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Spill the Tea

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If someone urges you to spill the tea, they probably don’t want you tipping over a hot beverage. Originally, the tea here was the letter T, as in “truth.” To spill the T means to “pass along truthful information.” Plus, we’re serving up some delicious Italian idioms involving food. The Italian phrase that literally translates “eat the soup or jump out the window” means “take it or leave it,” and a phrase that translates as “we don’t fry with water around here” means “we don’t do things halfway.” Also: a takeoff word quiz, why carbonated beverages go by various names, including soda, coke, and pop; fill your boots, bangorrhea, cotton to, howdy; milkshake, frappe, velvet, frost, and cabinet; push-ups, press-ups and lagartijas; the Spanish origin of the word alligator, don’t break my plate or saw off my bench, FOMO after death, and much more.

This episode first aired March 23, 2019. It was rebroadcast the weekend of November 25, 2023.

Push Ups, Press Ups, and Lagartijas

 In British English, the exercise known as push-ups in the United States goes by the name press-ups. The Spanish term is lagartijas, a lagartija being a small lizard that sometimes moves in a similar way. The English word alligator comes from the related Spanish term el lagarto, or “the lizard.”

Spill the T vs. Spill the Tea

 Debra, who teaches eighth graders in San Antonio, Texas, says some of them use the expression spill the tea meaning “spill the beans” or “share gossip.” The earliest version of this phrase, which appears in print in the early 1990s, was spill the T, in which the letter T stands for truth. The phrase was popularized by the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and a similar use of T for truth appears in John Berendt’s 1994 bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Fill Your Boots

 Jonathan, who lives in Dallas, Texas, is originally from Prince Edward Island, Canada, where he often heard the phrase fill your boots, an injunction that means “help yourself.” Variants include dig in and fill your boots, eat up and fill your boots, and muck in and fill your boots.

Soda Pop Name Origin

 Craig from Helena, Montana, wonders about the etymology of pop as a term for a carbonated beverage. Depending on which part of the country you’re from, you might also call this drink a soda or a coke.

Takeoffs Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski proffers a puzzle he calls “F-Takeoffs,” which involves removing the initial letter F from a word to get an entirely different word. For example, if John orders some lumberjack tools by sending some scanned, printed orders over a phone line, what two words apply?

To Cotton on to Something

 Kyle from Euless, Texas, wonders about the phrase I don’t cotton to this meaning “I don’t agree with this.” It originated in the textile industry, where cotton is prepared to adhere to another fabric. In the same way, some agricultural terms have given rise to useful metaphors in English; the expressions tough row to hoe, aftermath, and broadcast all originated in the language of farming.

Drink a Cabinet

 Wendy from San Diego, California, is curious about the soda fountain treat known in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts as a cabinet. Elsewhere it’s called a milk shake, frappe, velvet, or frost.


 In her 1958 memoir Beloved Infidel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lover Sheilah Graham recalls the famous author’s distaste for exclamation points, the use of which he compared to “laughing at your own joke.” Some have proposed that such overuse of exclamation marks be called bangorrhea, bang being an old printer’s term for that punctuation mark, and -rrhea being a stem that comes from a Greek word meaning “to flow.”

Is “Howdy” an Uncouth Greeting?

 Years ago, Derek from Omaha, Nebraska, adopted the greeting howdy, but his wife says it sounds too uncultured. In a 2012 paper in the Journal of English Linguistics by Lauren Hall Lew and Nola Stephens describe howdy as a term that is enregistered as rural and Southern — in other words, seen by outsiders as country talk, and therefore supposedly unsophisticated.

Don’t Break My Plate or Saw off My Bench

 Don’t break my plate or saw off my bench just yet is a colorful way of saying I’ll be back. It’s somewhat like the phrase he hung up his spoon, referring to someone who has died.

Italian Food Idioms

 The Italian phrase Non si frigge mica con l’acqua literally translates as “We don’t fry with water around here,” and means that the speaker doesn’t do things halfway. Quite a few other Italian idioms involve food. One translates as “to be like cabbage as an afternoon snack” — in other words, to be out of place. An Italian idiom that means “to be like parsley” suggests that something is ubiquitous. Another translates as “eat soup or jump out the window,” and is the equivalent of urging someone to take it or leave it, and yet another translates as “don’t eat the egg in the hen’s body” and is similar to the advice in English about not counting your chickens before they hatch.

Fear of Missing What Happens after We Die

 Denise in Panama City, Florida, is trying to recall a word for the fear of not knowing what happens in the world after one dies. It’s a more elevated term than FOMO, the fear of missing out. A poetic alternative is gephyrophobia, a fear of crossing bridges. The fear of death itself is thanatophobia, from the Greek root thanatos, which also gives us euthanasia.

To Do Something of the Morning

 John says that many of the older patients in his Northeast Tennessee orthopedics clinic will refer to habitual activity as occurring of the morning or of the evening. The vastly more common versions of these phrases in the South and South Midlands of the United States are of a morning and of an evening.


 The verb duffifie is defined in the Scots National Dictionary as “to lay down a bottle on its side for some time, after its contents have been poured out, that it may be completely drained of the few drops remaining in it.”

To Have a Hummel

 Sherilyn in Indianapolis, Indiana, says when she was rambunctious as a child, her grandfather, who is of German descent, would ask if she had a hummel. In German, the word Hummel means bee, and a fidgety youngster might be asked Hast Du Hummeln im Hintern? meaning “Do you have bumblebees in your behind?” The German word Hintern, meaning “behind,” is related to the English words hind and hinterland. In Germany, such a child is also called a Zappelphilipp, from an 1845 poem about a boy who couldn’t sit still.


 If you have an aversion to human company and a love of solitude, you have apanthropy, from Greek words that mean “away from humans.”

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

Photo by MattX27. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Beloved Infidel by Sheilah Graham
Scots National Dictionary

Music Used in the Episode

Love The Life You LiveMelvin SparksAkilah!Prestige
Got To Be ThereRamsey LewisUpendo Ni PamojaCBS
Slippin Into DarknessRamsey LewisUpendo Ni PamojaCBS
Dove (con’t)CymandeCymandeJanus
People Make The World Go RoundRamsey LewisUpendo Ni PamojaCBS
All Wrapped UpMelvin SparksAkilah!Prestige
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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