Home » Episodes » Gracious Plenty

Gracious Plenty

Play episode

When somebody sneezes, we say bless you or gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something — or are they? Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit fanciers, a quiz about animal noises, and where to find a purple squirrel. And what’s so humbling about winning an award? Some people think the phrase “I’m honored” is preferable to “I’m humbled.” This episode first aired February 9, 2013.


 When you think of the word binky, a child’s pacifier probably comes to mind. But it’s also a term known among rabbit fanciers. It refers to when bunnies frolic and jump around.

Cough Etiquette

 When somebody sneezes, you say “bless you” or “gesundheit,” but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say “excuse me.” A commenter on Paul Davidson’s blog sets a good rule of thumb: Bless anything that looks like it hurt.

Sounding Like the People Around You

 A listener from Fairfield, Connecticut, wonders why she changes her accent and diction when family members from the Middle East are in town. Truth it, everyone does this. It’s a matter of imitating those around us in order to make ourselves feel part of a group. After all, the human response to someone who sounds like us is to like them more.

Purple Squirrel

 Is a purple squirrel a) a diving board trick, b) a cocktail, or c) a rare job candidate with all the right qualifications? The answer is c. There have, however, been reports of purple squirrels of the sciurine variety.


 Is hiya a legitimate way to say hello? Sure. The Dictionary of American Regional English has citations for this greeting going back to 1914, but it’s heard both in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Animal Sounds Game

 Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has quiz based on animal sounds. What sort of wild party would a sheep throw? What five-masted ship do golden retrievers sail on? Tip: For this game, animal sounds are just as important as advanced vocabularies.

Honored vs. Humbled

 This awards season, many winners will say, “I’m humbled by this honor.” Ann from Burlington, Vermont, wonders: Shouldn’t they feel honored rather than humbled? What’s so humbling about winning awards? Grant argues that saying “I’m humbled” is truly a mark of humility because of the better and greater people who made your award possible. Martha would rather hear them just say “I’m honored” or “I’m grateful.”

Dentist Joke

 What’s the best time to schedule a dentist appointment? Why, tooth-hurty, of course!

Gracious Plenty Expression

 If you’ve had enough to eat, you might say you’ve had gracious plenty. This expression goes back to the early 1800s, and serves the same purpose as saying you’re sufficiently suffonsified or you’ve had an elegant sufficiency.

Mexican Standoff

 A San Diego listener of Mexican descent says a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film has her wondering about the term Mexican standoff. Is it just a duel? A three-way duel, complete with guns? The end of a 1-1 doubleheader in baseball? Over time, it’s had all of these definitions. But the term appears to derive from a derogatory use of Mexican to describe something inferior or undesirable.

False Friends

 Beware of linguistic false friends, also known as false cognates. You wouldn’t want to say you’re feeling embarazada in Spanish, unless you want to say you’re pregnant. And don’t order the tuna in Spain unless you want to hear a musical group made up of college kids. A kind of false friend exists within English as well: noisome doesn’t mean “noisy,” it means “icky,” and bombastic doesn’t mean “booming,” it means “fluffy” or “ostentatious,” deriving from bombast, a kind of cotton padding.

Alone Etymology

 In Zen Buddhism, the term all one refers to a state of enlightenment that’s the opposite of isolated and alone. The word alone, however, comes from the idea of “all on one’s own.” The word alone also gives us lone, lonely and lonesome, through a process called misdivision.

Right On

 Is the expression right on! just an outdated relic of hippie talk, or is it making a comeback? The Journal of American Folklore traces it back to at least 1911, but it gained traction among African-Americans and hippies in the ’60s and ’70s, and now exists as a fairly common term of affirmation.

Names for Big Mosquitos

 In an earlier episode, we talked about those huge insects known as gallon-nippers.We heard from Dell Suggs in Tallahassee, Florida, who says he knows them simply as gallinippers. This term for a really large mosquito goes back to the early 1700s, and plenty of variations, like granny-nipper, have been tossed about. What do you call those mosquitoes the size of a racquetball where you live?

Southpaw vs. Northpaw

 Left-handers are called southpaws, but righties aren’t commonly known as northpaws. That’s because being right-handed is the default, and the more colorful terms are applied to the exception, not the rule, such as the Australian term for a southpaw, mollydooker. The word northpaw has found its way into some dictionaries, but it’s not common.

Dialects of Crayon

 Do you pronounce crayon like crown? This common variation tends to be a Midlands pronunciation. Americans may pronounce this word several ways, as this dialect map shows.

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

Photo by laffy4k. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Dictionary of American Regional English
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
Word-Book of Virginia Folk-Speech by Bennett Wood Green

Music Used in the Episode

Everyday A DreamMenahan Street BandThe CrossingDaptone
NavaLloyd Miller and The HeliocentricsLloyd Miller and The HeliocentricsStrut
Let The Music Take Your MindGrant GreenAin’t It Funky NowBlue Note
No Face EnemyAlbino!Shake A LegPerfect Toy
ModalityLloyd Miller and The HeliocentricsLloyd Miller and The HeliocentricsStrut
TujungaIkebe ShakedownTujungaUbiquity
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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

More from this show

Beefed It

The words tough, through, and dough all end in O-U-G-H. So why don’t they rhyme? A lively new book addresses the many quirks of...