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Will The Rain Hurt The Rhubarb? (full episode)
Grant Barrett
San Diego, California
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Obamamania, Obamabot, Obamathon, Obamamentum—the list of variations on the name “Obama” goes on and on. Is there an English word that means the in-laws of your son or daughter? And what does it mean when someone says, “Well, that was odder than Dick’s hatband!”?

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The hosts discuss two Obamafications: Obamanation and Obamination. Slate’s book and web widget that include many Barack Obama-derived words are here.

You’d be forgiven for wondering if eavesdropping derives from the idea of would-be spies slipping and falling from the eaves of a house. But it doesn’t.

Time for a sports question! If an NFL team has a week without having to play a game during the season, it’s called a bye week. But a caller says he’s also heard bye week refer to a week in which a team draws no opponent. Which is correct? Hint: Tie goes to the adjective.

In our recent episode, Dust Bunnies and Ghost Turds, Grant mentioned simping, a slang term for “the act of pursuing a woman online in a fawning fashion.” What’s the etymological source of simping? “Cyberpimping”? “Acting like a simpleton”? “Simpering”?

Quiz Guy and proud papa Greg Pliska stops by with a word puzzle in honor of his infant daughter. The quiz is called—what else?—”Baby Talk.”

What do you call the parents of your son’s or daughter’s spouse? They’re your child’s in-laws, but what are they in relation to you and your spouse? A caller who spent years in Latin America says Spanish has a specific term for this: consuegro. She’s frustrated by the apparent lack of such a term in English.

“Well, that was odder than Dick’s hatband!” A caller says his mother always used that term. Now he wants to know: Who was Dick? And what was so odd about his headwear?

Ever sat down to a turkey dinner where someone offered you a bite of the Pope’s nose? That’s a name sometimes applied to the bird’s fatty rump, which many consider a delicacy. Martha and Grant discuss this and other terms for the so-called “part that goes over the fence last.” Is this part of a turkey any more appetizing if you call it the parson’s nose, the uropygium, or le sot-l’y-laisse? The last of these is a French term for that part of a turkey; roughly translated, it means “only a silly person won’t eat it.”

When it comes to books, some people are pack rats; others make a point of periodically culling from the word herd. In a recent New York Times essay, Laura Miller describes her own mixed feelings about getting rid of unwanted books. A full shelf of unread books, she writes, can feel like “a kind of charm against mortality.” Martha and Grant discuss Miller’s essay, “The Well-Tended Bookshelf.”

This week’s “Slang This!” contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League tries to pick out the real slang terms from a puzzle that includes the expressions beagle-chased, green-shifted, kiln-fired, and shovel-ready.

A caller who grew up with 10 brothers and sisters recalls that whenever sibling squabbles erupted, her parents would intervene with a cheery, “Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” The children were expected to respond with: “Not if it’s in cans!” Such silliness, she says, would get everyone laughing, and the dispute would be defused. Grant and Martha discuss this and other handy non sequiturs.

You’ve modified that car to make it go faster and look sharper. But is your car correctly described as suped up (as in “supercharged”) or souped up?

Is there any connection between term Indian summer and the term Indian giver? A caller worries that might be the case, but the hosts assure her it’s not. By the way, that marvelous cultural history of Indian summer that Martha recommends is Beneath the Second Sun, by Adam Sweeting.

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Hate to give your caller a downer,  but “Not if it's in can's!”  was the correct response in our house growing up.  My Father had many sayings that he took from the media if his day.  Vic and Sade, and other radio shows.  If I were to venture a guess the phrase may very well have come from an old radio show.  My Father is no longer with us to ask about the origin, but I will attest to the validity of the reply and the effectiveness of it's disarming power among children.  The other saying that had me stumped for the longest time was, 

“Cantaloupe tonight,  my fathers got the ladder!” I could never figure out why Dad would need a ladder to eat that melon.

A quick search found that it may be a line form the 1950 movie summer stock with Gene Kelly / Judy Garland,  I could buy into that origin too since that kind of movie was right up my Fathers alley.

Martha Barnette
San Diego, CA
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Heh. Yeah, Highpockets, I remember that as a knock-knock joke:

Knock, knock.

Who's there?


Cantaloupe who?

Cantaloupe tonight. Dad's got the car!

I'd be interested to hear if the rhubarb expresssion does stem from a radio show. Sounds plausible, although I've seen no evidence to support it.

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Here's a little follow-up on the term Grant mentioned, “reading mortality,” which I love.

With a little Google research, I think I have found its origin. It's from a 2001 article from the Canadian “National Post.” Several blog posts from that time also mentioned the term and cited the same source. The article isn't archived on the Post's site, but thanks to Archive.org, it's still findable.

The archived page:


Love the show & kudos! :)


My Dad’s version of the rhubarb conversation is thus:

A: Think the rain’ll hurt the rhubarb?
B: Not if it’s in cans.
A: What, the rain?
B: No, the rhubarb.

--Miss Darcy--

A friend of mine just asked if I’d ever heard the expression, “Will the rain hurt the rhubarb?” With the answer, invariably, “Not if it’s in the can.” She was sure it was unique to her family, and not having any idea, I said, “Bet it’s not just you. Check out ‘A Way with Words….’ ” and here it is! But could it be a non sequitur that at one time made sense? If so, are there other such examples? Anyway, two possibilities for the rhubarb retort. At one time it was popular to force rhubarb in winter, and this was done by covering (darkening) them with specially made earthen jars or, if you weren’t that fancy, with a big old upturned bucket or trash can with holes punched in bottom to let rain in. (See, See, http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=126) Another possibility is that people used to “can” rhubarb (really in jars), and of course a rain storm would have no chance of drowning your spring crop of rhubarb if you’d already done your canning. For full directions, even how to cook rhubard “in the can,” see New Rhubarb Culture by J.E. Morse, 1909.