In this downbeat economy, some advertisers are reaching for upbeat language. Take the new Quaker Oats catchphrase, “Go humans go,” or Coca-Cola’s current slogan, “Open happiness.” Martha and Grant discuss whether chirpy, happy ad copy can go too far. Also this week, why New Yorkers insist they stand on line instead of in line. And who is William Trembletoes? And what’s a zerbert?

This episode first aired May 2, 2009.

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(The title of this post is taken from a routine by comedian Bill Hicks.)

 Perky Advertising Language
In this downbeat economy, some advertisers are reaching for upbeat language. Take the new Quaker Oats catchphrase, “Go humans go,” or Coca-Cola’s current slogan, “Open happiness.” Martha and Grant discuss whether chirpy, happy ad copy can go too far. Here’s a New York Times article about perky ad copy in a sluggish economy.

 William Trembletoes
“William Trembletoes, he’s a good fisherman. Catches hens, puts ’em in the pen…” If you recited this rhyme growing up, you’re probably tapping your foot along with its singsong cadences right now. The rhyme accompanied a children’s game, and is the source, by the way, of the title of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A caller who played the game as a child wonders if its roots lie in her Cajun heritage.

 In Line vs. On Line
It’s an easy way to separate New Yorkers from non-New Yorkers: Do you stand on line or in line? A Midwesterner who relocated to the Big Apple wants to know why people there are adamant about waiting on line instead of in line. See a map showing the dispersal of both forms across the U.S..

 Hidden Musical Instruments Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski conducts a word puzzle involving musical instruments hidden in various sentences. Try this one: “My cousin is a Santa Monica zookeeper whose specialty is hummingbirds.” (Keep saying it over and over until you hear this instrument’s name.)

 A Lick and a Promise
If you’re doing a hasty, haphazard job, you’re said to do it with “a lick and a promise.” What’s the origin of that expression?

 Piping Hot
Who put the piping in the expression “piping hot”?

 Agita
Oh, that gives me agita! A Connecticut native says her Midwestern colleagues office were flabbergasted to encounter this expression, which she’s known all her life. Grant and Martha discuss this word for “upset” and its likely linguistic roots. Hear the song about “agita” from the movie Broadway Danny Rose.

 Feeling All Stabby
When somebody cuts you off in traffic do you feel all stabby? Grant discusses this slang term.

 Zerberts
You know the sputtering, raspberry-like noises you make with your lips on a baby’s tummy so he’ll giggle? Many people call that a raspberry, but some people call that a zerbert. A caller’s husband insists that Bill Cosby coined the term on his popular sitcom. She begs to differ.

 Over Yonder
The expression “over yonder” isn’t just the stuff of Carole King songs and old-timey hymns. To many Southerners, it’s everyday English. The hosts discuss this poetic-sounding turn of phrase.

 Ping Me
For tech-savvy types, saying “ping me,” meaning “contact me,” is as natural as grabbing a snack while waiting for your computer to boot up. The hosts disagree about whether the verb ping has already moved into common parlance in the larger world.

 Whom or Who
It’s a grammatical question that trips up even the best writers sometimes: Is it who or whom? A physician says he likes the sentiment in a colleague’s email signature, but he’s not sure it’s 100% grammatical. The sentence: “There are some patients whom we cannot cure, but there are none we cannot help, cannot comfort, and none we cannot harm.”

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

Photo by Kurt Bauschardt. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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