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Boss of Me

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If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today’s bestsellers, and read one from the 1930’s instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city’s name looks familiar doesn’t mean you should assume you know how the locals pronounce it. The upstate New York town spelled R-I-G-A isn’t pronounced like the city in Latvia. Turns out lots of towns and streets have counterintuitive names. Finally, why do we describe being socially competitive as “keeping up with the Joneses”? The Joneses, it turns out, were comic strip characters. Also, sugar off, filibuster, you’re not the boss of me, and lean on your own breakfast.

This episode first aired October 29, 2016. It was rebroadcast the weekends of June 19, 2017, and December 3, 2018.

Unexpected Place Name Pronunciations

  When it comes to the names of towns and cities, the locals don’t necessarily pronounce them the way you expect. Charlotte, Vermont, for example, is pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable, not the first — and therein lies a history lesson. The town was chartered in 1762, the year after England’s King George III married the German-speaking Princess Charlotte, and it’s named in her honor.

A Certain Kind of Person

  What’s the deal with the use of person, as in “I’m a dog person” or “she’s a cat person”? The word person used this way functions as a substitute for the Greek-derived suffix -phile, meaning “lover of,” and goes back at least a century.

Clackers Footwear

  A woman from Hartford, Connecticut, remembers her mom used the term clackers to denote those floppy, rubber-soled shoes otherwise known as flip-flops, go-aheads, or zoris. Anyone else use clackers in that way?

Name for a Surviving Partner

  A listener in Reno, Nevada, wants to know: If one member of a long-term, unmarried couple dies, what’s a good term for the surviving partner, considering that the usual terms widow and widower aren’t exactly correct?

Sugar Off

  To sugar off means to complete the process of boiling down the syrup when making maple sugar. Some Vermonters use that same verb more generally to refer to how something turns out, as in the phrase, “How did that sugar off?”

Social Media Book Quiz

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle involves social media “books” that rhyme with the name Facebook. For example, Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron, posts on on what fancifully named social media outlet?

Filibustero and Filibuster

  A Los Angeles, California, listener says his grandmother, a native Spanish-speaker, used the word filibustero to mean “ruffians.” Any relation to the English word filibuster? As a matter of fact, yes.

Eat Well and Enjoy?

  To encourage diners to dig into a delicious meal, an Italian might say mangia!, a French person bon appetit! and Spaniard would say buen provecho. But English doesn’t seem to have its own phrase that does the job in quite the same way.

Lit Slang

  A Palmyra, Indiana, listener observes that in online discussions of Pokémon Go, Americans and French-speaking Canadians alike use the word lit to describe an area of town where lots of people playing the game.


  If you think the city of Riga, New York, is pronounced like the city in Latvia, think again.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

  A listener in Brazil wants to know about the source of the phrase keeping up with the Joneses, which refers to trying to compete with others in terms of possessions and social status. This expression was popularized by a comic strip with the same name drawn by newspaper cartoonist Arthur “Pop” Momand in the early 20th century.

Lean on Your Own Breakfast

  If you’re sitting on a subway or airplane seat and someone’s invading your space, you can always offer the colorful rebuke “Lean on your own breakfast,” meaning “straighten up and move over.”

Solnit’s Writing Advice

  Essayist Rebecca Solnit has excellent advice for aspiring writers.

Not the Boss of Me

  The phrase “You’re not the boss of me” may have been popularized by the They Might Be Giants song that serves as the theme for TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle.” But this turn of phrase goes back to at least 1883.

Enduring Word Choice

  A woman whose first language is Persian wonders about the word enduring. Can she describe the work of being a parent as enduring? While the phrase is grammatically correct, the expression enduring parenting is not good idiomatic English.

Poetic Spanish Saying

  The poetic Spanish phrase “nadie te quita lo bailado” expressing the idea that once you’ve made a memory, you’ll always have it, no matter what. Literally, it translates as “no one can take away what you’ve danced.”

Chicken Lane, Suicide Lane

  In a roadway, the center lane for passing or turning left is sometimes called the chicken lane, a reference to the old game of drivers from opposite directions daring each other in a game of chicken. For the same reason, some people refer to it as the suicide lane.

Bible Bump

  A bible lump, or a bible bump, is a ganglion cyst that sometimes forms on the wrist. It’s also called a book cyst, the reason being that people sometimes try to smash them with a book, but  don’t try this at home!

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

Photo by Putneypics. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

I’m A ManSpencer Davis GroupI’m A ManUnited Artists Records
MesotheliomaMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul
ShotgunJunior WalkerShotgunTamla Motown
How Sweet It IsJunior WalkerAnthologyMotown
Burning Of The Midnight LampJimi HendrixElectric LadylandPolydor
Pushin’ OffMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul
She’s Not ThereThe ZombiesBegin HereDecca
Time Of The SeasonThe ZombiesOdessey and OracleCBS
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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