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Pumpkin Floater

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Your telephone is for talking, right? Or is it? We’re guessing it’s been a while since you sat next to a telephone waiting for it to ring. In fact, maybe you’re one of those people who HATE to see that voicemail message light blinking. But for many of us, waiting for a text is a different. Also, California may be the “Dude!” capital of the country, but the term “dude” actually comes from New York City. And where exactly do you eat tweezer food? Plus, donning and doffing our clothes, tweezer food, the origin of kowtow, emcee, Arby’s, and -orama, and modern etiquette for wedding invitations. This episode first aired June 13, 2014.

Birthplace of “Dude”

  Sorry, Californians—the word dude actually comes from New York City, and goes all the way back to the 1800s.

Foreign Word Origins

  A Panama City, Florida, caller wants to know the origin of kowtow, as in “to agree in an excessively eager or annoying way.” Kowtow comes from a Chinese term that means “to bow extremely low out of respect,” from words that literally mean “knock head.” The same caller asks about bated, as in bated breath. It’s a shortening of abate, from Old French abatre, meaning “to beat down.”

Pumpkin Floaters

  There are many slang terms for a heavy rain, including one suggestion from a caller: pumpkin floater.


  Flight crews have a word for colleagues who check into a hotel, slam the door behind them, lock it shut, and don’t re-emerge until checkout time. They’re called slam-clickers.

Invitation Etiquette

  Addressing a wedding invitation to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is pretty old-fashioned. It’s more than appropriate these days to address both a husband and wife by their respective names. But if you’re inviting someone who prefers the old-fashioned style, best to honor their preference.

In-Flight Lingo

  When flight attendants use the terms feather, leather, or fin, they’re talking about “chicken, beef, or fish.”

Celebrity Name Trivia Game

  Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has sandwiched together the first letters of first and last names for a trivia game about famous folks.

Origin of “Panorama”

  Long before English speakers adopted the suffix –orama, as in Scoutorama and smell-o-rama, there was French word panorama referring to “a great display or spectacle.” Panorama comes from Greek words that mean “whole view.” University of Alabama professor Michael Piccone details the development panorama in French in his book Anglicisms, Neologisms, and Dynamic French. In English, panorama first referred to spectacular, long paintings slowly unscrolled before 19th-century audiences, and later inspired other words that likewise ended in -orama.

Firefighter Attire

  Firefighters don and doff their equipment, words that derive from “do on” and “do off.” New York City firefighters’ buff-colored uniforms apparently inspired our word buff, as in a fan — a reference to fire enthusiasts who would show up in buff-colored coats to watch firefighters at work.

Flight Attendant Discourse

  A caller from Burlington, Vermont, has observed a slight change in the language of flight attendants’ instructions, replacing your with that. Instead of saying “Put your coat in the overhead compartment,” the ones on the airline she frequents say, “Put that coat in the overhead compartment.” Linguistic anthropologist Barbara Clark has analyzed the scripted language of flight attendants and finds their deferential speech is calculated in part to gain the respect and loyalty of passengers.

Texting vs. Calling

  Remember when teenagers used to sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring? Now ask teenagers if they do anything but text.

Misplaced Euphemisms in Newscasts

  Newscasters are going overboard with the euphemisms for death, like passed away, or simply passed. If someone died, it’s fine to say exactly that.

Jaggin Around

  Jaggin around is a classic Pittsburghese term for “fooling around,” or “to poke fun or play tricks.” It’s likely related to jaggerbush, meaning a “thorny bush.”

Tweezer Food

  You know when you go to a fancy restaurant and order something where every little ingredient looks like it was placed there with a tweezer? There’s a term for that stuff: tweezer food.

Phonetically Spelled Words

  Emcee, or “Master of Ceremonies,” is one of many cases where the initials of something are spelled out phonetically, like okay, deejay, jaycee, or Arby’s. Although every letter of the alphabet can be sounded out this way, few words fall into this category.

Industry Street Names

  Some New York City street names also denote whole industries, such as Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

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

Photo by Staffan Scherz. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Anglicisms, Neologisms, and Dynamic French by Dr. Michael D. Picone

Music Used in the Episode

Funky BroadwayThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Rocky Mountain RoundaboutThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Hip JiggerThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
The Rat CageBeastie BoysThe Mix-UpCapitol
Senior ThumpThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Sweet Soul MusicThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Dramstically DifferentBeastie BoysThe Mix-UpCapitol
Dr. Jekyll and Hyde ParkThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
LandscapeThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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