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So you’ve long dreamed of writing fiction, but don’t know where to begin? There are lots of ways to get started — creative writing classes, local writing groups, and books with prompts to get you going. The key is to get started, and then stick with it. And: which part of the body do surgeons call the goose? Hint: you don’t want a bite of chicken caught in your goose. Also, the nautical origins of the phrase three sheets to the wind. This term for “very drunk” originally referred to lines on a sailboat flapping out of control. Plus, a brain teaser about shortened phrases, toolies, linguistic false friends, skookum, how to pronounce the word bury, what now now means in South Africa, and a whole lot more.

This episode first aired October 19, 2019.

Rare False Friends

 You might assume that the Welsh word plant means the same thing it does in English, but this word is a linguistic false friend. The Welsh word plentyn means “child,” and the word plant means “children.” Some false friends are etymologically unrelated, such as the Italian word burro, “butter,” and the Spanish word burro, “donkey.” Others have a common root, but took divergent paths in different languages. The Latin word fastidium, for example, means “loathing” or “disgust,” and gave rise to Spanish fastidioso, which means “annoying” or “tedious,” but also English fastidious, which has the somewhat more positive meaning of “meticulous.” Gift in German means “poison,” but in Norwegian the same word means “married.”

Pronouncing Bury

 Stacy in Eureka, California, wonders: what’s the proper way to pronounce the word bury? Should it rhyme with jury or cherry

How Much Do You Like?

 Mark from Newport News, Virginia, says his mother, who grew up in Fancy Farm, Kentucky, often used a puzzling phrase. To ask how close he was to completing a task, she’d say what sounded like How much do you like? In parts of the Southern United States lack is pronounced to sound as like does in much of the rest of the country.

Northwest Word Skookum

 The adjective skookum comes from Chinook jargon and is commonly used in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to describe something strong, good, muscular, or powerful, as in a skookum Malamute or a skookum drink

O’Clock Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski is pondering the term o’clock, which is a shortening of the phrase of the clock. What would our language be like if we used that construction all of the time, or as he puts it, all o’time? For example, what similarly constructed term would designate a reverend by the material used to make their clerical garb?

How To Get Started Writing Fiction

 Now that he’s reached mid-life, Jeff in San Diego, California, is eager to start writing fiction, but he worries that creative writing classes may be simply self-indulgent or otherwise unhelpful. He shouldn’t be. Across the nation, older learners can take advantage of excellent and affordable classes in creative writing at places institutions such as the San Diego Community Colleges. Most cities have organizations like San Diego Writers, Ink, which can provide wonderful support, encouragement, and instruction. Or to work completely on your own, try a book like The Lively Muse Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers by Judy Reeves. The key is to get started and then stick to it. Also, make sure to take advantage of all the learning opportunities afforded by festivals and conferences for authors and readers, such as the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books.

Goose, Esophagus

 Rae from Baltimore, Maryland, works in a cardiac intervention lab where surgeons refer to the esophagus as the goose. Is that bit of medical slang limited to her workplace? 

Give Me A Pump On Your Bike

 Mary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says that growing up, she and the kids in her neighborhood used the the verb pump to refer to giving someone a lift on a bicycle. This caused a bit of confusion when she went away to college and puzzled fellow students with requests like Will you pump me over to my dorm? or Just give me a little pumping.

Three Sheets To The Wind Sailing Origins

 Sister Patricia Marie in San Antonio, Texas, wonders why we use three sheets to the wind to describe someone who is inebriated. In nautical terminology, some of the ropes, or lines, attached to the corner of a sail are called sheets. If three of those sheets come loose, the boat is extremely difficult to control, much like a drunk person stumbling around. 

French Now

 The French word for “now,” maintenant, goes back to Latin manu tenendo, which literally refers to the idea of holding something in one’s hand. Over time, that expression also came to mean something that is “at hand” or “immediate.” The English term maintain also derives from Latin words meaning “to hold in the hand.”


 In an earlier episode, Dennis from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, was having trouble recalling a word that denotes the interval between the end of an event or of someone’s life and the death of the last person that has a meaningful memory of it. We had a couple of suggestions, but they weren’t what he was searching for. Fortunately, a listener in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote in with the likely answer: saeculum. The ancient Etruscans and Romans would make a sacrifice to the gods on behalf of everyone alive at the time of a significant event, and when all of those people had died, the gods supposedly sent a sign that a new sacrifice was needed. That period was called a saeculum. The Latin word was adopted whole into English to mean “a long period of time.” The genitive form, saecularis, meaning “of an age,” also gave us secular, referring to worldly matters of a particular period. Secular can also refer to something that exists or occurs through several ages. For example, economists use the term secular inflation to refer to inflation that takes place over a long period of time. Similarly, in his poem “The Garden,” Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to a slow-ripening, secular tree.

Pelay, Piler in Lousiana French

 Growing up in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Ashlie was accustomed to using many Cajun terms, such as sha bébé, a version of cher bébé meaning “poor baby,” ya mom ‘n’ ’em for “your family and circle of friends,” and lagniappe, meaning “a little something extra thrown in.” Another one is pelay, pronounced PEE-lay, which she uses to describe an action like stubbing her toe or bumping her knee. It’s from piler, which according to the Dictionary of Louisiana French has a variety of meanings, including “to trample or crush,” “to beat,” or “to step on someone’s foot.” 

Email Enamel

 The French word for “enamel” is émail, with an acute accent on the e. To avoid confusion, the French use courriel or simply le mail to denote those electronic missives.

I’ll Be With You Now in South Africa Doesn’t Mean Right Now

 John from Orlando, Florida, shares a story about a trip to Capetown, South Africa, where he discovered that the phrase I’ll be with you now meant something more like “Wait a minute.” The expression now now, deriving from an Afrikaans term, is widely used in South Africa to mean “right away.”

In the Toolies/Tules

 The Mexican Spanish term tules means “bulrushes” or “marsh plants.” In parts of California and along the Pacific coast, toolies or tulies refers to a place that’s in a remote area, or in other words, out in the sticks.

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

Photo by Bureau of Land Management. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Lively Muse Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers by Judy Reeves
Dictionary of Louisiana French

Music Used in the Episode

Marvins GrooveB.W. SoulsMarvins Groove 45Round
This Is My Last AffairThe MetersLook-Ka Py Py 45Josie
Holy ThursdayDavid AxelrodSong of InnocenceCapital Records
Generated LoveB.W. SoulsMarvins Groove 45Round
The DrunkJames BrownThe Drunk 45King Records
LondonDavid AxelrodSongs of ExperienceCapital Records
Look-Ka Py PyThe MetersLook-Ka Py Py 45Josie
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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