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Noon Balloon to Rangoon

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Is there a word you keep having to look up in the dictionary, no matter how many times you’ve looked it up before? Maybe it’s time for a mnemonic device. And: a listener shares a letter from Kurt Vonnegut himself, with some reassuring advice about what to do when the words just won’t come. Plus, what does it mean when someone asks if you came in on the noon balloon? Also: bog standard, brumate, Ricky Rescue, Ned in the primer, a horse apiece, Blackacre vs. Whiteacre, childish vs. childlike, do the needful, and “Do what?”. This episode first aired February 6, 2015.

Remembering Definitions

 If you think back on all the words you’ve looked up in the past year, only to turn around and forget their definitions immediately, Martha’s New Year’s resolution sounds like a no-brainer: be a little more mindful, and take care to actually remember the meanings of words like enervate (it’s “to drain someone or something of vitality”).

Texan Expression “Do What?”

 In place of pardon or excuse me, it’s common to hear a Texan or a Southerner say, “Do what?” Variations include “What now?”, “Do how?”, and “Do which?”


 To brumate, meaning “to hibernate during the winter,” comes from the wintry word brumal. So if you’re tired of using the same old wintry adjectives, try describing the weather as brumal.

Hark Your Racket

 “Hark your racket,” meaning, “shush,” is a variant of “hark your noise,” which pops up in Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine as far back as the 1940’s.

Bog Standard

 Columnist Lucy Kellaway wrote in the Financial Times about feeling less anxious and fearful in the workplace as she gets older. She concluded that such feelings are bog standard, a British expression meaning “common” or “widespread.”

Moo Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game based on the preferences of Mookie the Cow, whose favorite things have names that feature moo sounds. That loose Hawaiian garment, for example.

Ned the Primer

 To be like Ned in the primer, meaning “troublesome” or “rambunctious,” refers to an old series of children’s books—also known as primers—about Ned and Nancy, a mischievous boy and a straitlaced girl.

Do the Needful

 “Do the needful” is a phrase commonly heard from people in India working in tech support. Though it’s fallen out of fashion in British dialects, it’s still common in India to mean “do what you must.”

Ricky Rescue

 A while back, we talked about the teasing nickname Billy Badass, thrown around in the military to refer to someone a little too gung ho. In the firefighting and EMT professions, the equivalent name is Ricky Rescue.

Came in on the Noon Balloon

 “Do you think I came in on the noon balloon?” is a colorful alternative to “Do you think I was born yesterday?” The phrase pops up both in the columns of the late sportswriter Frank Finch and the 1967 novelty song, “Noon Balloon to Rangoon,” by Nervous Norvus.


 In real estate law, names like Blackacre, Whiteacre, and Greenacre are fictitious stand-in names for estates or plots of land used by attorneys when discussing hypothetical cases.

Vonnegut’s Advice for Writers

 An Upper Michigan listener with a form of dyslexia told us he wrote to Kurt Vonnegut years ago about his frustration with trying to become a published writer. Vonnegut wrote back, assuring that when you care enough about your subject, the right words will come, and you need not worry about spelling—or getting it published. Here’s hoping the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library gets a copy.

Etymology of “A Horse Apiece”

 “A horse apiece”, meaning “six of one, half a dozen of the other,” comes from an old dice gambling game to describe a draw.

Cat Trap

 When a cat finds that perfect square on the floor that’s being illuminated by the sun coming through a glass window, you might call that spot a cat trap.

Antonyms for Ingest

 A tech professional wants a word that means the opposite of ingest, as in ingesting a video. Specifically, he needs something that sounds like it’s worth 200 bucks an hour. Divest, maybe?

Stendhal Syndrome

 The Stendhal syndrome is a term used to describe feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of a work of art. The name comes from the French writer Stendhal, who wrote about the dizzying sensation of seeing the art in Florence. It’s somewhat similar to the Jerusalem syndrome, where visitors to that city are overtaken with emotion from standing in the same spots as biblical figures.

Childish vs. Childlike

 There’s a difference in connotation between childish and childlike. Childish, like many words ending in -ish, has a derogatory vibe. Childlike, on the other hand, has more to do with something possessing the charm and wonder of a child.

Keeping Your Voice Box in Working Order

 Kurt Vonnegut gave us this timeless quote in his novel Cat’s Cradle: “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”

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

Photo by Jerome Bon. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Music Used in the Episode

RoninOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
Ride My SwingOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
Layin LowSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
RevoltOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
PowerfeedOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
Accumulator BoxOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
IB StruttinSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
New YouOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
The VigilanceOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
No False IdeasOrgoneNew YouOrgone Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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  • re: “Noon Balloon” I was never aware of the song that you mentioned, but feel certain it is the origin of the phrase we used at work every day. I was an air traffic controller for 26 years, near the DFW area. Every morning, the west coast airports would launch their first salvo of the day at DFW about 6 or 7 in the morning. They would enter our airspace, ready to begin their descent, about 11:15 to 11:30, preparing for arrival about noon at DFW. Every day, we’d go from fairly relaxed, with light traffic, to this big explosion, where we’d work 50 or so airplanes within the space of 30 to 45 minutes. It was our daily “Noon Balloon.”

  • How about excise as the antonym for ingest? It sounds like a process that would take some precise work, so that should be fairly costly!

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