldn’t wait for the moment a student would ask me “why do we call tênis[br port] sneakers?”!

    I got so excited when Martha said that in her house the term of endearment to address her loved-ones is fofinha. That is so cute. Speakers of Br Portuguese tend to add the suffix “-inha/-inho” to words to make them sound more affectionate, especially women; I do that all the time though. I think it is more or less like the suffix “-ie” in English, in words like cutie, shortie etc.

    There’s an anecdote I’d like to share with you guys. While I was in college, my English teacher gave us a task. He first had our class divided into small groups. Each group was given the names of some fruits in English. Each person in the group should find idioms that contained the name of those fruits. Mine was apple. I eventually found this one: as sure as God made little apples, meaning absolutely certain.

    Well, one day I was in a chatroom talking to native speakers of English when the opportunity to use that idiom arose. I eagerly used it and the reply was: you need help!!!!   At that moment I realized it might have sounded weird, probably because that idiom was way too dated. I’d like to know if you could tell me how old that idiom is. I mean, when was it first recorded? And why little apples?

    Thanks in advance

  13. Ron Draney says:

    As sure as God made apples is old but I wouldn’t call it dated. I’m sure it was already old when Bobby Russell wrote it into a song in 1968 that went to #2 on the charts and won a Grammy for Best Song of the Year.

    And I wake up in the mornin’
    With my hair down in my eyes and she says “Hi”
    And I stumble to the breakfast table
    While the kids are goin’ off to school…goodbye
    And she reaches out ‘n’ takes my hand
    And squeezes it ‘n’ says “How ya feelin’, hon?”
    And I look across at smilin’ lips
    That warm my heart and see my mornin’ sun

    And if that’s not lovin’ me
    Then all I’ve got to say
    God didn’t make little green apples
    And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime
    And there’s no such thing as Doctor Seuss
    Or Disneyland, and Mother Goose, no nursery rhyme
    God didn’t make little green apples
    And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime
    And when my self is feelin’ low
    I think about her face aglow and ease my mind

    Sometimes I call her up at home knowin’ she’s busy
    And ask her if she could get away and meet me
    And maybe we could grab a bite to eat
    And she drops what she’s doin’ and she hurries down to meet me
    And I’m always late
    But she sits waitin’ patiently and smiles when she first sees me
    ’cause she’s made that way

    And if that ain’t lovin’ me
    Then all I’ve got to say
    God didn’t make little green apples
    And it don’t snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes
    And there’s no such thing as make-believe
    Puppy dogs, autumn leaves ‘n’ BB guns

  14. Actually, the word Bailiwick is not entirely an archaism.   There are places where actual, literal bailiwicks are the primary political unit.   And yes, they are governed by bailiffs.  

    The British Channel Islands are a set of small islands off the coast of France, and they are organized into two bailiwicks, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey.   They are not part of  France, they are British Crown Dependencies.   They are also not part of the United Kingdom.   They are  autonomous and self-governing Parliamentary democracies.   They are also independent from each other.   They even have their own languages, in addition to English and French.   The language of Jersey is Jerriais and the language of Guernsey is Guernesiais.   The Bailiff of Jersey is Michael Birt and the  Bailiff of Guernsey Sir Geoffrey Rowland.   The head of state of both bailiwicks is Queen Elizabeth II, who rules under the title Duke of Normandy.   (Yes, Duke.   I am not making this up!)


    During World War II, the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Empire to come under direct Nazi rule (except for a small part of Egypt).   The Nazi rule was  of course  oppressive, bloodythirsty, and horrible.   They were liberated in May of 1945.