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Jump Steady

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To transmit information during wartime, various industries used to encode their messages letter by letter with an elaborate system–a primitive version of today’s digital encryption. Grant breaks down some of those secret codes, and shares the story of the most extensive telegram ever sent. Plus, we’ve all been there: Your friends are on a date, and you’re tagging along. Are you a “third wheel”–or the “fifth wheel”? There’s more than one term for the odd person out. Finally, a rhyming quiz about famous poems. For example, what immortal line of poetry rhymes with: “Prose is a nose is a hose is a pose”? Plus, women named after their mothers, variations on “Happy Birthday,” “at bay,” nannies’ charges, and a racy blues singer who taught us to “jump steady.” This episode first aired November 20, 2015.

Cipher and Secret Letter Code

 Great news for scavenger-hunt designers, teenage sleepover guests, and anyone else interested in being cryptic! The old-school commercial codes used for hiding information from the enemy in a telegraphs is at your fingertips on archive.org. Have fun.

Fifth Wheel vs. Third Wheel

 If you’re single but tagging along on someone else’s date, you might be described as a “fifth wheel,” a term that goes back to Thomas Jefferson’s day. Not until much later, after the bicycle had been invented, the term “third wheel” started becoming more common.

Happy Birthday Without a Shirt!

 The long popular and newly legal-to-sing “Happy Birthday to You” has always been ripe for lyrical variations, particularly at the end of the song. Some add a “cha cha cha” or “forever more on Channel 4,” but a listener tipped us off to another version: “Without a shirt!

Gentleman’s Grotto

 A follow up to our discussion on man caves; one listener suggests we try to popularize the term “gentleman’s grotto.”

Yuppies, Dinks, and Silks

 We spoke on the show not long ago about yuppies and dinks, but neglected to mention silks: households with a single income and lots of kids.


 Words that are palindromes, but are also the same upside down as well, are called ambigrams.

Schmoetry Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski brings a game of schmoetry—as in, famous lines of poetry where most of the words are replaced with other words that rhyme. For example, “Prose is a nose is a hose is a pose” is a schmoetic take on what famous poem?

Etymology of Nanny Charges

 A young woman who works as a nanny wants to know why the term charge is used to refer to the youngsters she cares for. Charge goes back to a Latin root meaning, “to carry,” and it essentially has to do with being responsible for something difficult. That same sense of “to carry” informs the word charger, as in a type of decorative dinnerware that “carries” a plate.

Literary Spontaneity

 Plenty of literature is available, and discoverable, online. But there’s nothing like the spontaneity, or stochasticity, of browsing through a library and discovering great books at random.

Yard-Sailing Haiku

 After a recent discussion on the show about garage-sailing, a listener from Henderson, Kentucky, sent us an apt haiku: Early birds gather near a green sea/ Garage doors billow on the morning wind/ Yard-saling.

Origin of Jump Steady

 To “jump steady” refers to either knocking back booze or knocking boots (or, if you’re really talented, both). It’s an idiom made popular by blues singers like Lucille Bogan.

Seward’s Other Folly

 Long distance communication used to be pretty expensive, but few messages have made a bigger dent than William Seward’s diplomatic telegram to France, which in 1866 cost him more than $300,000 in today’s currency. This pricey message aptly became known as Seward’s Other Folly.

More Nerves than a Cranberry Merchant

 Someone who’s being rude or pushy might be said to “have more nerves than a cranberry merchant.” This idiom is probably a variation on the phrase “busier than a cranberry merchant in November,” which relates to the short, hectic harvesting season right before Thanksgiving.

Spanish and German Fifth Wheels

 The Spanish version of being a “fifth wheel” on a date is “toca el violin,” which translates to being the one who plays the violin, as in, they provide the background music. In German, there’s a version that translates to, “useless as a goiter.”

Cultural Naming Patterns

 It’s far less common for women in the United States to name their daughters after themselves, but it has been done. Eleanor Roosevelt, for one, is actually Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Jr.

Here, Here and There, There

 A listener from Dallas, Texas, wonders why we say “here, here” to cheer someone on, and “there, there” to calm someone down. Actually, the phrase is “hear, hear,” and it’s imperative, as in, listen to this guy. “There, there,” on the other hand is the sort of thing a parent might say to console a blubbering child, as in “There, there, I fixed it.”

Origin of Keeping at Bay

 We spoke on the show not long ago about how the phrase to keep something at bay derives from hunting. A listener wrote in with an evocative description of its origin, referring specifically to that period when cornered prey is able to keep predators away–that is, at bay–but only briefly. It’s a poignant moment of bravery.

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

Photo by Annie McManus Thorne. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Cantaloupe WomanGrant GreenVisionsBlue Note
Sookie SookieGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
Spear For Moondog Pt 2Jimmy McGriffElectric FunkBlue Note
Ease BackGrant GreenBlue Break BeatsBlue Note
Let The Music Take Your MindGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
Deeper and DeeperJackie MittooStudio One Musik CitySoul Jazz Records
Mambo InnGrant GreenThe Latin BitBlue Note
Down Here On the GroundGrant GreenThe New GrooveBlue Note
MesotheliomaMagic In Three’sMagic In ThreesGED Records

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