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Heads Up! It’s a Meteor

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“Well, Butter My Buns and call me a biscuit!” Martha and Grant talk about great catch phrases from old-time radio comedies. Also, why do we speak of a meteoric rise? Don’t meteors plummet? What do you keep in a Fibber McGee drawer? Plus, myriad vs. myriad of, enamored of vs. enamored with, autocorrected text messages. And Martha shares a trick for eliminating those annoying verbal fillers like “um” and you know” from one’s speech. This episode first aired April 9, 2011.

Incorrect Autocorrect

 They say it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an autocorrected text message to be, well, correct. Listeners like Arnold share their funny autocorrected text messages. And by Arnold, we of course mean Brooke.

Call Me a Biscuit

 Well, shut my mouth and call me Shirley! Butter my buns and call me a biscuit! A listener shares several of these humorous imperatives. Grant explains that the roots of these phrases probably go back to the 1940s. Phil Harris, the bandleader on Jack Benny’s radio comedy, was known for using such colorful catchphrases. An early version was “cut off my legs and call me shorty.”

Exposed to the Elephants

 Martha shares a childhood misunderstanding sent in by a listener. Seems her three-year-old daughter confused the phrase “exposed to the elements” with “exposed to the elephants.”

Great Spellers

 What do you call an expert speller? A “Words With Friends” enthusiast wants to know. Martha tells her that a great speller is called an orthographer or orthographist, from the Latin roots ortho- meaning “straight” or “correct”, and -graph meaning “to write”. A bad speller, on the other hand, is a cacographer, or as it’s known among them, a kakagrifar.

Bouncy House

 What is the term for that big inflatable play area you see at the park, or in your neighbor’s yard? Is it a bouncy house? A jump? Grant asks listeners what they call this modern pumped-up playpen.

Three of the Same Letter Quiz

 Our multi-talented Quiz Guy Greg Pliska, served as musical composer for the television documentary Flying Monsters 3-D. That experience inspired him to create a puzzle using phrases that have the same letter appearing three times in a row. For example, where will you find trumpets and trombones? In the braSS Section.

Fibber McGee Drawer

 What do you keep in your Fibber McGee drawer? That’s what some people call a catchall container for household items. Grant traces the term for the drawer back to the old Fibber McGee and Molly radio comedy. Whenever Fibber had to fetch something from the closet, that meant a green light for the sound effects guy to let anything and everything come tumbling out. Classic Fibber!

Meteoric Rise

 Why do we say someone whose career on the ascent is enjoying a meteoric rise? Don’t meteors plummet? For that matter, a caller asks, why do we call “heads up!” when a ball is coming towards us? Shouldn’t it be “heads down”? The hosts explain that “meteoric” in “meteoric rise” refers to the speedy, brightly streaking nature of a meteor. As for “heads up,” well, no language is perfect.


 Grant shares a word he’s been encountering at conferences: discussant. A discussant is someone who, after a series of papers are presented, takes the microphone to summarize the information given and offer opinions on the matter.

Enamored Of

 Should you use enamored of or enamored with? Grant explains that while North Americans use both, enamored of is the more common of the two. In Great Britain, it’s enamored of, a construction similar to those in several Romance languages. Enamored by, on the other hand, should never be used. But then, love is always worth expressing, no matter the preposition.


 A listener reports that when her cat starts whining, she tells it to shut its kibble-hole. If only cats understood wordplay– or English.

Get Web Soon

 Ben Schott’s language blog Schott’s Vocab on the New York Times website held a contest for modern age greeting cards called Get Web Soon. Among the favorites: “Heartfelt condolences on the loss of your data” and “Congratulations on your relationship update.”

Is it any Count?

 A listener from Tennessee has a saying that doesn’t quite land with his friends: “Is it any count?” Martha confirms that the phrase is most definitely Southern. It originates in the word “account,” and the question of whether something “adds up.”


 What does hoot mean? You might describe someone as a real hoot. But is the hoot in the phrase “not give a hoot” a different kind of hoot? Grant explains that in the positive case, hoot is a shortening of hootenanny, a informal party with folksy music. In the negative sense, however, to hoot at somebody means to disapprove of something.

Train Away Verbal Fillers

 Is it really possible to change your style of speaking so that you stop using the verbal fillers um and you know? Yes, you can. Martha relates her experience with dialect-coach-to-the-stars Sam Chwat. He was adamant that by catching ourselves every time we use that conversational crutch, we can consciously train ourselves to avoid it.

Myriad Of

 Should you use myriad or myriad of? Actually, either is fine. Here’s what David Foster Wallace had to say about the question in his commentary for the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus: “[A]ny reader who’s bugged by a myriad of is both persnickety and wrong– and you can usually rebut sniffy teachers, copyeditors, et. al. by directing them to Coleridge’s ‘Myriad myriads of lives teemed forth.'”

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

Photo by Dave Dugdale. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

QuickThe Lafayette Afro Rock BandDarkest Light: The Best of The Lafayette Afro Rock BandStrut
Dearm LimmertzAzymuthOutubroBlack Sun Records
Red MatchboxThe Lafayette Afro Rock BandDarkest Light: The Best of The Lafayette Afro Rock BandStrut
The CylinderMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry Of Milt JacksonAtlantic
TimeSly and The Family StoneThere’s a Riot Goin’ OnSbme Import
Take Me Just As I AmLyn CollinsMama Feelgood: The Best of Lyn CollinsUniversal UK
Cissy StrutThe MetersThe MetersSundazed
Makin’ WhopeeMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry Of Milt JacksonAtlantic
Night PeopleWarThe Music Band Volumes 1 and 2Rhino Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffHarry Connick JrWhen Harry Met Sally: Music From The Motion PictureSony

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