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Blind Tiger

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When you pick up a book of poems, how many do you read in one sitting? Some people devour several in a row, while others savor them much more slowly. Plus, it’s a problem faced by politicians and public speakers: When you have to stand in front of people, what do you do with your hands? German Chancellor Angela Merkel came up with a solution. She positions her fingers in a special way that’s become so closely associated with her, it now has its own name. And what does it mean if someone says you’re “a real pipperoo”? Plus, orange grove vs. orange orchard, Pilish, ducksnorts and duckfarts, and the worst online passwords imaginable. This episode first aired February 27, 2015.

Pi Day

 On March 14, or 3/14, fans of both dessert and decimals come together to celebrate Pi Day. This year, though, it’s not enough to call it at 3/14, because it’s 3/14/15, and at 9:26 and 53 seconds, the first ten digits of pi will all be aligned. Speaking of aligning the digits, there’s also a form of writing called pilish, where the sequential words in a passage each have an amount of letters that corresponds with the numbers in pi.


 A swinging song by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra called “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” drops the line “What a gal, a real pipperoo.” A homeschooling family in Maine wonders just what a pipperoo is. For one, the suffix -eroo is a jokey ending sometimes added for comic effect, as with switcheroo and flopperoo. Pipperoo may derive from a particularly desirable type of apple called a pippin. And the jokey suffix -eroo is added for comic effect, as with switcheroo and flopperoo. So calling someone a pipperoo is fond way of saying, in effect, you’re a peach.

Poems are like a Clown Suitcase

 Former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan once observed that a poem should act like a clown suitcase, one you can open up and never quit emptying.

East Tennessee Fire

 In East Tennessee, if someone invites you to a “fire,” don’t be alarmed—there’s a chance they’re talking about a fair. A former Floridian who moved to that part of the country has been collecting some funny stories about local pronunciations.

The Merkel-Raute

 Even foreign dignitaries can be plagued with the age-old problem of standing around in public: what do you do with your hands? German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken to holding her hands in a certain way so often that it’s been named the Merkel-Raute, or Merkel rhombus, which pretty accurately describes the shape she’s making.

Commonalities Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game where you have to guess what three clues—like Bob, Tom, and Allie or bulb, silver, and month—have in common.


 A ducksnort in softball or baseball will never make the highlight reel. It’s often a blooper of a hit that lands between the infield and the far outfield, but still gets the job done. Paul Dickson, author of the authoritative Dickson Baseball Dictionary, explains the original version of the term: duckfart. White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson is credited with popularizing the more family-friendly version.

Worst Internet Passwords List

 Are your Internet passwords bad enough to make the Worst Passwords List? An Internet security firm put out a list of bad ideas, and among them are things like baseball, football, car models, and your kid’s name.

Blind Tiger Speakeasy

 The Blind Tiger was a speakeasy during prohibition, perhaps so named because patrons would hand over money to peek at a fictitious blind animal, but also receive illegal booze as part of the bargain. The terms blind tiger and blind pig eventually came to describe a kind of liquor—one so powerful it could make you go blind, at least for a while. A Tallahassee, Florida, caller says one of his ancestors was gunned down by a gang called the Blind Tigers.

Goose Walking Over a Grave

 A Wisconsin listener says that when her body gets an involuntary, inexplicable shudder, she says “A goose walked over my grave.” An early version of the saying, “There’s somebody walking over my grave!” appears in a 1738 book by Jonathan Swift, A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in Three Dialogues. The phrase is generally used to describe an eerie premonition, though “A goose walked over our grave” may be used at that moment when a conversation falls silent.

Retcon Phenomenon

 Retcon, short for retroactive continuity, is the phenomenon commonly used in video games, comic books, and soap operas where something from a past plotline is changed in order for what’s happening in the present to make sense. Also along those lines is a ret canon, used to blow up a problem from the past.

Reading Poems in Succession

 Glyn Maxwell, in a recent review of the book Ideas of Order: A Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, argues that reading the sonnets altogether in a collection is a little strange, since many of them are worth more attention than they’ll get if you read through them all quickly. Grant explains a similar problem he’s had with poetry, but in going back to Langston Hughes’ poems, he finds that trying not to focus on the rhyme or rhythm allows him to more fully understand the meaning of the words.

Origin of Steppin’ and Fetchin’

 A Spotswood, Virginia, listener came across the phrase “steppin’ and fetchin'” used in a positive way to describe a speedy race run by the great horse Secretariat. But the phrase has an ugly past. To step and fetch is how many people once described the job of a slave or handyman, and Stepin Fetchit was a famous actor who often played the stereotype of the lazy black man. The documentary Ethnic Notions covers some of the history of this racially charged imagery.


 A new book called Ciao, Carpaccio!: An Infatuation, by veteran travel writer Jan Morris, celebrates the Venetian artist Carpaccio, who often used swaths of bright red in his paintings. His color choice is said to be the inspiration for beef or tuna carpaccio, slices of which are similarly deep red in the middle.

Orchard vs. Grove

 What’s the difference between an orchard and a grove? People plant orchards with trees meant to bear fruit or nuts, whereas groves aren’t necessarily planted. So an orange grove might be more accurately called an orange orchard. The problem is, orange orchard doesn’t sound nearly as pleasant as orange grove.


 Shrilk, a new substance made out of shrimp shells and silk, is gaining popularity as a substitute for plastic. We can still pretty much guarantee that, “One word: shrilk,” will never be a classic movie line.

All-Done Clappy Hands

 We all know that gesture people do, sometimes ironically, where you wipe or smack your hands together to signify that a job’s done. There’s no common term for it, but a Schenectady, New York, listener has a great suggestion: all-done clappy hands.

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

Photo by Lake Lou. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson
A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in Three Dialogues by Jonathan Swift
Ideas of Order: A Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Glyn Maxwell
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Ciao, Carpaccio!: An Infatuation by Jan Morris

Music Used in the Episode

Baby BouncerNew MastersoundsThis Is What We DoOne Note Records
Burnin’ CoalLes McCannMuch LesAtlantic
La CovaNew MastersoundsThis Is What We DoOne Note Records
ChalupaJungle FireChalupaColemine Records
Love For SaleLes McCannMuch LesAtlantic
Beaux J Poo BooLes McCannInvitation To OpennessAtlantic
Afternoon at Gigi’sNew MastersoundsThis Is What We DoOne Note Records
Flight to St. VincentPoets of RhythmKajmere Sound RecordingsKajmere Sound Recordings
Go On And CryLes McCannAnother BeginningAtlantic
Vandenburg SuiteNew MastersoundsThis Is What We DoOne Note Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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