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The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning “seven,” “eight,” “nine,” and “ten.” So why don’t their names correspond to where they fall in the year? The answer lies in an earlier version of the Roman calendar. • The sweltering period called the “dog days” takes its name from the movements of a certain star. • A new book offers an insider’s view of the world of dictionary editing. This episode first aired May 7, 2017.

Rubber Jar Opener Thingy

 You’re trying to unscrew the stubborn lid on a jar of pickles and ask someone to hand you that flat, round, rubber thing that helps you get it open. What do you call it? In a discussion on our Facebook group, listeners share several names, including rubber husband, second husband, rubber grippy thing, and round tuit.

How Was “Gnarly” Coined?

 A surfer in Imperial Beach, California, wonders who coined the word gnarly to describe waves that are particularly challenging. This term may have originated in the slang of surfers in South Africa in the 1970s and eventually spread into everyday slang.

Sky Hag

 The slang term sky hag was originally a negative appellation for an older flight attendant. But it’s now being reclaimed by longtime airline employees as a positive self-descriptor.

Promulgating Your Esoteric Cogitations

 A woman in Mammoth Lakes, California, says her father used to offer this advice: “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, beware of preposterous ponderosities. In other words, don’t use big words.” This particular phrase and variations of it were passed around in 19th century, much like internet memes today.

Gram Weenie

 Gram weenie is a slang term for an ultralight backpacker who goes to extreme lengths to shave off every last bit of weight they must carry.

Blank in the Blank Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares puzzle called “Blank in the Blank.” For example, what classic toddler’s toy shares its name with a fast-food restaurant?

Emoji Word Origins

 A college student in Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the origin of the word emoji. Although you might guess that the name for these little pictures inserted into text messages contains the English word emotion, that’s just a coincidence. Instead, the word derives from Japanese e meaning “picture” and moji, meaning “letter” or “character.”


 The phrase to be nebby is heard particularly in Western Pennsylvania, and means to be “picky” or “gossipy.” Originally, it meant “nosy” or “snooping.” Nebby is a vestige of Scots-Irish, where the word neb means “nose” or “beak.”

World Schooling

 Some parents take homeschooling a step further with world-schooling, or educating children through shared travel experiences.

Las Caniculas

 A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls hearing the term las caniculas to denote a period of 12 days in January where the weather seems to run the gamut of all the kinds of weather that will be experienced in the coming year. This period is also known as las cabañuelas. Canicula derives from Latin for “little dog,” a reference to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which at a certain time of the year appears in the eastern horizon just before sunrise, appearing to accompany the sun like a faithful pup. There’s a great deal of folklore associated with la canicula, a term applied at different times in different Spanish-speaking countries. In English, this period in late summer is known as the dog days.

A Great Book by a Dictionary Editor

 Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, is a must-read for anyone interested in language and how dictionaries are made.

Why the Month Names Don’t Match Their Order

 The months September, October, November, and December derive from Latin words that mean “seven,” “eight,” “nine,” and “ten” respectively. So why are they applied to the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months of the year? The answer lies in the messy history of marking the year, described in detail in David Duncan’s book, Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.


 A sneck is a kind of latch. A listener in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says his British relatives sometimes use the term snecklifter to mean “a gift that will get you in the door at a dinner party.”

A Gender-Neutral Plural Pronoun for Talking to Groups

 A U.S. Forest Service firefighter in Lakeland, Florida, also teaches classes on chainsaw safety, and wants to make sure he’s using gender-neutral pronouns when doing so. The epicene pronoun they will work just fine.

The Origiins of Skedaddle

 The origin of skedaddle, meaning to “run away in a panic” or “flee,” has proved elusive. Renowned etymologist Anatoly Liberman suggests it may be related to a Scottish term, skeindaddle, meaning “to spill.” Its popularity in the United States took off during the Civil War.

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

Photo by Derek Socrates Finch. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year

Music Used in the Episode

ConcentrateThe GatursWastedFunky Delicacies
HerculesAaron NevilleHercules / Gossip 45rpmJazzman
Make The Road By WalkingMenahan Street BandMake The Road By WalkingDaptone
Nobody But YouThe GatursWastedFunky Delicacies
Tired Of FightingMenahan Street BandMake The Road By WalkingDaptone
WastedThe GatursWastedFunky Delicacies
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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