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See A Man About A Horse

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Stories From The Onion

 In this week’s episode, Martha and Grant discuss not-to-be-believed articles about language from the satirical newspaper The Onion, including one headlined “Underfunded Schools Forced to Cut Past Tense from Language Programs.” By the way, did you ever notice how “ONION” is ZO-ZO if you tilt your head to the right?

This episode first aired January 12, 2008.

Tide Me Over

 A caller has a friendly disagreement with a pal: Is the expression “tide me over” or “tie me over”? Hint: The answer she gets should tide her over.

To Commentate

 If a dictator dictates, and an aviator aviates, then does a commentator “commentate”? A caller complains that this last word gives him the willies. Does an alligator alligate?

Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper

 A middle-schooler who’s reading Anne of Green Gables is puzzled by a mention of “breakfast, dinner, and supper.” She wants to know if the words “dinner” and “lunch” really interchangeable.

Animal Name Word Puzzle

 The fur flies when Greg Pliska unleashes a word puzzle involving the names of animals.

Origin of “See a Man about a Horse”

 Also speaking of animals, an immigrant from India recounts his confusion the first time he heard the expression “I’m going to go see a man about a horse.” How in did that become a euphemism for “I’m going to go to the bathroom”?


 A former West Virginian reports that she grew up hearing a strange word: charny. In her part of the country, she says, it means “dirty” or “filthy,” and she always heard it pronounced “chee-YAR-nee.”


 This week’s Slang This! contestant, a comic-book illustrator from Providence, R.I., tries to guess the meaning of the expressions “hat-catcher” and “to go shucks.”

The Longest Word in English

 What IS the longest word in the English language? “Antidisestablishmentarianism”? “Floccinaucinihilipilification”? Or “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” maybe? Martha and Grant discuss such sesquipedalian contenders for the title of Longest English Word. For the rest of that list of long words that Martha mentioned, check out AskOxford.com.

Punctuation and Quotation Marks

 Where do you put those exclamation points and question marks– do they go inside or outside the quotation marks? Can you say, “We have the answer!”?

Banish “Biweekly”

 Confused about whether biweekly means “twice a week” or “twice a month”? Martha rants about why the using the words “biweekly” and “bimonthly” at all is a bad idea, period.


 Grant shares listener email about the origin and meaning of the term g-job.

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

Photo by Pauli Carmody. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Onion stories we like:

Copy Editor’s Revenge Takes Form Of Unhyphenated Word

Our Street Gangs Are Probably Using Bad Language

Rules Grammar Change

Someday, I Will Copyedit The Great American Novel

Nation’s Educators Alarmed By Poorly Written Teen Suicide Notes

Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master’s Thesis

Underfunded Schools Forced to Cut Past Tense from Language Programs

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Anne of Green Gables by Lisa Montgomery

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