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Not My Circus

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Throwing cheese and shaky cheese are two very different things. In baseball, hard cheese refers to a powerful fastball, and probably comes from a similar-sounding word in Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi. Shaky cheese, on the other hand, is the grated Parmesan cheese you might dispense from can onto pasta. Also, why is a movie preview called a trailer when it comes at the beginning of a film, not the end? And: if you want to say that something’s not your responsibility, there’s always the handy phrase Not my circus, not my monkey. Plus, cocktail party effect, all my put-togethers, bedroom suite vs. bedroom suit, Alles in Butter, pes anserinus, fastuous, bursa, bummer, and too much sand for my little truck, and more.

This episode first aired August 7, 2021. It was rebroadcast the weekend of July 16, 2022.

Cocktail Party Effect

  A lovely evening of classical music at San Diego’s new Rady Shell at Jacobs Park leads to a conversation with an audio engineer about the term cocktail party effect, referring to the brain’s ability to focus in on the sound of one conversation despite being in a crowded room of people all talking to each other.

Baseball Cheese

  Paul from Omaha, Nebraska, says as a result of watching the College World Series in that city, he and his son wondered when sports announcers started using the word cheese to describe a pitcher’s fastball, and such variants as throwing cheese, hard cheese, and high cheese. It likely derives from a word in Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi that sounds like the word cheese, that means a “thing” or “item,” which migrated into British English as the big cheese, meaning “the big thing” or “the main thing.” It’s used in the same way as the word stuff, meaning the quality of a pitcher’s throwing. The best and most comprehensive reference work for the language of baseball is The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson. (Bookshop|Amazon)

Why Do Movie Trailers Come Before a Film and Not After?

  Piper from Reno, Nevada, wonders why a movie trailer is called a trailer when it comes at the beginning of a film. Isn’t a trailer something that follows something else?

Shaky Cheese

  A Simi Valley, California, listener writes to ask if any other families use the term shaky cheese for “Parmesan cheese shaken out of a can.” Indeed they do, and other families apply the term scrapey cheese to “cheese scraped over a dish of food.”

Try Your Hand at Short Word Anagram Wordplay

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle features sentences that include a short word that anagrams to another word, and is defined by yet another word in the sentence. For example, if the clue is I can get no research done because the room is so dusty, what’s the anagram, and what’s the definition?

Is Being Bummed Just Being Aggravated or is it Being Devastated?

  Mia from Iowa City, Iowa, says she and her fiance disagree about the intensity of meaning in the words bummed and bummer. Does the term to bum someone out refer to “being a source of mild aggravation” or does it imply something closer to “leaving one feeling devastated”?


  The English adjective fastuous comes from Latin fastuosus, meaning “proud or haughty,” and applies to someone who is “characterized by excessive pride, vanity, or self-importance.” Fastuosity refers to “an ostentatious show of wealth.”

Too Much Sand for My Truck

  Robert in Oak Park, Illinois, seeks a Portuguese phrase he once heard that a man might say when the object of his affection is out of their league or otherwise forever unattainable. This wistful phrase is Ela é muita areia pro meu caminhãozinho or “She’s too much sand for my little truck.” This sentiment is expressed throughout the world in various ways. A Spanish phrase suggests that the speaker doesn’t even come up to someone else’s heels — ni a los talones — and in French it’s loin de lui arriver à la cheville. In German, it’s nicht das Wasser reichen können, literally “can’t reach the water,” that is, not good enough to carry water for someone. In Polish, a couple of expressions that also convey the idea of someone being out of another’s league translate as “the sausage is not for the dog” and the “the soul wants to get into heaven.”

Sunken vs. Sank

  Gail in San Diego, California, wonders what’s happening to past tense of verbs. She’s observed more uses of I could have went instead of I could have gone, and something had sunken instead of sank, and I was sat rather than I was seated, and I was drugged when she would expect to hear I was dragged.

Everything’s Butter

  If someone ever asks you how you are, you’re feeling on top of the world, you can say Alles in Butter (or im butter in some German dialects). It’s German for “Everything’s great” — literally, “All is in butter.”

Little Bits of Body Latin and Their Relatives

  In anatomical nomenclature, a bursa is a fluid-filled sac that helps cushion a joint. Bursa is the Latin word for “purse,” the source of English purse itself, as well as the bursar who controls the purse strings in a college, plus disburse meaning “to release funds,” and reimburse, “to pay back.” In France, the related term Bourse is applied to the French stock exchange. Next to your knee is a bursa called the pes anserinus, which means “goose foot” in Latin, a reference to the way tendons from three different leg muscles attach to the shin bone there, then spread out in three directions like a webbed goose’s foot. Pes in Latin means “foot,” and its genitive form pedis is the source of such English words as pedestrian and pedal. Anser in Latin means “goose,” and anserinus means “gooselike,” from which we get the English adjective anserine, which describes something “silly or stupid as a goose.” In German, Gänsefüßchen, “little goose feet,” is a slang term for “quotation marks.” Another English word inspired by a bird’s foot is pedigree, from French pied de grue, or “foot of the crane,” recalling the shape of the forked lines in a genealogical chart.

Pronouncing Innovative

  A university professor in Baltimore, Maryland, catches himself pronouncing the very same word in different ways depending on the context in which he’s speaking. For him, it occurs with the word innovative, which U.S. and U.K. speakers pronounce differently. It’s not uncommon to have inconsistencies in one’s own pronunciation, especially if you’re in a collaborative work environment where you may be influenced by the way others pronounce a word, or by particular phrases that keep popping up again and again.

You Paid How Much for What?

  In response to our conversation about using the term bedroom suite to denote a collection of furniture, Judith in Glen Rose, Texas, shares a hilarious story about when her Pennsylvania-born beau misunderstood what she meant when she told him she bought a $600 bedroom suit.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

  Charlie in Lexington, Kentucky, says his wife, who’s from the eastern part of the state, uses a peculiar phrase to indicate that something’s not her responsibility: Not my circus, not my monkeys. This dismissive saying is at least 30 years old, and is a calque, or exact translation, of a Polish phrase that Nie mój cyrk, nie moje ma?py. English speakers elaborated on the expression, with several other versions such as Not my circus, not my monkeys, but the clowns definitely know me. Other versions: Not my money, not my business and Not my pig, not my farm.

In All My Put-Togethers

  A wonderful phrase from the Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English (Bookshop|Amazon), edited by Michael Montgomery and Jennifer Heinmiller, is in all my put-togethers, meaning “in all my accumulated experience.”

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson. (Bookshop|Amazon)
Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English edited by Michael Montgomery and Jennifer Heinmiller (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Memento MoriSven WunderNatura MortaPiano Piano Records
ChameleonHerbie HancockHeadhuntersCBS
Natura MortaSven WunderNatura MortaPiano Piano Records
UmberSven WunderNatura MortaPiano Piano Records
Barocca, Ma Non TroppoSven WunderNatura MortaPiano Piano Records
Fat MamaHerbie HancockFat Albert RotundaWarner Brothers
The HecklerThe Nite-LitersThe Nite-LitersRCA
Detroit TwiceEl Michels AffairSounding Out The CityTruth & Soul
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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