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Butterflies in Your Stomach

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If you’re not using a dictionary to look up puzzling words as you read them, you’re missing out on a whole other level of enjoyment. • When you’re cleaning house, why not clean like there’s literally no tomorrow? The term death cleaning refers to downsizing and decluttering specifically with the next generation in mind. The good news is that older folks find that death cleaning enhances their own lives. • You know when anticipating something has you extremely nervous but also really excited? Is there a single word for that fluttery feeling? • Marrow, a set of twins, skid lid, reckon, vicenarian, miniscule vs. minuscule, and how to pronounce potable. This episode first aired November 11, 2017.

Names of Age Decades for Old People

 Someone in their 70s is septuagenarian, someone in their 80s is an octogenarian, and someone in their 90s is a nonagenarian. Someone in their 50s is a quinquagenarian, and if they’re in their 40s, they’re a quadragenarian. If they’re between 100 and 110, they’re a centenarian, and older than that, well, congratulations! In that case they’re a supercentenarian.

Potable Pronunciation

 How do you pronounce the word potable, which means drinkable? A woman in the Navy stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, says most of her fellow sailors pronounce it with a short o, but she pronounces it with a long o. The word derives from Latin potare, meaning to drink, and traditionally the long o sound in the Latin has been preserved in the pronunciation of potable so it sounds something like /POE-tuh-bull/. Increasingly, though, many people pronounce it with a short o, something like /PAH-tuh-bull/, as if assuming that the adjective describes something that might be put in a pot and boiled. This pronunciation is especially common in the military. Potable is a linguistic relative of the word potion, a type of drink, and symposium, from Greek words that literally mean drinking together.

Marrow Vegetable

 A listener in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, was surprised to learn that in England the word marrow refers to zucchini.

Word for Being Excited but Anxious

 A woman and her 10-year-old daughter are looking for a word that describes being excited but anxious. It’s not exactly twitterpated, and the Southernismlike a worm in hot ashes is vivid, but a phrase and not a single word. If a single word for this feeling exists, maybe it involves butterflies?


 If you’re between the ages of 10 and 19, you’re a denarian.

Exclamation Word Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiet quiz involving words that are usually shouted. Suppose, for example, someone said, “Excuse me, Mr. Horse, I’d appreciate it if you stopped. What’s the exclamation suggested by this request?

Set of Twins

 If you tell someone you have a set of twins, does that mean you have two kids or four kids? It depends on the meaning of the word set.

Shoulder Season

 A woman in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders: Why is the less busy period in a tourist area known as the shoulder season?

Motorcycling Slang

 Skid lid, cage, and backyard are all slang terms from the world of motorcycle enthusiasts. A skid lid is a helmet, a cage is an automobile, and a backyard is a favorite place to ride. The phrase lay it down means to have a motorcyle accident.

I Reckon in the US vs. UK

 The phrase I reckon meaning I suppose is marked in the United States as rural, rustic or uneducated. The term is centuries old, however, and used widely in the United Kingdom.

Death Cleaning

 Death cleaning is the translation of a Swedish term, döstädning, describing a kind of de-cluttering later in life, when you downsize to make things easier for the next generation. It’s being popularized by The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning by Margareta Mangusson.

Looking Up Unfamiliar Words

 Martha shares an email from a listener from Delray Beach, Florida, about the rewards of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Vicenarian and Tricenarian

 If you’re in your 20s, you’re a vicenarian. The word for someone in their 30s is tricenarian.

What Do Some People Put the Dollar Sign After the Amount?

 A Dallas, Texas, listener is annoyed when he sees a price listed with the dollar sign after the amount, rather than before, as in 500$ rather than $500. In some parts of the world, however, the currency symbol routinely follows the number.

The Greek Root “Stenos”

 The word stenophagous means eating a limited variety of food. It derives from Greek stenos, meaning narrow, also found in stenography (literally, narrow writing) and stenosis, a medical term for abnormal narrowing.

Are Words Not in a Dictionary Really Words?

 A nonprofit that promotes literacy in Reno, Nevada, held a spelling bee in which adult competitors were asked to spell words from books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The author made up some of those words herself. But are they really words if they’re not in the dictionary? Yes, if it’s said or written and has a meaning, it’s a word. The word that took out a lot of the competitors was minuscule, which Rowling used in The Prisoner of Azkaban. In the United States, the word is usually spelled differently: miniscule.

What is “Sterile” in “Sterile Area”?

 A Bay Area listener says she always giggles when she sees a sign in the Oakland airport that reads, “You are leaving a sterile area.” Among security experts, the term sterile specifically means an area that is officially under control and clear of threats.

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

Photo by Peter Dutton. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning
The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Music Used in the Episode

Kulun MankwaleshMahmoud AhmedEthiopiques 3Buda Music
Lomiwen TeqebeletchMahmoud AhmedEthiopiques 3Buda Music
Metche DersheMulatu AstatkeEthiopiques 4Buda Music
The Old SpotClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic Is My MedicineUbiquity
TemelesAlemayehu EsheteEthiopiques 3Buda Music
Essu New MesselgnHirut BeqeleEthiopiques 3Buda Music
Brother JohnClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic Is My MedicineUbiquity
WubitMulatu AstatkeNew York Addis LondonStrut Records
AynamayeTeferi FelleqeEthiopiques 3Buda Music
SabyeMulatu AstatkeNew York Addis LondonStrut Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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1 comment
  • Re: Sets of Twins. You may recall the “Bobbsey Twin” books. They had already passed from school bookshelves when I was young but my mother made reference to them. It was she who noted that the Bobbsey family had two sets of fraternal twins: Nan and Bert, who were 12 years old, and Flossie and Freddie, who were six.

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