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See the Elephant

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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.

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 Episode

The Better HalfFunk IncChicken Lickin’Prestige Records, Inc.
Running AwayFunk IncChicken Lickin’Prestige Records, Inc.
Oh! Oh! Here He ComesHerbie HancockFat Albert RotundaWarner Brothers
CreationEl Michels AffairSounding Out The CityTruth and Soul
Slippin’ Into DarknessThe Ramsey Lewis TrioUpendo Ni PamojaColumbia
Fat Albert RotundaHerbie HancockFat Albert RotundaWarner Brothers
Slide ShowEl Michels AffairSounding Out The CityTruth and Soul
BowlegsFunk IncChicken Lickin’Prestige Records, Inc.
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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1 comment
  • 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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