You’ve been reading a book but you’re just not into it. How do you quit it, guilt-free? How do you break up with a book? Also, what do you ask for when you go through the grocery checkout line: bag, sack, or something else? Plus, brung vs. brought, a swim swim, cuddywifters, pinstriped cookie-pushers, a road trip word game, and more.

This episode first aired November 3, 2012.

Download the MP3.

 Not Finishing Books
How do you know if it’s time to break up with a book? You’ve into the book 50, maybe a 100 pages, but you’re just not into it. Is there something wrong with quitting before the end? Tell us where you draw the line.

 Curing Verbal Crutches
Let’s say an expression you use really bothers your friends or coworkers. Maybe you end sentences with whatnot or etcetera, or you use um as a placeholder, and you want to stop doing it. Here’s a tip: Enlist someone you trust, and have them police you, calling your attention to it every time you use that verbal crutch. It should cure you pretty quickly.

 Aptronym Word Game
A while ago, we played a game involving aptronyms, those monikers that really fit their owners. For example, picture a guy holding a shovel standing next to a hole. His name might be Doug. But a Tennessee listener wrote to suggest another answer: the guy with the shovel might just as well be called Barry. A number of listeners also suggested Phil/. Have a better aptronym to share?

 Going Downhill
If you say something’s going downhill, does that mean things are getting better or worse? Here’s the rule: if something’s going downhill, it’s getting worse, but if things are all downhill from here, they’re getting better.

 More Tom Swifties
Remember Tom Swifties, those puns where the adverb matches the quote? How about this one: “I love reading Moby-Dick,” Tom said superficially.

 Twenty Questions
Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game that should last through your longest road trip. It’s a variation of “20 Questions” called “Animal, Mineral or Vegetable.” He gives you a word and you have to find the animal, mineral or vegetable embedded in it. For example, which of those three things is contained in the word soaking?

 Brung vs. Brought
Mike from Irving, Texas, has a co-worker who regularly uses brung instead of brought. Is it okay to say “he brung something”? The word brung is a dialectal variant that has existed alongside brought for centuries. It appears in the informal phrase dance with the one what brung ya (or who brung you, or that brung you), which suggests the importance of being loyal.

 No Bucks, No Buck Rogers
The phrase “no bucks, no Buck Rogers,” made popular by the 1983 film The Right Stuff, has seen a renaissance in usage among pilots. That is, if you don’t pay them what they believe they’re worth, they’re not going to fly.

 Pinstriped Cookie-Pushers
We got a call from Sarah in Dresden, Germany, who’s applying to work for the State Department as foreign service officer. She was curious about an article that contained the term pinstriped cookie-pusher. According to William Safire’s Political Dictionary, this bit of derogatory slang came into use in the 1920s to refer to diplomats who were perceived as soft or even effeminate. These men in pinstriped suits would attend receptions at embassies where they’d push cookies instead of paper.

 Wine Whale
If a waiter marks your date as a WW, you know you’re in for a special bottle of wine. The wine whales, as they’re called, take their name from the Vegas whale: those folks who play big at the tables, to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions.

 Willy-Nilly
Will, a listener from South Burlington, Vermont, says he always considered willy-nilly to be his own special phrase. But he’s realized over the years that its original meaning has been replaced. What was originated as will I, nill I or will he, nill he — that is, with or without the will of someone — has come to mean “haphazard.” This transformation likely has to do with its rhyme.

 Cuddywifter
If someone’s a cuddywifter, are they a) a wine snob, b) left-handed, or c) a circus clown? Folks in Scotland and Northern England refer to left-handed people as cuddywifters, along with a host of other terms.

 Gold in the Sky
After re-reading Stephen Crane’s short story The Open Boat, Martha is reminded of one of Crane’s poems about perspective, known as A man saw a ball of gold in the sky.

 Bag vs. Sack, Paper vs. Plastic
If someone asks for their groceries in a bag, does that mean they want paper or plastic? Jean-Patrick in Dallas, Texas, has had plenty of experience bagging groceries, and says his customers use the term bag specifically to mean the paper kind. We don’t have evidence that there are different names for these containers in different parts of the country, but we’d love to hear from you on this one.

 Constrastive Focus Reduplication Redux
When someone’s going for a swim swim, it means they’re doing it for real, laps and all, and not just frolicking. If they’re going to a party, that’s probably going to be less party-like than a party party. These are examples of what linguists call contrastive focus reduplication, in which we emphasize a term, or suggest the purest meaning of a term, by reusing it rather than tacking on another adjective. For example, you might just like someone, but then again you maybe you like like them.

 Other Half, Dear Husband
When it comes to marriage, you’ve got to work with your OH — that is, your other half. Lexicographers for the Oxford English Dictionary are tracking this initialism, as well as DH, or dear husband, for possible inclusion in future editions.

 Liketa, Liked To
I liked to died when that ol’ toad-strangler crashed through the veranda! The Southernism liked to, also known as the counterfactual liketa, derives from the sense of like meaning “nearly.”

 Wendell Berry’s “The Real Work”
One of Kentucky’s finest, Wendell Berry, wrote this in his poem “The Real Work“: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do / we have come to our real work.” Indeed, a smooth life is often a boring life.

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

Photo by Señor Codo. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

Safire’s Political Dictionary by William Safire
Oxford English Dictionary
Standing by Words: Essays by Wendell Beery

Music Used in the Broadcast

TitleArtistAlbumLabel

Funky, Funky Twist The Gaturs Wasted Funky Delicacies
The Booger Man The Gaturs Wasted Funky Delicacies
Yeah, You’re Right The Gaturs Wasted Funky Delicacies
The Rat Cage Beastie Boys The Mix Up Capitol
Heads Down Blue Mitchell Bantu Village Blue Note
The Kick Rhythm Machine The Kick 45rpm Tramp Records
Howlin’ With Fred The Apples Kings Freestyle Records
Thirst The Apples Attention! AME
Dramastically Different Beastie Boys The Mix Up Capitol
The Power The Apples The Power 45rpm Freestyle Records
Looking For Trouble The Apples Fly On It AME
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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  1. I wonder if “whatnot” doesn’t sound to her supervisor as being related to “whatever”? I would agree that “whatever” (even if catching on) is informal, even if “whatnot” is not.

  2. BMayer says:

    I was raised in Philadelphia, lived in Florida for decades, and now live in Texas. I never heard sack in reference to grocery bag until I heard my mother-in-law use it. She uses for both paper and plastic. She was raised in Illinois. She also uses “ticket” instead of “receipt”. I never heard this before or since by anyone else.