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Curse of Knowledge

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It’s all about terms of endearment: If your loved one is far away for a long time, you’re probably tired of just saying “I miss you” over and over. For variety’s sake, there are some creative alternatives to that phrase.  Also, what do you call the kind of friend you can go without seeing for years, then pick right back up with, as though no time has passed? Martha calls them her “Anyway friends,” because they always resume the conversation with the transitional term “Anyway…” And if a characteristic is “ingrained and long-established,” do you say it is deep-seated or deep-SEEDED? Plus, Cajun slang, burning platforms, cutting circumbendibus, under the weather, smell a mouse, yard sales on ski slopes, how to pronounce mayonnaise and won, and the curse of knowledge. This episode first aired December 5, 2014.

That Song in Your Head

 If someone clapped out the rhythm of a song you knew, would you recognize it? It’s pretty unlikely, given what’s called the curse of knowledge. To the person with the song in their head, it’s obvious, but you can’t expect anyone else to hear it. It’s an important concept for anyone who wants to be a better writer. This is among many fascinating concepts discussed in Steven Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, which some are calling the new Strunk and White.

Pronouncing Mayonnaise

 You may pronounce mayonnaise at least a couple of different ways. Although it’s clear the word came into English via French, its origin is a matter of some dispute.

Janitor’s Eponymous Law

 After we spoke a couple weeks ago about eponymous laws, a listener who works as a janitor gave us one of his own: Given any two rolls of toilet paper, the larger roll will get smaller before the smaller gets used up.


 When something’s just the beatin’est (or beatingest or beatenist), that means it’s splendid, or puzzling. The term is most commonly heard in the South and South Midlands of the United States.

Bee Pun

 Pun alert: if you have a bee in your hand, what’s in your eye? Beauty. Think about it.

Puzzle Hunt Word Game

 Our Quiz Master John Chaneski leads us on a puzzle hunt, starting in a world capital that’s a homophone for a type of music or food. (Hint: This Asian capital hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics.)

Under the Weather

 When we’re not feeling well, we might say we’re “under the weather.” But then, given that weather happens above our heads, aren’t we always under it? The idiomatic phrase under the weather simply means the weather’s affecting our bodies.

Anyway Friends

 There should be a word for the kind of friend you can go without seeing for years, then reconnect with as though no time has gone by. Martha calls those her  “Anyway” friends, because they just pick right up with “Anyway…”

Skiing Yard Sale

 Skiing is fun until you wipe out, flinging two skis, two poles, and perhaps your lunch, all over the place. They call that a yard sale.

Cajun Slang “Unclimb this Derrick”

 Of all the Cajun slang we’ve heard, “I’m gonna unclimb this derrick and give you your satisfy” is among the best of it. Cajun speech is unique for having retained elements of French syntax that even French-speaking Canada doesn’t use anymore.

Burning Platform

 The “burning platform” is a trendy phrase in business at the moment, used for a crisis that demands immediate action. It refers to a guy on an oil rig that caught fire, and he had the choice of staying on the rig and facing certain death, or jump into the icy water on the slim chance that he might survive.

Steven Pinker’s Advice for Writers

 Steven Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style, which Martha cites among her all-time favorite books about writing, has just the right message: don’t worry so much about the errors, because you’ll make them, and if writing isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Alternatives for “I Miss You”

 If the phrase “I miss you” feels drained of meaning after using it over and over, try this line from To Kill a Mockingbird as a substitute: “I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you.”

Deep-Seated vs. Deep-Seeded

 Deep-seated is the proper term for ensconced, rather than deep-seeded, although the confusion makes sense, given the imagery of seeds taking root.

Ways to Pronounce “Won”

 Contrary to what your dictionary might tell you, there’s no one right way to pronounce won.

Cutting Circumbendibus

 Cutting circumbendibus is that thing you do when you spot someone you really don’t want to talk to, so you dart across an alley or do anything to avoid saying hello.

Smell a Mouse

 Unlike smelling a rat, smelling a mouse isn’t necessarily a bad thing — you could smell a mouse, thereby sussing out that someone has good news to share, or just a fun prank to play.

The Mayonnaise is Setting

 In French, there are colloquialisms translating to “the mayonnaise is setting” and “to make the mayonnaise rise.”

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

Photo by Alan Turkus. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Music Used in the Episode

Wade In The WaterRamsey LewisWade In The WaterCadet
Les FleursRamsey LewisMaiden VoyageCadet
Liquid LoveRoy AyersVirgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased RecordingsRapster Records
The Funky TurkeyJive TurkeysBread & ButterColemine Records
Maiden VoyageRamsey LewisMaiden VoyageCadet
SearchinRoy AyersThe Essential GrooveRonnie Scott’s Jazz House
JT StrutJive TurkeysBread & ButterColemine Records
Summer BreezeRamsey LewisSolar WindColumbia
The MemoryRoy AyersUbiquity VibrationsPolydor
Everybody Loves The SunshineRoy AyersEverybody Loves The SunshinePolydor
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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