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Pebble Picker

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Right off the bat, it’s easy to think of several everyday expressions that derive from America’s pastime–including “right off the bat.” The Dickson Baseball Dictionary catalogues not only those contributions but also more obscure terms like “pebble picker,” and explains why a fastball is called a “Linda Ronstadt.” Plus, as more transgender people are publicly recognized, there’s some debate about which pronouns to use. And who in the world would give a one-star review on Amazon to … Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick? Plus, the plural of hummus, “tear the rag off the bush,” “to boot,” synesthesia, paper stretchers, wet washes, and the verb to podcast.

This episode first aired May 15, 2015. It was rebroadcast the weekend of July 11, 2016.

Common Idioms from Baseball

 Right off the bat, you can probably name a long list of common idioms that come from baseball. For example, “right off the bat.” But how about some of the more obscure ones, like the “Linda Ronstadt“? In a nod to Ronstadt’s song “Blue Bayou,” her name is used in baseball to refer to a ball that blew by you. Paul Dickson has collected this and hundreds of other baseball terms in his comprehensive book, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary.


 The plural of hummus isn’t easy to pin down, because although the word’s ending looks like a Latin singular, it’s actually Arabic. For waiters and party hosts serving multiple plates of hummus, it’s not wrong to say hummuses, but plates of hummus will do just fine.

Looking Out for Number One

 The Spanish idiom, arrimar el ascua a su sardina, literally means “to bring an ember to one’s own sardine.” It means “to look out for number one,” the idea being that if a group is cooking sardines over a fire, and each person pulls out a coal to cook his own fish, then the whole fire will go out. So the idiom carries the sense not only of being selfish, but the effects of that selfishness on the larger community.

Tearing the Rag off the Bush

 Something excellent can be said to “tear the rag off the bush,” or “take the rag,” and it likely comes from old Western shooting competitions, where the winner would shoot a rag off a bush. The Oxford English Dictionary shows examples in print going back to the early 19th century.

Paper Stretchers

 A listener in St. Cloud, Minnesota, reports that when she first started in the printing business, new employees would be hazed with the prank assignment of finding a “paper stretcher” to make a web — the big sheet of paper that newspapers are printed on — a little larger. There is, of course, no such thing, and sending someone to find one is just one of many ways to tease newbies. Also, strippers in the newspaper business are much tamer than the common stripper — it’s just a term for those who prep images and copy for the printing plates.

One-Star Reviews Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski scoured Amazon for 1-star reviews of classic literature and turned them into a puzzle about some readers’ questionable taste. For example, what novel isn’t even about fishing, since a whale is a mammal?

Origin of “To Boot”

 The saying “to boot” comes from an Old English word bot, meaning “advantage” or “remedy.” It’s related to the contemporary English words better and best, so if something’s “to boot,” it’s added or extra.

A Word is Not a Crystal

 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote, in a Supreme Court opinion no less, that “a word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.”

Finding the Right Pronoun

 As more transgender people are publicly recognized, what pronouns should we use to describe them? The best thing to do is find a polite way to ask how someone would like to be addressed. Epicene pronouns like they, ze, and others have had a hard time sticking. A good starting place for exploring transgender issues is Laverne Cox’s documentary The T-Word.

Fisher Price Color Associations

 People with synesthesia have long been known to associate sensations like sounds with others, like seeing certain colors. New research suggests that color associations with certain letters — at least for individuals born after 1967 — are largely influenced by Fisher Price fridge magnets.

See You in the Wet Wash!

 One caller says his grandma’s favorite parting phrase was “See you in the wet wash!” A wet wash was an old-fashioned facility for washing — though not drying — laundry. But it’s anyone’s guess as to why someone would allude to soaked laundry when taking their leave.

Quick, Get a Spoon!

 We’ve spoken before about “It’ll be better when you’re married,” often used to console someone who just had a small scrape or cut. A Chicago-area listener wrote us to say that in such cases, her mom’s phrase was “Quick, get a spoon!”

Podcasting and Netcasts

 The word podcasting is commonly used to refer to making podcasts, but it’s also used by some as the verb for listening to, downloading, or listening to podcasts. The language around podcasts has always been tricky since the format was released — Apple initially disliked the use of pod — and practitioners like the TWiT network advocated for netcast.

Can’t Remember Y

 Every time Martha tries naming all 26 letters in the alphabet, she only comes up with 25. But she can’t remember Y.

Crime in Italy

 The exclamation “crime in Italy” is a variation of criminently, or criminy, both euphemisms for Christ.

Etymology of Pebble Picker

 In baseball, a pebble picker, or pebble hunter, is a fielder who picks up a pebble from the ground after a missed catch, as if to blame the pebble for his own error. In the world at large, the term is a jab at someone who can never admit a mistake.

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

Photo by Matt McGee. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Music Used in the Episode

Wilder StyleThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
When It RainsThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
Will You Be My GirlThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
Easter ParadeJimmy McGriffStep OneSolid State
Going NowhereThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
RevelationsThe LionsThis Generation In DubStones Throw
Step OneJimmy McGriffStep OneSolid State
FallingThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
New DubThe LionsThis Generation In DubStones Throw
The Magnificent DanceThe LionsSoul RiotStones Throw
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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1 comment
  • I saw that this podcast was a repeat, so I may be repeating what you’ve already heard: I wonder if anyone reminded you that the word “keener” was used in a popular song by Rodgers and Hart, “Mountain Greenery”, from 1926. Even your theme song vocalist, Ella, recorded a fairly well known version.

    –Paul Garrett
    Richmond, VT

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