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By the Seat of Your Pants

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Dude! We’re used to hearing the word “dude” applied to guys. But increasingly, young women use the word “dude” to address each other. Grant and Martha talk about linguistic research about the meaning and uses of “dude.” Also, the story behind the term “eavesdropping.” Originally, it referred to the act of standing outside someone’s window. Plus: by and large, by the seat of your pants, drawing room, snowhawk, Netflix o’clock, glegged up, quarry, and that’s all she wrote.

This episode first aired February 2, 2014. It was rebroadcast the weekend of June 22, 2015.

Cow and Chicken Riddle

 You have 30 cows, and 28 chickens. How many didn’t? (Yep, that’s the riddle: How many didn’t?)

“Flying By the Seat of Your Pants” Origin

 Back in the 1930s, airplane pilots didn’t have sophisticated instruments to tell them which way was up. When flying through clouds, they literally relied on changes in the vibrations in their seat to help them stay on course, flying by the seat of their pants. The phrase later expanded to mean “making it up as you go along.”

By And Large

 The idiom by and large, an idiom commonly known to mean “in general,” actually combines two sailing terms. To sail by means you’re sailing into the wind. To sail large, means that you have the wind more or less at your back. Therefore, by and large encompasses the whole range of possibilities.

Netflix O’Clock

 After a long day of work, you settle in to binge-watch House of Cards, only to discover that everyone else in your time zone wants to watch the same thing, bogging down the Netflix stream. That’s Netflix o’clock.


 Looking glegged up, with staring into space with the mouth agape, comes from glegged, which shows up in some old dialect dictionaries meaning “to look askance.”

Terminal Deletions

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle about subtracting letters from words.

Etymology of Eavesdropping

 The term eavesdropping arose from the practice of secretly listening to conversations while standing in the eavesdrip, the gap between houses designed to keep rain dripping off one roof and onto the next.


 That strip of snow that you can’t quite reach down the middle of your car roof? That’s a carhawk, since it looks like a mohawk of snow.

Bumpkin Talk

 Our American Cousin, the farce being performed when President Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre, had some choice lines of bumpkin talk. One of them, “You sockdologizing old man-trap!,” was the play’s biggest laugh line, after which John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.

Masked Men Riddle

 How about this riddle? A man leaves home. He goes a little ways and turns a corner. He goes a while and turns another corner. Soon, he turns one more corner. As he’s returning home, he sees two masked men. Who are they?

Male and Female Dudes

 Research shows that dude, once associated exclusively with males, is often used in the vocative sense to address groups or individuals, including females.

Drawing Room

 Drawing room, known for people taking turns about it, is short for withdrawing room, as in, withdrawing from the dining room while it’s being prepped or cleaned.

Tattoo Proposal

 Of all the ways to propose to your girlfriend, one way to do it is by tattooing her name and the words Will you marry me? above your knee.

Origin of Cute

 Cute, which comes from acute, once meant “shrewd and perceptive”–“sharp,” in other words–rather than “adorable.”

Quarry Definitions

 “The Quarry,” a famous painting of a buck carcass by Gustave Courbet, is a hint to another definition of quarry: the guts of an animal given to dogs after a hunt.

Apache Thunder Proverb

 An Apache proverb goes It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.

That’s All She Wrote

 That’s all she wrote, a reference to old Dear John letters, pops up in this song by Ernest Tubb.

Foreign Sport Idioms

 How do sports idioms translate to other languages in cultures where the sport isn’t popular?

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

Photo by Caitlin Regan. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Bring Da RuckusEl Michels AffairEnter the 37th ChamberFat Beats
Dusty BlueCharles BradleyVictim Of LoveDunham Records
Spear For Moondog, Part 2Jimmy McGriffElectric FunkBlue Note
Can’t It All Be So SimpleEl Michels AffairEnter the 37th ChamberFat Beats
BraCymandeCymandeJanus Records
The MessageCymandeCymandeJanus Records
DoveCymandeCymandeJanus Records
Deeper and DeeperJackie MittooStudio One Musik CitySoul Jazz Records
You Put The Flame On ItCharles BradleyVictim Of LoveDunham Records
In 3’sBeastie BoysCheck Your HeadCapitol Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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  • A few words on this show are still fairly used in New Zealand.

    Skedaddle is often used to herd children out of the way. e.g. “You lot, skedaddle out of the kitchen”. This fits nicely with the image of an unorganised retreat. My school teacher wife says that she and others use it on their class to get them moving from A to B.

    It is also sometimes used as an informal way to excuse yourself. If I was at a bar with a friend, he may look at his watch, down the rest of his drink and sigh.. “Well, I better skedaddle”.

    The other word is the alternate use of “cute”. No one here (in New Zealand) would bat an eyelid at hearing cute being used like that. Although we tend to phrase it as “being cute”, and is used when someone gets away with something. It is used a lot in sports commentary. e.g. someone lands a ‘hail mary’ shot in basketball from halfway as the buzzer is going off. The commentator might say ” he was being cute there”, getting away with something he probably shouldn’t have.

    If I try and help my father to use his phone and get frustrated and snap at him, he might reply “Don’t try and get cute with me , kiddo”.

  • Two (very late) comments on this show:

    (1) More an anecdote than anything, but if you get up into a plane and grab the controls, you can get a real sense of what the phrase “by the seat of your pants” means. When controlling a plane, you have three axes of rotation (pitch (the nose goes up or down), roll (the wing tips go up or down), and yaw (the nose goes left or right)), each of which is controlled by a different mechanism (elevators and ailerons on the stick or yoke, and the rudder by way of pedals). When turning, all three controls are used, and must be coordinated properly. If a turn is uncoordinated, then the forces acting on the plane in the turn will tend to push the pilot to the right or left, rather than right down into the seat. Hence you can easily tell that a turn is uncoordinated by the feeling in the seat of your pants.

    (2) In the same conversation, you mention the phrase “to wing it” as another aeronautical term. My understanding is that the term is actually theatrical. The image that I have always had is of an actor who can’t remember his lines, and the person with the script hanging out in the wings of the theater, prompting the actor. I am curious about what the correct etymology is (and, as I am no longer a student, my free access to the OED is gone).

  • My son-in-law calls my daughter “dude.” Took some getting used to, but I’m on board now.

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