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Book Moth

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If you skip wearing underwear, you’re said to be going commando. This bit of slang originated during the Vietnam War, when U.S. commandos had compelling reasons to do without that particular piece of clothing. Plus, Watergate salad is a mixture of pistachio pudding with whipped cream and pineapple. This dish was popularized in the 1970s, but what does it have anything to do with the scandal that brought down a president? Also: The practice of blurring out images or text in ads or movies helps avoid giving free advertising to a sponsor’s competitor. This strategy is called greeking, but why? The answer is Greek to us! All that, and buveur d’encre, clodhopper, a wild and wooly quiz, fantasy fiction, insure vs. ensure, live vs. stay, get outside of a meal, green goop, mean green, whale fall, and the long and winding etymological route of a name for “eggplant,” brinjal.

This episode first aired December 30, 2023.

Book Moth, Book Flea, Book Mouse, or Book Louse

 Someone who spends a lot of time reading books is known in English as a bookworm. The Hungarian and Estonian terms for such a person translates as “book moth,” and in Indonesian as “book flea” or “book louse.” In Spanish, they’re called a ratón de biblioteca, or “book mouse.” The French equivalent is rat de bibliotheque, although in French you can also describe an avid reader as a buveur d’encre, or “ink drinker.”

Going Commando, A Topic for the Tropics

 Christine in Charleston, South Carolina, recounts a funny story about someone who was planning to go commando, meaning “to go without underwear.” What’s the origin of that phrase?

Insure vs. Ensure

 Strictly speaking, the verb insure means to “pay a third party to protect against financial loss,” and ensure means “to make sure” or “make certain” that something occurs. For centuries, however, these words were used interchangeably. The hair-splitting distinctions between the two were the late creations of self-appointed grammarians in the mid-19th century. Insure, ensure, and assure all have roots in the Latin word sēcūrus, meaning “secure.”.

Greeking Out

 The practice of blurring out images or text in ads, movies, and websites is called greeking. It’s possibly a reference to the phrase It’s Greek to me, used to describe something unintelligible.

Animal Sounds Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle that’s sure to mooooooove you. It’s called “Animal Sounds” and of course, requires making an animal noise to answer each question. For example, if John asked a dog what part of a speaker is designed to transmit low-frequency sounds, the dog’s answer would be what?

Brinjal, Brown Jolly, and Aubergine — Siblings Separated by Centuries

 Shuba in Sammamish, Washington, grew up in India, where she heard speakers of Indian English refer to an eggplant as a brinjal. She assumed that this was a British English term, but later realized that in Britain, this vegetable is called an aubergine. The CRC Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (Bookshop|Amazon), by Umberto Quattrocchi, lists 116 different words used in India to denote an “eggplant,” many of them similar to brinjal. Actually, brinjal and aubergine and even the Italian name for this vegetable, melanzana, are etymologically related, going back ultimately to Sanskrit. In the Caribbean, eggplant often goes by the name brown jolly, which is yet another adaptation of this earlier form.

It’ll Be a Pig’s Foot in the Morning

 The phrase don’t worry, it’ll be a pig’s foot in the morning is meant to comfort or reassure a child who’s stubbed her toe or scraped her knee or suffered some other minor injury. This expression is especially common in Northern England.

Blah, Blah, Blah

 Edward in Atlanta, Georgia, wonders how and why English speakers came to use the phrase blah, blah, blah as a placeholder or filler. These repeated syllables are likely intended to mirror the sound of English, if not the meaning of specific words.

Get Outside of Food

 Nate in Winterville, North Carolina, remembers an older relative asking Are you going to get outside of that? meaning “Are you going to finish that meal?” To get outside of a meal or to climb outside of a meal suggests that you’re getting the food inside of yourself, that is, you’re eating it. The expression get outside of also applies to drinks, as in get outside of a quart bottle.

JuMBOS, Jupiter Mass Binary Objects

 Astronomers have spotted nearly 150 objects far out in space that are too small to be called stars, but they can’t be called planets, because they don’t orbit a star. They’re about the size of Jupiter, but given what we know about astrophysics, these bodies simply shouldn’t exist. Scientists have dubbed these mystery items JuMBOS, or Jupiter Mass Binary Objects.

Fantasy Fiction Worth Reading

 Grant and his son are reading two series of books by Brandon Sanderson, his Stormlight Archive (Bookshop|Amazon) and the Mistborn Saga (Bookshop|Amazon). He’s also reading Rebecca Ross’s duology, A River Enchanted (Bookshop|Amazon) and A Fire Endless (Bookshop|Amazon). These books are set on imaginary isles off the coast of Scotland, and filled with mystery, magic, and folklore.

Did You Stay at a Place or Just Visit?

 How long do you have to remain in a place before you can truthfully say you lived there, as opposed to just visiting it? What’s the difference between to live somewhere and to stay somewhere? This philosophical question is complicated by the fact that in some dialects, the word stay means the same thing as live, as in Where do you stay? meaning the same thing as Where do you live?

Let the Whale Fall, Then it Crumbles

 After a whale dies, it may float up to the ocean’s surface to be scavenged by seabirds and sharks. Eventually, though, the carcass starts slowly sinking, and once the body reaches the ocean floor, it’s known as a whale fall.

Is Watergate Salad Named After the Political Scandal?

 Watergate salad is a chilled dish of pistachio pudding mixed with whipped cream and pineapple. Although this name capitalizes on the 1970s political scandal associated with Watergate burglary, the salad itself isn’t connected to politics, as it is older than the scandal. Love it or loathe it, Watergate salad goes by lots of other names, including pooflapoo pie, the green stuff, shut-the-gate salad, green goop, green goddess, green fluff, and mean green. Another food name capitalizing on current events is baked Alaska, supposedly named in honor of the 1867 acquisition of Alaska by the United States.


 Amber from Charlotte, North Carolina, wonders why big, heavy shoes are called clodhoppers. Originally, clodhopper was an insulting term aimed at rustics or rubes, a reference to farmers who must literally step over clods of dirt to do with work. It may be related to the word clog. The word clod in some UK English dialects means “miner’s shoes,” a term that likely comes from clog, a sturdy work shoe, and is related to klutz, or “blockhead,” which comes to English via Yiddish from German for “a block of wood.”

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

CRC Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants by Umberto Quattrocchi (Amazon)
Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson (Bookshop|Amazon)
Mistborn Saga by Brandon Sanderson (Bookshop|Amazon)
A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross (Bookshop|Amazon)
A Fire Endless by Rebecca Ross (Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

7 DownAdam Deitch QuartetRoll The TapeGolden Wolf Records
BettinaBola SeteWorkin’ On A Groovy ThingParamount Records
Enjoyment DubScientist Meets The Crazy Mad ProfessorAt Channel OneJamaican Recordings
Happy HourWRD TrioThe HitColor Red
With a Little Help From My FriendsBola SeteWorkin’ On A Groovy ThingParamount Records
Dub of ConsciousnessScientist Meets The Crazy Mad ProfessorAt Channel OneJamaican Recordings
Sleep DepravedWRD TrioThe HitColor Red
Bobby’s BoogalooWRD TrioThe HitColor Red
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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