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Cut to the Chase

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This week: whether cotton-pickin’ is racist, unintentionally funny headlines, whether enormity can simply mean “enormous,” how a person can be “such a pill,” and pandiculation. “It’s good stuff, Maynard!”

This episode first aired December 20, 2008.

Oddly-Worded Signs

 There’s nothing like an oddly phrased headline to brighten your day. How about “Actor Sent to Jail for Not Finishing Sentence”? Or “Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped”? Same for signs that make you do a double take, like “Senior Citizens! Buy One, Get One Free.” A San Diego caller shares a couple of her favorite oddly worded signs, and the hosts mention a few of their own. By the way, for more strangely worded signs, check out The Bad Sign Brigade on Flickr. For amusing headlines and unfortunate journalistic locutions, we recommend the “Sic!” section of Michael Quinion’s newsletter, available from his site, World Wide Words.

Such a Pill

 If someone’s driving you bonkers, you’d be forgiven for grumbling, “He’s such a pill!” But why a pill?

Good Stuff, Maynard!

 Did Grandpa ever enthuse about Grandma’s cooking with the words “Good stuff, Maynard!” A Waukesha, Wisconsin caller remembers his own grandfather doing that, and wants to know how this expression came about.

Possible Origins of Sketchy

 In an earlier episode, we discussed the slang term sketchy, meaning “creepy” or “alarming” or “suspicious.” Grant shares an email from a listener suggesting a link to the world of amphetamine users.

Roots of “Cut to the Chase”

 Your brother-in-law the motormouth beats around the bush for so long about something that in exasperation you tell him to “cut to the chase.” The hosts explain the Hollywood roots of this phrase.

Definition of Enormity

 When Barack Obama intoned, “I do not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead,” some grammar sticklers recoiled. Pointing to the word’s roots, they insist that enormity means not “large,” but “out of the ordinary.” A caller who’s been following a heated online dispute about this word asks the hosts for a verdict. They give the president-elect a pass.


 Remember when Bugs Bunny used to say, “Now wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute!”? A caller wants to know if cotton-pickin’ has racist overtones.

Getting Doorknobbed

 In an earlier episode, we discussed whether there’s a word for “a drawn-out leave-taking”– when, say, a friend says “goodbye” but keeps thinking of “one more thing” to say before exiting. Martha suggested the term doorknob-hanging. Several listeners wrote to say that physicians commonly use the terms getting doorknobbed and doorknob question to mean something similar.

Kentucky Contestant on Slang This!

 This week’s “Slang This!” contestant, from Cold Spring, Kentucky, tries to tease out the real slang words from the fake ones. Rubber-bands or herkies? An executive handle or a producer’s button?

Impromptu Gifts

 In certain parts of the South, a small, impromptu gift is variously known by the sibilant synonyms sirsee, surcy, searcy, or circe. A South Carolina woman who’s heard the word all her life is baffled as to where it came from.

Immense Relief

 Uh-oh. Your credit card’s missing. As you frantically search for it, your mind fast-forwards through the bad things that could happen if it’s been stolen. Then, to your enormous relief, you find the card. Is there a specific word for the immense relief you feel when something you’ve dreaded doesn’t happen?

On the QT

 “On the QT” means “surreptitiously” or “hush-hush.” Why the letters? Are they an abbreviation?


 Martha talks about a favorite Latin-based word: pandiculation. It’s a term that means “the stretching that accompanies yawning.”

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

Photo by smerikal. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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