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Fair Dinkum

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A magnificent new book celebrates the richness and diversity of 450 years of written and spoken English in what is now the United States. It’s called The People’s Tongue, and it’s a sumptuous collection of essays, letters, poems, lyrics, and much more, from colonial times to the present. Plus, the story behind the phrase what are the odds? And speaking of odds, what’s the chance that you might see an astrobleme? Well, whatever you do, don’t look up! Also: cut a chogi, yeti de freezer, far venire il latte alle ginocchia, a brain teaser about demonyms, oosh! vs. brr!, evolving names for pets, trim a tree, walk and chew gum, deep yogurt, and lots more.

This episode first aired April 1, 2023.

Tarzan of the Flowerpot

 If you want to describe people who have an overly high opinion of themselves, here’s some handy Spanish slang: In Argentina, you might describe such a person as Tarzán de maceta, or “Tarzan of the flowerpot.” You might also call them a Yeti de freezer, or “Yeti of the freezer.” Another equivalent translates as “Aquaman of the toilet.” Adam Sharp, who collects such linguistic gems, is the author of quirky books about words and trivia, including The Correct Order of Biscuits (Amazon) and Euphemisms That Get on My You-Know-Whats. (Bookshop|Amazon).

Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

 A caller from Russia wonders about the English idiom can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. What’s so hard about walking and chewing gum?

Oosh! It’s Cold!

 Bob from Mount Airy, North Carolina, says that while growing up in Michigan, he and others said Brr! in cold weather. But where he lives now, he often hears people exclaim Oosh! As noted in Gratitude for Shoes: Growing up Poor in the Smokies (Bookshop|Amazon), both ooshand ooshey! are used in Appalachia to mean “It’s quite cold.” Tipper Pressley also discusses ooshie on her site The Blind Pig and the Acorn, a wonderful resource for all things Appalachian.

Cut the Order in Half

 Kevin in Havver, Montana, shares a funny story about a misunderstanding that occurred at a conference when one of the organizers requested that a large order of doughnuts be cut in half. Oops.

People Who Live in Quizland Are Not Quizlings

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski is puzzling over demonyms, those names people who reside in a particular area. For example, someone who lives in Brooklyn, New York, is a Brooklynite. People who live in Boston, Massachusetts, are called Bostonians, but what do you call those who live in nearby Cambridge?

What Are the Odds?

 A retired astronomer in Tucson, Arizona, is curious about the expression What are the odds? The idea of odds meaning “the likelihood of something occurring,” goes back to the idea of odds and evens and something odd being the thing that’s different from the others.


 The Sierra Madera Astrobleme is a meteorite crater in Pecos County, Texas. Astrobleme derives from ancient Greek words that mean “a wound caused by a missile.”

Trimming the Tree But Not Cutting its Branches

 When Ana first arrived in the United States from Hungary, she was taken aback when someone greeted her with the idiomatic expression How’s it hanging?. She was also puzzled by the expression trim the tree meaning to “adorn a Christmas tree with decorations.” Trim in this sense reflects the word’s much earlier sense, meaning “to prepare” something. If you trim the sail on a boat, for example, you adjust it to prepare it for new conditions. If you’re in good trim you’re in good physical condition, and an ideal military force will be in fighting trim. The word trim is a contranym, meaning it can have one of two opposite meanings, namely, “to subtract from” or “to add to.” Cleave and dust are two other examples of contranyms.

It’s “Hear, Hear!” Rather Than “Here, Here!”

 Is it correct to toast someone with the words Here, here or Hear, hear? It’s Hear, hear, and it’s short for the imperative Hear him, hear him!

Rich and Wonderful Anthology of American English

 The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language (Bookshop|Amazon) reflects 450 years of English as it has been spoken and written in what is now the United States. Edited by Ilan Stavans, this anthology of original texts—essays, articles, poems, songs, speeches, book chapters, television scripts, and more—reflects the richness, diversity, and exuberance of American English.

Fair Dinkum, Mate

 Commonly heard in Australia, fair dinkum is used to describe something “authentic” or “legitimate.” This phrase is also used as an intensifier. Less common versions: square dinkum and straight dinkum. The expression fair dinkum drongo refers to “the worst sort of person.” Fair dinkum was originally a dialectal term in England, where dinkum referred to “a share of work,” and fair dinkum described “a job well done.”

A Flurry of Furry Nicknames

 We’ve talked before about how names of our pets often evolve over time. Cartoonist Scott Metzger captured this idea in a drawing of a Nickname Support Group for dogs and cats.

You’ll Be in Deep Yogurt!

 Daniel in Nicholasville, Kentucky, says his grandfather would warn that if he got in trouble, he’d be in deep yogurt. That’s probably just a euphemism for deep doo-doo, deep foo-foo, or an even stronger epithet piled high.

Who Is Just Carrying Around Gold, Anyway?

 Among the proverbs in Leo Rosten’s Treasury of Jewish Quotations (Amazon): If you drop gold and books, pick up the books first, then the gold.

Cut a Chogie, Brookyn Boy

 Vince from Brooklyn, New York, remembers growing up there and using the expression cut a chogi! to mean “beat it!” or “get away from here!” He’d assumed it was simply Brooklynese until years later in Alabama, when he used it and a returning service member asked where he’d learned Korean. This bit of slang shows up in the early 1950s among U.S. soldiers who picked it up during the Korean War. It likely stems from a rough translation of a Korean expression meaning “go there.” In Korean, cheogi or jeogi means “there.” In English, the word is variously spelled chogi, chogie, chogey, or chogee, and sometimes with a double g. Variants include pull a chogi and do a chogi.

Makes Milk Come Up to the Knees

 The Italian idiom far venire il latte alle ginocchia literally means “to make milk come to the knees.” Figuratively, it means “to be really boring.” It’s been suggested that the phrase refers to the tedious process of sitting and milking a cow, as the milk bucket slowly fills up. But no one knows for sure.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Correct Order of Biscuits by Adam Sharp (Amazon)
Euphemisms That Get on My You-Know-Whats by Adam Sharp (Bookshop|Amazon)
Gratitude for Shoes: Growing up Poor in the Smokies (Bookshop|Amazon)
The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language edited by Ilan Stavans (Bookshop|Amazon)
Treasury of Jewish Quotations by Leo Rosten (Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Back Atcha!The White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
Fancy PantsBubbha Thomas & The LightmenFancy PantsJudnell
Miss RobertaThe White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
Miss Roberta (con’t)The White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
On The Way HomeBubbha Thomas & The LightmenFancy PantsJudnell
Cal HighThe White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
On The ClockThe White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
Shakey LegThe White BlindsPRESHEATECHA!F Spot
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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