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Happy as Larry

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New research shows that you may be less influenced by superstitious behavior like walking under ladders or the magic of four-leaf clovers if you’re reading about it in another language. • Sometimes not cursing will catch someone’s ear even more than a real curse word. • In what sport do you enjoy a glass-off and speck out before getting flushed? Martha brings back a firsthand report from the language of paragliding. This episode first aired January 20, 2018.

Paragliding Lingo

 In what sport would you hear the slang terms glass off, speck out, and get flushed? They’re all expressions used in paragliding. Glass-off refers to a smooth, effortless takeoff; to speck out is to go so high that you’re nearly invisible to those on the ground; to get flushed means to lose lift and be forced to make a landing. The United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association offers a glossary of the slang of free flight. As promised, here’s video Martha shot while getting flushed toward the end of her first paragliding flight at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla, California. The song is “Fear of Flying,” by Pam Delgado, performed by Blame Sally, and is used with permission. (By the way, we have no idea who Cindy is, but we hope she said yes.)

“Roof” Pronunciation

 A roofer in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has a dispute with his boss over how to pronounce the word roof. Most people pronounce roof to rhyme with the word proof, but some pronounce like the word rough and some pronounce it to rhyme with hoof.

Worcestershire Pronunciation

 A listener in Williamsburg, Virginia, wants to know the correct pronunciation of the condiment known as Worcestershire sauce. The proper pronunciation involves what linguists call haplology, the loss of a syllable next to a similar-sounding one.

News Limericks 2017

 This week’s puzzle by Quiz Guy John Chaneski involves limericks based on notable news from 2017. For example, how would you finish this one? “My dependable British authorities / Say the royals have excellent qualities / Like handsome Prince Harry / Who announced he will marry / Meghan Markle who hails from the ________________.”

What People Call a Playground Slide

 The piece of playground equipment you slide down goes by several different names, depending on which part of the U.S. you’re from: slide, sliding board, sliding plank, and sliding pond.

Live and Learn and Forget it All

 A Fort Worth, Texas, woman remembers her grandfather used to say, “You live and learn, then you die and forget it all.” She wonders if he made it up. Turns out, the phrase goes back to the 1840s and may allude to the brevity of life or to putting trivial matters into perspective.

Toey, an Australianism

 Our discussion about finding a word that means both nervous but excited prompted several suggestions from listeners. A listener in Melbourne, Australia, contributed another term used in his part of the world: toey. If you’re toey, you’re full of anxious anticipation — an allusion, perhaps, to a horse pawing at the ground.

Go Out for the Messages

 A listener in Huntsville, Alabama, says that in her native Scotland, the phrase send out for messages means to send someone to go shopping. The phrase stems from a time when the person going out to do the shopping or run other errands would also pick up the postal mail, sometimes at the local store.

Al Desko

 To eat al desko is a joking term for having lunch at work without leaving the office. It’s a play on al fresco, meaning “in the openair.”

Less Superstitious in Another Language

 New research published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that people who speak more than one languagetend to be less superstitious if they’re reading or thinking in a different language.

John Henry Signature

 A San Antonio, Texas, woman wonders about the phrase to ask for your John Henry, meaning to ask for your signature. It’s a variant of the far more common phrase, to ask for your John Hancock, a reference to the bold signature of John Hancock, one of the original signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Cus, Cumies, and Cumulous Clouds

 The slang of paragliding includes the terms cus, pronounced like “cues,” and cumies, also known as cumulus clouds, which indicate good lift is available. For paragliders, the term cloud street refers to a line of cumulus clouds that stretches for miles, suggesting ideal conditions for flying.

Piffle Swearing Replacement

 A Los Angeles, California, man says his mother studiously avoided swearing. Instead of a curse word, she substituted the word piffle, which was often even more effective than a four-letter word because it was so unexpected. Piffle is most likely onomatopoetic, suggesting a disgusted exhalation through pursed lips. It’s common in the United Kingdom, and figured in the title of the popular 2006 British television program about etymology, Balderdash & Piffle.


 Someone does both paragliding and hang gliding is jokingly said to be biwingual. Really!

Happy as Larry Meaning and Origins

 A woman in Perote, Alabama, wonders about the phrase happy as Larry, meaning very happy. This expression is commonly heard in Britain and Australia. It may derive from a jocular reference to the biblical Lazarus, who presumably would have been happy to be raised from the dead. Or it might be some sort of rhyming slang that evolved from very happy to Larry happy to happy as Larry. But the truth is no one knows who this particular Larry is or why he’s so pleased.

Gliding with the Locals

 Among paragliders, the expression the locals refers not to humans, but to birds. If the locals are able to soar without flapping their wings, then paragliders know that conditions are good for flying.

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

Public domain photo from the National Archives.

Music Used in the Episode

The MessageCymandeCymandeJanus Records
This Very MomentRalph BenatarBeat-ActionRKM
Promised HeightsCymandePromised HeightsJanus Records
ChangesCymandePromised HeightsJanus Records
Mango MeatMandrillJust Outside Of TownPolydor
Take CareDouglas LucasBeat-ActionRKM
Inner City BluesReuben WilsonThe Sweet LifeGroove Merchant
Brothers On The SlideCymandePromised HeightsJanus Records
Bus RideReuben WilsonBlue ModeGroove Merchant
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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