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Naked as a Jaybird

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What’s the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or, record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you’re doing other chores. • Book recommendations for youngsters, military slang, and the one-word prank that sends Army recruits running — or at least the ones who are in on the joke! • FANBOYS, technophyte, galoot, land sickness, to have one’s habits on, zonk, and a sciurine eulogy. This episode first aired June 3, 2017.

Linguistic Fanboys

 On our Facebook group, a listener asks if anyone else’s children have been taught the term fanboy, meaning a coordinating conjunction. These connecting words include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, and a helpful way to remember them is with the acronym FANBOYS.

Get One’s Habits On

 A Huntsville, Alabama, listener says that when someone was being abrasive or mean or defiant, her mother would say she’s got her habits on. This phrase appears in the work of many blues singers, including Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith, and writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston.

Thoreau Talks About Trees

 A vast Corinthian column. A fair, flaxen-haired sister with golden ringlets. An old citizen of the town. A harp upon which the wind makes music. An athlete that shows its well-developed muscles. A great green feather stuck in the ground. These are all phrases that Henry David Thoreau used in his journals to describe trees.

Single as a Jaybird

 A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, wonders if she’s alone in using the phrase single as a jaybird to describe herself as unpartnered. The far more common phrase is naked as a jaybird, which is of uncertain origin, but which may stem from a young jay’s featherless appearance.


 A man who’s not so handy with computers described himself not as a technophobe, but as a technophyte — a misapprehension of the components of the term neophyte, a word stemming from Greek words meaning “newly planted.”

Age Pun Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a puzzle inspired by the word age, featuring punny, one-word answers that end in -age and answer a question such as, “How old do you have to be to study podiatry”?  

Learning Lots of Vocabulary

 What’s the best way to learn lots of new vocabulary while studying for a test like the GRE?

Galooly, Galoot

 A man in Rupert, Vermont, says his wife affectionately calls him a big galooly. It’s unclear where that word might have come from, although it might derive from galoot.

Spread Out Like the Week’s Washing

 Spread out like a week’s washing is a colloquial way to describe something extending far and wide.

Chat, Chert

 In Kansas, the gravelly residue from mines is often called chat or chert. It’s not related to the verb meaning “informal discussion.”


 The German word for “mnemonic device” is Eselsbrücke, or literally, “donkey bridge.”

Book Recommendations for Young Readers

 Grant has two recommendations for young readers: Full of Beans, by Jennifer L. Holm, and the Lumberjanes series, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen.


 A listener in Fort Rucker, Alabama, remembers a prank played on new Army recruits: when a sergeant barked the order “Zonk!,” all the seasoned soldiers would fall out of formation and run away, leaving the newbies to wonder what was going on.

Land Sickness

 What’s for the word for when you get off a boat but still feel like you’re moving? It’s called land sickness, the opposite of sea sickness. A more severe version is mal de debarquement, French for “sickness from disembarkation,” abbreviated MdDS.

“To Cast” Past Tense: Cast or Casted?

 A theater professor who has cast many students in productions wonders about the past tense of the verb to cast. Is it cast or casted?

Stacking Greased BBs

 A listener in Bonifay, Florida, says when she was young and asked her mother what she was doing, her mother would respond “I’m stacking greased bb’s with boxing gloves on.” This nonsensical phrase is part of a long tradition of parents brushing off inquiries with creative responses, including layoes to catch medlars and sewing buttons on ice cream.


 In the early 18th century, squirrels were popular pets in Britain and the American colonies. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once wrote a grand eulogy for a girl’s pet squirrel named “Mungo.” The adjective sciurine means “referring or pertaining to squirrels.”

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

Photo by Grant Barrett. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Full of Beans
the Lumberjanes series

Music Used in the Episode

Saturday Night SpecialLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
CheebaLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
Sweet RevivalRonnie FosterSweet RevivalBlue Note
Belle Isle DazeLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
Allen BarnesLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
Lisa’s LoveRonnie FosterSweet RevivalBlue Note
Creative MusiciansLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
KimbaLyman Woodard OrganizationSaturday Night SpecialStrata Records Inc
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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