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Hell’s Half Acre

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Hundreds of years ago, the word girl didn’t necessarily mean a female child — in the 14th and 15th centuries, it could refer to a child of either sex. Only later did its meaning become more specific. • Some people think that referring to a former spouse as an ex sounds harsh or disrespectful. So what do you call someone you used to be involved with? • The story behind the real McCoy. This term for something “genuine” has nothing to do with the famous feud nor an inventor. • Also, hairy at the heels, Spanglish, nose out of joint, punctuating abbreviations, and gaywater. This episode first aired March 25, 2017.

More Names for a Dad-Focused Baby Shower

 Listeners respond to our discussion about what to call a baby shower for the dad-to-be, suggesting Huggies and chuggies, beer shower, beer for diapers, diaper kegger, baby boot camp, and Baby Fat Tuesday.

The True Origins of “the Real McCoy”

 Why do we describe something that’s genuine or authentic as the real McCoy? It has nothing to do with trains or an inventor!

Hell’s Half Acre Expression

 The expression hell’s half acre denotes a small patch of land or a place that’s otherwise undesirable. It has been around for a century and a half.

Hairy at the Heel

 A Courtland, Alabama, woman wonders about the phrase hairy at the heel. Along with hairy-heeled, hairy about the heels, and hairy about the fetlocks, this snobby term describes someone who is considered ill-bred. It derives from the fact that non-thoroughbred horses often have tufts of hair above their hooves.

Hip Hop Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a fill-in-the-blank puzzle about famous hip-hop rhymes. For example, from Run DMC, there’s the verse: “I’m the king of rock / There is none higher / Sucker MC’s should call me _________.”

What’s a Better Name for an Ex?

 A man in Carlsbad, California, contends that the word ex for “a former partner” or “a former spouse” sounds too harsh. Is there a better term besides wasband?

Another Name for a Dad-centric Baby Shower

 Responding to our discussion about what to call a baby shower for a dad-to-be, one listener suggests the term bro bath.

Spanglish at the Border

 A man who divides his time between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, wonders if linguistic mixtures similar to Spanglish arise at other borders. Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language by Ilan Stavans, offers a look at this phenomenon.

Hindi Strength Proverb

 A Hindi proverb that means “unity is strength” literally translates as “one and one make eleven.”

Periods in Acronyms?

 Why, when writing out an abbreviated name like NATO for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, don’t we use periods between the letters to form the acronym or initialism?

Name for the Place Where You Scatter Ashes

 When someone’s buried in a cemetery, you can visit their grave. But what do you call the place where you go to visit someone’s scattered ashes? Listeners ponder that question on our Facebook group.

“Girl” Used to Mean Either Gender

 Hundreds of years ago, the word girl could refer to a child of either gender, and the word boy applied specifically to a servant. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a useful resource for understanding which terms were in common use during what period.

Yet Another Baby Shower for Dad Name

 A listener suggests a sartorial twist on our conversation about baby showers for dads-to-be.

Nose Out of Joint

 Why, when someone’s unhappy about something, do we say someone’s nose is out of joint or out of socket?

Wetting a Baby’s Head

 A man in Devon, England, notes that where he lives, wetting the baby’s head is a term for celebrating the birth of a baby, and involves taking the man out to a pub for copious amounts of beer.

Chop Chop Wiki Wiki

 A San Diego, California, guy says his high school history teacher used the phrase chop chop wiki wiki meaning “Hurry up!” The first part of this phrase comes from similar-sounding Cantonese words — the source also of the chop in chopsticks — and the second half comes from a Hawaiian word that means “quick,” the same as found in the name of the online reference that can be edited quickly, Wikipedia.


 Gaywater is not the opposite of conversion therapy. It’s a southern American term for whiskey, especially the illegal kind.

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

Photo by Bureau of Land Management. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language
The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary

Music Used in the Episode

The In CrowdThe Ramsey Lewis TrioThe In CrowdArgo Records
Nose JobJames BrownAin’t It FunkyKing Records
Slippin’ Into DarknessThe Ramsey Lewis TrioUpendo Ni PamojaColumbia
Listen HereGene HarrisGene Harris of The Three SoundsBlue Note
Wade In The WaterRamsey LewisWade In The WaterCadet
Funky DrummerJames BrownFunky DrummerKing Records
Summer BreezeRamsey LewisSolar WindColumbia
TensityCannonball AdderlyThe Cannonball Adderly Quintet and OrchestraCapitol Records
Black MessiahCannonball AdderlyBlack MessiahCapitol Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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