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Like Death Eating a Cracker

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Digital timepieces may be changing the way we talk, at least a little. There’s Bob o’clock (8:08), Big o’clock (8:19), and even Pi o’clock. Also this week, what do you call that gesture with your fingers when you want to make an image larger on a multitouch screen? In other words, what is the opposite of a pinch? Does anyone use the expression “fat chance” any more? And do the expressions graveyard shift, saved by the bell, and dead ringer has anything to do with weird Victorian burial practices?

This episode first aired May 1, 2010.

Bob O’Clock

 As members of the Bob o’clock Facebook group know, the expression “Bob o’clock” means, “It’s 8:08!” The hosts discuss this and other silly ways to tell time inspired by the boxy numbers on a digital clock.


 What’s the word for the gesture you make with your fingers when you want to make an image larger on an iPhone? Unpinch? Fwoop?


 A Wisconsin man says he learned an expression that sounds like quixibar from his father to describe something confusing or befuddling. But he’s never heard anyone else use it. Is it unique to his family?

Fat Chance

 Does anyone use the expression “fat chance” anymore?

Heteronym Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a puzzle about heteronyms, words that have the same spelling, but different meanings, like “moped” as in “acted glum” and “moped” as in a motorized bike.


 A San Diego caller wonders about the expression a-gogo, as in the name of a local restaurant, Hash House A Go Go. Where’d it come from?

Appalachian Phrase Origin

 You look like “death eatin’ a cracker walkin’ backwards.” In Appalachia, this phrase means, “you look terrible.” A caller wants to know its origin.

North vs. Northern

 A Dallas listener is struck by the fact that Texans talk about East Texas, North Texas, South Texas, and West Texas. So why, she wonders, do people in other states say things like Southern Indiana and Northern California?

Lexicography Work

 Grant talks about his daily work as a lexicographer.

Linguistic Myths Surrounding Taphophobia

 A Wellesley College student has been reading about the Victorian fear of being buried alive—also known as taphophobia—and the bizarre 19th-century burial practices associated with it. She’s heard that they gave rise to such expressions as dead ringer, graveyard shift, and saved by the bell. Martha and Grant debunk those linguistic myths.

“E” After Family Names

 A listener in Buford, Georgia, says his mother’s maiden name was Barnett, and reports that he was told that the addition of an “e” to a last name was once an indication that the person was descended from slave families.


 Why do physicians speak of turfing an undesirable patient?

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

Photo by Idealisms. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

California SoulMarlena ShawSpice Of LifeCadet
Good TimesChicRisqueAtlantic
The Golden ThrushJohnny “Hammond” SmithThe Best of Johnny “Hammond” SmithPrestige
Mister MagicGrover Washington Jr.Mister MagicKUDU
Chocolate ButtermilkKool and The GangThe Best of Kool and The Gang 1969-1976Island/Mercury
Love PotionJohnny “Hammond” SmithThe Best of Johnny “Hammond” SmithPrestige
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffFred AstaireSteppin Out: Fred Astaire SingsVerve

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