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The Horse You Rode In On

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What colorful language do you use to when you’re angry and tempted to use a four-letter word? There’s a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active, vibrant mind to cuss. Also, what it means to be stove up, the phrases the horse you rode in on and it’s all chicken but the gravy, plus a couple of handy synonyms for armpit. And when can you trust Wikipedia? This episode first aired April 28, 2012.

Hadal Zone

 The hadal zone, named for the Greek god Hades, refers to the deepest depths of the ocean floor. James Cameron’s deep sea dive drive recently made it down there.

Cussing vs. Cursing

 There’s a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active and vibrant mind to cuss — especially when the cusswords sound like alapaloop palip palam or trance nance nenimimuality. What colorful language do you use to diffuse anger?


 What’s an oxter? It’s another term for the underarm, primarily used in Northern England, Scotland, and Ireland. A bit nicer than armpit, isn’t it? Oxter can also serve as a verb, as in, “We oxtered him out of the club.” Need another synonym for that body part, one that also happens to rhyme with gorilla? Try axilla.

Pipe Dream

 A pipe dream is “an unobtainable hope” or “an unrealistic fantasy.” The term originates from the idea of opium pipes and the strange dreams one might incur while high on opium. Back in the 1890s when the term first showed up, opium pipes were a bit more common.

Even More Skeuomorphs

 Here are a few good skeuomorphs, or outdated aesthetic elements: We still refer to the ticking of a clock, even though we’re surrounded by digital timekeeping devices, and the kids are working hard for those washboard abs when they don’t even know what a washboard is!

Long I Word Game

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Aye Aye, Captain about phrases with that long “I” vowel sound. For example, a colorless synonym for a fib would be a white lie, and another name for a mafioso might be a wise guy.

Stove Up

 What does it mean to be stove up? This phrase for sore or stiff has nothing to do with a stovetop; stove is actually the past tense of stave. To stave in a wooden boat is to smash a hole in its side, and thus, to be stove up is to be incapacitated or damaged. These words are related to the noun stave, the term for one of those flat pieces of wood in a barrel. Similarly, to stave off hunger is to metaphorically beat it back, as if with a stick.

Second Language Idioms

 If you master a second language by the age of ten, native speakers won’t recognize that it’s not your first. Even so, things like idioms or prepositions can often trip up even the most skilled second-language speakers, if their second language is English.

Dish-to-Pass Supper

 A dish-to-pass supper, common in Indiana, is the same as a pot-luck supper or a covered-dish supper, but the term nosh-you-want drew a red flag when Grant went to visit the Wikipedia page for potluck. It hadn’t appeared in any other form of print — meaning it probably is not real — so Grant personally edited out the specious term.

Old Dan Tucker

 The song Old Dan Tucker has a long history in the United States, going back to the minstrel shows of the 1840s. Martha highly recommends the documentary Ethnic Notions about our country’s complicated history with racially-charged imagery in theater and song, and the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Voracious Reader

 Is it a good thing to be a voracious reader? We think so. Just take Shakespeare’s notion of the replenished intellect in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Horse You Rode in On Idiom

 The idiom and the horse you rode in on, usually preceded by a far more unfriendly phrase, tends to be directed at someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot. It first pops up in the 1950s, and it’s written on the spine of a book in Donald Regan’s official portrait.

Brain Freeze

 Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, also known as brain freeze, is a variety of nerve pain that results from something cold touching the roof of the mouth. But some people who suffer from migraines actually find ice cream confuses the nerve in a way that eases the pain. How convenient!

Pronouncing “Won”

 How do you pronounce the word won? Does it rhyme with sun or Juan? Some people, depending on their regional dialect, may hypercorrect their vowels and pronounce certain words in an unusual way.


 What is a buster? As TLC sang, “A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly, also known as a buster.” That is, a buster is that guy on the fringe who’s always putting on airs. The word may come from the old term gangbusters, which originally applied to police officers or others who took part in breaking up criminal gangs.

All Chicken But the Gravy

 If something’s all chicken but the gravy, then it’s all good. This colloquialism pops up in an exchange from a 1969 Congressional record.

Grammar Joke

 The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

Photo by Paul Loberg. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Chicken StrutThe MetersStruttin’Josie Records
Point Of ViewHal GalperThe Guerilla BandMainstream Records
MtumeHarold LandA New Shade Of BlueMainstream Records
Midnight At The OasisFreddie HubbardThe Roots of Acid JazzSony
Chili BeansMongo SantamariaSoul BagColumbia
Old Dan TuckerGid Tanner & The Skillet LickersThe Very Best Of (1926-1934)Vintage Masters
NunyaTom Scott and The L.A. ExpressThe Roots of Acid JazzSony
Here Comes The MetermanThe MetersHere Comes The MetermenCharly R&B
Dry SpellThe MetersLook-Ka Py PyJosie Records
Little Old Money MakerThe MetersLook-Ka Py Py Josie Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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