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Secret Gibberish

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What do pigs have to do with piggyback rides? We get a lesson from a listener in the fine art of speaking gibberish. What’s the correct way to pronounce pecan? The French have the Academie Française, but what authority do we have for the English language? Also, what you should do when someone yells, “Hold ’er Newt! She’s headed for the barn!” This episode first aired January 27, 2012.

Unusual Words

 Martha and Grant share some favorite unusual words. Omphaloskepsis is a fancy term for “navel-gazing,” from the Greek omphalos, meaning “navel.” Mumbleteenth is a handy substitute when a number is too embarrassing to mention, as in, “Socrates the omphaloskeptic questioned himself for the mumbleteenth time.”

Double Talk

 Double-talk, or doublespeak, is a form of gibberish that involves adding ib or other syllables to existing words. This sort of wordplay has been used among criminals using double-talk to communicate on the sly.

Pecan Pronunciation

 You say puh-KAHN, I say PEE-can. Just how do you pronounce the name of the nut called a pecan? Turns out, there are several correct pronunciations.

Window Shopping

 Window-shopping became popular pastime along New York’s 5th Avenue back in the days when stores closed at 5 p.m. Passersby would stroll past, gazing at the window displays without intending to purchase anything. The French term for “window shopping,” lecher les vitrines, literally translates as “window-licking.”


 The word plangent, which means “loud” and sometimes has a melancholy ring to it, is an apt descriptor for movie soundtracks.

Word Reversals Game

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski revives a classic game of word reversals called Get Back. What palindromic advice would you give to someone who ought to stay away from baked goods? How about snub buns? If, on the other hand, you’ve highlighted the pastries, then you’ve stressed desserts.

Silly Changed Meaning

 The word silly didn’t always have its modern meaning. In the 1400s, silly meant happy or blessed. Eventually, “silly” came to mean weak or in need of protection. Other seemingly simple words have shifted meanings as the English language developed: the term girl used to denote either a boy or a girl, and the word nice at one time meant ignorant.

Who Decides What’s Good English?

 Is there an English language authority like the Real Academia Española or the Academie Française? Dictionaries often have usage panels made up of expert linguists, but English is widely agreed to be a constantly shifting language. Even in France and Spain, the common vernacular often doesn’t follow that of the authorities.


 How do double rainbows form? Scientists at University of California San Diego have explained that extra-large droplets, known as burgeroids because of their burger-like shape, have the effect of creating a double rainbow. Burgeroids, all the way!

Bummer Origins

 The word bummer originates from the German bummler, meaning “loafer,” as in a lazy person. In English, the word bum had a similar meaning, and by the late 1960s, phrases like bum deal or bum rap lent themselves to the elongated bummer, referring to something that’s disheartening or disappointing.

Sleeping Pallet; Me vs. I Rule

 Many in the South know a pallet to be a stack of blankets or a makeshift bed. The classic blues song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” gives a perfect illustration.

The “I vs. me” grammatical rule isn’t hard to remember. Just leave the other person out of the sentence. You wouldn’t say “me am going to a movie” or “Dad took I to a movie.”

Empathic vs. Empathetic

 What’s the difference between empathic and empathetic? Empathic is the older word, meaning that one has empathy for another, but the two are near-perfect synonyms, and thus interchangeable.


 Do you suffer from FOMO? That’s an acronym fueled by Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites. It stands for “fear of missing out.”


 What does a piggyback ride have to do with pigs? Not much. In the 16th century, the word was pickaback, meaning to pitch or throw on one’s back. It’s had dozens of spellings over the past few centuries, but perhaps the word piggy has contributed to its popularity among children.


 You know how it is when you encounter a word and then suddenly you start noticing it everywhere? One that’s seemed to pop up is cray, or cray-cray, a slang variant of crazy.

Hold ’Er Newt

 Hold ’er, Newt! This primarily Southern idiom means either “Hold on tight!” or “Giddy-up!” It apparently derives from the idea of a high-spirited horse. Variants of this expression sometimes add “she’s headed for the rhubarb” or “she’s headed for the barn!”

Chekhov Quote

 Some classic advice for writers from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Photo by Chad Miller. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Gee-GeeCalvin KeysShawn NeeqBlack Jazz
Also Sprach ZarathustraDeodatoPreludeCTI
Faut Ramasser Les BananesLe Grand Orchestre d’Alain GoraguerFaut Ramasser Les Bananes 45rpmDisques Temey
Strange Games & ThingsLove Unlimited OrchestraThe Funk Essentials 12″ Collection and MoreIsland Records
September 13DeodatoPreludeCTI
Mellow Music9th CreationMellow Music 45rpmTrack Records
I Hate I Walked AwaySyl JohnsonBack For A Taste Of Your LoveHi Records
Ringo RockThe Soul VendorsStudio One ScorcherSoul Jazz Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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  • I’ll need to re-listen to the episode to see how “pecan” is handled, but this brings to mind a story we recently listened to while on vacation. (I believe it was The Search for Belle Prater but am not certain.) One of the characters states that a PEE-can is what you keep under the bed. Made me laugh, because I’ve always been in the puh-KAHN camp myself!

  • Ron Draney: There is no term for a young great anteater (which prefers termites), but another ant eating endentate, the armadillo, has pups, so maybe that will work.

    P’kahn is the state tree of Texas, but the state nut is the governor. A pea can is a cylindrical metal container for monocote legumes.

    Bullnettle seeds can substitute for the pecans. Use kitchen tongs to pick the pods as soon as the part between the lobes turns white. Put them in nesting cans in the sun until they pop (without the enclosure, they will pop several feet and never be found). Shell with a pocket knife and use a pecan recipe for the pie. They taste between a peanut and sunflower seed. The disadvantage is they take a long time shelling to get enough for a pie.

    The guide’s false etymology sounded disgustingly like the treatment of “second class” citizens under Jim Crow and I would have pointed it out had I been there.

  • There is a single open quotation mark instead of an apostrophe in ” ‘Hold ‘er Newt! She’s headed for the barn!’ ”

    Word curls up the apostrophes the wrong way when they come at the beginnings of words, but Word is assuming they are meant as single quotation marks. So this is an error.

  • polyorchid, it’s a function of the open-source editor that WordPress uses and quite an annoyance. I’ll manually put the curvy quote in there but I know there are lots of other places like this on the site. I change them when I see them.

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