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Stars and Garters

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Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he’s also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like “flummox” and “butterfingers.” Also, the life’s work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to anyone online. And, the art of accepting apologies. If a co-worker is habitually late but apologizes each time, what words can you use to accept their latest apology but also communicate that you never want it to happen again?

This episode first aired November 12, 2016. It was rebroadcast the weekends of July 3, 2017, and December 31, 2018.

Dickens’s Words

 What do the terms flummox, butterfingers, and the creeps have in common? They were all either invented or popularized by Charles Dickens. The earliest citations we have for many familiar words and phrases are from the work of the popular 19th-century novelist. You can find more in What the Dickens: Distinctly Dickensian Words and How to Use Them by Brian Kozlowski.

The Common Name “Jones”

 A San Diego, California, 12-year-old whose last name is Jones wonders: Why do so many African-Americans as well as European Americans share the same last name?

Oh My Stars and Garters

 The exclamation “Oh my stars and garters!” likely arose from a reference to the British Order of the Garter. The award for this highest level of knighthood includes an elaborate medal in the shape of a star. The expression was probably reinforced by “Bless my stars!”, a phrase stemming from the idea that the stars influence one’s well-being.

Hard Fight With a Short Stick

 If you’re having a particularly tough time, you might say that you’re “having a hard fight with a short stick.” The idea is that if you’re defending yourself with a short stick, you’d be at a disadvantage against an opponent with a longer one.

Stay Awhile, Beautiful Moment

 A man in Chalk Mountain, Texas, recalls a sublime evening of conversation with a new German friend. As they parted, the woman uttered a German phrase suggesting that she wanted the moment to last forever. It’s “Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!” and it comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play Faust.

Country Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s game involves clues about the names of countries. For example, a cylindrical container, plus an abbreviation on the back of a tube of toothpaste, combine to form the name of what neighbor to the north?

Factory vs. Plant

 Why is a factory called a plant?

Flat Tire Shoe

 A flat tire is a slang term for the result of stepping on someone’s heel so that their shoe comes loose.

Jackpot Origin

 The word jackpot can denote the pile of money you win at a game of poker, but another definition is that of trouble, tangled mess, or a literal logjam.

Pastry Docker Holes

 What do you call the holes in a Pop-Tart? Those indentations in crackers, Pop-Tarts, and similar baked goods are called docker holes or docking holes, used to release air as the dough gets hotter.


 The phrase “don’t cabbage that,” meaning “don’t steal that,” may derive from the old practice of tailors’ employees taking scraps of leftover fabric, which, gathered up in one’s hands, could resemble a pile of cabbage leaves.

Dustbin and Dickens

 The first known citation for the word dustbin is credited to Charles Dickens.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang

 Language enthusiasts, rejoice! Jonathon Green’s extraordinary Green’s Dictionary of Slang is now available online.

Responding to Repeated Apologies for the Same Bad Behavior

 What’s the most effective way to respond to someone who keeps apologizing for the same offense? Say, for example, that a co-worker is habitually late to work, and is forever apologizing for it, but does nothing to change that behavior? How do you accept their apology for their latest offense, but communicate that you don’t want it to happen again?

Different From vs. Different To

 When comparing two things, what’s the correct word to use after the word different? Is it different than or different from? In the United States, different from is typical, and almost always the right choice. In Britain, the most common phrase is different to.

Spider in Your Biscuit

 If a Southerner warns she’s going to put a spider on your biscuit, it means she’s about to give you bad news.


 A listener in Omaha, Nebraska, says his mother always ends a phone conversation not with Goodbye, but mmm-bye. How common is that?

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

Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Green’s Dictionary of Slang
What the Dickens: Distinctly Dickensian Words and How to Use Them

Music Used in the Episode

Kool And The GangKool And The GangKool And The GangDe-Lite
Machine GunThe CommodoresMachine GunMotown
SouthwickMaceo and All The King’s MenDoing Their Own ThingHouse Of The Fox
Breeze And SoulKool And The GangKool And The GangDe-Lite
Give It UpKool And The GangKool And The GangDe-Lite
Let The Music Take Your MindKool And The GangKool And The GangDe-Lite
Mag PooMaceo and All The King’s MenDoing Their Own ThingHouse Of The Fox
Give it UpKool And The GangKool And The GangDe-Lite
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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