Nothing brightens up an email like an emoticon. But is it appropriate to include a smiley face in an email to your boss? Also, what do time management experts mean when they say you should start each day by “eating the frog”? Plus, the story behind the phrase “the whole kit and caboodle,” and some book recommendations for language lovers. If you see the trash can as half-full, are you an optimist or a pessimist? A puzzle involving breakfast cereals, the difference between “adept” and “deft”, and the origin of the political term “solon”. And what in the world is a “hoorah’s nest”?

This episode first aired November 12, 2011.

Download the MP3 here.

 Emoticons in Business
Is it appropriate to use emoticons in business emails? After all, you wouldn’t write a smiley face in a printed letter, right? Martha and Grant discuss the point at which you start using those little symbols in correspondence. Call it “The Rubicon on the Emoticon.” Judith Newman has more observations about emoticons in business correspondence in this New York Times piece.

 Not-So-Petty Officers
Why are non-commissioned Naval officers called petty officers? After all, there’s nothing petty about them. The term comes from the French “petit,” meaning “under, less than, or ranking below in a hierarchy.” Petty comes up in myriad instances of formal language, such as petty theft, which is a lesser charge than grand larceny.

 All Told
To summarize something, we often use the phrase “all told.” But should it be “all tolled”? The correct phrase, “all told,” comes from an old use of the word tell meaning “to count,” as in a bank teller. All told is an example of an absolute construction — a phrase that, in other words, can’t be broken down and must be treated as a single entity.

 Good Night on the Big Drum
What do parents say when they tuck their children in at night? How about “good night, sleep tight, and see you on the big drum”? Have you heard that one, which may have to do with an old regiment in the British Army?

 Eating the Frog
How do you manage your time? Perhaps by eating the frog, which means “to do the most distasteful task first.” This is also known as “carrying guts to a bear.”

 Breakfast Cereal Word Game
From Puzzle Guy John Chaneski comes a great game for the breakfast table in the tradition of such cereal names as Cheerios and Wheaties. What kind of cereal does a hedge fund manager eat? Portfolios! And what do Liberal Arts majors pour in their bowls? Humanities!

 Adept vs. Deft
What is the difference between “adept” and “deft”? It’s similar to that between mastery and artistry. “Adept” often describes a person, as in, “Messi is adept at dribbling a soccer ball.” “Deft,” on the other hand, is usually applied to the product of an act, such as “deft brush strokes.”

 Intentional Mispronounciation
There are some words we just love to mispronounce, like “spatula” as “spatular,” which rhymes with “bachelor.”

 Make Hay
If someone plans to make hay of something, they’re going to take advantage of it. It comes from the idiom “make hay while the sun shines,” based on the fact that moving hay can be a real pain when it’s dark and damp.

 More Product for Your Hair
Martha has a follow-up to an earlier call about why hairstylists advise clients to use product on their hair. At least in the food business, product often refers to the item before it’s ready for consumption. For example, coffee grounds might be called product, but once it has been brewed, it becomes coffee.

 Half Full of What?
If you see the trash can as half full, does that make you an optimist or a pessimist? Since it’s half full of garbage, as opposed to daisies or puppies, it’s questionable. On the other hand, in the tweeted words of Jill Morris: “Some people look at the glass as half empty. I look at the glass as a weapon. You can never be too safe around pessimists.”

 Kit and Kaboodle
If we’re talking about the whole lot of something, we call it the whole kit and kaboodle. But what’s a kaboodle? In Dutch, a “kit en boedel” refer to a house and everything in it. For the sake of the English idiom, we just slapped the “k” in front.

 Recommended Books
Grant has two great children’s books to recommend: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner, a meta-narrative based on the classic title characters, and Elephant Wish, a touching cross-generational story by Lou Berger, the head writer of Sesame Street. Martha recommends The Word Project: Odd and Obscure Words, beautifully illustrated by Polly M. Law. Stop by your local bookseller and pick up a copy for your sweetheart, a.k.a. your pigsney!

 Hoorah’s Nest
If something’s messy, it looks like a hoorah’s nest. But what’s a hoorah? It beats us. All we know is, it leaves its nest in a real state of confusion, and does it well enough to inspire a popular idiom.

 Authors with a Letter Missing
The Twitter hashtag #Bookswithalettermissing has proved to be a popular one. We discussed some great examples in an earlier episode.

But why not take a letter off the author as well? As in, Animal Far by George Owell, the story about an animal that ran away, prompting a nonchalant farmer to say, “Oh, well.” (The joke’s doubly funny if you know that the name “George” comes from the Greek for “farmer.”)

 At vs. By
There’s some confusion about the uses of “at” and “by”, particularly among those for whom English is a second language. Prepositions often cause trouble, because they don’t translate perfectly. Nonetheless, it’s important to know that in standard English, if someone is staying home, they’re staying at home, not by home.

 Etymological Mish-Mashery
Here’s a testy T-shirt slogan: “Polyamory is wrong! It’s either multiamory or polyphilia. But mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!”

“Solon” often pops up in headlines as a label for legislators. It is actually an eponym, referring to Solon, an esteemed lawgiver from ancient Athens who lay much of the groundwork for the original democracy. Nowadays, however, the term solon is commonly used ironically, since our legislators don’t display the noble disinterest that Solon did a few millennia ago.

 A Writer Is a Person…
The great Leonard Bernstein once said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” What are your favorite quotes on writing?

Photo by Maria Bowskill. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
Elephant Wish by Lou Berger
The Word Project: Odd and Obscure Words by Polly M. Law

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
No Way! Boogaloo Joe Jones No Way! Prestige
The Kung Fu Lords of Percussion The Kung Fu 45rpm Old Town Records
I Can Dig It Booker T and The MG’s Doin’ Our Thing Stax
I Likes To Do It People’s Choice I Likes To Do It Guyden
Baby Batter Harvey Mandel Baby Batter Janus Records
I’m a Lonely Man Harvey Mandel Get Off In Chicago Ovation Records
Expressway (To Your Heart) Booker T and The MG’s Doin’ Our Thing Stax
Brown Bag Boogaloo Joe Jones Right On, Brother! Prestige
Before Six Harvey Mandel Cristo Redentor Philips
Message From The Meters Leon Spencer Sneak Peak Prestige
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George And Ira Gerswin Songbook UMG Recordings

  1. hippogriff says:

    Petty officer: Roughly equivalent to Non-Commissioned Officer in other branches. However, a CPO is right up there with a master sergeant or even the sergeant-major in the British system.

    I can’t see it relating to going to bed, but a tenor drum (larger but no snares) were traditionally used as a desk for British army recruiters (and picking up the symbolic shilling marked the transition from civil to military law), so I can see someone saying it to a prospective recruit at the pub, to see them the next day and join. A stretch, but I tried.

    I can see an attack on Fort Knox! The vault is inside reinforced concrete in a building surrounded by security devices, in the middle of a tank training base.

    Hoorah reminded me of the US Marine shout of approval, a bit older than contact with the Lakota haú (misquoted as a greeting, how).

    Writing quote: Rudolph Flesch: “The art of readable writing is the art of rewriting.”

    I like the new format.

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