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Forty-Eleven Zillion

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When there’s no evening meal planned at home, what do you call that scramble to cobble together your own dinner? Some people apply acronyms like YOYO — “you’re on your own” — or CORN, for “Clean Out your Refrigerator Night.” Plus, when a barista hands you hot coffee in a paper cup, you may get a zarf to put it in — but what is that? And, the ongoing search for an alternative to the term senior citizen, and lots more.

This episode first aired October 10, 2021. It was rebroadcast the weekend of August 20, 2022.


 What do you call it when you have no particular evening meal planned and everyone in the family just cobbles together their own dinner? Our listeners have been mulling this question and have lots of names for it: YOYO (as in “You’re on your own”), getcheroni, make-your-oni, supper jump-up (as in “If you want something to eat, jump up and get it”), fend for yourself, get it yourself, and CORN (as in “Clean Out your Refrigerator Night”).

As Long as Pat Stayed in the Army

 Haddie from Houston, Texas, is curious about the phrase as long as Pat stayed in the Army, which applies to something short-lived. The phrase appears in Kentucky newspapers as early as 1898. No one’s sure who Pat was, although perhaps it’s the name of someone who went off to fight in the Spanish American War, but quickly returned.

Zarf Hot Drink Sleeves

 What do you call the cardboard sleeve that goes over a paper cup to keep your hand from getting too hot? A San Antonio, Texas, listener knows that the technical term for this sleeve is zarf, a word that comes from Arabic, originally denoting an ornamental holder for a ceramic coffee or tea cup. But what do you say when you know the technical term for something but you suspect that your listener does not?

Informal Fridge Foraging

 Roz Chast, a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, asked her followers on Instagram for their terms for informal fridge-foraging, and says she received more than 1700 responses, including California plate, spa plate, having weirds, eek, mustard with crackers, getcheroni, goblin meal, gishing, phumphering, peewadiddly, picky-poke, screamers, trash panda, rags and bottles, blackout bingo, miff muffer moof, anarchy kitchen, going feral, going Darwin, goo gots, oogle moogle, dirt night, ifits, and mousy-mousy.

“Noun on the Noun” Word Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a prepositional puzzle in which each answer has a noun on either end of the words on the. For example, if you want to get the average person’s views, you might seek out a male adult standing in the road. In that case, whose opinion would you get?


 Peter from Easton, Pennsylvania, thought he coined the word rapscallion meaning “rascal.” But he found out it’s been around since at least the 17th century. It ultimately derives from rascal, which was later modified to rascallion and eventually rapscallion.

Navy Pranks on New Recruits

 John, a Navy veteran in San Diego, California, shares some pranks played on new recruits. One involves sending a newbie to the boatswain’s locker for ten yards of gig line. In military jargon, a gig line is the imaginary line from the middle of one’s shirt that goes through the belt buckle and down along the flap of the trouser fly, which should all be lined up with precision. The other is to send someone to the boiler room to ask for a BT punch, which, the hapless errand runner soon discovers, is a solid punch on the arm from the boiler technician.

Why No “The” Sometimes in Front of CIA, FBI, or IRS?

 Why do news releases from agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, the EPA, and the IRS drop the initial the before these initialisms?

Sour About the Sour Food and Unhappy with Its Delivery

 One way to describe someone with a sour countenance: She looked like she was eating vinegar off a fork.

Cornswoggled and Hornswoggled

 Margaret from Dallas, Texas, wonders about a word that both her grandfather and mother use: cornswoggled. It means “confused.” Cornswoggled is a variation of hornswoggled or hornswaggled, which originally meant “to be cheated” or “be deceived.” Slang words like these arose in the United States during a period in the 19th century when there was a fad for inventing fanciful words that sounded Latinate, such as confusticate meaning “confuse” or “confound,” goshbustified meaning “mightily pleased,” and absquatulate, meaning “to take one’s leave.”

So Early of Late

 Here’s a confusing little ditty that actually makes sense while pointing out some of the oddities of English syntax: How come you are so early of late? You used to be behind before, but now you’re first at last.

Seasoned Citizen, Not to Mention Salty

 Following up on our conversation about words like elderly and senior citizen, a listener in Albuquerque, New Mexico, suggests the term seasoned citizen. A store in San Diego, California, offers customers over 60 a wisdom discount. The transit system in Portland, Oregon, applies the term Honored Citizen to riders over 65 years of age, as well as Medicare beneficiaries, low-income people, or those have a mental or physical disability.

Needs be the Devil Meet

 Paul in Arlington, Texas, wonders about his grandmother’s response when he used to tell her he needed something. She’d say It needs be the devil meet. It’s likely a version of the older phrase He must needs go that the devil drives. In this case, the word needs functions as an adverb meaning “necessarily,” or “unavoidably,” which intensifies the word must.

Meat of an Egg

 Carl in Vancouver, British Columbia, wonders if it’s incorrect to use the word meat to denote the edible part of an egg. Meat can indeed be used to denote the edible part of a nut, a fruit, or an egg. In Middle English, the word meat referred to any edible food, and over time, its meaning narrowed. In the 15th century, the term green-mete could be used to mean “vegetables,” and white meat sometimes meant “dairy products.”

Fifty-Eleven, Forty-Eleven, and Other Hyperbolic Numbers

 Robin in Yuma, Arizona, asks about the origin of the expression fifty-eleven, which she grew up using to suggest “a large, indeterminate number.” The older and more common version is forty-eleven. Such words as fifty-eleven, forty-eleven, umpteen, and zillion are called indefinite hyperbolic numerals. Linguistic anthropologist Stephen Chrisomalis of Wayne State University has researched these terms extensively. In the journal American Speech, he writes that the word zillion first flourished among African-Americans in the 1920s. In French, the actual number trente-six, or “36,” can be used in a similar way to denote a large, undetermined amount.

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

Music Used in the Episode

Fight Or FuzzATA RecordsThe Library Archives, Vol 2ATA Records
Senior ThumpThe MohawksThe MohawksPauma Records
Mysterious MannerATA RecordsThe Library Archives, Vol 2ATA Records
Push And GoATA RecordsThe Library Archives, Vol 2ATA Records
Beat Me Till I’m BlueThe MohawksThe MohawksPauma Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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