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By Jingo!

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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.

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 Episode

The Lexicon of Comicana

Music Used in the Episode

Number OneFrancis LaiLe Corps De Mon Ennemi (Soundtrack)WIP Records
Un Homme Est MorteMichel LegrandUn Homme Est Morte 45rpmVadim Music
Angelic StreamsDavid DurrahAngelic StreamsP-Vine
The Rat CageBeastie BoysThe Mix UpCapitol Records
Oh By JingoJeeves and WoosterJeeves and WoosterUnreleased
Laying The TrapCharles BernsteinGatorMGM Music
Groove AlongTony and RealityTony and RealityRegime
Dramastically DifferentBeastie BoysThe Mix UpCapitol Records
Alto GlideBrian Bennett and Alan HawkshawThe KPM 1000 Series: SynthesisKPM Music, Ltd
Get DownFreedom ExpressGet Down 45rpmSoul Cal
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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