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Buckle Down

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It’s time for book recommendations! Martha’s enjoying an armchair tour of important places in the history of our language, and Grant recommends relaxing with books that make great reading for both children and adults. Plus, are you the type of shopper who gets in and out of a store quickly? Or would you rather research that purchase in advance and then try before you buy? No matter where you fall on the shopping scale, psychologists have a name for you. And here’s a wintry question: if you’re panking something, just what are you doing? Plus, how to pronounce short-lived, a slang term for flirting, “ass over teakettle,” and an amusing 19th-century rant about young people’s slang. This episode first aired December 12, 2014.

Birdbaths and Kitty Baths

 We’ve talked before about those abbreviated baths that one listener refers to as a Georgia bath. Listeners showered us with calls about more names for those abbreviated cleanups, including birdbaths and kitty baths.

Ass Over Teakettle

 Before you turn up your nose at the expression “ass over teakettle,” know that our first evidence for this phrase is in William Carlos Williams’ story “White Mule.” A great idiom from a great writer. Other topsy-turvy phrases suggesting the same idea: “head over heels” and “head over tin cup.”

Young People’s Slang

 Complaining about young people’s slang is nothing new. Browsing Google Books, Grant stumbled upon an amusing example from the 19th century called “The Age of Slang.” Oh, my stars and garters!


 If you pronounce short-lived with a long i, you’re saying it correctly– at least by the standards of the 1600’s. Today it’s far more commonly pronounced with a short i, though both pronunciations are acceptable.


 An ailurophile from Dallas, Texas, wrote us to say her cat has a hobby of poking around in the closet and finding hidden nooks to nap in, or as she calls it, closeteering. That’s also a great term for generally digging around in the closet for stuff you haven’t seen in years.

Brand Names Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski tests our knowledge of Latin by way of brand awareness this week with a game about brands like Lego, which takes its name from Danish “leg godt,” meaning “play well.” As it happens, the Latin term lego might be loosely translated as “I put together.”

Etymology of Buckle Down

 Buck up, meaning toughen up or get it together, has a long history stemming from the days when travelling trunks had buckles on them that needed to be fastened. Over the years, variations like “buckle down” and “buckle” have meant both “to woo someone” and “to defy authority.”

Pit-Stop Baths

 Those quickie baths commonly called bird baths are also known as pit-stops or, as one rather colorful grandma wrote us, a PTA. We’ll let you figure out what that stands for.

Chopping and Flirting

 A high school student called in to ask about a term his peers use for flirting: chopping. Ever heard it?

Spit Baths

 Spit baths are another common form of quickie baths, wherein a moist towel is used to wipe schmutz off a child’s face. One fraternity member emailed us to say that when he was in college, over-spraying with cologne in lieu of a shower was called an SAE bath, named for a rival fraternity.

Panking Down

 To pank, as in to pank down snow for skiing or pank down hair with Aqua Net, is a common term heard in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Satisficers and Maximizers

 Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? The former is the kind of person who runs into the store, takes a quick peek at the options, and gets out of there fast with the simple option that meets their basic needs. For an idea of what maximizers are all about, just read the Amazon reviews for home appliances and you’ll get the idea.

Grant and Martha’s Yearly Book Recommendations

 It’s that time of year when Martha and Grant share their book recommendations for the holiday gift season. This year, Martha gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Letters of Note, The Sense of Style, and Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Grant offers two Newbery Medal winners: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and The One and Only Ivan, about a gorilla who lives in a shopping mall zoo.

Discombobulate and Blustrification

 Words like discombobulate and blustrification are made-up words intended to sound fancy and Latinate. Discombobulate, in turn, inspired the Recombobulation Area in the Milwaukee airport.

Origin of Hoodlum

 The word hoodlum first pops up in the 1870’s in San Francisco to refer to the exact thing it does now: guys who are up to no good. In the journal Notes and Queries, you’ll find all kinds of discussion on hoodlum.

Le Trombone

 The French have a musical term for paperclip. They call it le trombone.

Martha’s Tocaya

 Martha Barnette gets a call from Martha Barnett, her Canadian tocaya who’s missing an “e” at the end of her last name. On the Global News website, you can see that the name Martha, perhaps now an anomaly in Canada, peaked in popularity around the late 1950s.

Venza’s Razor

 After our episode that mentioned eponymous laws, we got a call from Darby Venza from Austin, Texas, who came up with this bit of wisdom, otherwise known as Venza’s Razor: Whenever a garden hose or extension cord can catch on something, it will. True that.

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

Photo by Simon_Sees. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

White Mule by William Carlos Williams
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary
Letters of Note by Shaun Usher
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain by David and Hilary Crystal
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Music Used in the Episode

Ba Ba BoomMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
Have Clav Will TravelMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
Deep In A DreamMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry of Milt JacksonAtlantic
Sunday Gardena BlvdMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
EaseMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
CryMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
Sixth SynthMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
The Midnight Sun Will Never SetMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry of Milt JacksonAtlantic
InvitationMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
Pinto’s New CarMoney MarkMark’s Keyboard RepairMo Wax
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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