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A Murmuration of Starlings

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If you’ve eaten crispy chicken, you might also have had jo-jo potatoes. Speaking of chicken, ever wonder why colonel isn’t pronounced KOH-loh-nell? Grant and Martha have the answers to those nagging little questions, like the difference between a turnpike and a highway and the rules on me versus I. Who’s behind eponyms in anatomy and why are doctors phasing them out? Plus, a newsy limerick challenge, dog breed mashups, pallets, a little Spanglish, and enough -ologies to fill a course catalog! This episode first aired December 10, 2011.


 What’s your favorite -ology? Perhaps alethiology, the study of truth, from the Greek alethia? Theologians might concern themselves with naology, the study of holy buildings.

Jo-Jo Potatoes

 What are jo-jo potatoes? Starting in the 1960s, fried potato wedges took that name in some of the Northern states. Jo-jos were often served in restaurants that also made a type of chicken which requires a special type of deep-fat fryer. Jo-jos are simply unpeeled potato wedges thrown in the fryer, but the name may have derived from the idea of “junk,” because the potato scraps were considered worthless until restaurateurs realized they could be marketed and sold.


 We’ll keep this short: perissology is the superfluity of words.

Colonel Pronunciation

 Why is “colonel” pronounced like “kernel”? The original form comes from Italy, where a colonello was in charge of a column of soldiers. As the word moved from Italian to French, it took on an r sound, but the English translators reverted to the more etymologically correct Italian spelling. That’s why it looks one way but sounds another.

Dog-Breed Blends

 What do you get when you mix a shelty and a cocker? A shocker! Or how about a dachshund and a border collie? That’d make it a dashboard. We don’t want to know what you’d call a cross between a pit bull and shih tzu.

Current-Event Limerick Quiz

 Hope you’ve been checking the headlines, because our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a new set of current-event limericks. What’s been “occupied?” How long did the Kardashian marriage last? And who made ambiguous the definition of the word “winning”?


 A thick blanket or stack of blankets is also called a pallet. The Dictionary of American Regional English says this term is most common in the South Midlands — such states as Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. In the New American Standard Bible (John 5:8) Jesus says to a man who’s been incapacitated for nearly 40 years, “Pick up your pallet and walk.” The term comes from French, where a pallet was a thick, woven mat of hay to lie on.

Me vs. I, Object vs. Subject

 The usage of the word me vs. I will always be a point of debate. Grant and Martha contend that language works in the service of culture, and thus, there will always be informal settings where the words me and I are slung around interchangeably. Then again, there will also be classrooms, job interviews and the like, where “my colleague and I completed the project” is the better choice than “me and my colleague completed the project.”


 Aesthetes might go for kalology, or “the study of beauty.”


 What’s the difference between a turnpike and a highway? In the 1700s, privately funded roads were constructed in the Northeast to connect commercial centers, but tolls were charged in order to pay for the wood planks that covered the road; this was well before gravel or pavement came about. A turnpike itself is the bar on a turnstile, much like you’d see in a subway station or an amusement park. One pays the toll then moves through the turnpike. On the other hand, freeways were the dirt roads that didn’t require a toll.

Anatomical Eponyms

 Anatomy is full of eponyms — that is, words inspired by the name of a person. For examples, there are the fallopian tubes, the Achilles heel, and the eustachian tubes. But there’s a movement in anatomy to replace eponyms with more scientific, descriptive names. Thus, fallopian tubes are now uterine tubes and eustachian tubes are auditory tubes.


 The Spanglish term frajo, meaning “cigarette,” evolved over a couple of generations of Mexican-American language. Primarily thanks to pachucos, sometimes known as zoot-suiters, the term developed from the verb fajar, meaning “to wrap up or roll.”

A Murmuration

 A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, and a beautiful video of a murmuration of starlings flying about has been described by Martha as “nature’s ornithological lava lamp.”


 If you’re looking for a clever way to straddle the glass-half-empty line, try using litotes, or understated slights turned positive. For example, the guy you met for a blind date was really not unattractive.


 If you’re into fungus among us, you might enjoy uredinology, the study of rust molds.

Nutty Nuts

 Why do we refer to people of questionable sanity as nuts, nutty, or nut-cases? In the early 1600s, a nut was considered something “pleasing” or “delightful.” Its meaning then transferred to someone who liked something pleasing, and then someone obsessed with that thing to the point of eccentricity or weirdness.


 Zygology? That’s the study of joining or fastening.

Photo by little blue hen. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Dictionary of American Regional English
New American Standard Bible

Music Used in the Episode

KnittingGary Pacific OrchestraMovement in Rhythm / Rhythm At RandomBosworth Music
The Game of DeathJohn BarryBruce Lee’s Game Of Death (Original Soundtrack)Bruce Lee’s Game Of Death (Original Soundtrack)
The RockAtomic RoosterThe Rock 45rpmPhillips
A Man And A WomanDavid McCallumMusic – It’s Happening NowCapitol Records
A Fool In LineStarbuckRock’n Roll RocketPrivate Stock
Mellow, Mellow Right OnLowrellMellow, Mellow Right On 45rpmAVI Records
If I Were a CarpenterDavid McCallumMusic – It’s Happening NowCapitol Records
Don’t Ask My NeighborsAhmad JamalGenetic Walk20th Century Fox Records
Mr. Funky SambaBanda Black RioMaria FumaquaAtlantic
Shoreline DriveSammy NesticoDark OrchidDark Orchid Jazz
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gerswin SongbookVerve

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1 comment
  • My objection to abandoning anatomical eponyms is that a proper name is the same in any language, whereas the substitution is Anglophone arrogance. I suspect this may have started with the death of King George VI from Buerger’s disease. At the time, this was associated in the popular mind with smoking, as almost all cases were smokers. Suddenly, the corporate media changed from eponym to symptom with thromboangiitis obliterans – possibly under orders from the Tobacco Institute whose members spent considerable money on advertising in those media. The symptomatics are also much longer and frequently unpronounceable on quick reading – part of what a friend of mine called the “witchdoctor syndrome” – that which has no or even negative medical effect, but enhances the status of the doctor in a given situation.

    Dog breeds: A feral dog (whatever breed) and coyote cross is called a coydog and they are a major problem to livestock.

    Texas has largely escaped the turnpike term because of the extensive use of tollway or toll road. It is interesting that Dallas is somewhat encircled by the LBJ freeway and the more recent President George Bush Tollway.

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