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Eat the Grindstone

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The books we love as children may influence our careers more than we realize. As a child, Martha was fascinated with stories of cracking codes, and Grant loved books with glossaries–not that far from the kind of work they do today. A caller from Michigan credits her long career in medicine to a children’s book called Nurse Nancy. Also, ever traveled to England and ended up incorporating British phrases into your own vocabulary? You’re feeling “the chameleon effect.” And you know when you return to your car and take a moment before leaving to check your phone messages? What do you call that? Plus, a Dial-a-Joke word quiz, baffie slippers, bacon collar, the power of rhyme, and Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on tour. This episode first aired March 20, 2015.

Language Without Metaphors

 Would you rather write in a language with no punctuation or without the use of similes or metaphors? Grant and Martha agree that texting has proven our ability to get a point across without periods or commas. On the other hand, sometimes an idea just needs to be expressed with a metaphor.

Primed to Love Rhyme

 An American who worked as an au pair in Italy found that children there didn’t seem to react so positively to fun sayings like, “No way, Jose” or “Ready, Freddie?” Yet some research suggests we’re primed to love rhyme.

Coffee Pot vs. Coffee Maker

 Office workers in Richmond, Virginia, are having a dispute: Is the appliance that makes the coffee a coffee pot or a coffee maker? This is a classic case of synecdoche, where a single part—like the pot that holds the hot coffee—is used to refer to the whole object.

Bacon Collar

 When you forget to put those plastic stays in your collar before you wash a dress shirt, the curled-up result is what some folks call bacon collar.

Blank-a-Blank Game

 In honor of the old Dial-a-Joke phone line, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called “Blank-a-Blank,” with clues to different terms that have the letter a sandwiched between two dashes.

Biffed It

 If someone has biffed it, they’ve fallen down and embarrassed themselves.

Cat Face

 Cat face is a cute way to describe something like a piece of fruit or a tree that’s grown in on itself, giving it a puckered kind of indentation. Particularly in the African-American community, it’s used to denote a wrinkle to be ironed out.

Don’t Chew Cabbage Twice

 The saying “I don’t chew my cabbage twice,” means I’m not going to repeat myself. The ancient Romans, by the way, ate cabbage as a protection against hangovers, but detested the smell of twice-cooked cabbage.

The Cow Ate the Grindstone

 There’s an old Texan proverb that goes “Lick by lick, the cow ate the grindstone.” In other words, if you’re dogged enough, anything is possible.

The Blog Reads

 Even though blogs can’t read and newspapers can’t speak, it’s totally appropriate to write “the blog reads,” or “the newspaper says.”

Heal Before You’re Married

 We spoke on a recent show about the joking consolation parents offer to a crying child, “It’ll be better before you’re married.” A podcast listener in Siberia emailed to say that in Russian, a similar saying translates to, “It has enough time to heal before you’re married.” This also shows up in a translation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Chameleon Effect of Language

 A listener named Kio from Los Angeles says she spent some time in England, and while her colleagues there claimed that her valley girl slang was rubbing off on them, she herself picked up plenty of English slang. This is a classic linguistic phenomenon called the Chameleon Effect, whereby people adopt the language and customs of those around themselves in order to feel like part of a group.

Le Petit Voyage

 What do you call that moment when you get back in the car and before you drive off, you check back in with your phone to see what you missed in the world of email, texting and cyber communication? How about le petit voyage?


 Baffies—not bathies—is a Scottish term for the slippers you might wear in the morning to and from the shower, cooking breakfast, or doing just about anything during the transition from barefootedness to having real shoes on.

Books and Career Choices

 We got a call from a nurse named Nancy who, what do you know, grew up reading a book called Nurse Nancy. Is there a book you read as a child that influenced your career choices?

Shakespeare’s First Folio

 In observance of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, copies of his First Folio will be touring all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, for the public to see. It seems fitting, considering what D.H. Lawrence wrote about the Bard: “When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder that such trivial people should muse and thunder in such lovely language.”

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

Photo by David Rosen. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Nurse Nancy by Kathryn Jackson
The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Music Used in the Episode

Rocksteady For TwoRoger Rivas and the Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
Try A Little TendernessSoul FlutesCTICTI
Cut The CakeAverage White BandCut The CakeAtlantic
One More DanceRoger Rivas and the Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
Trust in MeSoul FlutesTrust in MeCTI
Blue MelodyRoger Rivas and the Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
Ace HighRoger Rivas and the Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
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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