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Life of Riley

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Unwrap the name of a candy bar, and you just might find a story inside. For instance, one chewy treat found in many a checkout lane is named after a family’s beloved horse. And: 50 years ago in the United States, some Latino elementary students were made to adopt English versions of their own names and forbidden to speak Spanish. The idea was to help them assimilate, but that practice came with a price. Plus, who is Riley, and why is their life a luxurious one? Also: a brain-busting quiz about synonyms, salary, dingle-dousie, strong work, a leg up, it must have been a lie, don’t get into any jackpots, and lots more.

This episode first aired October 5, 2019.

Snickers the Horse; Mars and Murray

 The Snickers candy bar was named after a beloved family horse. The sugar-shelled chocolates called M&Ms take their name from a combination of the initials of their inventors, Forrest Mars and Bruce Murray.

Sal, Salary, Salarium

 The Latin word sal, or “salt,” inspired the word salarium, the pay soldiers received to buy salt. This in turn led to the English word salary. Well into the 17th century, salt remained a valuable commodity, but today if you’re not worth your weight in salt, you’re not worth very much.

Pick Your Brain

 On our Facebook group, listeners had a spirited discussion about the expression I’d like to pick your brain, meaning “I’d like to get your advice.” It’s a metaphor for extracting knowledge, of course, but the literal sense makes some people queasy. The phrase is associated with the idea of picking someone’s pocket.

Raining Cats and Dogs Origin

 Nine-year-old Evie calls from Texas to ask about the origin of the phrase raining cats and dogs. This idiom alludes to the cacophonous nature of a heavy downpour. Around the world, expressions about torrential rain also connote the idea of a noisy affair. In Greece, the equivalent phrase for such a deluge translates as “It’s raining chair legs.” In South Africa, it’s “raining grandmothers with clubs.” In Poland, it’s “raining frogs,” and in Colombia, the phrase is Esta lloviendo hasta maridos, or “It’s even raining husbands.” In previous episodes, we’ve talked about raining pitchforks and hoe handles.

Looks Like Hell With Everyone Out To Lunch

 You can say something looks like hell, meaning that it doesn’t look so good, or you can be even more emphatic and say something looks like hell with everyone out to lunch.

Fictitious Aliases Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game involving fictitious aliases for familiar things. For example, what card game might also go by the name Catch Me a Salmon?

The Life of Riley History and Origin

 Marie-Claire from Montreal, Canada, wonders why we say that someone living in carefree luxury is living the life of Riley. No one’s sure this expression’s origin, although it may be associated with a 19th-century vaudeville song about an innkeeper who dreams of being a hotel owner. The phrase was widely circulated during World War I, and further popularized by the 1940s radio program The Life of Riley starring William Bendix, also adapted into a television show and a comic book.

Circus of Puffins

 Puffins are clownish-looking birds; a group of them is sometimes referred to as a circus of puffins.

A Name and Language 50 Years Later

 Rosa recalls that when she was growing up in Karnes City, Texas, in the 1960s, she and other Mexican-American children were segregated into a separate classroom and forbidden to speak Spanish at school. Her teachers also replaced her first name, Teodula, with her middle name, Rosa. After traveling the world for 37 years in the U.S. Air Force, she returned to her hometown, where she’s now an eighth-grade Spanish teacher, helping native English speakers become bilingual.

A Leg Up

 Ali in Toronto, Canada, wonders about the expression to give or have a leg up, meaning “to be a step ahead of everyone.” The phrase comes from the idea of providing assistance to someone getting up into a saddle. A similar expression is to give a hand up. If you give someone a hand up, you’re helping them to mount a horse, climb a wall, or otherwise rise to a higher position.

1909 Life of Riley

 A 1909 newspaper article from the Paterson, New Jersey, Morning Call recounts the story of a runaway teen who was living the life of Riley — if only briefly.

More Suggestions for the State of Being Halfway Between Euphoric and Depressed

 What’s the emotion halfway between clinical depression and euphoria? After our discussion of this question, listeners chimed in by email, phone, and social media with suggestions. They included complacent, balanced, placid, fine, content, copacetic, unemotional, beige, middling, unremarkable, homeostatic, comfortable, comfortably numb, and ordinary. Professionals in the field of psychology and psychiatry suggested euthymia and euthymic, from Greek thymos, meaning “soul” or “spirit.” Also, from the field of philosophy: apatheia, meaning “freedom or release from emotion or excitement.”

Strong Work, Medical Jargon

 Tom, a medical student in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says surgeons and emergency medical personnel compliment each other with the phrase strong work on that. The congratulatory expression strong work seems largely confined to medicine, though. Another bit of medical slang, pimping, refers to the way teaching physicians badger medical students with questions.

Chunky Candy Bar Name

 Philip Silvershein, inventor of the Chunky candy bar, named those trapezoidal chocolate treats after his granddaughter. She was so chubby as a baby that she was fondly known as Chunky.

Don’t Get Into Any Jackpots

 Ron, who lives in North Pole, Alaska, is curious about an admonition from his mother: Don’t get into any jackpots. This expression, which dates back to the 1800s, refers to getting trapped into adding bets to a round of high-stakes poker despite the fact that you hold a losing hand. In the lumber industry, a jackpot is a logjam. For others, it could a tangle or mess of branches in a river or creek.


 If you ever need a term for “a stick lit at one end and waved in the air to form an arc of light,” look no further than Scotland. There, such a plaything is called a dingle-dousie.

It Must Have Been A Lie

 Rachel in Lexington, Kentucky, says her dad had a ready response whenever someone said they forgot what they were going to say: It must have been a lie. This rejoinder apparently goes back to a joke that’s been around since at least the 1920s.

Three Musketeers Candy Bar Name

 Why would a Three Musketeers candy bar be named for a 19th-century adventure novel?

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

Photo by Theo Crazzolara. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Quantum ConnectionJimi TenorQuantum Connection 45Philophon
Back on the TrackJimmy McGriffBack on the Track 45Solid State
Back on the TrackJimmy McGriffBack on the Track 45Solid State
A Day In The LifeGrant GreenGreen is BeautifulBlue Note
My Mind Will TravelJimi TenorQuantum Connection 45Philophon
Criss CrossJimmy McGriffCriss Cross 45Solid State
UpshotGrant GreenCarryin’ OnBlue Note
K-JeeNite LitersK-Jee 45RCA
Amen BrotherThe WinstonsAmen Brother 45Metromedia Records
Tanga Boo GonkNite LitersK-Jee 45RCA
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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