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Sexy Prunes

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You’re in a business meeting. Is it bad manners to take out your phone to send or read a text? A new study suggests that how you feel about mid-meeting texting differs depending on your age and sex. Grant and Martha offer book recommendations for readers and writers on your gift list. And why do people from Boston sound the way they do? Plus, how translators translate, sky vs. skies, caboose vs. crummy, gentleman cows, orey-eyed, and an entire rap song without the letter E. This episode first aired December 14, 2013.

Phone Etiquette in Meetings

 A new study finds that 20-somethings think it’s okay to text and read emails during meetings, and men are more likely than women to approve.


 Orey-eyed, meaning “enraged,” comes from the Scots language. Orey dates at least as far back as the 1700s, and has meant many different things, including “drunk.”

Sky vs. Skies

 A TV meterologist in Morehead, Minnesota, wonders about the word sky. Is it incorrect to use it in the plural? We often refer to the skies over a large area, as in “the skies over Kansas.”

Combining Words Puzzle

 This week’s quiz from John Chaneski is a fill-in-the-blank game.

Literature Translation Issues

 How do translators of literature decide which words to use? B.J. Epstein, a Chicago native now living in the UK, is a translator with an excellent blog on the subject called Brave New Words.

Say “Prunes!”

 You think you look sexy saying “Cheese!” as a photographer snaps away? Better yet, try cooing “Prunes!”

Train Crummy

 Train conductors sometimes refer to the caboose as the crummy. The name may derive from the idea of crew workers leaving crumbs and other garbage all over the back of that last car. Gandy dancers are railroad maintenance workers whose synchronized movements while straightening tracks resemble dancing.

Declining an Invitation

 E.B. White knew a thing or two about artfully declining an invitation.

Doppich and Grex

 The word doppich means “clumsy or awkward,” is used primarily in Southeastern and South Central Pennsylvannia, and goes back to a German word for the same. Another handy word with Pennsylvania Dutch roots: grex, also spelled krex, meaning “to complain.” Speaking of the language of that area, Grant can’t wait to get his hands on Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher.

Holiday Book Recommendations

 For this year’s holiday book recommendations, Grant goes with his son’s current favorite, Valley Cats by Gretchen Preston, while Martha enthusiastically recommends Quack This Way, a transcribed conversation about writing and language between Bryan Garner and David Foster Wallace.

Origin of Boston Accent

 The stereotypical Boston accent is non-rhotic, meaning it drops the “r” sound. Before World War II, such lack of rhoticity was considered prestigious and was taught to film and radio actors to help them sound sophisticated.


 Is it okay to use the term hospitalized? A journalist says a professor taught him never to use the term because it’s unspecific and reflects laziness on the part of the writer.

Songs to Wear Pants To

 Andrew Huang of Songs To Wear Pants To has met his listeners’ challenge and written a rap song without the letter “E.”

Bull vs. Gentleman Cow

 A caller from Amherst, Massachusetts, says that her grandmother, born in 1869, never called a bull a “bull,” but instead simply called it “the animal.” This kind of euphemism, along with “gentleman cow,” supposedly helped avoid the delicate topic of the bull’s role in breeding.

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

Photo by jules:stonesoup. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher
Valley Cats by Gretchen Preston
Quack This Way by David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner

Music Used in the Episode

HastleAlan HawkshawMo ‘Hawk – The Essential Vibes and Grooves 1967 – 1975RPM Records
The CylinderMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry of Milt JacksonAtlantic
Blue NoteAlan HawkshawMo ‘Hawk – The Essential Vibes and Grooves 1967 – 1975RPM Records
Girl In a SportscarAlan HawkshawMo ‘Hawk – The Essential Vibes and Grooves 1967 – 1975RPM Records
Beat Me Till I’m BlueThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
Makin’ WhopeeMilt JacksonThe Ballad Artistry of Milt JacksonAtlantic
Senor ThumpThe MohawksThe ChampPama Records
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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