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How We Roll

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If you’re serious about writing a memoir, what topics should you include, and what can you leave out? And how honest can you really be about the other people in your life? Some of America’s leading memoirists wrote things they lived to regret. And: America’s never faced the real possibility of a female president — until now. So, what would be the male version of “First Lady”? First Laddie? First Dude? Plus, take me out to the ballgame: why those rows of benches are called bleachers, and why baseball fans sit in a place called the stands. Plus, “cry uncle,” servicing customers, Boaty McBoatface, GPS art, “lawnmower parents,” and names for toilet-paper rolls. This episode first aired July 12, 2016.

Der Der, Oh-Ah

 What do you call the cardboard roll inside a roll of toilet paper? Many families have their own name for it, including der der and oh-ah, oh-ah.  

Origin of Baseball Bleachers and Stands

 The bleachers in a baseball stadium are the unshaded benches that get bleached by the sun. The word stands, on the other hand, derives a 17th-century use of stand meaning a place for spectators, who either sat or stood, and is an etymological relative of the word station. The grandstand is an area of pricier seats, covered by a roof. The term grandstanding derives from the practice of baseball players showing off in front of the highest-paying spectators sitting there.

First Gentleman

 A San Diego resident who grew up in Ethiopia wonders: If U.S. presidents’ wives have always been referred to as the First Lady, what title is appropriate for the male spouse of a head of state? First Gentleman? First Dude?


 GPS art is the creation of a few bikers and runners who track their trips with an app and then post the image of the route they traveled online. The results so far include electronic “drawings” of Darth Vader, Yoda, and characters from Game of Thrones.  


 Scrabblepoor means “extremely poor,” conjuring the image of farmers having to scrape together a living by literally scratching at the dirt. The word hardscrabble is more commonly used to describe such grinding poverty.

Missing Links Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle requires you to spot the Missing Links. For example, what do the following three names have in common? Jefferson, Franklin, Washington.

Serving vs. Servicing

 A Greencastle, Indiana, caller is bothered when his colleagues talk about servicing a customer–and with good reason. Servicing a client has long been associated with prostitution. Serving a client is a better phrase.

Boaty McBoatface

 Britain’s new polar research ship is named RSS Sir David Attenborough, even though an online vote overwhelmingly chose the name Boaty McBoatface. Versions of this playful construction go back at least as far as a 1987 episode of the television show “Friends,” with a reference to Hicky McHicks from Hicksville. Since the 1940’s, the Mc- element has been affixed to words to indicate something “typical of its kind.” Similar examples today, like Cutie McPretty and Helpy Helperton, have a teasing tone to them.

Sneaking Notions

 In the 19th century, saying a man had a “sneaking notion” mean he had affection for a woman but was too timid to reveal it.


 That familiar comfort food most often called a “grilled cheese” goes by a few other names, including “cheese toastie” and “cheesewich,” the latter of which is a trademarked name.

Etymology of Movie Grips

 The grip on a movie set is responsible for adjusting the lights, positioning and the camera, and ensuring safety. There are various picturesque explanations for this word’s origin, but the truth is likely quite simple: it comes from the French word for “grip.”

Writing About Ourselves

 What are you obligated to put into and leave out of a memoir? What kind of consequences should you expect if you’re completely honest about others in your life? Well-known writers, including Pat Conroy, Cheryl Strayed, Sue Monk Kidd, Anne Lamott, and Edwidge Danticat consider such questions in Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature.

Flow of Electricity

 The behavior of electricity has long been likened to that of liquid: it flows in a current, and can be turned on and off in a closed system. So it’s not surprising that we talk of getting juice for a phone’s a battery by plugging it into a charging station.

Crying Uncle

 A silly joke about a parrot made the rounds of 19th-century American newspaper, and may be the source for our expression “cry uncle,” meaning “to give up.”

Lawnmower Parents

 “Helicopter parents” are so named because of their tendency to hover over their children’s lives. A Kentucky listener who made an initial college visit with her son reports two variations that she learned from staffers: “Lawnmower parents,” who mow down every obstacle in their way, and “Black Hawk parents” — helicopter parents so aggressive they’ll show up at the office of top college administrators ready to do verbal battle.

Prefix Synonyms

 A Marietta, Georgia, listener says her high school English teacher challenged her to find words that start with un- or in- that mean the same thing with or without the prefix. The list includes ravel and unravel, flammable and inflammable, loosen and unloosen, and valuable and invaluable.

E.L. Doctorow Writing Quote

 When it comes to the act of writing, E.L. Doctorow once said, it’s “like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

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

Photo by Eric Spiegel. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature by Meredith Maran

Music Used in the Episode

Mr CleanFreddie HubbardStraight LifeCTI
Straight LifeFreddie HubbardStraight LifeCTI
Also Sprach ZarathustraDeodatoPreludeCTI
PovoFreddie HubbardSky DiveCTI
September 13DeodatoPreludeCTI
Red ClayFreddie HubbardRed ClayCTI
Bold and BlackRamsey LewisAnother VoyageCadet
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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