Home » Episodes » Mute Point

Mute Point

Play episode

What do you call it when you roll past a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? A California stop, a Michigan stop — or something else? And if someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? Also, Puddin’ Tame, the outmoded design elements called skeuomorphs, a clever Spanish proverb, moot point vs. mute point, and the meaning of the military slang term go hermantile. This episode first aired March 17, 2012.


 Why do we make a hand-crank motion when asking someone to roll down their window? After all, in most new cars, that’s done with the press of a button. An outmoded gesture like this is similar to a skeuomorph, a design element that still used even though it no longer has a function. For example, smartphones still use images of old handsets or tape recorders to indicate phone and voicemail functions.

Puddin’ Tame or Pudding Tane

 “What’s your name?” “I’m Puddin’ Tame, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!” This and other rhymes, such as “What’s your number? Cucumber!” derive from French, English, and American children’s folklore that dates to at least as early as the 17th century. Iona and Peter Opie have collected a bundle of these children’s sayings.

Rolling Stops

 What’s it called when someone rolls past a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? People across the country have coined terms like California roll or California stop, New York stop, and Michigan stop as a way of expressing pride in their local delinquencies.

A Dole of Doves

 Like the famous murmuration of starlings, a dole of doves is another beautiful collective noun from the aviary world.

Geographic Portmanteaus

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of geographic and astrological portmanteaus. For example, if you’re looking for something with a spongy-pointed marker in Pittsburgh, how about a Felt Tip Pennsylvania? Or if someone born in June is a place of exercise putting on makeup, chances are they’d wear Geminishadow.


 A Vermont kindergarten teacher discusses unusual vocabulary with his class. He’s trying to revive apricity, which means the warmth of the sun in the winter. This term comes from the Latin meaning “to bask in the sun.” This caller hopes people will warm to the idea.

Voracious Reader

 If someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? And is it better to be a voracious reader of nonfiction rather than novels? The word voracious, which shares a root with devour and carnivore, might connote a lack of discernment when it comes to eating, but if one reads voraciously, it’s typically a point of pride. What other gustatory tropes are there in the ways we talk about reading and eating?

Spanish Proverb

 “El pez se muere por la boca” is a wise and vivid Spanish proverb. It means “the fish dies by its mouth.”

Go Hermantile

 In the Navy and the Marines, if someone goes hermantile, they’re angry, shouting, and unpredictable. This slang expression is of uncertain origin. It goes back to World War I but has stayed almost exclusively within the military’s lexicon and writings related to the Navy or the Marines.


 Asafetida, the plant used in asafidity bags intended to ward off disease, is also a common ingredient in Indian cooking, and it’s said to counterbalance heavy spices and relieve stomach cramps.

Including the Scandinavian

 Why can’t you tear the tag off a mattress? And why do old books say that the right of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian, is reserved? These bits of jargon, not necessarily intended for the consumer, have seeped into our language because of nuanced copyright laws and the like.

Mute Point vs. Moot Point

 How do you pronounce moot point? Does it sound like mute, or rhyme with toot?

Another Skeuomorph

 Here’s another fun skeuomorph: Martha’s father bought an exercise bike for the den, but the pedals have reflectors on them.

Why Baby Talk?

 Why do we speak to babies in high pitched voices? Often our eyes grow wide, we give big smiles, and we talk in exaggerated, singsongy voices because these are the things that infants respond to. Chances are this parental cooing has gone on since time immemorial.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona and Peter Opie

Music Used in the Episode

Black Is BeautifulRoy BuddThe Stone Killer SoundtrackCinephile
NyxKarl Hector and The MalcounsSahara SwingNow-Again
Double PolygoneSauveur MalliaCosmosynthetic Vol. 2Tele Music
EvoluteThe Dub Delay BandChangingTracky Bottoms
Followed PathKarl Hector and The MalcounsSahara SwingNow-Again
Slick CatCarol Kaye and Joe PassBetter DaysHot Wire Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 comment
  • Okay, so I’m new to this site, thus the belated post on this topic…just listened to the podcast after learning about your website through CUE (Computer Using Educators). I love words.

    My family lived in St. Louis in 1962-1963. My parents always referred to rolling through a stop sign as a “St. Louis stop” because in the early 60s St. Louis still had only 4-way stops downtown. If you were polite, you’d be stuck at an intersection forever.

More from this show

Beefed It

The words tough, through, and dough all end in O-U-G-H. So why don’t they rhyme? A lively new book addresses the many quirks of...

Recent posts