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Riddled Through with Riddles

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Here’s a riddle: “Nature requires five, custom gives seven, laziness takes nine, and wickedness eleven.” Think you know the answer? You’ll find it in this week’s episode, in which Grant and Martha discuss this and other brain-busters. Also: how did the phrase “going commando” come to be slang for “going without underwear”? And which word is correct: orient or orientate?

This episode first aired October 25, 2008.

Sleep Numbers Riddle

 Here’s a riddle: “Nature requires five, custom gives seven, laziness takes nine, and wickedness eleven.” Think you know the answer?

Go Commando

 To “go commando” means to “go without underwear.” But why commando? An Indiana listener says the term came up in conversation with her husband after one of them had a near-wardrobe malfunction. She mercifully leaves the rest to the imagination, but still wonders about the term. Grant says its popularity zoomed after a popular episode of “Friends.” Watch the clips here: part one, part two.

My Dogs are Barking

 A woman who grew up in India says she was baffled when someone with aching feet complained, “My dogs are barking.” The answer may lie in a jocular rhyme.

Guess the Animal Riddle

 Martha is baffled when Grant shares another riddle involving “four stiff standers, two lookers, two crookers, and one switchbox.” Can you figure out the answer?

Classics Class Quiz

 To-ga! To-ga! To-ga! John Chaneski’s latest quiz, “Classics Class,” has the hosts rooting around for the ancient Greek and Latin origins of English words.

Single Coast Bicoastal

 Those who commute coast-to-coast are bicoastals. But what do you call someone who commutes along the same coast—between, say, Miami and New York? A woman who now travels regularly between Northern and Southern California to visit the grandchildren wonders what to call herself. She’s already considered and nixed “bipolar.” The hosts try to come up with other suggestions.


 Remember when no one ever thought about adding the suffix “-gate” to a word to indicate a scandal? Now there’s Troopergate, Travelgate, Monicagate, Cameragate, Sandwichgate, and of course, the mother of all gates, Watergate. Grant talks about the flood of “-gate” words inspired by that scandal from the 1970s.

May vs. Might

 An Atlanta listener seeks clarification about the difference between may and might. Might “may” be used to express a possibility, or is “might” a better choice?

Bottle Room and Shred

 In this week’s slang quiz, a member of the National Puzzlers’ League from Somerville, Massachusetts, tries to guess the meaning of bottle room and shred, the latter as used in the context of snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing.

Orient vs. Orientate

 Do you cringe when you hear the words orientate and disorientate? A copy editor in Waldoboro, Maine does. She’d rather hear “orient” and “disorient.” The hosts weigh in on that extra syllable.


 They were the last words Abraham Lincoln heard before John Wilkes Booth assassinated him: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside-out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap!” Booth knew that this line from the play Our American Cousin would get a big laugh, so he chose that moment to pull the trigger. A Wisconsin listener wants to know the meaning and origin of that curious word, sockdologizing. If you want to read the whole play, which has some silly wordplay and a dopey riddle or two, it’s online at Project Gutenberg.

Preventative vs. Preventive

 Does one take preventive or preventative measures? A caller in Ocean Beach, California, who just graduated from an exercise science program wants to know which of these terms describes what she’s been studying.

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

Photo by Hisham Binsuwaif. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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