You’re at a social gathering and meet someone you’d like to know better. What do you ask to get a real conversation going? Some people lead with “What do you do?,” while others avoid talking about work entirely. Still others ask, “Where’d you go to high school?’ Also, the fancy way linguists describe the sound of a kiss. And what does it really mean when someone “breaks bad”? Plus, alight and come in, rustle my jimmies, grammatical calques, mashtag potatoes, comprise vs. compose, bangs vs. fringe, virgas and virgules, and bad Bible jokes.

This episode first aired March 15, 2014.

Download the MP3.

 Writing a Kiss
In the U.S., we say mwah for the kissing noise. In parts of South America, it’s chuik. And for linguists, of course, it’s a bilabial lingual ingressive click.

 Pussyfoot
Is pussyfooting, as in “treading lightly,” an offensive term?

 Misattributed Book Review
Here’s a widely applicable book review: The covers of this book are too far apart. It’s attributed to Ambrose Bierce, although it’s unlikely he actually came up with it.

 Learning Dilemma
There should be no dilemma about the spelling of dilemma. It’s not dilemna, and it’s a mystery why so many people were taught that way.

 Virga
No need to ask your doctor about virga. That’s just the term for “a diagonal streak of rain that evaporates before it hits the ground.” It derives from the Latin for “rod,” and is related to virgule, a fancy name for that punctuation mark otherwise known as a slash.

 Super Hero Word Puzzle
Our Quiz-Man John Chaneski has a game about the Batman villains who didn’t make the cut. All of their names end in -er, like The Matchmaker and The Firecracker.

 Breaking Bad Meaning
The term breaking bad means to raise hell, although if you weren’t a Southerner, you might not have been aware that the rest of the country didn’t know the phrase before Vince Gilligan, a Virginian, created the TV show by that name.

 Social Media Snacks
Mashtags are potato snacks, pressed into the shapes of social media characters. Because marketers need a way to make junk food appeal to teens.

 Describing Good-Looking Men
A question for heterosexual guys: What words do you use to describe other men who are good-looking? Attractive? Handsome?

 Book Spine Poetry
Stan Carey has an excellent example of book spine poetry up on his site, this one titled “Antarctica.”

 Alight And Come In
Alight and come in is an old-fashioned, hospitable phrase recalling a time when a visitor who’s ridden a long way might be invited to hop off his horse and step inside for a meal. Variations include alight and look at your saddle and alight and look at your beast. All of which reminds Martha, a preacher’s kid, of the riddle “When were cigarettes mentioned in the Bible?” Answer: Genesis 24:64.

 Ice-Breaker for More Meaningful Conversation
You’re at a social gathering and meet someone you’d like to know better. What question you lead with to get a real conversation going?

 Calques
The history of German and Yiddish speakers in the United States has lead to a wealth of calques, in which the grammar of one language is applied to another.

 Wise Men Biblical Pun
Beware the biblical pun: What kind of car did the three wise men drive? A Honda. They all came with one Accord.

 Rules for Using “Comprise”
Comprise is a tricky word, and its usage is in the process of changing. But there’s an easy way to remember the traditional rule: Don’t ever use comprised of. Just don’t. Here’s an example: The alphabet comprises 26 letters. You could also say The alphabet is composed of 26 letters.

 Rustle Your Jimmies
Ever have that experience where you’re scrolling through photos of cute babies on Facebook and then all of a sudden there’s a picture of something gross that just rustles your jimmies?

 Fringe vs. Bangs
When it comes to hair, what the British call fringe, people in the U.S. call bangs. The stateside version most likely has to do with the idea of a bangtail horse, meaning a horse whose tail has been cut straight across.

 Pharaoh’s Court Joke
When was tennis mentioned in the Bible? When Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court.

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

Photo by Travis Swan. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Lady, You Look Good To Me Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Farmland Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Coffee Cold Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Also Sprach Zarathustra Deodato Prelude CTI
Marsh Gas Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
If Our Love Is Real Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Tender Meetings Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
September 13 Deodato Prelude CTI
M’Babam Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
The Mouse Roared Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Field Of Sorrow Galt MacDermot Shapes of Rhythm / Woman Is Sweeter Kilmarnock
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve