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Chicken Scratches and Creaky Voice

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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.

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.


 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 Episode

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

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