Home » Episodes » Nothing to Sneeze At

Nothing to Sneeze At

Play episode

Forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry because company’s coming? How about making lasagna or shame cleaning? Plus who’s a hoopie, down goes your shanty, hold on to your blueberry money, and gym slang fit for a cardio queen. This episode first aired October 13, 2012.

A Sneeze that Won’t Come

 Having trouble sneezing? You may be suffering from arrested sternutation, also known as a sneeze freeze!

Last-Minute Cleaning

 Is it still cleaning if you just throw things in a closet? Terms for this practice include making a lasagna, shame cleaning, or stuffing the comedy closet. Just be careful not to end up with a Fibber McGee catastrophe.

Muse and Amused

 Is there a connection between the ancient Greek muse and the word amused? No. The muses were mythological figures who inspired the likes of Homer, while amuse comes from the Latin word for “staring stupidly,” as in, “to be distracted by mindless entertainment.”

Photic Sneeze Reflex

 Why do we sneeze when we go from a dark theater to the bright outdoors? The photic sneeze reflex is a genetic trait many of us have, as part of the Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helo-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, the backronym for ACHOO!

Know Here from Siccum

 You don’t know siccum, meaning “you don’t know anything,” is an idiom common in the American Northwest. It’s a shortened form of he doesn’t know come here from sic ’em, as in a dog that doesn’t know how to obey commands.

Blank Tiles Word Game

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for all of us who fancy the blank tiles in Words With Friends. Given a word and two blank tiles, place one on either end to form a new word. For example, at least two new words can be made by adding a letter to either end of the word eight.


 If someone’s a hoopie, it means they’re less than sophisticated. This term was used in the Ohio River Valley to refer to the bumpkins from West Virginia who performed menial work with barrels, hammering their hoops into place.

How to Address the President

 How should news organizations refer to elected officials, past and present? There’s not much consensus among print and broadcast companies, but most organizations have their own set of rules. For example, NPR’s policy is to refer to the current president as President Barack Obama the first time he’s mentioned in a news story, and thereafter as Mr. Obama.

Sneeze Proverb

 Here’s a proverb about the days on which you sneeze. “Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger. Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger…” But wait, there’s more!

Gym Slang

 What kind of slang will you find at the gym? The old standby, jacked, meaning “muscular,” may derive from the lifting motion of a car jack. January joiners are those well-meaning souls who make new year’s resolutions to get in shape, and stop showing up a week later. Cardio queens are the ladies in fancy sweatsuits taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while reading a magazine.

Sneezing Fits

 What’s it called when a fit of sneezing takes hold? Try ptarmosis, from the Greek ptarmos for “sneeze.” Or sternutamentum, meaning rapid, spasmodic sneezing.

Forensic Linguistics

 Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt (in full here, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who’s written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by identifying personal and regional distinctions in a suspect’s language. Though far from a silver bullet, the practice seems to have a solid place in the future of law enforcement.

Blueberry Money

 If someone still has their blueberry money, chances are they’re a bit stingy. This term from the American Northeast refers to those who’ve held onto the change they made picking and selling blueberries as a kid.

Down Goes Your Shanty

 What’s the origin of the warning phrase down goes your shanty!? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, “If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty.” It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house!

A Sneeze at the End of a Meal

 If you sneeze at the end of a meal, you may be afflicted with snatiation. It’s that tickle in the nose you feel when you’re full.

Going Forward

 Why do people use the phrase going forward/a> when talking about the future? Although it sometimes carries legitimate meaning, the expression is often just a pleonastic bit of business jargon that ends up on plenty of lists of people’s pet peeves.

Flyer vs. Flier

 Is the synonym for pamphlet spelled flyer or flier? Both. In the UK, it’s more often flyer, and in the US, flier is preferred.

Photo by Rok Lipnik. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Fighting over Words: Language and Civil Law Cases by Roger Shuy. See more books by Roger Shuy.

Music Used in the Episode

GetawayDr. JohnLocked DownNonesuch
Easter ParadeJimmy McGriffStep OneSolid State
Plus PlusThe Poets of RhythmDiscern / DefineQuannum Projects
Cold BloodedThe Bar KaysStax of Funk vm 2BGP Records
Basin Street BluesDr. JohnGoin’ Back to New OrleansWarner Brothers
Step OneJimmy McGriffStep OneSolid State
Burnt BiscuitsThe TriumphsBurnt Biscuits 45rpmVolt
Funky BroadwayThe MohawksThe ChampPama 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.

More from this show

Piping Hot

The game of baseball has alway inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word stuff...