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Electric Hootenanny

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Bathroom walls, missing graffiti, and social media. Where have all the cute quips on bathroom stalls gone?  We wonder about the apparent decline of restroom graffiti. Are people saving their witticisms for Twitter and Facebook?  And: If there were a universal law named in your honor, what would it be? Martha says in her case, “Barnette’s Law” would be “The lane you just got out of is the one that ends up going faster.”  Always.  Finally: Andre the Giant fancies a cocktail called “The American.” The recipe? Fill a 40-ounce pitcher with various liquors, then stir. Eeeeuww! Plus, using Master vs. Mister in correspondence, how fixin’ to became finna, the meaning of derp, and what happens when you take a forest bath in Japan. This episode first aired October 31, 2014.

Eponymous Laws

 An eponymous law is a joking bit of wisdom named after someone, like Murphy’s Law, which states “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Social Media Replacing Graffiti

 Amid the rise of social media oversharing, you’ll notice at least one peculiar change: people don’t seem to write on the walls of public restrooms anymore. But if you’re in search of some good old fashioned bathroom stall graffiti, we recommend checking out Allen Walker Read’s Classic American Graffiti.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s Law

 Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s Law should be familiar to anyone who’s ever been assigned a minor task and a long weekend to get it done— “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Slang “Finna”

 Finna, a slang variant of “fixing to,” meaning “to be about to do something,” has been widely distributed through hip-hop lyrics. Its formation is similar to gonna, from “going to.”

Cole’s Law

 Speaking of eponymous laws, do you know what Cole’s Law is? (Hint: You might order it as a side dish with your fish and fries.)

Day Planner Quiz

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski went through his day planner to combine activities with the abbreviations of days and months. For example, when it’s a relief after a long week just to get in bed, you’re talking about Satin.

Proper Noun Possessives

 There’s no definite rule for putting the apostrophe “s” after names like Liz or Alex when talking about Liz’s wedding or Alex’s school, but we know for certain that most people say, and write out, the possessive “s.”

Herblock’s Law

 Herblock’s Law is a bummer for anyone who, like Grant, loved the socks sold at The Gap fifteen years ago: “If it’s good, they’ll stop making it.”

Cut Off the Nose to Spite the Face

 The idiom “to cut off your nose to spite your face” has been attributed to a Medieval nun who described women cutting off their noses to look unattractive and thus preserve their chastity. Whether that story is true, cutting off someone’s nose was a pretty common form of punishment back then. The gist of that saying also appears in Henri IV’s statement about “burning Paris to save Paris.”

Andre the Giant’s Drink

 We’ve spoken on the show about the suicide drink— that thing where you mix everything at the soda fountain into one cup. And we’ve also covered the Matt Dillon, when a bartender pours whatever’s in the bar mat into a cocktail glass. But the actor Cary Elwes recently revealed that Andre the Giant fancies a drink called The American, which consists of 40 ounces of various liquors all in one pitcher.

Master vs. Mister

 If you’re into the manners and customs of correspondence, don’t forget that a boy under the age of about 12 is referred to as a Master, and a man over the age of 18 is a Mister. It goes back to the time of guild workers.

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

 Does Betteridge’s Law of Headlines Make Us Look Fat? No. But it is the eponymous law that states, “If it ends in a question, the answer is ‘no.'”

Euphemisms to Show Sympathy

 We’ve talked on the show before about the language of grief and the use of euphemisms like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or, passed away. A retired Middlebury College history professor wrote us to say that it’s all very well to be against euphemisms, but you also have to be respectful of other people’s feelings.

The Many Meanings of Hootenanny

 A hootenanny, commonly thought of as a party in Appalachia, is also a term for German pancakes. But when you look in the Dictionary of American Regional English, you’ll notice that hootenanny is synonymous with doohickey or thingamajig, and can refer to, among other things, a sleigh, something to sharpen shears, or an imaginary object.

Segal’s Law

 Segal’s Law states, “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

In a Car vs. On a Train

 It’s largely because of the way we feel while riding in a car or on a train that we use the prepositions in a car and on a train.


 Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for walking around in the woods that literally means “a forest bath” is a beautiful descriptor for what a hike should be—an opportunity to stroll through nature and wash off the stress of everyday life.


 Many kids are saying derp in place of duh, and the phenomenon is largely due to Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s use of the term in their movie Baseketball and their television show South Park.

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

Photo by Liz West. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Classic American Graffiti by Allan Walker Read
Dictionary of American Regional English by Frederic Gomes Cassidy

Music Used in the Episode

TropicosoJungle FireTropicosoNacional
CulebroJungle FireTropicosoNacional
Lady, You Look Good To MeGalt MacDermotShapes of RhythmKilmarnock
Village HustleJungle FireTropicosoNacional
Snake PitJungle FireTropicosoNacional
Morning FlyThe New MastersoundsTherapyOne Note Records
Coffee ColdGalt MacDermotShapes of RhythmKilmarnock
Monday MetersThe New MastersoundsTherapyOne Note Records
When It RainsThe New MastersoundsTherapyOne Note 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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1 comment
  • Cardwell’s Law of Voluntary Associations: “Who will work, gets overworked”. Not to be confused with Cardwell’s phenomenon: “Two-way traffic always meets at the narrowest point”, which can be shown mathematically with Reynold’s numbers and similar proof beyond simple observation.

    Parkinson had a second law: “Increase in expenditures results from increase in funding, which is assumed limitless.”
    This has produced any number of corollary laws such as widening a highway will attract more traffic to fill it.

    “burning Paris”: “Destroy a village to save it” was quite commonly said in the Viet Nam war.

    Death euphemisms: It has been claimed that such a discussion was the basis for the Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch.

    Hootenanny is a jam session by folk singers. A variant is filk or filking. This involves songs, typically using folk tunes, but humorous words, originally about science fiction, fantasy, or other fannish subjects. The term came from a typo in a convention program which promised “filk singing”. Since there was no existing term for this art form, filk was quickly adopted. As for hootenanny = party, hoot is a common southern term for a good time.

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