Home » Episodes » Give It the Old College Slang

Give It the Old College Slang

Play episode

If someone calls you dibby, should you be flattered or insulted? You’d know if you were in college a century ago—it’s outdated college slang! Also, we are voluntold to play a word puzzle about Unknown Superheroes! This episode first aired May 17, 2008.

Download the MP3.


 If someone calls you dibby, should you be flattered or insulted? You’d know if you were in college a century ago—it’s outdated college slang!

Retronyms for New Inventions and Ideas

 What do we call it when new inventions or ideas change the name of something old? It used to be that the word guitar was sufficient, but now we regularly distinguish between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. Same for television, a word that sufficed until we started saying color television to distinguish it from the earlier black-and-white version. What’s the word for such terms? We know you can’t wait: it’s retronym.


 A Cincinnati man says that at the non-profit where he works, he often hears the word voluntold. It comes up when someone is volunteered by someone else to do some task, rather than volunteering themselves. Does this term for involuntary volunteering have military origins?

The Apple of My Eye

 “You’re the apple of my eye” is an ancient term of endearment. Martha explains the connections between apples, eyes, and other precious things.


 We share a listener’s email about nicknames for the city of Vancouver, Canada. How about Word-couver?

Heretofore Unnamed Superheroes Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski is a huge fan of comic books featuring superheroes like Superman and Spider-Man. Lo and behold, John claims he’s discovered a whole treasure trove of Heretofore Unnamed Superheroes, and invites us to guess their names. What do you call the doughty superhero who can take any food item that is past its expiration date, send it back through time, and make it edible again? Need a clue? His mild-mannered alter ego is in his first year at NYU.

Gag a Maggot off a Gutwagon

 An Oakland man is curious about a queasy-making phrase: “a face that could gag a maggot off a gutwagon.” What’s a gutwagon? How’s it used? Why is it used? Yech!

Go Fly a Kite

 “Go fly a kite!” A caller from Washington, D.C. wonders whose kite is getting flown and why. Naturally, we have some ideas! Here’s a copy of the cartoon Grant mentions (from the Chicago Tribune May 15, 1927, p. G2).

Referring to Friends by Last Name

 A San Diego caller says he’s noticed that his high-school grandson and his buddies habitually refer to each other only by their last names, but his granddaughter says she and her own friends never do. Is this just a teenage guy thing? The book that Grant recommends here is A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address by Leslie Dunkling.


 Martha shares the oodles of listeners’ emails responding to a caller seeking a better word than retiree to describe himself and his wife. How about pre-tiree? Or jubilant?

Find Your Pants

 This week’s Slang This! contestant is from Boston. She shares a slang phrase making the rounds among her friends at MIT: “find your pants.” She then tries to guess the meaning of the slang term boilover and the obscure word nycthemeron.

Forward vs. Forwards

 Is it toward or towards? Forward or forwards? Do they differ in American English and British English? A Seattle listener wants to know.

Conflicting Meanings of Prefix “Un”

 A California caller is puzzled as to why the prefix un- seems to function in two entirely different ways in the terms undone and unmarried.

A Horse Apiece

 If you were raised in North Dakota like our caller, you might wonder about a phrase you heard growing up: “It’s a horse apiece.” It means something like “six of one, half a dozen of the other.” She is curious about the origin of the horse phrase and whether it’s a regional expression.

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

Photo by Samantha Forsberg. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address by Leslie Dunkling

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from this show

Cool Beans

If you speak a second or third language, you may remember the first time you dreamed in that new tongue. But does this milestone mean...

Love Bites

The word filibuster has a long and colorful history, going back to the days when pirates roamed the high seas. Today it refers to hijacking...