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.

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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 Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
A Day In The Park Michal Urbaniak Ecstasy Brownstone Records
Sound Of The Ghost Clutchy Hopkins Walking Backwards Ubiquity
Quiller Denton and Cook Quiller 45rpm BBC Records
Something In Me Norman Feels Norman Feels Just Sunshine Records
Song For Wolfie Clutchy Hopkins Walking Backwards Ubiquity
Funky Bump Pino Presti Sound 1st Round Atlantic
The Sorcerer of Isis Power of Zeus The Gospel According To Zeus Rare Earth
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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12 Responses

  1. Ron Draney says:

    While I have no doubt that to Jones doesn’t derive from keeping up with the Joneses, some people may associate them because of the Boz Scaggs song “Lowdown”:

    You ain’t got to be so bad got to be so cold
    This dog eat dog existence sure is getting old
    Got to have a Jones for this Jones for that
    This running with the Joneses boy
    Just ain’t where it’s at
    You gonna come back around
    To the sad sad truth the dirty lowdown

    (As for “spider” meaning a long-handled skillet, I wonder if any Southern cooks have put a spider under a salamander.)

  2. “A collection of Bethlehem, Pa.,  slang from 1988  contains such gems as  first, meant to be used interchangeably with  just, as in “She is first eight years old,”

    I wonder if this isn’t some sort of older Proto-Germanic construction. In modern German, you can use “erst” (first) to mean just  in the same kind of context:

    Sie ist erst  acht Jahre alt. (She is just  eight years old)

    The sort of stipulation or requirement that applies here is that it’s not exactly the same meaning as just  as in only, but has some sort of reference to the very beginning of the event or change and the idea that there are things to come after. In this case, that would mean not that she is only  eight years old, but that she has just turned eight years old.

  3. dtisinger says:

    Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock from Big Bang Theory  

  4. telemath says:

    Re: root / rout


    On Whose Line Is It Anyway, there’s a game called “Songs of the…” where someone makes up the title of a song, and someone else has to improvise and sing the song.   In one, they named the song “You’re not on my route,” and pronounced it “root”.   Then, to try to trip up the singer, they changed the pronounciation to “rout”.   The singer worked both pronounciations into his song.


    Here, have a clip:

  5. xheralt says:

    In terms of “fear of losing cel phone”, it’s too bad that “dysphon(e)ia” already names something else.

  6. Glenn says:

    telemath said:

    Re: root / rout


    On Whose Line Is It Anyway, there’s a game called “Songs of the…” where someone makes up the title of a song, and someone else has to improvise and sing the song.   In one, they named the song “You’re not on my route,” and pronounced it “root”.   Then, to try to trip up the singer, they changed the pronounciation to “rout”.   The singer worked both pronounciations into his song.


    Here, have a clip:

    Amazing talent. Thanks for sharing it. In my life, I hear people who use either (ee- or eye-) route (roo- or rao-) depending on their whims. For example, I would say “root 66” and “root 1”. But the verb would be “raot” most of the time.

  7. EmmettRedd says:

    Glenn said:

    … In my life, I hear people who use either (ee- or eye-) route (roo- or rao-) depending on their whims. For example, I would say “root 66” and “root 1”. But the verb would be “raot” most of the time.

    I also use both pronounciations. I have lived on Rural ‘routs’ 1 and 2. I have driven on ‘roots’ 66 and 1.


  8. hippogriff says:

    The generic for Band-Aid is “prepared bandage” as opposed to separate gauze flat and adhesive tape. Cumbersome, but no trade mark infringement. For that matter, aspirin is still Bayer-specific in Canada, with ASA (chemical name) being the generic.


    I am a role-playing game designer and chair of CAR-PGa, an international network of researchers into all aspects of the games, curriculum and therapy as well as recreation. As a result, I am compiling a dictionary of game terms, including etymology and date of first use. Rochambo was the last entry not to have an etymology and thanks for verifying its “origin unknown”. I always thought the count/general association was unreasonable. While the subject is fresh, could you provide the first-use date for rochambo as rock, paper, scissors? Out of just over 1600 entries so far, I have some 350 with no better date than that of my first encounter – hardly adequate scholarship!


    I have never heard spider applied to a skillet, but have to a decorative, tripodal, cast-iron trivet it might rest on to avoid scorching the table.

  9. bobpedersen says:

    A data point about ‘spider’ as a type of skillet. I’ve been curious about this for years, because one of my favorite mystery authors, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, wrote a book called “The Six Iron Spiders” in the 1940s. The titular spiders are cast iron skillets. These books are set in Cape Cod and are very much of that region, so I don’t think the term is exclusively southern.

  10. ggurman says:

    The first time I heard “jones” used in this context was in the Cheech and Chong song, “Basketball Jones.” Even after hearing song, it took me a long time to figure out what it meant.

  11. ablestmage says:

    On the Rock-Paper-Scissors (as I say it) discussion: in Japan, “Janken” is possibly the most widely recognized form, I suspect because of a widely-known (so to speak) janken tournament in which members of the Japanese Pop group “AKB48” competed. AKB48 is an enormous pop-group, whereas all of the members take part in performances — except there are around 48 members. Previously, those the producers chose which would be up front in performances, later the fans got to decide by popular vote (a voting card included in retail packaging for previous releases) who would be in front or more-or-less “lead” in the following release, and recently to be more fair to the members who would not be as likely to place in either of those, a janken tournament was devised — earning lesser-known or less-popular members the chance to share the spotlight and shine up front.

  12. jennythereader says:

    My understanding of a spider is that it’s a specific type of skillet designed to be used over coals on an open fire. You can still find them at stores/websites that cater to re-enactors of various eras.