“If you come to a fork in the road… take it!” Baseball legend Yogi Berra was famous for such head-scratching observations. What most people don’t realize, though, is that the former Yankees star often wasn’t the first person to say them. As Berra himself once quipped, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Speaking of Yankees, do you know what a “Yankee dime” is? Here’s a hint: it’s wet, made with love, and you can’t take it to a bank. “It’s all downhill from here, y’all” – which isn’t always a bad thing. Plus, nice vs. kind, premises vs. premise, a time-travelling word quiz, “drunk as Cooter Brown,” “footing the bill,” and some new words for the opposite of avuncular. This episode first aired July 10, 2015.
It’s such a delight to hear Yankee legend Yogi Berra deliver his Yogisms that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he likely didn’t make up most of them. Of course, that doesn’t make lines like “You can observe a lot by watching” any less profound. But if you’re interested in the accuracy of quotes attributed to him or someone else, start with linguist Garson O’Toole’s Quote Investigator.
If someone’s “drunk as Cooter Brown,” they’re pretty darn intoxicated. The saying comes from the word cooter, meaning box turtle, and alludes to a turtle swimming around in its own drink.
A San Diego, California, listener shares some slang used by her father, who was a Navy fighter pilot. To “bang off the cat” is to take off from an aircraft carrier. The meatball refers to the landing system that requires lining up with an amber light. And bingo fuel is the exact minimum amount of fuel a jet needs to get back and land on its designated runway. Some of these terms pop up in a 1954 New York Times Magazine article called “Jet-Stream of Talk.”
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has built a time machine for this word game that requires guessing the imaginary early version of nouns like sawhorse and cauliflower. If he gets caught in the machine, though, anything can happen!
The idiom “two heads are better than one” doesn’t exist in quite the same form in Spanish, but there is a variation that translates to, “four eyes are better than two.” In Hungarian, there’s a phrase that’s simply, “more eyes can see more.” And Turkish has a saying that translates to, “one hand has nothing, two hands have sound.”
A listener who works with computers asked about the difference between premise and premises, especially when it comes to the idea of on- or off-premises computing. Going back to the 1600’s, the term premises has meant a “location” or “site,” but along the way, we’ve allowed it be used with singular and plural verb forms. When cloud computing came along, there was no longer the need to reference multiple sites, but some people still use the plural form.
We say we “foot the bill” when we pay for something simply because when you’re totalling up figures on an account ledger, the total comes at the bottom of the sheet— or, the foot.
With the idiom “it’s all downhill from here,” the meaning depends on the context. With an optimistic tone, it means that something’s heading toward an inevitably good ending, but there are times in business uses where it refers to an unhappy fate.
When asked about a popular restaurant, Yogi Berra supposedly replied: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Actually, though, that saying has been around since before Berra was born.
Gary Provost, author of Make Your Words Work, made a career of offering great writing advice, including: “Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.”
What’s the difference between the words kind and nice? It’s perhaps best described as the difference between demeanor and behavior. Being nice refers to how you appear to be, whereas kindness refers to how you act, and what you do for others.
A listener from Concord, North Carolina, sent along an example of why learning English as a second language can be so challenging: “Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough, thorough thought though.”
When it comes to job titles, the prepositions of and for can seem interchangeable and arbitrary, but they mean slightly different things. Of, as in a Dean of Student Conduct, is in charge of a particular area by themselves, whereas a Vice President for Business Affairs would be someone who’s been given responsibility for an area that technically falls under someone else’s jurisdiction.
It’s common for Southern moms to promise their children a Yankee dime if they complete a chore. The thing is a Yankee dime is a motherly kiss — much less exciting than an actual dime. It’s a phrase that plays on Yankee thrift, and goes back to at least the 1840’s.
We spoke on the show recently about the term avuncular, meaning like an uncle, and some listeners responded with terms for being like an aunt. Try out auntly or avauntular, if you’re looking to impress and/or alienate someone at the reunion.
Photo by Chad Horwedel. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
|Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost|
Music Used in the Episode
|Bla Bla Bla||Toots and The Maytals||Bla Bla Bla||Lagoon Reggae|
|One Eyed Enos||Toots and The Maytals||Bla Bla Bla||Lagoon Reggae|
|It’s Too Late||Johnny “Hammond” Smith||Breakout||KUDU|
|Pressure Drop||Toots and The Maytals||Bla Bla Bla||Lagoon Reggae|
|Monkey Man||Toots and The Maytals||Bla Bla Bla||Lagoon Reggae|
|Curly Dub||Lee Perry and The Upsetters||Super Ape||Mango|
|Breakout||Johnny “Hammond” Smith||Breakout||KUDU|
|Satta Massagana||The Abyssinians||Satta Massagana||Heartbeat Records|
|Crab Yars||Lee Perry||Return of The Super Ape||Upsetter|
|Y Mas Gan||The Abyssinians||Satta Massagana||Heartbeat Records|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|