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Coast is Clear

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In the military, if you’ve lost the bubble, then you can’t find your bearings. The term first referred to calibrating the position of aircraft and submarines. • The phrase the coast is clear may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. • A dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado dip. • One more place where people are starting sentences with the word so — during prayers at church. • Also: elbow clerk, smitten, Tennyson’s brook, fussbudget vs. fussbucket, clinomania, and 50 k’s south of Woop Woop. This episode first aired April 22, 2017.

Another Antiwitze

 Our conversation about goofy German antiwitze prompts listeners to send in their own silly jokes. For example: What’s the difference between a duck? A pencil, because a duck has no sleeves!

Guacamole Pronunciation

 A brother and sister in Elgin, Illinois, disagree about how to pronounce guacamole. She argues that it rhymes with whack-a-mole. She’s wrong.

Elbow Clerk

 Speaking to a conference of judges and lawyers, Grant learns the term elbow clerk, meaning a clerk who works in the judge’s chambers.

The Coast is Clear

 A woman in Vancouver, Washington, wants to know the origin of the phrase the coast is clear, meaning “it’s safe to proceed.” It most likely has to do with a literal coast, whether from the perspective of a ship at sea or guards patrolling the shoreline. The Spanish equivalent, no hay moros en la costa, translates literally as,”There are no Moors on the coast.”

Starting Sentences With So in Church

 Why does it seem that more and more people start responses to a question with the word so? After hearing our discussion about sentence-initial so, a Nashville, Tennessee, churchgoer calls to say that he often hears something similar at the beginning of a prayer after a sermon or to conclude a service.

Names that are Words Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about people whose names are words. For example, if he asks, “Is the comedian who was one of the Three Amigos vertically challenged?” you’d answer with name of a funny man whose last name is also an adjective.

Smitten, Smite

 A woman who is fond of the word smitten is curious about about the word’s origin. Smitten is the past participle of smite, so if you’re smitten with someone, you’re struck by them, metaphorically speaking.

El Conejo Gritando

 A San Antonio, Texas, woman who has taught at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, says one of her Spanish-speaking students taught her the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black: el conejo gritando orejon, which translates literally as “the rabbit yelling ‘big ears.'”

Where You At?

 A listener in Marquette, Michigan, says her daughters criticize her for saying where you at? They argue that the word at in this case is unnecessary. In many cases, this phrase is indeed a pleonasm, but Grant explains that in some contexts this use of the word at plays a particular linguistic role to convey additional meaning.

21 in Celsius

 In response to our conversation about euphemistic terms for one’s age, a listener says that he fudged his age on his last big birthday by telling friends he’d turned 21 in Celsius.


 Two-hander is theater jargon for a play that features just two people.

Tennyson’s Brook

 The expression on and on like Tennyson’s brook describes something lengthy or seemingly interminable, like a long-winded speaker. The phrase is a reference to a lovely poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about the course of a body of water.

Lose the Bubble

 To lose the bubble means “to lose track” or “lose one’s bearings,” and refers to the bubble in an inclinometer on an airplane or ship, much like the bubble in a carpenter’s level. It’s described in detail in Gene Rochlin’s Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization.

Fifty Ks South of Woop Woop

 In Australian slang, Woop Woop is a joking term for any remote town, and if you want to denote someplace even more remote, you can describe it as 50 k south of Woop Woop.

Fussbudget vs. Fussbucket

 A fussbudget is someone who’s “ill-tempered” or “overly critical,” the -budget in this term deriving from an old word for “purse” or “pouch.” Variants include fussy-budget, fuss-a-budget, and fussbucket.

Clinonania and Dysania

 The words clinomania and dysania both refer to extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.

A Lemon is Defective

 If the car you bought is a lemon, it’s defective. This negative use of lemon derives from the tart taste of this fruit, which first inspired an association with a sourpuss, then a generally disappointing person, and then finally a similarly disappointing product.

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

Photo by Guillermo Alonso. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization.

Music Used in the Episode

EvolutionMagnumFully LoadedThe Phoenix
Natural JuicesMagnumFully LoadedThe Phoenix
LiveMinority BandJourney To The ShoreJSR Records
Beatin’ The BreaksMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul Records
Tasty TuneMinority BandJourney To The ShoreJSR Records
Witch Doctor’s BrewMagnumFully LoadedThe Phoenix
Journey To The ShoreMinority BandJourney To The ShoreJSR Records
Pushin’ OffMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul Records
Kash RegisterKashmere Stage BandOut Of Gas “But Still Burning”KRAM Records
Funky JunkyFully LoadedFully LoadedThe Phoenix
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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