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Punch List

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Books for sale, books for free, and wisdom passed down through the ages. Libraries aren’t just repositories for books — they’re often a great place to find gently used volumes for sale. Or you can always visit a “little free library” — a neighborhood spot dedicated to recycling your own books, and picking up new ones for free. Plus: “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers” — weighty proverbs from East Africa. Finally, the United States and the UK are separated by more than a common language: the way we talk about numbers is also surprisingly different, depending on which side of the pond you’re on. Also: “I don’t know him from Adam,” stargazy pie, “my dogs are barking,” and cheiloproclitic. Ruminate on that!

This episode first aired July 12, 2016. It was rebroadcast the weekend of April 17, 2017.

East African Proverbs

 The stunning play “Our Lady of Kibeho”, set in Rwanda, includes some powerful East African proverbs gathered by playwright Katori Hall, such as “A flea can bother a lion, but a lion cannot bother a flea,” and “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

Origin of Ruminate

 A caller from Deer River, Minnesota, has lots of experience raising ruminants and wonders if the word ruminate, as in “to ponder or muse about something” stems from the image of such an animal chewing regurgitated cud. Indeed it does. In classical Latin, the word ruminare could mean either “to chew cud” or “to turn over in one’s mind.” Similarly, the English verb to browse originally referred to the action of an animal feeding on the buds and leaves of trees and bushes.

I Don’t Know Him from Adam

 The phrase “I don’t know him from Adam” suggests that if the person were standing next to the person in Western tradition thought to be earliest human being, the two would be indistinguishable. The phrase “I don’t know her from Adam” can be used to refer to a woman who is similarly unrecognizable, but it’s less common. Another variation: “I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s off ox.”

Auntie Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski invites us to a party to meet all of his dear “aunties” — as in the “auntie” who makes sure your oily hair doesn’t mess up the furniture.

Etymology of Punch List

 Since the 1930’s the term “punch list” has referred to a list of things to do, or a list of problems to fix. Although there are many proposed explanations for the origin of this term, none is definitive.


 A caller from Tampa, Florida, talks about the eerie feeling she had when she heard an audio interview recorded with a speaker who at the time was unaware of his imminent death. She’d like a word to describe that feeling. Postalgia, maybe?

Smell the Patching

 An Alabama woman says her Minnesota-born husband has never heard an expression she’s used all her life. The phrase is “smell the patching,” as in “If he’s not careful, he’s going to smell the patching.” The idea is that if you do something bad, it will catch up with you. In the early 19th century, patching was the piece of cloth used to tamp down gunpowder in firearms. If you’re close enough to a battle to smell the patching, you’re pretty darn close.

Little Free Libraries

 The Little Free Library movement offers a great way to unload some of your old books and discover some ones that someone else has left for the taking.


 A listener in Hartford, Connecticut, is sure he’s heard a word that means “an erotic attraction to lips.” The word is cheiloproclitic, from ancient Greek words that mean “inclined toward lips.” Grant offers a couple of other terms, jolie laide, French for “beautiful ugly,” and cacocallia, from Greek words that mean roughly the same thing.

Numbers: US vs. UK

 Those of us in the United States and Britain may be separated by a common language, but we’re also separated when it comes to how we indicate numbers. A Numberphile video featuring linguist Lynne Murphy explains this in more depth.

Stargazy Pie

 If you think stargazy pie sounds romantic, you’d better be charmed by egg-and-potato pie with fish heads sticking out of it.

My Dogs are Barking

 My dogs are barking means “My feet hurt” or “My feet are tired.” As early as 1913, cartoonist Tad Dorgan was using the term dogs to mean “feet.” If your “dogs” in this sense are “barking,” it’s as if they’re seeking your attention.

Textile Mill Signs

 In an earlier episode, we discussed visual signals used in deafening environments such as sawmills. One signal, developed in a textile mill, was holding up both hands, fingertips up and palms out, miming a gesture of pushing. That pushing motion translated to, of course, “The boss,” as in “The boss is coming, so look sharp!”

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

Photo by Franco Folini. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

River NigerWarPlatinum JazzIsland Records
The Cisco KidWarThe World Is A GhettoUnited Artists Records
Lady, You Look Good To MeGalt McDermottShapes of RhythmKilmarnock
All Day MusicWarAll Day MusicUnited Artists Records
Coffee ColdGalt McDermottShapes of RhythmKilmarnock
JuntosEl ChicanoCelebrationKAPP Records
Viva TiradoGerald WilsonThe Best Of The Gerald Wilson OrchestraWorld Pacific Jazz
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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