Remember those children’s classics, the Velveteen Rabbi and The Little Price? The Twitterverse is abound with these books with a letter missing. And it turns out there’s some pimping going on in our hospitals, but it’s not what you’d think. Grant and Martha clear up the plead vs pleaded debate, touch on the use of product, and trace the history of shambles. Plus, a word puzzle with nursery rhymes, a map of regional grammar, and plenty of crazy vocab, from popinjays to the tee na na!

This episode first aired October 17, 2011.

Download the MP3.

 Book Title Hashtag Fun
There’s a Twitter meme going around for books with a letter missing from the title. You can find them through the hashtag #bookswithalettermissing. Can’t wait to read that romp about the sand-covered South, A Confederacy of Dunes.

 Can You Brandish a Body Part?
We usually brandish a weapon, or some object we can wave about. But the definition of brandish can be stretched to include more figurative types of weapons or objects (e.g. seductive body parts).

What does shambles mean? If your house is in shambles, it’s a mess, but before the 1920s, the word shambles referred to a butcher’s bloody bench.

What is a popinjay? Literally a parrot, this term is often used in a military context to refer to a vain or conceited officer with a Napoleon complex. And a bandbox boy? That once commonly referred to an officer who gave excessive attention to his grooming and dress. It’s a reference to “the box used to transport uniforms.”

 Retranslated Nursery Rhymes Quiz
Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game of Name That Nursery Rhyme. The catch is the text has been run through the translation site Babelfish. What happens when Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty go from English to Spanish to Chinese and back again?

 Past Tense of Plead
What’s the past tense of plead? Is it pleaded or pled? Within the legal profession, pleaded is preferred. But in our common vernacular, we tend to use the less traditional pled.

 Tee Na Na
If something’s right on the tee na na, it’s just perfect. This phrase from New Orleans has popped up in myriad songs from the region. One interview with the musician Dr. John suggests that tee na na refers to the rear end, or tuchis. Martha speculates that tee na na may have to do with the phrase to a tee.

 More Book Titles Missing Letters
Lots of people have tweeted their own examples with the #bookswithalettermissing hashtag. Take, for example, that famous guide to Jewish sensuality, The Oy of Sex.

 Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise
What’s the origin of the phrase “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”? It has to do with travel and farming and nothing whatsoever to do with Native Americans. Back when wagons rode on low gravel roads, you couldn’t pass if the creek level was high.

 Grammatical Diversity
Regional grammar can be just as rich and diverse as regional vocabulary. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project has picked up on all the variations in American English usage and plotted them on a Google Map. Turns out that double modals and the positive anymore are popping up all over the country.

 Using Product
Did your hairstylist recommend you use product? Is your company moving product this quarter? The term product is in vogue, mainly for the purpose of simplification.

 Baby Department
Why do department stores label their infants’ section “Baby” instead of “Babies’” à la “Men’s” or “Women’s”? For one, the Baby department includes more than just clothes; they’ve got strollers and cribs and pacifiers. Also, the baby of the family has a unique singular identity, unlike the rest of the kids.

 Shake a Stick At
Where do we get the expression more than you can shake a stick at? It probably just derives from counting. Imagine herdsmen bringing in their cattle or sheep at the end of the day, pointing with a stick in order to do a headcount.

 The Little Price
Another #bookswithalettermissing joke: Have you read the book about how 99 cent stores are changing the way we shop in America? It’s called The Little Price.

 Pimping Med Students
Pimping med students is a common practice in hospitals. But not that kind of pimping; the term pimp, possibly from the German pumpfrage, meaning “pump question,” refers to the method of tough quizzing that doctors put their young residents through. It generally straddles the border between rigorous initiation and plain bullying.

 One With the Wind
You know that book missing a letter about the young Southern woman finding peace in a storm? It’s called One With the Wind.

Photo by geishaboy500. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Happy Song Rare Earth Happy Song 12″ Sunshine Sound
Try A Little Tenderness Soul Flutes Trust In Me A&M Records
Louisana Slim Leon Spencer Louisana Slim Prestige
Hip Shaker Leon Spencer Bad Walking Woman Prestige
Trust In Me Soul Flutes Trust In Me A&M Records
The Catfish Peter Horbolzheimer Live Im Onkel Po Polydor
The Happy Hooker The Nite-Liters A-Nal-Y-Sis RCA
Excuse Me While I Do My Thing The Nite-Liters A-Nal-Y-Sis RCA
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George & Ira Gershwin Song Book UMG Recordings, Inc
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9 Responses

  1. Ron Draney says:

    The Little Price made me think of an idea I had for a puzzle based on “built-up book titles”. You could start by reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, continue with Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and finish off with Dinah Craik’s The Little Lame Prince.

    Or watch movies, starting with Sandra Bullock in 28 Days, then stick around for the apocalyptic flick 28 Days Later.

  2. Heimhenge says:

    And that, for whatever reason, made me think of a parody in Mad Magazine (many moons ago) called “20,000 Leaks Under the Sea.”

    At one point I would have called my response “off topic,” but the more I hang out here the more I find many threads evolving into a “stream of consciousness” type of exchange.

    Great idea for a game Ron. Maybe you should work up a few more and get on WWW with that.

  3. Jeepien says:

    Grant Barrett said:

    Where do we get the expression “more than you can shake a stick at“? It probably just derives from counting. Imagine herdsmen bringing in their cattle or sheep at the end of the day, pointing with a stick in order to do a headcount.

    My favorite use of this idiom is in the Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business (1931), where Groucho says:

    Now he’s got more women than you could shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time.

  4. Ron Draney says:

    I started my life using Butch Wax to coerce my hair into some sort of order, then a kind of gel (Dippity Do?), then a watery lotion like Vitalis, and finally a non-aerosol spray, before retracing my steps in the opposite direction (adding mousse into the sequence along the way).

    Hairdressers probably refer to “product” to save them asking whether you use any “lotion, cream, gel, spray, mousse or pomade” to style your hair.

  5. Glenn says:

    Some think product sounds better than stuff. Personally, I find the word $#!+ quite applicable to many situation where product might otherwise be used. And it is versatile beyond that.

    What $#!+ do you use on your hair?
    I think it looks better than the $#!+ I use.
    The $#!+ my wife uses is really expensive, but on my hair it works no better than some $#!+ at half the price.

    I am advocating for an increased use of the word $#!+, mainly for the purpose of simplification.

  6. jaxelrod says:

    I’m not in the salon industry, but as Ron pointed out, it seems clear that the reason the word “product” is used is because of the vast array of product types, not product brands as Grant seemed to suggest. I think Forrest Gump 2: The Stylist could have a great scene: “Do you want hair spray, conditioner, mousse, curl spray, gel, mousse, combination shampoo and conditioner, …” You get the idea.

    As much as it grates on my nerves, I get the purpose for the word. I far prefer Glenn’s idea, as long as nobody takes the idea of putting shit in their hair literally.

    Incidentally, my infant son’s hair gets messed up occasionally, and despite my disdain for the word, I like to joke that we need to get him some “product.”

  7. DanoJ says:

    On the topic of the uses of “brandish,” I would offer this:  


    “Comets, importing change of times and states, brandish your crystal tresses in the sky.” ~Wm. Shakespeare

    Clearly, in the sixteenth century, the word was not exclusively used to describe the waving of a weapon.
  8. hippogriff says:

    Thanks for clarifying pleaded. As a non-lawyer who has to write about such things on occasion, it is nice to know proper procedure. I never quite trust AP Stylebook in such matters.


    Tee na na: I have no idea the na na, having first encountered it in this broadcast, but I wonder about the possible influence of expressions like “dotting every I and crossing every T”, or even “every jot and tittle” in moving from the caudal region to perfection – not that they are mutually exclusive.


    God willing: This has obvious applications in the Hill Country (LBJ’s home turf). For instance, the Guadalupe River above Kerrville has almost all roads crossing at about 1-2 feet above normal river level, with a flood-level standard to let you know how deep it is when the bridge becomes a ford.  


    Baby Department: Adults get their analogous accessories elsewhere – from hair brushes to automobiles. Those things for infants seem to be adjacent to clothing, not intermixed – much like make-up and cosmetic jewelry will be adjacent, but not part of women’s department. I am not convinced this is the answer to the discrepancy.


    Ron Draney: That reminded me of Harry Golden’s sure-fire best-seller book title: Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog’s Diet Cookbook, which was his answer to the 1960s trend of built-up book titles.

  9. Baron Schaaf says:

    “Product” in the hair care sense always a seems a bit off to me.


    It would be interesting to know the history and frequency of this use.


    I’ve thought that it had its origin in contrasting it to “service,” as salons need to know this often for tax purposes and for determining profit centers.


    One cash register key for “service” and one for “product.”