Anagrams, rebuses, cryptograms — Martha and Grant swap stories about the games that first made them realize that playing with words and letters can be fun. Also this week, what’s a jitney supper and where do you eat graveyard stew? The hosts explain the origin of the term hang fire and why Alaskans sound like they’re from the Midwest, and take on a debate about whether an egregious falsehood is a bald-faced lie or a bold-faced lie.

This episode first aired June 5, 2010.

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 Games with Words and Letters
What games first made you realize that words and letters make great playthings? Martha describes puzzling, as a child, over the odd combination of letters, F-U-N-E-X, until she finally figured out the joke. Grant talks about discovering anagrams as a youngster, and how word puzzles in the newspaper became a daily ritual.

 Hang Fire
An office worker in Indianapolis is mystified when a British colleague sends an email telling her to hang fire. It has to do with faulty firearms.

 Unclear Instructions Using “Up To”
“Call up to 24 hours in advance to make a reservation.” Do those instructions mean you can call until 24 hours before the deadline, or that you should call within 24 hours of it? When a San Diego listener assumed it was the former, she was surprised to be wrong.

Did you know the POTUS (President of the United States) has a BOTUS? Grant explains what a BOTUS is.

 Name Dropping Word Quiz
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska’s word game this week is “Name Dropping.” The answer for each set of clues will be a word that has a common first name hidden somewhere in it; when that name’s removed, the remaining letters spell a new word. For example, the first clue is “one of the seven deadly sins,” the second is “the grain consumed by one-fifth of the world’s inhabitants.” Subtract the latter from the former, and you get a woman’s name.

 Graveyard Stew
A Charlottesville, Virginia, caller says that when she was a child and recovering from an illness, her mother fed her a kind of milk toast she called graveyard stew. Is that strange name unique to her family?

 Up or Down Vote
During the health care debate in Congress, there was lots of talk about an “up-or-down vote.” A Montana listener finds this expression annoying. What’s wrong with plain old “vote”?

In youth slang, totes is short for “totally.” Grant talks about new, lengthened version of this slang shortening.

 Bold-Faced vs. Bald-Faced
A Carlsbad, California, couple has a running debate over whether an egregious whopper is correctly called a bold-faced lie or a bald-faced lie.

 Twitter Data-Mining
The Library of Congress is archiving the entire content of Twitter. Grant explains why that’s a gold mine for language researchers like David Bamman at Tufts University. You can see some of the results Bamman’s compiled at

 Contents of a Jitney Supper
What do you eat at a jitney supper? Jitney?

 Alaskan Accent
Why do people from Alaska sound like they’re from the Midwest?

 Tend Your Own Rat-Killing
A caller who grew up in Arkansas says his mother used a colorful expression instead of “mind your own business,” which was “tend to your own rat-killing.”

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

Photo by Karsten Seiferlin. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Chokin’ Whitefield Brothers In The Raw Stones Throw
Rampage Whitefield Brothers In The Raw Stones Throw
Baubles, Bangles, and Beads Deodato Prelude CTI
Weyia Whitefield Brothers In The Raw Stones Throw
Prowlin’ Whitefield Brothers In The Raw Stones Throw
September 13 Deodato Prelude CTI
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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