Does your handwriting look like chicken scratches, calligraphy, or maybe something in between? Martha and Grant discuss the state of penmanship, the phenomenon linguists call creaky voice, euphemisms for going to the bathroom, and the New England expression “I hosey that!”

This episode first aired February 23, 2009.

Download the MP3.

 History of Penmanship
Does your handwriting look like chicken scratches, calligraphy, or maybe something in between? There’s a new book out about the history of penmanship. It’s called Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, by Kitty Burns Florey.

 I Hosey That
If you want to claim something—say, the front seat of a car or the last piece of cake—what do you say? Dibs? Boney? How about “I hosey that!”? The hosts talk about this New England expression, its possible origins, and its equivalent in other parts of the country.

 Trick to Remember I vs. Me
A caller has a hard time remembering which is correct: “Give the book to my husband and me,” or “Give the book to my husband and I.” Martha offers a sure-fire, quick-and-easy way to know if “husband and I” or “husband me” are right every time.

 Rinse It
According to a listener in San Diego, when a DJ plays a great set, he’s said to rinse it.

 Glom-a Obama Quiz
In honor of the 44th U.S. president, Quiz Guy Greg Pliska offers a word game “Glom-a Obama.” The object: Figure out a series of rhyming two-word phrases by guessing the word to be added to the name “Obama.” For example, if Mr. Obama had been born in one of Japan’s second-largest city, he would be “_____________ Obama.”

 Hand Running
“He’s been sick three days hand-running.” Huh? In some parts of the country, “hand running” means “in succession, consecutively.” The hosts muse about the possible origins of this phrase.

 Using Creaky Voice
One of the Olsen twins does it, some public radio hosts do it, and at least one former U.S. president does it. Grant describes the curious speech trait linguists call “creaky voice.”

 Red Letter Day
A “red letter day” is a special occasion. Martha explains how this term came to be.

 Wohube
A listener says she and her husband called their unborn child “wohube.” What other noms de fetus are there?

 Spot the Fake Slang
In this week’s installment of Slang This!, a member of the National Puzzlers League tries to separate the real slang terms from the fake ones. Try this one: Which of the following expressions really is a British synonym for the willies, the heebie jeebies or a similar kind of “nervous freakout”? Would that be the belching withers or the screaming abdabs? And which of the following terms is Australian slang for “people from the United States”? Is it septics or songbirds? (The Aussies are all rolling their eyes at this obvious answer.)

 Speaking vs. Talking
If you’re having a conversation with someone, are you speaking with them, speaking to them, talking to them, or talking with them? A caller wonders what differences, if any, exist among all those expressions.

 Spend a Penny
You might have heard Brits say “I’m going to spend a penny” when they have to visit the loo. The hosts discuss the reason for this phrase, and other euphemisms for making a trip to the toilet, such as “I’m going to visit Miss White” and “I’m going to go drop off some friends at the lake.”

 Adding Possession to Business Names
A caller observes that after moving to Indianapolis, he noticed that many of the locals say the names of commercial enterprises as if they’re plural or possessive, even when they’re not, such as calling Walmart “Walmart’s.” Grant explains the inclination to add the S sound to the names of businesses in casual speech and writing.

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

Photo by Jason Ralston. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey
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50 Responses

  1. Matt Holck says:

    I’m guessing hand running is related to the hands of a clock,
    and running the hands means to constantly work at something across that expanse of time.
    “We danced non-stop from 5 to 6:45 hand running”

  2. gw says:

    I’ve heard the creaky voice many times, particularly in advertising. I regard it as an affectation, myself, and an extremely annoying one. To me, it’s an attempt to convey casual sophistication, the sort of conceit a college junior might have. Note to advertisers, that’s how it comes off in adversitments, too, as faux sophistication.

  3. whitekoi says:

    re: creaky voice
    Creaky voice drives me nuts! Intuition tells me it is an indication of youth, vulnerability and desire for approval. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton breaking into creaky voice? I can’t. I used to listen to a radio station where they had a contest to determine which woman had the sexiest voice. The most annoying creaky voice always won. Ick.

  4. mpinck says:

    I have to admit to still not quite understanding what creaky voice is. If you have one, can someone give me a pointer to an example of it in the wild?

    –Michael

  5. Michael, there are descriptions and samples of creaky voice here and here. I meant to link to them in the original post above, so thanks for requesting them!

  6. tvieno says:

    I thought I was the only one who heard the creaky voice. I always called it “The Tired Voice.” Like when someone has been up for a long time (24 hours or so) and their voice gets creaky. One of the radio shows that comes on very early in the morning I listen to has a lot of “experts” that are used for sound bites and it seems like it is mostly women who have that “tired voice”. It makes me want to get a drink of water. Also, like gw above, I hear it in commercials as well.

    –snipped from above– “A caller observes that after moving to Indianapolis, he noticed that many of the locals say the names of commercial enterprises as if they’re plural or possessive, even when they’re not, such as calling Walmart “Walmart’s.” Grant explains the inclination to add the S sound to the names of businesses in casual speech and writing.”

    I live in the Chicago area and I have noticed the possessive form of named establishments. We have two kinds of grocery stores, Jewel Foods and Dominick’s. People call Jewel Foods, Jewel’s. But what I have also heard is people will say, “I am going to THE Jewel’s.” or “I am going to THE Dominick’s.”

  7. Richard R says:

    Regarding that “s”, spelled or spoken at the end of a business’ name, here in southern California there are many businesses who spell their name with the S but without an apostrophe. Best examples are supermarket chains: Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons. Yet Lowe’s uses the apostrophe. I can’t see that there is any rule or guideline for this useage, it seems to be just a matter of some do, some don’t.

  8. ward says:

    About the Red Letter Day…On the desk Calenders that the Government Printing office makes for sale to government agencies, All the official Holidays are printed in red. A conversation would be go something like this…”Do we have Monday Off? yes, because It’s a Red Letter Day”

    Ward

  9. Highpockets says:

    I don’t post here a lot but this episode has all kinds of things I want to comment on.

    re: dibs, My father told a story of a roommate in college, dad would make muffins or cookies and taking them out of the oven, his roommate would come over and lick his finger and touch a muffin saying, “This ones mine, and this ones mine, and this ones mine…” apparently he had never heard of, I hosey that!.

    re: noms de fetus, There is a blog I read and the author is pregnant with her first child, she has temporary named the baby “flippy” http://tinyurl.com/d4vamc ,full description there. You mentioned names not just for the unborn, but kids as well, that’s where my handle comes from. when I was a kid, my dad called me, my brother and sister “lowpockets” we were small and had pockets much lower than his. Now that I’ve grown and have kids of my own, they are the lowpockets and that gives me highpockets.

    re: Drop the kids off at the lake, I always heard …at the pool. A friend and I had a good chuckle when he said it to a boss, and boss asked, “Well how long are you going to be gone”?!

    and lastly
    re: Wal-mart’s, I always get a kick out of saying, “I’m going to the wal-mart’s, you need anything?” My mom always said, “we are getting your back to school clothes at Jacques Penne’, there’s no need to be embarrassed.”

  10. Bubba in Texas says:

    If I understand the concept of “creaky voice” correctly, then I’ve got a great example of someone who has it…and it’s someone who discusses some of the same topics talked about on “A Way With Words”: Mignon Fogerty, AKA “Grammar Girl”. I listen to her podcast somewhat regularly, and to be honest, while I enjoy most of the content of her shows, the way her voice creaks at the end of many of her sentences really bothers me. I wonder if she’s even aware it happens.

    When one of your callers mentioned adding the possessive to the end of certain businesses, the first thing that came to my mind was “JCPenney/JCPenney’s”. A few minutes later, Grant mentioned that very example. I’m not sure if I should be excited or scared that Grant and I were on the same wave length at that moment.wink

    Love the show–keep up the great work!!

  11. Matt Holck says:

    Martha and Grant have beautiful voices.

    I abbreviate “is” often placing in on the end of common and proper nouns
    such as

    Jack’s back.
    The hour’s late.

    ‘s that legal?

  12. Matt Holck says:

    whitekoi

    re: creaky voice
    Creaky voice drives me nuts! Intuition tells me it is an indication of youth, vulnerability and desire for approval. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton breaking into creaky voice? I can’t. I used to listen to a radio station where they had a contest to determine which woman had the sexiest voice. The most annoying creaky voice always won. Ick.

    Eartha Kit was my favorite Cat Woman

    video

  13. Bios Theoretikos says:

    Talking of spending a penny, there was an extension of this that was used particularly in the coy way in which we speak to children, that implied a more solid contribution – a sixpence!
    My favourite urination euphemisms are Australian – ‘I have to go wet my boots’ and ‘I have to hang a rat.’

    Chris

  14. Elizabeth says:

    i wonder if “hand running” has anything to do with “hands down.”

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/win-hands-down.html

    i grew up hearing “hand running.” i grew up in charlotte nc, with parents who grew up here and in north wilkesboro nc.

  15. So much great stuff to respond to here! For now, let me just say it’s weird about “creaky voice.” I confess I hadn’t noticed it, but I sure do now. Ann Althouse is a lawyer, not a linguist, but she has an interesting post about it on her blog, apparently having noticed the same thing. She includes a clip from “Scrubs” in which one of the characters seems to have it. Or maybe it’s just the last of a sore throat?laugh

  16. i grew up hearing “hand running.” i grew up in charlotte nc, with parents who grew up here and in north wilkesboro nc.

    Elizabeth, my pappy was from next door in the hills of Alexander County, and I wish he were around to ask if he used it as well. I’ll bet he did.

  17. Bubba in Texas says:

    Upon further investigation, I have discovered that in my earlier post I misspelled Grammar Girl’s last name. Her name is Mignon Fogarty, not Fogerty.

    Here is a link to the Grammar Girl website, where you can listen to her podcasts and hear what I mean about her voice:

    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

  18. Paul says:

    re: Hosey/freezing a seat

    When I was a kid we wanted to save a seat while we left the room for a minute we would say, “No tough rocks”. I think this arose from a conversation that went something like this:

    Me: “Hey you are in my seat”
    Sister: “You left”
    Me: “I just had to go to the bathroom”
    Sister: “Tough rocks!”

    Thenceforth we would say “I call ‘no tough rocks’ on my chair” before leaving the room.

  19. ajlobster says:

    A friend of mine calls her unborn baby “The Blueberry,” but my favorite nom de fetus is that of my cousin (later named Nick, once he was born), which was “Cletus the Fetus.”

  20. Funny about all the fetus talk. I recently learned that in Argentinian slang, you can say someone’s unattractive by calling him one, as in “Es un feto.” (“He’s a fetus.”)

  21. Brazilian dude says:

    I’m sorry that I can’t contribute with English examples, but I hope these will be somewhat fun as well.

    Talking about family language, my late grandma used to say in Portuguese “não estou muito quarenta hoje” (I’m not very forty today), which meant that she was feeling under the weather on that particular day. I always wondered why forty and not any other number. I even thought it had something to do with fever, since in the Celsius scale if you have 40 degrees, you’re sizzling (maybe even close to death). But then being 40 couldn’t be a good thing, that would be a bad thing, so I don’t get it.

    A “euphemism” that some people use to say they are going to the bathroom is “vou tirar água do joelho” (I’m going to take water out of my knee). Is that because of the relative proximity? That still stumps me to this day.

  22. Ha! I love both of those, Brazilian dude. Wonder how old your grandmother was when she started saying that? My hunch is it would have to do with age. Anyone else in your family use it?

    I’m going to have to try using the water-on-the-knee-removal euphemism (in English, anyway).

  23. Bill 5 says:

    On noms de fetus (noms de feti?), we started off calling our first “the little shmookie”. After birth, he became shmookie, or the shmookie. I think, if you address somebody as shmookie, you just have to tickle them under their chin or something. The sound is compelling.

    When we got our second, they became the “little dudes”. This was all fine and dandy until our third child proved to be a girl. Problem solved one night while tiredly serving a late dinner: “OK, dude, here’s your plate. And here’s your plate, dude. And here’s your plate, dude.” “I’m not a dude!” “Ah, Doodah! That’s what I said. Two dudes and a doodah!”

    She’s been our little doodah ever since, thanks to the parade. (Familiar form: “Doo”, as in “Time to wake up for school now, Doo!”)

    —-
    (My favorite [outside my family] nom de toddler is that of Bay Buchanan, named by her older brothers who couldn’t get the whole word “baby” out — and it stuck for life!)

  24. MarcNaimark says:

    A nice example of creaky voice at minute 39 of this podcast:
    http://geekspeak.org/shows/audio/2009-04-04.64kbps.mp3

  25. dhenderson says:

    Friends in Boulder, CO, in the early 1980’s used a nom de fetus that I just love: Embryella.

  26. Glenn says:

    A caller observes that after moving to Indianapolis, he noticed that many of the locals say the names of commercial enterprises as if they’re plural or possessive, even when they’re not, such as calling Walmart “Walmart’s.” Grant explains the inclination to add the S sound to the names of businesses in casual speech and writing.

    A tangent to this issue has come up at work.

    For a company whose name really IS possessive (e.g. Macy’s; Sotheby’s; Moody’s: not so much Victoria’s Secret) it can be very awkward to use an “of” construction to render the possessive. (e.g. “Did you order that from the website of Macy’s?”; “The commission of Sotheby’s varies with each auction purchase.”) Is there a style guide that indicates if an invariant form can be used appropriately? (e.g. “Did you order that from Macy’s website?”; “Sotheby’s commission varies with each auction purchase.”)

    I tend to think in these cases, the same form can be subjective, objective, and possessive. I can find evidence of this — along with lots of handling I think is flatly wrong — but nothing authoritative.

    Thanks for any help.

  27. Glenn, couldn’t you just say “that Macy’s website” with “Macy’s” functioning as an adjective? Or am I missing something here? (Probably, but it’s been a long day!) 🙂

  28. noah little says:

    Hey gang, late to the party but had to chime in about “hoseying” something. As a native Bostonian that term is dearly familiar, but in my family we used to call “savzies” to reserve the best TV viewing spot (the couch, the whole couch) when we went for a quick toilet break.

    love the show!

  29. noah little says:

    Speaking of speak…

    That little bit thrown in there after the discussion about speak vs talk, when Martha uses “speak to” meaning “speak about”…

    What is it about saying speak to instead of speak about? That usage seems fairly recent, and there’s something about it that rubs me the wrong way.

    “Those roses sure are wilting this summer. Joe Green, you’re the garden expert, can you speak to that?”
    This would make me think, uhm, no, Joe can not speak to an issue. He can speak about it though. Apparently it’s become common enough that only grumps like me get bothered by it. Anyone else cringe when they hear that?

    grumble grumble 😉

  30. Kelly says:

    I haven’t heard the “creaky voice” episode yet, but I clicked on the link to the original story and listened to examples. Evidently, I have “creaky voice.” I don’t do it on purpose, so the idea that it’s some kind of intentional affectation doesn’t ring true for me. As a native Californian, raised by native Californians, I don’t have any connection to Washington. So where did I get my “creak?”
    I had to laugh at the mi-oove and ri-uude vowel-fronting Californiaism. I’m TOTALLY guilty as charged on that one.
    What about “wanna” and “gonna” and “kinda” are those Lazy-California-Speak too? Or is that common everywhere?

  31. Joel Mielke says:

    Martha’s trick for those object and subject first-person pronouns works well.
    I would add one thing: Avoid the substitution of myself for I or me. At least one has a 50/50 chance of being correct with I or me, but myself is always wrong.

  32. ChuckW says:

    There’s another good “creaky voice” example in a YouTube video posted by Google, touting their Chrome browser. The woman does it all the way through, and very much as described by the caller who brought up the topic: she starts out each sentence pretty normally, but as she nears the end, she gets creaky.

  33. llihak says:

    My favorite expression for a bathroom break is “I need to visit the euphemism”. Still makes me smile.

  34. gunbarrelgirl says:

    My favorite toilet euphemism is “drop(ping) the kids off at the pool.”

  35. chucklehead says:

    On the squeaky voice thing, having lived in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties most of my life, I hear it commonly in folks who smoke copious amounts of marijuana–ex. Amy Goodman.

  36. JackieRevilla says:

    Glenn said:

    Post edited 12:17PM – May-19-09 by Glenn


    A tangent to this issue has come up at work.

    For a company whose name really IS possessive (e.g. Macy’s; Sotheby’s; Moody’s: not so much Victoria’s Secret) it can be very awkward to use an “of” construction to render the possessive. (e.g. “Did you order that from the website of Macy’s?”; “The commission of Sotheby’s varies with each auction purchase.”)

    As a former employee of JCPenney, there is a reason those in some generations call it Penney’s. In the 60’s or 70’s the signs on the store fronts were actually changed to Penney’s.

  37. Jackie, welcome!

    >>As a former employee of JCPenney, there is a reason those in some generations call it Penney’s. In the 60’s or 70’s the signs on the store fronts were actually changed to Penney’s.<<

    And I didn't know this. Thanks!

  38. <<<I haven’t heard the “creaky voice” episode yet, but I clicked on the link to the original story and listened to examples. Evidently, I have “creaky voice.” I don’t do it on purpose, so the idea that it’s some kind of intentional affectation doesn’t ring true for me. As a native Californian, raised by native Californians, I don’t have any connection to Washington. So where did I get my “creak?”
    I had to laugh at the mi-oove and ri-uude vowel-fronting Californiaism. I’m TOTALLY guilty as charged on that one.
    What about “wanna” and “gonna” and “kinda” are those Lazy-California-Speak too? Or is that common everywhere?<<<

    Kelly, welcome! I don't think it's limited to Washington State — I've heard it here in SoCal for sure. Clearly, you're going to have to call the show with a question so we can see (well, hear) for ourselves. 🙂

  39. >>>There’s another good “creaky voice” example in a YouTube video posted by Google, touting their Chrome browser. The woman does it all the way through, and very much as described by the caller who brought up the topic: she starts out each sentence pretty normally, but as she nears the end, she gets creaky.<<<

    Thanks for this, ChuckW. I'd be very curious to hear how she sounds in everyday conversation.

  40. jopa123 says:

    Grant and Martha,

    I am trying to hear this creaky voice thing and I don’t think I’m picking it up but I am wondering if it is the same thing as a phenomena that I have noticed. It seems to be very prevalent, but not certainly not limited only to, most public radio stations.

    The radio announcers, present company excluded, seem to trail off greatly in volume. Not necessarily getting creaky, but very soft. I’ve even heard the guest, half way through an interview begin to take on this characteristic speech of the announcer or emcee of the show.

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wanted to beat the radio when I heard something like this:

    YES. THAT RECIPE HAS A Secret Ingredient. and that secret ingredien…

    And they just tail off in volume. And it always seems that the words that are so tacit that a mouse couldn’t hear them are the most important. Very frustrating.

  41. Heh. I think I heard something like that the other day, jopa123, and was hoping it was just a one-off event. Now that you mention it, I’ll keep an ear out!

  42. roadlittledawn says:

    I just heard on Science Magazine's podcast that ScienceNow's top story for 2011 was a study by scientists at Long Island University (LIU) in Brookville, New York on “vocal fry,” which I'm pretty sure is the creaky voice discussed in this episode. The findings are quite interesting.   Anyway, here it is for those interested. Cheers   :)

  43. Marla says:

    Like many others who posted, I am so glad that other people recognize creaky voice! I can’t describe how much it irritates me – I have to switch channels or stations when someone starts talking that way, and being forced to listen to creaking in a meeting, for example, is absolute torture.

    Everything I’ve read about creaky voice says that it’s used by women to sound more authoritative, i.e., more like male voices. I couldn’t disagree more strongly! In almost every instance, it seems to be considered sexy or seductive. Nothing wrong with being sexy, but it’s hardly the way to appear more authoritative. I cringe when I hear professional women speaking that way; it seems like a denial or debasement of their knowledge and abilities. For that reason I think it’s more similar to prefacing every sentence with a giggle, or speaking in baby-talk, instead of forthrightly stating one’s opinion.

  44. RobertB says:

    martha said:

     

    Thanks for this, ChuckW. I’d be very curious to hear how she sounds in everyday conversation.

     

    Could you post the link to said  Utube. I cannot find it or  ChuckW.

    Thanks

  45. EmmettRedd says:

    RobertB said:

    martha said:

     

    Thanks for this, ChuckW. I’d be very curious to hear how she sounds in everyday conversation.

     

    Could you post the link to said  Utube. I cannot find it or  ChuckW.

    Thanks

    It is post 35 (last one on page 1 of this thread).

    HTH

    Emmett

  46. RobertB says:

    Interesting- they have removed that clip. It could be because it was getting outdated. Or somebody there was reading about “creaky voice.”

    I still would like to hear some samples if you have some (that is incidental, not deliberately done for demonstration.)

    A most unusual public voice is Diane Rehm‘s, all scratchy and strenuously deliberate (due to a diagnosed defect). Yet it has become a sort of trademark of hers, a positive quality. So if people like the content of the speech, they probably will like whatever manner of delivery too.

  47. tvieno says:

    Here is one clip I found on the subject. Another term for the Chicken Scratch is “vocal fry” and it seems YouTube is loaded with clips under that category.

    .

  48. Laughing_Coyote says:

    So very late to the party, but I have been catching up on the pod casts.

     

    My favorite euphemism for having to take a bathroom break is, “visiting the hollyhocks”.   My room-mate and I are Civil War Re-enactors (Re-enactorixes? since we are both female) and the proper, lady-like query for directions to the privy was asking to see the hollyhocks as the fragrant flowers were planted around the privy to block the odor.

     

    Love the show Grant and Martha, now back to catching up…