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Rock Scissors Paper

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Does the thought of going without your cellphone fill you with separation anxiety? Grant and Martha coin some monikers for this modern-day phobia. Also, what’s the best way to win at the game of rock, paper, scissors? Where might you fry eggs in a spider, and where would you refer to a Band-Aid as a plaster? Could sending your child to a language immersion school help the whole family learn a new language? Where’d we get the expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” Also, Yiddish proverbs and slang from the streets to Capitol Hill. This episode first aired March 24, 2012.


 How would you feel if someone took away your smartphone? Nomophobia, the suggested moniker for that anxiety produced by the separation between one and one’s phone, was cooked up by a market research firm. Is there a better term for that awful feeling?


 What exactly is gobbledygook, and where does the word come from? Texas Congressman Maury Maverick coined the word in 1944 to describe the frustrating jargon used by policymakers in Washington. It reminded him of the sound of turkeys gobbling. Incidentally, his grandfather Samuel August Maverick also inspired a term that became popular during the 2008 U.S. elections.

Scissors, Paper, Rock

 What’s the best way to win at scissors, paper, rock? Grant delves into the game’s various monikers, its roots going back centuries in Europe and Asia, and the role it plays among children learning about fairness. Studies have even been done to figure the most advantageous moves in competition: statistically, scissors is your best bet.

Month Word Game

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game called “Words of the Year,” based on phrases containing each month’s three-letter abbreviation. So, an ancient demonym would be TroJAN, for January, and a Derby Day cocktail would be a Mint JULep, for July.

Redd Up the Home

 What does it mean to redd up the home? This phrase is most common in Pennsylvania. It reflects the presence of early Scots-Irish settlers there. The expression means to “pick up” or “tidy up.”

Plaster Bandage

 What’s the difference between a plaster and a Band-Aid? One’s a term used in England for “adhesive bandage” and the other is an American brand name that’s almost completely generified. The use of plaster for this type of bandage in Britain is allusion to the traditional use of sticky pastes to ensure the bandage stayed in place.

Yiddish Project

 The Yiddish Project on Twitter translates Yiddish proverbs into English, such as, “Ask advice from everyone but act with your own mind.” It’s not far from Martha’s favorite advice from her North Carolina-born father: “Milk all the cows you can and then churn your own butter.”

Route Pronunciation

 Should route be pronounced to rhyme with root or stout? It has a long history of rhyming with stout — although anyone who’s traveled Route 66 might prefer to say it differently.

Slang from 1888

 A collection of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, slang from 1888 contains such gems as first, meant to be used interchangeably with just, as in “She is first eight years old,” and coffee soup, bread with coffee poured over it.

Language Immersion Schools Follow-Up

 We’ve received plenty of feedback about language immersion schools, and many who’ve attended say that not only did they learn both English and another language fluently by third or fourth grade, but often the whole family picked up some of the new language, too.

Jonesing Origin

 Where does the phrase jonesing for come from? Heroin addicts first introduced the expression in the early 1960s, but like many bits of slang, it soon left its original subculture and entered the mainstream vernacular. There’s no evidence to support the idea that it comes from “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Tear the Rag Off the Bush

 The Southern idiom tear the rag off the bush has been used when scandalous relationships are revealed, but it’s also applicable to anything surprising. It’s similar to “Don’t that beat all?” and “Doesn’t that take the cake?” Its etymology is uncertain, although it may have to do with old-fashioned shooting contests in which someone would drape a rag on a bush as a target. The winner would be the one who knocked it off.

Chiasmus and Antimetabole

 Chiasumus, also known as antimetabole, is a somewhat symmetrical expression like John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” or “Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.” The great philosopher Alfred E. Neuman bequeathed to us a bit of wisdom with a somewhat similar structure: “We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.”

When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do

 When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But wait, what did the Romans do, anyway, and where does that phrase come from? It pops up at least as early as the late 4th century in St. Augustine’s writings, when he moved from Rome to Milan and inquired of a bishop as to whether he should keep his old routines.

Spider Skillet

 Why are skillets also called spiders? Some of the three-legged, long-handled pans used for frying actually resemble spiders.

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

Photo by Mike Souza. Used under a Creative Commons license.f

Music Used in the Episode

A Day In The ParkMichal UrbaniakEcstasyBrownstone Records
Sound Of The GhostClutchy HopkinsWalking BackwardsUbiquity
QuillerDenton and CookQuiller 45rpmBBC Records
Something In MeNorman FeelsNorman FeelsJust Sunshine Records
Song For WolfieClutchy HopkinsWalking BackwardsUbiquity
Funky BumpPino Presti Sound1st RoundAtlantic
The Sorcerer of IsisPower of ZeusThe Gospel According To ZeusRare Earth
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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