Politicians have to repeat themselves so often that they naturally develop a repertoire of stock phrases to fall back on. But is there any special meaning to subtler locutions, such as beginning a sentence with the words “Now, look…”? Also, a peculiar twist in Southern speech may leave outsiders scratching their heads: In parts of the South “I wouldn’t care to” actually means “I would indeed like to.” Finally, how the word nerd went from a dismissive term to a badge of honor. Also, “dog in the manger,” “crumb crushers,” hairy panic, “pink slips,” “make a branch,” and “horning hour.”

This episode first aired April 8, 2016.

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 Bacon Seed
A listener in Weathersfield, Vermont, remembers going on car trips as a young child and wondering why, toward the end of the day, her parents would be on the lookout for motels with “bacon seed.”

 Dog in the Manger
Someone who is likened to “a dog in the manger” is acting spitefully, claiming something they don’t even need or want in order to prevent others from having it. The story that inspired this phrase goes all the way back to ancient Greece.

 Now, Look…
A Denton, Texas, caller wonders: Are politicians increasingly starting sentences with the phrase “Now, look…”?

 Bricks in the Sky
A listener in Ellsworth, Michigan, shares a favorite simile from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

 Make a Branch
“Make a branch” is a euphemism that means “to urinate,” the word branch being a dialectal term for “a small stream.”

 Kitchen Spices Word Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski puts on his toque and serves up a quiz about kitchen spices.

 Plum-Crushers
A San Antonio, Texas, listener is puzzled about a story in The Guardian about Mavis Staples speculating about her romance with Bob Dylan: “If we’d had some little plum-crushers, how our lives would be. The kids would be singing now, and Bobby and I would be holding each other up.” Plum-crushers? Chances are, though, that the reporter misheard a different slang term common in the African-American community.

 Nerd Amelioration
Nerd used to be a term of derision, connoting someone who was socially awkward and obsessed with a narrow field of interest. Now it’s used more admiringly for anyone who has a passion for a particular topic. Linguists call that type of softening amelioration.

 Employee Pink Slip
A Toronto, Canada, caller wonders how a notice that an employee is being fired ever came to be known as a pink slip.

 “Chance of Precipitation”
Martha reads Jessica Goodfellow’s poem about the sound of water, “Chance of Precipitation,” which first appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.

 “I Wouldn’t Care To”
A man who moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, was puzzled when he offered one of his new neighbors a refill on her beverage. She said “I wouldn’t care to have any,” which he understood to be a refusal. What she meant was that she did want another glass. Turns out in that part of the country “I wouldn’t care to” can mean “I would like to,” the key word being care, as in “mind” or “be bothered.”

 Smart as a Bee Sting
If someone’s really intelligent, they might be described with the simile “as smart as a bee sting.”

 Off Like a Dirty Shirt
“We’re off like a dirty shirt” indicates the speaker is “leaving right away” or “commencing immediately.” Similar phrases include “off like a prom dress” and “off like a bride’s nightie.” All of them suggest haste, urgency, and speed.

 Hairy Panic
“Hairy panic” is a weed that’s wreaking havoc in a small Australian town. The panic in its name has nothing to do with extreme anxiety or overpowering fear. Hairy panic, also known as panic grass, in the scientific genus Panicum, which comprises certain cereal-producing grasses, and derives from Latin panus, or “ear of millet.”

 Horning Hour
A woman in Bozeman, Montana, wonders if any other families use the term “horning hour” as synonym for “happy hour.” The term’s a bit of a mystery, although it may have something to do with horning as in a shivaree, charivari, or other noisy celebration in the Old West.

 Fishhooks in Your Pocket
One way of saying someone’s a tightwad or cheapskate is to say he “has fishhooks in his pocket,” meaning he’s so reluctant to reach into his pocket for his wallet, it’s as if he’d suffer bodily injury if he did. In Australia, a similar idea is expressed with the phrases “he has scorpions in his pocket” or “he has mousetraps in his pocket.” In Argentina, what’s lurking in a penny-pincher’s pocket is a crocodile.

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

Photo by duncan c. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Zion Gate Dub King Tubby Loving Memory Dub Burning Bush
Cork Ball Dub Prince Fatty Mad Professor meets Prince Fatty in “The Clone Theory” Evergreen Recordings
Walking Papers Booker T. Jones The Road From Memphis Anti Records
Idi Amin Dub Prince Fatty Mad Professor meets Prince Fatty in “The Clone Theory” Evergreen Recordings
Crazy Booker T. Jones The Road From Memphis Anti Records
Dub On Fire African Brothers / King Tubby African Brothers Meet King Tubby in Dub Nature Sounds
The Border King Tubby Dub Forever Delta Blue
Take Five King Tubby, The Aggrovators, and Bunny Lee Bionic Dub Culture Press
Volcano Vapes Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Out On The Coast Colemine Records