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Do Me a Solid

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What’s in YOUR spice rack? Say you’re cooking up a pot of chili, and you need to add more of that warm, earthy, powdered spice. Do you reach for a bottle of KOO-min? KYOO-min? Or are you going to add KUMM-in? The pronunciation given in dictionaries may surprise you. Also: some people have a problem with using the word issue instead of problem. And if you’re talking to a group of men and women, be careful about using the term you guys. Plus, sharp as a “marshmallow sandwich,” the phrase “of an evening,” what your paycheck has to do with salt, and tips for breaking bad grammar habits. This episode first aired October 25, 2014.


 Cumin, a spice often used in chili powder, is easy to think of as an exotic ingredient with an equally exotic pronunciation. But many dictionaries insist that its pronunciation rhymes with “comin’.”

Marshmallow Sandwich

 Someone on the dull side might be described as “sharp as a marshmallow sandwich.”

You Guys

 If you’re talking to group of people of mixed genders, it’s fine to address them as “You guys.” After all, English lacks a distinctive second-person plural. Still, if the usage offends someone, it’s best to address them in whatever way makes them feel comfortable.

Moonglade and Sunwake

 The gold or silver light you see shimmering on the water at night is called moonglade or moonwake. Similarly, the sun shining on the water is called sunglade or sunwake.

Shards and Sherds

 Broken pieces of pottery, commonly known as shards, are also referred to as sherds by professional archaeologists.

Word Olympics Game

 What word is both a verb meaning “to make shiny and clean” and a demonym for the people of an Eastern European country? Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski asks this and other questions in his game, Word Olympics.

Going Dutch

 Dutch people are no more prone than anyone else to splitting the bill at a restaurant, so why is that practice called “going Dutch”?

Whitewater Rafting Lingo

 Listener K.C. Gandee, a whitewater rafting guide from Bethel, Maine, tipped us off to lingo from his world. Dead-sticking is when the guide is doing all the paddling and no one else is. A lily dipper is someone who barely paddles while everyone else works hard. Dump-trucking is when the raft nearly capsizes and everyone in it gets thrown out.

Singing to Improve Grammar

 When you have a habit of using a particular bit of poor grammar, rote exercises like writing out a script to practice may help you get past it. Practicing the correct usage by singing to yourself may work, too.

Of an Evening

 To sip a mint julep on the veranda of an evening may be a distinctly Southern activity, but the phrases “of an evening” or “of a morning,” meaning “in the evening” or “in the morning,” go back at least to the 1600s and the Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Etymology of Salary

 If you’re making a salary, be grateful that it’s paid out in dollars and not salt. In antiquity, salt was a valuable commodity, and the term salary comes from the Latin salarium, the portions of salt paid to Roman soldiers.

Misplaced Foreign Inflections

 Open your kitchen cupboard or a cookbook, and chances are you’ll come across a lot of spices and peppers with recognizable names that you still can’t pronounce properly, like turmeric, cayenne, and habanero. We often give foreign-sounding inflections to foreign-looking words, and many times we’re wrong.

Origin of Slang “Solid”

 To “do me a solid” or “do someone a solid,” meaning “to do someone a favor,” may be related to the slang term solid meaning “a trustworthy prison inmate.”

An Issue with “Issue”

 A listener from Madison, Wisconsin, has an issue with the word issue. She doesn’t like it being used as a synonym for problem. But the American Heritage Usage Panel has come around to accepting the new use of issue, so if that’s a problem, take issue with them.

Proper Noun Tautologies

 Tautologies in names are pretty funny, like the Sahara Desert, which basically means “Desert Desert,” or the country of East Timor, which in Malay means “East East.”

Youth is Wasted on the Young

 Let’s settle this once and for all: George Bernard Shaw is responsible for the sentiment behind the quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” But Fred Shapiro’s Yale Book of Quotations indicates that the history of the saying isn’t so simple.

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

Photo by EmsiProduction. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Yale Book of Quotations by Fred Shapiro
The American Heritage Dictionary Online

Music Used in the Episode

OGDJimmy Smith & Wes MontgomeryFurtherVerve
Besame MuchoWes MontgomeryThis Is Wes MontgomeryRiverside Records
Musicawi SiltThe DaktarisSoul ExplosionDesco
CaribaWes MontgomeryThis Is Wes MontgomeryRiverside Records
Wes’s TuneWes MontgomeryThis Is Wes MontgomeryRiverside Records
Don’t Ever Leave MeJ.C. DavisA New Day!Cali-Tex Records
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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  • At least for now, my FORBIDDEN status is removed (along with all my bookmarks), so I am back.

    Cumin: for once, I am with the dictionary. The accent is definitely on the first syllable, unlike come in.

    You guys: 1970s Vancouver, BC, was where I first heard it applied to females, including all-girl groups.

    The spice is TWO mur ick

    Solid: this is my first encounter in 81 years with this usage.

    Issue: it bothers me too. I do like the birth announcement of a daughter – we skirted the issue.

    Tautologies: I have even heard Rio Grande River, which is really absurd, especially in Texas.

    The Brazilian from Frisco had a great North Texas accent. It reminded me of a schoolmate of mine who, when going around the circle introducing ourselves would say “Mah name is Takyoshi Abe (Ah bey) from Koe bee Jah pan. He enjoyed the reaction. I think he put a bit additional into it, but he really did have a definite East Texas drawl from polishing his English in Lufkin.

    For geolinguists, I am currently in Bonham, but grew up in Dallas with parents from Springdale, AR and Denison, TX.

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