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Nicknames Give Me the Heebie-Jeebies

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Everybody has a nickname, and there’s usually a story to go with it. Martha and Grant reveal their own nicknames and the stories behind them. Also, is the expression “heebie-jeebies” anti-Semitic? And is there a better word than retiree for someone who moves on from a job late in life? This episode first aired April 5, 2008.

Stories Behind Nicknames

 Everybody has a nickname, and there’s usually a story to go with it. Martha and Grant reveal their own nicknames and the stories behind them. Speaking of nicknames, the word nickname has an interesting etymology. It’s an example of a word formed by what linguists call misdivision. If you have a nickname you’d like to share (and hey, let’s keep it clean, folks!), tell us about it in our discussion forum!


 A cantor from a synagogue in Nyack, New York, says she’s fond of the expression “the heebie-jeebies” but recently began worrying that it might be anti-Semitic. Did the term “heebie-jeebies” originate as a slur against Jews? The hosts mention a cartoon with the earliest known use of the term.

Dilemma vs. Dilemna

 An adult caller from Phoenix is stung by the memory of losing an elementary school spelling bee when he misspelled the word dilemma. He insists that his teachers taught him that the word contains a silent “n.” After all these years, he’s still trying to find out whether dilemna is an acceptable spelling.


 Recently we discussed the lack of a word in English for the act of trying to do in your offline life something you can only do on a computer, like expecting spellcheck to kick in if you’re scribbling a grocery list, for example. The hosts share suggestions emailed by listeners. How about e-flex? Or might déja undo do?

Words Without “ING” Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle about homophones, in this case, words that sound just like participles that have lost their final “g,” like button and buttin’. The first clue: “Picture Vladimir Putin trying to catch a departing bus.”

Reoccuring vs. Recurring

 A woman and her boss want to resolve a dispute over the words reoccuring and recurring. Which is correct if you’re talking about something that happens again and again? Grant explains that there is indeed a difference between the two words—and that one of them is almost always the right choice, particularly in the world of business.

Having the Vapors

 When a proper Southern lady fans herself and exclaims, “I do believe I have the vapors,” what vapors is she talking about, exactly? A caller from Austin, Texas wants to know the origin of this term. Just how did it come to apply to a whole range of things, from being flustered all the way to more serious maladies such as depression and hypochondria?

Replicate, Duplicate, Repeat

 A former sociology professor shares a peeve about the language of political pundits: He’s irked when they say a candidate wants to replicate or duplicate his win. The professor explains why he thinks they should eschew those words and instead opt for repeat.

City Nicknames

 Cities have nicknames as well, including “Sacratomato” and “Lousyville.” Do you have a better city nickname? Let’s hear it.

White Hat and Necklace Light

 This week’s Slang This! contestant is from Esquimalt, British Columbia. She tries to guess the meaning of the slang terms white hat and necklace light. And no, the latter has nothing to do with a “Frankenstein flash.”


 A husband and wife are retiring after many years on the job. But they’re keeping their options open for future employment, and don’t want to be called retirees. The word retirees isn’t enough to connote the more “dynamic and open-ended” way of living they’re anticipating, nor does it take into account the possibility that they might continue to do some kind of paying work. How about rehirees? Or . . . ?

Newspaper Nicknames

 What’s the nickname for your hometown newspaper? Do share by emailing us.


 A Kentucky listener and her husband wonder about the proper meaning of the word everloving. Sometimes they hear it used to express frustration, as in, “Why won’t he pass the everloving basketball?”, but other times they hear it used more positively, as in, “I just want to get in my everloving bed and sleep!” Grant answers her everloving question.

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

Photo by Xavi. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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