If you’ve “seen the elephant,” it means you’ve been in combat. But why an elephant? Martha and Grant also discuss some odd idioms in Spanish, including one that translates as “your bowtie is whistling.” And what names do you call your grandparents?

This episode first aired January 22, 2011.

Download the MP3.

 Bangladesh Mustache Idiom
If you’re in Bangladesh, the expression that translates as “oiling your mustache in anticipation of the jackfruit tree bearing fruit” makes perfect sense. In English, it means “don’t count your chickens.” A discussion thread on Reddit with this and many other examples has Martha and Grant talking about odd idioms in other languages.

 Fixin’ To
A Marine stationed in California says that growing up in North Carolina, he understood the expression fixin’ to mean “to be about to.”

Some office workers say their word processor’s spellchecker always flags the words overnighted and overnighting. Are those words acceptable in a business environment?

 Venezuelan Potato Idiom
“You really love peeled potatoes.” That’s a translation of a Venezuelan idiom describing someone who’s lazy. Grant and Martha share other idioms from South America.

 Blank My Blank Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word puzzle called “Blank My Blank.”

 Land o’ Goshen
A woman in Burlington, Vermont, says her mother used to use the expression land o’ Goshen! to express surprise or amazement. Where is Goshen?

 I’m All Set
A Yankee transplant to the South says that restaurant servers are confused when he tells them, “I’m all set.” Is he all set to continue his meal, or all set to leave?

 Thirty Purple Birds
A woman in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, remembers a ditty she learned from her mother about “thirty purple birds,” but with a distinctive pronunciation that sounds more like “Toidy poipel blackbirds / Sittin’ on a coibstone / Choipin’ and boipin’ / And eatin’ doity oithworms.” Here’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers version.

 Writing Advice from an Editor
Martha offers excellent writing advice from the former editor of People magazine, Landon Y. Jones.

 Mamaw and Papaw
A former Texan wonders if only Texans use the terms Mamaw and Papaw instead of Grandma and Grandpa.

 Argentine Handrail Idiom
Martha shares some Argentine idioms, including one that translates as “What a handrail!” for “What a bad smell!”

 Origin of Military Expression
A West Point graduate says he and fellow members of the military use the expression He has seen the elephant to mean “He’s seen combat.” Grant explains that this expression originated outside the military.

 Flesh Out vs. Flush Out
Do you flesh out a plan or flush out a plan?

 Argentine Worm Idiom
Another Argentine idiom goes arrugaste como frenada de gusano. It means “You were scared,” but literally, it’s “You wrinkled like a stopping worm.”

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

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
The Better Half Funk Inc Chicken Lickin’ Prestige Records, Inc.
Running Away Funk Inc Chicken Lickin’ Prestige Records, Inc.
Dove Cymande Cymande Collectables
Oh! Oh! Here He Comes Herbie Hancock Fat Albert Rotunda Warner Brothers
Creation El Michels Affair Sounding Out The City Truth and Soul
Slippin’ Into Darkness The Ramsey Lewis Trio Upendo Ni Pamoja Columbia
Fat Albert Rotunda Herbie Hancock Fat Albert Rotunda Warner Brothers
Slide Show El Michels Affair Sounding Out The City Truth and Soul
Bowlegs Funk Inc Chicken Lickin’ Prestige Records, Inc.
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

  1. tchellman says:

    We called my paternal grandmother “Ah-ha,” as in the affirmative. We all called her that because we thought that was her name because that’s all she ever said to our questions. We would ask “Why?” and she would just answer “Ah-ha.”
    Grandpa was always Poppy, but not for the reason you’d think. We called him Poppy because of Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop. I would always read it and when I got to that part would hop and jump on grandpa’s chest. Heaven know’s how he endured it!

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