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So, Paint Chips Ahoy!

Howdy from Wordville!

In this week’s archive edition of “A Way with Words,” we talk about Mushroom Basket, Moose Point, and other wacky names given to paint chips and nail polish colors. We also discussed the origin of “spam” and “gringo” and “bobo,” the expression “naked as a needle,” rhyming jingles, the use of dashes in prose, and whether it’s okay to refer to an event as the “first annual” something.


That chat about paint chips brought lots of email. James White, who works in the garment and mattress manufacturing business in Fort Worth, sent a long list of favorite fabric and thread names he’s collected over the years, including Godzilla green, turkey red, dirt brown, Cleopatra white, domingo blue, hypatra gold, falling gold stars, copycat gold, burwood cloud blue, gold lurex, tostado tan, and hospital green. “The one I love,” he adds, “is ‘gray gray.'” Maybe he should suggest james white?

But seriously, have a little sympathy for the namers, writes Janet Bird of Dallas. She used to work in marketing for an international cosmetics firm, and had the task of coming up with names for lipstick and other makeup. “When you are dealing with the multitude versions of the color ‘beige’ you have to differentiate the shades with different names. Now consider that every year there are new shades of ‘beige’ being sold. Hence, the person coming up with names sometimes has to get very creative in order to describe ‘beige.'”

Good point, Janet. We’ll grant you that it probably does take a lot of creativity, so maybe we shouldn’t knock ’em if we can’t come up with 100 names for beige ourselves. Let’s see…”rawhide chew,” “pencil shavings,” “Cheerios”…whoa, you’re right. It’s not so easy.

Artist Jenn Gooch of Denton, Texas, wrote that paint chips served as an inspiration for her. When she and her roommate were arguing about what color to paint a room, “the names made the argument so absurd. Soon the sets of color represented their collective names to me, like a strange abstract poem.” Hence — what else? — paint-chip haiku:


We learned from looking around Jenn’s site that she’s the kind of artist who can find inspiration in a single word. In the following short video, she explores “the text message as a symbol for the course of a relationship.”


Regarding “first annual,” which we deemed acceptable, Bim Webb from Free Union, Virginia, raised a good question: “So guys…how would you apply your answer to birthdays or wedding anniversaries? Perhaps a first event would best be deemed ‘inaugural.'”

Several of you suggested the same word. We agree “inaugural” has its merits, although we’re trying to imagine the decorations for either an “inaugural” or a “first annual” birthday party.

In other language news, ever notice how speakers of English tend to add the word “so” to the beginning of a sentence for no apparent reason? New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas, who is based part-time in India, recently speculated as to why.


If you want more information, google “sentence-initial so”:


If you read the sports pages regularly, you may have run across the seemingly contradictory expression “getting untracked,” meaning to “get into one’s stride.” Boston Globe columnist Jan Freeman recently tried to track down the source of this odd term.


This week, your faithful hosts had a blast recording the show in the same studio for a change during Grant’s visit to San Diego. We both enjoyed spending some time “be’arba enayim,” as they say in Hebrew — literally, “four eyes,” or in other words, face to face.

We also had a splendid brunch with a few members of the local community who’re interested in getting more involved with the show.

And we held the, well, inaugural board meeting of the new nonprofit organization that supports production of our show. If you’d like to support our efforts to keep this show going strong, you can do so here:


Until next time, hope you get untracked and stay on track this week. As always, call or drop a line if you want to talk with us on the air about words.


Martha and Grant

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