Home » Episodes » I Don’t Have the Spoons (episode #1597)

I Don’t Have the Spoons

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Whether it’s a Rubik’s cube or a round of Wordle, why do so many of us find puzzles irresistible? A new book celebrates the allure and psychological benefits of brain teasers. Plus, powerful language for talking about the chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities that sap a person’s energy and focus. And what would you wear to a wet dress rehearsal? (Hint: You’ll need a helmet.) Plus ditloid, eat a peck of dirt before you die, a game to make you sigh, apologizing to fellow drivers, how to pronounce aunt, why we call a qualifying race a heat, prejudice about dialects, and age-old advice about delegating responsibilities. It’s so good, it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!

This episode first aired July 29, 2022.

Ditloid Puzzles

 A ditloid uses numerals and initial letters to suggest a phrase, such as 26 L in the A, or 52 W in a Y. Sometimes called an equation analysis test, this type of puzzle was dubbed a ditloid by a newspaper columnist who clued the name of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Amazon|Bookshop) as 1 DITLOID. Many more ditloids are included in A.J. Jacobs’ book The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life (Amazon|Bookshop).

Food So Good it Makes You Want to…

 Emory in Jacksonville, Florida, recalls that when his Bahamian grandmother was enjoying a meal she’d say it’s so good it makes your tongue want to slap your brains out. There are many variants including so good it makes you want to slap your granny or so good it makes you want to slap your mama or so good it’ll make your tapeworm stand up and bark and so good it’ll make your teeth white, your skin tight, and make childbirth a pleasure. Emory reports that his friends also say of someone who cooked a great meal She really put her foot in that. In the UK, to give something some welly means to “give it an extra kick” or “put extra effort into it,” wellie being short for wellington boot.

Wet Dress Rehearsal

 A wet dress rehearsal is a run-through of all the processes required before a rocket launch, up until, but not including, liftoff. What makes this simulation wet is that the rocket’s fuel tanks are filled, then drained once the countdown clock is reset.

Have to Eat a Peck of Dirt

 Andrew from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, recalls a phrase his grandmother used: You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die. A peck is a unit of dry measure equal to a quarter of a bushel. Peck is also a term of approximate measure, as in to be in a peck of trouble or the old lyric I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. A longer form of the philosophical observation about eating a peck of dirt is You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die, but nobody wants to eat it all at once. Another bit of advice goes: If you have to eat dirt, eat clean dirt. An older version, going back at least 400 years, is You have to eat a peck of ashes before you die. Incidentally, translators of ancient Greek have long rendered a Greek unit of dry measure, medimos, as the English word peck, as when noting the proverbial peck of salt that one must share with a friend to form a truly intimate bond. In other words, friendships form over long periods of time, little by little, like the salt one consumes over a shared dinner.

Ooos and Ahhs Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares a game that provides plenty of Ooos and Ahhs. It involves clues to two words, one that begins with an Ooo sound and the other with an Ahh sound. For example, if John is making a traditional Chinese tea, but messes it up, then the Ooowould taste Ahh. What two words is he after?

Having the Spoons is About Having the Energy

 I don’t have the spoons is another way to say “I don’t have the energy.” Writer and blogger Christine Miserandino, who has lupus, invented this phrase and the spoon theory as a way for people with chronic illnesses and various disabilities to explain the need to ration out their energy in a way that healthy people never have to think about. Some people with disabilities now refer to themselves as spoonies. Miserandino’s website, But You Don’t Look Sick, is full of news and resources about living with chronic illness and disabilities.

A Sign for Driving Apologies

 We’re still on the hunt for the safest, most efficient way to apologize to another driver when you accidentally cut them off in traffic or otherwise inconvenience them. A listener shares an intriguing solution.

Too Cringe for New York, Too Based for LA

 Noah in Burlington, Vermont, wonders about the catchphrase I’m too cringe for New York, too based for LA. As explained at Know Your Meme, the slang term based is now a positive term popularized by the rapper Lil B, referring to one’s best authentic self. Cringe is a negative adjective associated with awkwardness and embarrassment. Noah’s sister sent him a meme that said I am too cringe for New York, too based for LA, but I fit in just right in Providence, Rhode Island, which he takes to suggest that Providence is “the right-size pond for the fish.”

Pronouncing “Aunt”

 How do you pronounce the word aunt? In most of the United States, it’s pronounced to sound just like the word ant.

A Book for Puzzle-Solvers

 A.J. Jacobs’ book The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life is a delightful celebration of the history and lure of all kinds of puzzles and puzzlers, from ancient riddles to to cryptic crosswords, the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championships, speedcubers, and modern-day escape rooms. This lively volume also features a variety of new puzzles crafted by puzzler extraordinaire, Greg Pliska. Longtime fans will remember Pliska’s frequent appearances on A Way with Words, which you can hear if you search for his name on our website.

Glottal Stops and Looking Down on Other Dialects

 Joan from Dallas, Texas, wants to know why some people are judgmental about people who speak with a glottal stop in such words as cattle, bottle, or even glottalitself. She noted a commenter on TikTok criticizing a Scottish woman for pronouncing water with a glottal stop, insisting that it’s ignorant, uneducated, and lazy. Joan says when her own mother attended a Brooklyn elementary school in the early 1930s, a speech teacher was brought in to force children like her not to speak with a glottal stop, lest they appear ignorant, uneducated, and lazy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this kind of pronunciation. It’s simply associated with dialects that, through the pure happenstance of history and politics, tend to lack prestige.

Why Are Some Competitions “Heats”?

 Why do we use the word heat to denote a preliminary qualifying race? Hundreds of years ago, a single instance of heating something such as a piece of metal over a fire for metalworking was called a heat. Later that term was applied to “a round of physical activity,” which generates heat, and eventually to racing of various sorts.

Keeping Dogs and Barking Yourself

 Mike in Jacksonville, Florida, is curious about the phrase There’s no use in keeping the dogs and doing the barking yourself. His dad would use it when delegating a chore to one of his kids. As early as the 1500s, the proverb Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself was circulating in English. The idea is that it’s a waste to hire or procure someone else to do a job but then try to do it yourself.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life by A.J. Jacobs (Amazon|Bookshop).
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Amazon|Bookshop)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Time’s UpO.C.Word…LifeWild Pitch Records
N.E.S.T.A.Liberation Afro Beat Vol 1Antibalas’ Afrobeat OrchestraNinja Tune
Runnin’The PharcydeLabCabinCaliforniaDelicious Vinyl
93 ’Til InfinitySouls of Mischief93 ’Til InfinityJive
Little Miss LoverRobert WalterSpirit of ’70Greyboy Records
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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