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Hector’s Pup

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Sharing a secret language. Did you ever speak in gibberish with a childhood pal, adding extra syllables to words so the adults couldn’t understand what you were saying? Such wordplay isn’t just for kids—and it’s not just limited to English. Also, memory tricks to hold onto those slippery words you always forget. And, what do you call your warm, knitted cap? Is it a beanie, a tuque, a toboggan, or something else? The answer has everything to do with where you live. Plus “cutting a rusty,” foundering on cake, hone in vs. home in, “Jeezum Crow!,” and triboluminescence.

This episode first aired April 10, 2015. It was rebroadcast the weekend of June 6, 2016.

Husband Version 2.0

 We heard from someone on the show a while back about what to call an ex-wife’s new husband. Lots of listeners called in and wrote us with their suggestions, including husband-in-law and step-husband to relief pitcher, stunt double, and version 2.0.

Jeezum Crow!

 If you’ve spent any time in the Vermont region, chances are you’ve heard the exclamation “Jeezum Crow!,” which is simply a euphemism for “Jesus Christ!”


 Martha went on an overnight backpacking trip and came back with a new word: triboluminescence, which refers to the glow created by rubbing together two pieces of quartz. The tribo- is from a Greek root meaning “to rub,” the source also of diatribe, which has to do with “wearing away” using words.

Foundering on Cake

 The verb to founder applies to horses that overeat to a dangerous extent. It’s used by extension in less severe situations involving humans, such as children at a birthday party foundering on cake and ice cream.

Love Puffs

 Grant came across a lovely discussion on Metafilter about ways to denote farting. His two favorites: making a little wish, and love puff, used at that point in a relationship where you feel okay passing gas in front of your significant other.

Head-to-Tail Shift Puzzle

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski, who belongs to the National Puzzlers’ League, brought us a game inspired by the league’s newsletter. In this game, based on head-to-tail shifts, the first letter of a word moves to the back to form a new word, so if a boyfriend presented his girlfriend with a _______, she’d display a triumphant ________.

Getting Meta with Meta

 A listener in Greenville, Tennessee, wonders about how the word meta went from prefix to adjective. Meta is simply a word used to describe something that’s about itself.

Done and Dusted

 After we heard from a listener about the phenomenon of swiping our hands together after finishing a chore—which she calls all-done clappy hands—several others reached out to say that in Great Britain, they use the phrase done and dusted.

Hone In vs. Home In

 When getting closer to an objective, do you hone in, home in, zone in, or zero in? The phrase zero in goes back to World War II and the act of fixing on a target. Home in carries a sense of traveling to or being aimed at something,  but people often say hone in because it sounds correct—akin to sharpening a blade until it’s just right.


 Ineluctable, meaning inescapable, is one of those words Martha has to look up in the dictionary every time she sees it. But noting its Latin origin, luctari, meaning “to struggle,” and therefore related to reluctant, will help.

Since Hector was a Pup

 Hector’s pup, or since Hector was a pup, is another way to say, “Oh, heck.” The expressions go back to the early 1900’s, when people were perhaps more familiar with the character of Hector from The Iliad.

Good as Corn

 Why tell someone they’re sexy when you can let them know they’re good as corn? That’s what the Portuguese say, along with “taking his little horse away from the rain,” an idiom that means giving up.

Variations on Gibberish

 Gibberish and its variants aren’t just for goofy teens in the wayback of the station wagon. As Jessica Weiss notes in Schwa Fire, the online magazine about language, people all over the world speak various forms of it. Her article features sound clips of some examples.

The Knitted Hat Survey

 Tuque, a primarily Canadian name for a warm knit hat, is related to the French word toque, the tall white hat that chefs wear. Take our Great Knitted Hat Survey and tell us what you call them.

Giving a Basket

 In German, ein Korb geben–literally, to “give a basket”–means to “turn down a potential date.” This idiom derives from a medieval legend about castle-dwelling woman. Instead of letting her hair down for a suitor she didn’t fancy, she let down a large basket. He got in, and she pulled it only halfway up, leaving him there to be humiliated in front of the townsfolk.

Etymology of Aught

 Aught, meaning “zero,” is one of those odd terms where the original version—naught—was heard as two words, so people started saying an aught. This same process, known as metanalysis, misdivision, and a few other names, happened with napron and nadder, which eventually became apron and adder.

I Feel You, Fam

 “I feel you fam,” or “I feel u fam,” is a term that’s been popping up on social media sites like Vine and YikYak to tell someone you relate to what they’re saying or dealing with, even though you’re not actually family.

Cutting a Rusty

 “Cutting a rusty,” used particularly in the U.S. South and South Midlands, refers to doing something mildly outrageous like shouting a naughty word or pulling a prank. It’s likely related to the word restive, as in restive sleep, wherein someone’s tossing and turning, and an old sense of rusty applied to horses to mean “hard to control or stubborn.”

He’s No Goat’s Toe

 In Northern Ireland, a clever way to say that someone has an overinflated sense of his own importance is to say he’s “no goat’s toe.”

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

Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

The Iliad by Homer

Music Used in the Episode

The Old SpotClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Turtle RockClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Cold and WetClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
PicturesMyCoy TynerThe GreetingFantasy
Riff Raff RollinClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Lord KenjiClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Doty’s LeslieClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Heavy HandsClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
NaimaMyCoy TynerThe GreetingFantasy
ShadowfishClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Gourds of The DesertClutchy Hopkins Meets Lord KenjaminMusic is My MedicineUbiquity
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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1 comment
  • This episode reminds me of elementary school when my friends and I had our own secret language consisting of various hand signals and gibberish words. We always laughed and giggled when the kids near us had no idea what we were saying. Making up words was fun, easy, and amusing for us; we had enough to turn into a dictionary!
    Referring back to what was stated in the episode, “Is it a beanie, a tuque, a toboggan, or something else? The answer has everything to do with where you live.” I definitely agree with this because from a young age, I realized that one item could have different names which vary from descriptions to how people want to say it based on the way they see it. In Vietnamese, a lot of things have two or more different names because there’s a slight difference in geographic culture. In the North, a plastic bag is called, “bit” while in the South, it is called, “boc.” If you don’t say the correct name in either one of those areas, the person you’re speaking to may not know what you are talking about.

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