If your friend says she’s coming to town Sunday week, exactly when should you expect to see her? What do you call those typographical symbols cartoonists use in place of profanity? Plus grass widows, the linguistic phenomenon called creaky voice, the difference between insure and ensure, the roots of the term jingoism and what it means if someone says “You don’t believe fatmeat is greasy.” Also, is it okay to make a noun out of a verb?

This episode first aired January 21, 2012.

Download the MP3.

 Comic and Cartoon Lexicon Symbols
Researchers have found that stress is a leading cause of plewds — you know, those drops of sweat popping off the foreheads of nervous cartoon characters. That’s one of several cartooning terms coined by Mort Walker, creator of the Beetle Bailey comic strip. Martha and Grant discuss this and other coinages from The Lexicon of Comicana.

 Sunday week
If someone’s coming to town Sunday week, when exactly should you expect them? This Scots-Irish term means “a week after the coming day mentioned.”

 Comic Cursing Symbols
What are those symbols cartoonists use in place of profanity? They’re called grawlixes — good to know for the next time you play a game we just invented called “Comic Strip Jargon or Pokemon?”

 Verbing Nouns
Is it okay to make a verb out of a noun? Yes! It’s estimated that twenty percent of English verbs started as nouns. Just think of the head-to-toe mnemonic: you can head off a problem, face a situation, nose around, shoulder responsibility, elbow your way into something, stomach a problem, foot the bill, or toe the line. Verbing weirds language.

 Dizzy Comic Characters
Squeans are the little starbursts or circles surrounding a cartoon character’s head to signify intoxication or dizziness.

 What’s in Common? Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called “Categories”. The challenge is to find the common thread that unites seemingly unrelated things. For example, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Jack Sparrow’s crew, and cherubim all fall into which category? The answer: Twins, Pirates, and Angels are all baseball teams!

 Grass Widow
What’s a grass widow? In the 1500s,this term applied to a woman with loose sexual morals. Over time, it came to mean a woman who’s been separated from her husband, or a divorcée.

 By Jingo
If someone’s jingoistic, they’re extremely patriotic, often belligerently so. The term comes from a British song written in 1870 that uses the phrase by jingo! to conjure up enthusiasm for a British naval action.

 Comic Strip Motion Lines
The curved lines that follow the moving limbs of cartoon characters? Those are called blurgits or swalloops.

 Don’t Believe Fatmeat is Greasy
The admonition “you don’t believe fatmeat is greasy” is found almost exclusively among African-Americans. The idea is apparently that if you don’t believe fatmeat is greasy, you’re someone who misses the obvious.

 Ensure vs. Insure
What’s the difference between the words insure and ensure? To ensure means to make certain. Insure means to protect someone or something from risk, and should be used exclusively in a financial sense.

 Creaky Voice
For some time now, linguists have been studying a style of speaking known as creaky voice. In the United States, it’s heard particularly heard among young white women in urban areas. New research about this phenomenon, also known as vocal fry, has been making the rounds on the internet.

 Voilà vs. Walla
Voilà (not spelled wallah or vwala or walla) is a good example of a borrowed word. Though French for “there it is,” Americans often use it as a simple utterance, akin to presto or ta-da.

Lock the bad guys up in the hoosegow! This slang term for a jail comes from the Spanish juzgado, meaning tribunal. It’s an etymological relative of the English words judge and judicial.

 Roly-Poly Isopods
Did you know roly-polies, or pill bugs, aren’t even bugs? They’re isopods, meaning they have equal feet, and they’re technically crustaceans.

 Homophonic Errors
Autocorrect mistakes abound, but have you ever made the errors yourself, such as typing the word buy when you meant by? Studies in Computer Mediated Communications have linked this phenomenon to the way we process words phonetically before typing them out.

Solrads are those lines radiating from the sun or a lightbulb in a comic strip, while dites are the diagonal lines on a smooth mirror.

Photo by Erich Ferdinand. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Lexicon of Comicana

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Number One Francis Lai Le Corps De Mon Ennemi (Soundtrack) WIP Records
Un Homme Est Morte Michel Legrand Un Homme Est Morte 45rpm Vadim Music
Angelic Streams David Durrah Angelic Streams P-Vine
The Rat Cage Beastie Boys The Mix Up Capitol Records
Oh By Jingo Jeeves and Wooster Jeeves and Wooster Unreleased
Laying The Trap Charles Bernstein Gator MGM Music
Groove Along Tony and Reality Tony and Reality Regime
Dramastically Different Beastie Boys The Mix Up Capitol Records
Alto Glide Brian Bennett and Alan Hawkshaw The KPM 1000 Series: Synthesis KPM Music, Ltd
Get Down Freedom Express Get Down 45rpm Soul Cal
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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7 Responses

  1. pkgprofessor says:

    On the topic of self-made autocorrect mistakes, I believe a good term for that would be “distextia.” I have fallen victim to my own finger mis-manipulations in writing on a computer keyboard. I enjoy the show and hope you keep it up for a long time.
    Marion Schafer

    Autocorrect mistakes abound, but have you ever made the errors yourself, such as typing the word buy when you meant by? Studies in Computer Mediated Communications have linked this phenomenon to the way we process words phonetically before typing them out.

  2. Ron Draney says:

    I”ve had a couple of particular typing errors that I”ve made consistently for as long as I can remember: typing form in place of from, and maching instead of machine. It”s been obvious to me from quite early on that the error in each case comes from my motor neurons accessing a sequence of typing movements that are more common overall.

  3. bklvr says:

    Oh, I like “distextia.” I do that a lot myself. (::trying to remember some examples:: Also if there”s an “-in”+one letter near the end of the word, my hands/brain want to turn it into something with “-ing” at the end, which I think has more to do with habit than going through the speech center, for me.

    Bugs: There are many orders of insects; true bugs fall into just one: Hemiptera. (Yes, that”s “half wing.”)
    They tend to have cute little triangle or shield shapes on their backs. The order includes stink bugs, box elder bugs (which my parents call democrats–why is that?), water striders, and those dangerously lovely assassin bugs. And yes, for you gardeners, squash bugs–ugh! It also includes the suborder Homoptera (aphids, cicadas, leafhoopers), which I learned as a separate order. I”m still coming to terms with that. (heh)

    I taught my children to be unfashionably correct (and correcting of others) about lightning beetles–they are not bugs nor flies. (Beetle order Choleoptera=hard wing). “Now, we have to be nice to people who use these other common names. It”s not their fault.” Heh. Nah, I still am fascinated by the variety of names we call all those little critters, some of them indicating some history or old beliefs or observation.

    I started learning about the various orders when doing an insect collection as an extra credit project for biology class in high school; that”s when my science geek came to life & rose up to meet my nomenclature-loving word nerd! (I can get lost among the scientific names at the Tree of Life website.)

  4. bklvr says:

    Anyway, if we didn”t accept the plethora of common names, we couldn”t enjoy Eric Carle”s book:
    though The Very Quiet Cricket was our favorite.

    Another insect-related picture book for kids? (Great for girls!)
    (followed by the sequel Reptiles are my Life)

  5. algae says:

    Re: Manual auto-incorrect:

    I like “distextia” for the simple transposition of letters to make a different valid word that the one you meant to type, but a colleague of mine and I were discussing the even deeper concept of typing something that “sounds” similar, but is a completely different word or even concept. I started describing to him my fingers “muscle memory macros”, but I think I just like “muscle macros” even better.


    The example of the really deep seated (and deeply geeky) one that sparked that conversation:

    I was emailing someone to ask them “can you find the name of that restaurant where you wanted me to make reservations” and I began to type “can you find . -name …” oops. That might only be funny unix command-line nerds, but it had me snickering long after I'd sent off the (corrected) email.

  6. My Young Padawan says:

    Merriam-Webster has “impact” as a verb dated back to 1601, and they only have “impact” as a noun with a date of 1781.

  7. The “By Jingo” video is great (I love Wooster & Jeeves), but the correct song referred to in this podcast can be found at http://youtu.be/sHqanal52Gk.