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Polyglot Problems

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It’s the business of business jargon. Say you’re in line at the drugstore. Does it bother you if the cashier says, “Next guest”? In department stores and coffeeshops, does the term “guest” suggest real hospitality—or just an annoying edict from corporate headquarters? And speaking of buzzwords, has your boss adopted the trendy term “cadence”? Also: words made up to define emotions, like “intaxication.” That’s the euphoria you get when you receive your tax refund–that is, until you remember it was your money to begin with. This episode first aired June 29, 2013.

The Emotionary

 Emotions can be hard to define. That’s why there’s The Emotionary, a collection of words made up specifically to capture emotions in a single word, like “intaxication”– the euphoria of getting a tax refund–until you realize the money was yours to start with.

Going Over vs. Going Over To

 Jeff from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, wants to know if he’s wrong to say, I’m going over Martha’s house, meaning “I’m going over to Martha’s house.” He’s always left out the word to from that phrase. His wife argues that he’s implying that he’s going to fly over the person’s house. The expression going over, as opposed to going over to, is a case of locative prepositional deletion, which occurs when we take out a preposition when talking about direction or destination. This particular version sometimes occurs in Massachusetts, where, as it happens, Jeff grew up.

Japanese Banking Pun

 So you think you hate puns? Wait until you hear this item from a Singapore newspaper about a Japanese banking crisis.

Every Tub On Its Own Bottom

 Every tub on its own bottom suggests that every person or entity in a group should be self-sufficient. This idiom, often abbreviated to ETOB, is common in academic speech to mean that each department or school should be responsible for raising its own funds. But the phrase goes back at least 400 years, when a tub meant the cask or barrel for wine. The metaphor of a tub on its own bottom appears in religious texts from the 1600s, referring to a foundation to which one should adhere.

Just O.K. Quiz

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares a game called Just O.K. Take a word, add the letters “O” and “K”, then transpose the letters to form a new word. For example, what froggy word could you form by adding an O and a K to the word car?


 The terms anyhoo, or anywho, signaling a conversational transition, are simply variants of anyhow, and originated in Ireland.

The Judge Wants To Spit

 A listener shares a family expression to quiet kids down so the parents can speak.

Business Buzzword Cadence

 If your boss drives you crazy with the word cadence, you’re not alone. This business buzzword, referring to steady, efficient scheduling, was popularized in the 90s after IBM published a paper about sales called Chaos to Cadence. And you know how synergistic the business world is-sooner or later, everyone will be utilizing it!

Wide-Awake Hats

 Those soft felt hats that folks like the guy on the Quaker oatmeal box wear? They’re called wide-awakes. The etymology of this term is actually a pun–a reference to the fact that they’re made out of smooth material that has no nap!

Evolution of “Dope”

 What exactly is dope? Over time, it’s meant marijuana, heroin, steroids, butter, coffee, drugs given to racehorses, and myriad other substances affecting the recipient in some excitable way. The term didn’t come to mean marijuana until the ’40s, and if you were born before 1970s, chances are you’d think stoned means drunk.

Faulty Language Selection

 Amanda Kruel from Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote to say that ten years after learning French, she was studying German and her mind would jump from German to French, instead of English, when she was at a loss for a word. This is known as faulty language selection, and it happens to a lot of polyglots. A Florida community-college professor blogging at Sarah on Sabbatical has a nice roundup of research on the topic. She relates her own experience of working in a hotel in Bavaria and not being able to translate to French for some tourists, even though she spoke French.

Addicting vs. Addictive

 What’s the difference between addicting and addictive? Not much, although addictive is the older term. Grant suggests that addicting is more about a quality of the person being affected, whereas if something’s addictive, that’s an inherent property of the substance itself. So if you can’t log off of Netflix, you’d say that Netflix is addicting.


 When you have to ask someone to repeat themselves three times and you still can’t figure out what they’re saying, you may as well feignderstand, or pretend to understand. It’s yet another made-up term from The Emotionary.

Customers, Patrons, and Guests

 Jerry from New York City is annoyed that clerks in his local drug store and coffee shop baristas refer to him not as a customer, or a patron, but as a guest. He thinks guest sounds contrived, and should be reserved for hoteliers and the like. Well, Disney’s been using guest since the 70s, and more and more businesses are following suit.


 Need a word for the cheerful but futile advice one offers despite knowing that the recipient’s efforts might not pan out? Try floptimism.

Goody’s Moose

 Mike from St. Augustine, Florida, wants to know about a family expression quicker than Goody’s moose. It’s actually a variation of “quicker than Moody’s goose,” which in turn comes from a 19th Irish saying involving a “Mooney’s goose.” No one’s sure who Mooney was.

Irish Miser Saying

 Here’s a traditional Irish saying about someone who’s cheap: He’d skin a louse and send the hide and fat to market.

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

Photo by waferboard. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

TogethernessJungle By NightHiddenKindred Spirits
Gallowstreet 34Jungle By NightHiddenKindred Spirits
Cyclin’Jungle By NightHiddenKindred Spirits
Cantaloupe IslandHerbie HancockEmpyrean IslesBlue Note
E.T.Jungle By NightGet BusyKindred Spirits
Maiden VoyageHerbie HancockMaiden VoyageBlue Note
Hot Mama HotJungle By NightJungle By NightKindred Spirits
Get BusyJungle By NightGet BusyKindred Spirits
BokoorJungle By NightHiddenKindred Spirits
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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  • In the early 1970s, ‘dope’ among the young people I knew meant opiates; however, due to derision of authorities’ claiming that marijuana were the equivalent of heroin, people started using ‘dope’ ironically (in the best-honed sense of that word, as well as in today’s more usual sense of ‘satirically’), as in ‘Yes, Dad, I smoke a joint every couple of months, I’m a huge Dope Fiend.’.

    I forget if it were mentioned in the segment, but ‘doping’ was the application of a substance to the fabric wings of the original æroplanes, so calling ‘airplane glue’ for model kits ‘dope’ were natural, and that cement’s use to get high the subject of yet another overblown drugs-scare in the 1950s and ’60s.

    Somewhere, I’d guess in the book “For God, country, and Coca-Cola”, I’ve read that in some places early imbibers of Atlantan Courage called it ‘dope’; if true, that would place the ‘drugs’ sense of the word at or around the time of the first powered flight.

  • Another use of the word dope is in semiconductors, where one dopes the material in order to make it more or less conductive.

  • Recently I got an e-mail from a friend on vacation titled “Announcement!” and the message simply read, “The Chinese people do not understand Spanish, no matter how loudly you shout it.”

  • Airplane dope (from at least WW-I, for the woozy feeling from prolonged use) was originally cellulose acetate. I was used to fill in the space between threads in fabric- covered aircraft, and to a slight degree to shrink it for a smooth surface. It had even a greater effect on model surfaces, using a rice paper. However, model engine fuel (methanol, castor oil, and nitromethane} had ill effects on the paint and was replaced with cellulose butylrate (also called dope, or specifically fuel-proof dope). That was quickly superseded by mylar plastic literally ironed on with a miniature flatiron and then shrunk with a hair dryer. No dopey feeling at all.

    Guests: I am bugged by most familiarisms in marketing. Particularly Italian Garden’s “You’re like one of the family” slogans. You invite relatives over for dinner and then charge them for it? It’s a business deal; do it with reciprocal courtesy and honesty, but don’t try to make it more than that.

    Goody’s Moose is obviously a Spoonerism of Moody’s Goose, probably first used comedically, and then understood to be the proper form.

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