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Knuckle Down

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A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So why is it a pejorative term for those of a certain political persuasion? Also, is there something wrong with the phrase committed suicide? Some say that the word commit is a painful reminder that, legally, suicide was once considered a criminal act. They’ve proposed a different term. Finally, a word game inspired by that alliteratively athletic season, March Madness. Plus, rabble rouser vs. rebel rouser, BOLO, feeling punk, free rein, sneaky pete, and a cheesy pun.

This episode first aired February 11, 2017. It was rebroadcast the weekends of September 4, 2017, and March 18, 2019.

French Cheese Pun

 Did you hear about the explosion in the French cheese factory? (If you don’t like puns, brace yourself.)

Rabble Rouser vs. Rebel Rouser

 Which is it: rabble rouser or rebel rouser? It’s rabble rouser, rabble meaning “a confused collection of things” or “a motley crowd.” Rubble rouser is an incorrect variant listed in the Eggcorn Database.

Knuckle Down, Bony Tight

 A listener in Carmel, New York, remembers his father’s phrase knuckle down, screw bony tight, a challenge called out to someone particularly adept at playing marbles. The game of marbles, once wildly popular in the United States, is a rich source of slang, including the phrase playing for keeps.

Positive Anymore

 An Omaha, Nebraska man wonders about starting a sentence with the word anymore, meaning “nowadays.” Linguists refer to this usage as positive anymore, which is common in much of the Midwest and stems from Scots-Irish syntax.


 BOLO is an acronym for Be On the Lookout. An all-points bulletin may also be described as simply a BOL.

–Ness Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz inspired by March Madness, taking us through the year with the name of a month followed by an adjective with the suffix -ness attached to form an alliterative noun phrase. For example, what do you call a festival in which everyone wears a hat a rakish angle and the attendees decide which is the most lively and cheerful?

Feeling Punk

 A listener in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says his grandmother, born in 1899, used to say I’m feeling punk, meaning “I’m feeling ill.” The term derives from an older sense of punk meaning “rotted wood.”

Linguistic Freezes

 Linguistic freezes, also known as binomials or irreversible pairs, are words that tend to appear in a certain order, such as now and then, black and white, or spaghetti and meatballs.

Free Rein vs. Free Reign

 To give free rein, meaning “to allow more leeway,” derives from the idea of loosening one’s grip on the reins of a horse. Some people mistakenly understand the term as free reign.

Another Name for “Committing Suicide”

 The Mighty is a website with resources for those facing disability, disease, and mental illness. In an essay there, Kyle Freeman, who lost her brother to suicide, argues that the term commit suicide is a source of unnecessary pain and stigma for the survivors. The term commit, she says, is a relic of the days when suicide was legally regarded as a criminal act, rather than a last resort amid terrible pain. She prefers the term dying by suicide. Cultural historian Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, has written that the phrase dying by suicide is preferable, but for a different reason: it’s more blunt, and “doesn’t let death hide behind other words.”

Call Out Sick vs. Call In Sick

 A woman in Hudson, New York, says her boyfriend, who grew up on Long Island, uses the expression call out sick, meaning “to phone an employer to say you’re not coming to work because you’re ill.” But she uses the phrase call in sick to mean the very same thing. To call out sick is much more common in the New York City area than other parts of the United States.


 A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So how did it come to be a pejorative term for those of a particular political persuasion?

Like An Octopus In A Garage

 In English, we sometimes liken feeling out of place to being a fish out of water. The corresponding phrase in Spanish is to say you feel como un pulpo en el garaje, or like an octopus in a garage.

Sneaky Pete

 A man in Red Lodge, Montana, says he and his wife sometimes accuse each other of being a sneaky pete. It’s an affectionate expression they use if, say, one of them played a practical joke on the other. The origin of this term is uncertain, although it may have to do with the fact that in the 1940’s sneaky pete was a term for cheap, rotgut alcohol that one hides from the authorities.

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

Photo by Zoltán Vörös. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

Music Used in the Episode

AshieBubbha Thomas & The Lightmen Plus OneFancy PantsJudnell
TokutaJungle FireTropicosoNacional Records
All Praises To AllahThe Lightmen Plus OneSpiritual Jazz (Esoteric, Modal, and Deep Jazz 1968-77)Now and Again Records
FirewalkerJungle FireTropicosoNacional Records
Sweet RayBubbha Thomas & The LightmenCountry Fried ChickenLightin’ Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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