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Flying Pickle

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How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels of all your canned foods and scattering cornflakes in your bed? That tradition has almost died out, but such a party used to be called a shivaree. • The expression my name is Legion goes back to a Bible story that also gave us another English word that’s much more obscure. • Tips for reading a book and looking up the words you don’t know — without losing the narrative thread. • Plus, lazy wind, plumb, bucklebuster, squinnies and grinnies, pollyfoxing and bollyfoxing, that smarts!, and hanged vs. hung. This episode first aired January 27, 2018.

A Lazy Wind

  A listener shared a story in our Facebook group about hearing the term lazy wind, which refers to the kind of wind that’s so bitterly cold that it seems to go straight through you, rather than going around you.

Avocado vs. Alvocado

  A woman in Puyallup, Washington, disagrees with her husband about the pronunciation of avocado. She pronounces it as if it were spelled alvocado, with an L, but the standard pronunciation is ah-voh-KAH-doh. A small minority of English speakers insert an l sound in the first syllable, which arises from the way the tongue works inside the mouth when pronouncing such a vowel. Something similar happens with the word awesome, which a some people pronounce as awlsome.

Yeah, No, No, Yes

  Leah, a nine-year-old from Argyle, Texas, heard her mother answer a question with “No, no, no, absolutely yes.” Why did her mother seem to give contradicting answers at the same time? Short answer: there are two things going on: the surface meaning of sentence and the metanarrative. We’ve talked about yeah, no in 2015 and in in 2009.

Where Does the “Plumb” in “Plumb Crazy” Come From?

  A woman in Hemet, California, wonders about plumb crazy, as in totally, completely crazy. The plumb in this case has to do with a plumb line, a line often weighted with lead to determine verticality. This plumb derives from Latin word for the element lead, plumbum, which is abbreviated on the periodic table as Pb. It has no etymological connect to the fruit plum.


  In theater slang, a bucklebuster is a line that’s sure to get a big laugh.

Ermahgerd! A Word Puzzle!

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle this week was inspired by the Gersberms meme, and involves adding R sounds to book titles to create books with entirely different plots. For example what George Orwell novella would be about a horse, a duck, a dog, and several pigs, and how they get rid of people and start their own company?

Is it Better to Look up Unknown Words While You Read or After?

  Martha and Grant share tips and tricks for learning unfamiliar words in a book without breaking up the narrative. A handy online resource for quick lookups is OneLook.com, which lets you search several dictionaries at once.

Collective Noun for Librarians?

  After Martha gave a presentation to the Special Libraries Association’s Southern California chapter, she was left wondering whether there’s a good collective noun for a group of librarians. A dewey?

Pollyfox, Bollyfox

  A San Diego, California, listener recalls that growing up in Mississippi, friends and family would use the terms bollyfox or bollyfoxing, referring to a sassy way of walking. The more common version is pollyfox, meaning to waste time or lollygag.

Is there a Difference Between Hanged and Hung?

  An opera singer from Ontario, Canada, just finished a run of La Faniculla del West with the Virginia Opera. His character is put to death by hanging. Is it correct to say his character was hanged? Or was his character hung?


  The adjective gadarene describes something headlong or precipitate, such as a gadarene rush to pass legislation. It derives from a story in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus visits the land of the Gadarenes and casts out demons from someone possessed by them. The exorcised demons invade a herd of swine, driving the animals mad, sending them to plunge to their deaths in the Sea of Galilee. From another version of the story in the Book of Mark comes a phrase that may be more familiar: My name is Legion.

Shivaree, Charivari

  A shivaree, also spelled charivari, is a raucous tradition of playing tricks on a newlywed couple. The practice was immortalized in the 1955 musical Oklahoma!

Flying Pickles Roam the Seas

  Among whale-watchers, the term flying pickle is used to refer to a newborn baby humpback whale breaching the surface.

That Smarts!

  A listener in Abilene, Texas, wonders about the expression that smarts! The verb to smart, meaning to sting or cause sharp pain, goes back more than a thousand years. The adjective smart, meaning intelligent, evolved from that sense of something sharp.

Can You Munch on Yogurt?

  Can you munch frozen yogurt, or does the verb to munch imply that whatever’s being eaten has some crunch or resistance to it?

Squinnines and Grinnies

  A woman who has spent most of her life in Des Moines, Iowa, says she’s always used the word squinny for chipmunk, but doesn’t hear it outside of her hometown. The term is definitely specific to Iowa, but an even more common word for the same striped animal in that area is grinnie.

James Baldwin Quote

  In 1963, the writer James Baldwin was the subject of a profile in LIFE magazine, in which he observed, “You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”

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

Photo by Steve Isaacs. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

CompressionI Mark 4I Mark 4Nelson Records
Blues WorkI Mark 4I Mark 4Nelson Records
Soul MelodyR. DeroBeat-ActionRKM
ConcussionDelmar Lamar Organ TrioConcussion 45rpmColemine Records
DirottamentoI Mark 4I Mark 4Nelson Records
Do ItRalph BenatarBeat-ActionRKM
Won’t Be Coming BackThe DipThe Sweet LifeGroove Merchant
Suoni DistortiI Mark 4I Mark 4Nelson Records
What A ShameJr Thomas and The VolcanoesWhat A Shame 45rpmColemine Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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