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Sound of a Kiss

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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. It was rebroadcast the weekend of July 20, 2015.

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.


 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.


 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?


 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 Episode

Lady, You Look Good To MeGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
FarmlandGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
Coffee ColdGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
Also Sprach ZarathustraDeodatoPreludeCTI
Marsh GasGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
If Our Love Is RealGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
Tender MeetingsGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
September 13DeodatoPreludeCTI
M’BabamGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
The Mouse RoaredGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
Field Of SorrowGalt MacDermotShapes of Rhythm / Woman Is SweeterKilmarnock
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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