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Kite in a Phone Booth

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Stunt performers in movies have their own jargon for talking about their dangerous work. In New York City, the slang term brick means “cold,” and dumb brick means “really cold.” Plus: the East and Central African tradition that distinguishes between ancestors who remain alive in living memory and those who have receded into the vast ocean of history. In this sense, all of us are moving toward the past, not away from it. And, the Indiana town that was named incorrectly because of a bureaucratic mixup. The town’s name? Correct. Also, a brain game with words big and small, slushburger vs. sloppy joe, go fry ice, fracas, beat the band, sensational spelling, heavier than a dead minister, telling porkies, and lots more.

This episode first aired April 27, 2019.


 Sarah from Moorhead, Minnesota, emailed a story from her early days of teaching in North Dakota. While reading the lunch menu to her students, she was flabbergasted to see that the day’s fare included something called slushburgers. She’d grown up calling this loose-meat sandwich a sloppy joe. Other names include tavern sandwich and spoonburger.

Go Fry Ice

 Kathleen from Ithaca, New York, remembers her mother saying Go fry ice! meaning “Bug off!” It’s probably a minced oath replacing a phrase that exhorts the hearer to go do something else that starts with F. The earliest known recorded use of Go fry ice was in 1929 in a wildly popular, serialized novel by Ruth Dewey Groves called Rich Girl Poor Girl, later published as a book. Other phrases that mean the same thing: go fly a kite, go fly a kite in a telephone booth, go fry an egg, and go fry your face. A Yiddish saying along these lines translates as “Go whistle in the ocean.”

How Do You Pronounce “Fracas”?

 The word fracas denotes a loud quarrel, but how do you pronounce it? There are several ways, in part depending in part on whether you speak British English or American English.

“Beat the Band” Meaning and Origin

 Whitney from Memphis, Tennessee, is curious about the origin of the phrase to beat the band, which describes something happening in forceful or energetic way. Although the origins of this Americanism are murky, it may refer to a time when every public celebration or political speech was preceded by a performance by a band. If you beat the band, you were fast enough to get there first. The beat in to beat the band also reflects the percussive emphasis supplied by English words that involve hitting or striking. A whopping good time, for example, is an especially good one.


 Among academics, the word planful is used to describe someone methodical or skilled at planning. Whether this term catches on in the same way that the count nouns learnings has remains to be seen.

Big and Small Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle with answers that are big and small. For example, if the clue is simply LADLE, what asterism with seven stars does that suggest?

Dumb Brick = Very Cold

 Duncan from Brooklyn, New York, says his friends use dumb to mean “really” and brick to mean “cold.” This use of dumb goes back at least to the 1700s, and was originally a euphemism for damn. Stupid has been used as an adverbial intensifier in the same way, as in It’s stupid cold outside. Brick for “cold” is classic New York City slang.

Wigging in Stunts

 In the world of stunt performers, wigging is the practice of a male stunt actor dressing as a woman to stand-in for a female actor. Painting down is the practice of white stunt performers darken their skin to stand in for actors of color. In the industry, a stunt is referred to as a gag. Some stunt performers argue that wigging and painting down result from unfair hiring practices.

“Fair to Middling” Meaning and Origin

 Calisa in Wilmington, North Carolina, wonders about the origin of the term fair to middling, meaning “about average.” It derives from an old system of classifying agricultural products.

A Turkish Fava Bean Proverb

 A Turkish proverb that literally translates as “A fava bean doesn’t get wet in their mouth” means that if you tell that person a secret, they will tell everyone else.

Pronouncing “Leicester”

 Sean in Asheville, North Carolina, wonders how to pronounce the nearby town of Leicester. Say it the way the locals do. It’s part of a family of British place names affected by vowel reduction and haplology, the omission of a sound or syllable that is repeated within a word. These include Worcester, Gloucester, and Winchester, all of which include the -cester root that goes back to a Latin word that means “camp.”

Turkish Milk Proverb

 A Turkish proverb translates as “If your mouth is burned by milk, you blow before you eat yogurt,” meaning that if you’ve had a bad experience with one thing, you’ll be cautious when encountering something similar.

How Correct, Indiana, Was Named

 A small southeast Indiana town was supposed to be named Comet, after the Great Comet of 1881. But a misunderstanding between the local postmaster and U.S. Post Office officials resulted in the town incorrectly being called Correct.

“Go West” Slang Origin

 Liz from San Antonio, Texas, often sees the term going west in World War I-era literature and letters being used to refer to being killed in combat. The term go west as a euphemism for dying most likely has to do with the end of the day. J.R.R. Tolkien used the expression in the same way.

Sasha and Zamani, and Three Deaths

 In his book African Religions and Philosophy, Kenyan-born philosopher John Samuel Mbiti describes the East and Central African concepts of sasha, those ancestors who remain alive in human memory, and zamani, the vast ocean of time into which everything is eventually absorbed. In this sense, we are all moving toward the past. Author David Eagleman suggests another way of thinking about the passage of time. He identifies three deaths: When the body ceases to function, when it is buried, and that moment in the future when one’s name is spoken for the last time.

Little Pitchers Have Big Corn

 Our conversation about the reminder that little pitchers have big ears prompted Cheryl to write from Chicago that she and her friends developed punny way to say the same thing. They just warn each other by saying “Corn!”

Sensational and Divergent Spelling

 The intentional misspelling of business names to attract attention is sometimes known as sensational spelling or divergent spelling.

Heavier than a Dead Minister

 Chelsea in Binghamton, New York, wonders about the phrase heavier than a dead minister, describing something ponderous. Sometimes it’s given as heavier than a dead preacher or priest.

Porkies = Lies

 If you’re telling porkies, you’re telling lies. This phrase is from British rhyming slang, where the term pork pie substitutes for lie.

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

Photo by Tony Webster. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

African Religions and Philosophy

Music Used in the Episode

Let The Music TakeYour MindGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
Time To RememberGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
MamaniHugh MasekelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
GrassThe MetersLook-Ka Py PyJosie
DyamboHugh MasekelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
Sookie, SookieGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
ShebeenHugh MasekelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
BorroThe MetersZony MashSundazed Music
Caution!Hugh MasekelaChisaChisa
Down Here On The GroundGrant GreenAlive!Blue Note
HushHugh MasekelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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