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Strawberry Moon

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We asked for your thoughts about whether cursive writing should be taught in schools — and many of you replied with a resounding “Yes!” You said cursive helps develop fine motor skills, improves mental focus, and lets you read old handtoodlewritten letters and other documents. Also in this episode: finding your way to a more nuanced understanding of language. The more you know about linguistic diversity, the more you embrace those differences rather than criticize them. And a brain game using translations of Native American words for lunar months. During which month would you see a Strawberry Moon? Plus newstalgia, fauxstalgia, lethologica, by and large, pank, yay vs. yea, collywobbles, and carlymarbles.

This episode first aired April 6, 2019. It was rebroadcast the weekend of December 9, 2023.


 Lethologica is the inability to remember a word or name. The term is related to the name of the river Lethe, also known as the River of Oblivion, which in Greek mythology caused those in Hades to to forget their life on earth.

At Large

 If a suspect is at large, he is moving about freely. The term at large, which comes to us via French from Latin, refers not to size but to distance. The phrase by and large, meaning “generally” or “on the whole,” derives from a nautical term that denotes a way to sail a ship by adjusting its course according to the direction of the wind.

Mr. Cream Cheese

 A Massachusetts listener shares her mishearing the name of the beloved character Mr. Green Jeans on the old Captain Kangaroo TV show. She was in college before she realized his name wasn’t Mr. Cream Cheese.

Pank and a Finnish Proverb

 Frida in Marquette, Michigan, shares a proverb from her Finnish heritage that translates as “Until the food is ready, feed your guests with words.” She also asks about pank, a term she often hears there in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It means “to pack down,” as in to pank down snow or pank down sugar in a cup. The origin of pank is uncertain, although it may derive from a combination of pack and spank. This term is also heard in parts of Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

Native American Month Name Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a brain teaser based on translations of names that Native American people gave to various lunar months. For example, since lupines tend to howl more at the moon in the middle of winter, what’s the nickname for the full moon in January?

How Did Martha and Grant Develop Their Attitudes Toward Language?

 Paloma from Escondido, California, asks about how the hosts developed their attitudes toward language. We share some of those influences, which include, in Martha’s case, studying Ancient Greek for 12 years with a polyglot professor, and in Grant’s, learning from colleagues in the American Dialect Society and being a lexicographer of slang and new words.

Taken to Raise

 A listener reports being puzzled by a phrase she heard from a woman for whom she’d done a small favor: Did you think you’d taken me to raise? Heard mainly in Kentucky and Ohio, this phrase is a joking suggestion that the person who has done the favor has assumed responsibility for the other’s care and upbringing. Similarly, an unreasonable request for a favor might be denied with the phrase I ain’t took you to raise!

Word for Road Free of Traffic?

 Eleven-year-old Josiah from San Antonio, Texas, is looking for a single English word to describe a road that’s largely free of traffic.

Yay vs. Yea

 Jill in Indianapolis, Indiana, wonders how to spell the one-syllable cheer that starts with Y. Is it yay or yea? Since the 1930s, yay has been used as a little celebratory word. The word yea is much older and used in formal texts to mean “indeed.” An example is in the psalm that contains the verse Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sucker Hole

 When Mary from Hanover, New Hampshire, was vacationing in Alaska, she picked up a term from the locals: sucker hole. It refers to a patch of sun peeking through the clouds, which leads tourists to assume that the weather is going to clear up. The locals, however, know that a sucker hole will be there only briefly before the skies are overcast again.

Cursive in Schools

 Our discussion about cursive handwriting and whether it should be taught in schools brought a tremendous response from listeners. Most agreed that there are so many benefits to learning to write this way that it’s well worth the time and effort to teach cursive writing to youngsters.

Toodle-oo Origins

 Pam in New York City wonders if bidding someone farewell with toodle-oo or toodle-loo derives from the French for “see you soon,” a tout a l’heure.

Zombie Language Rules

 Many so-called “rules” of grammar are actually just zombie rules. They’re ill-advised attempts by 17th-century grammarians to make English syntax fit the orderly rules of Latin.

Quay and Key Spelling and Pronunciation

 David, a rideshare driver in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wonders about all the residential developments he sees with names containing the word quay. Usually pronounced KEE, quay is another term for “wharf.” The use of quay in these names may involve what Entrepreneur magazine dubbed newstalgia, or constructing something to feel old even though it’s actually new, or fauxstalgia, a yearning for a time in the past even though you never actually experienced it yourself.


 A Texas caller says her West Virginia-born mother uses the word hornicaboogery to mean “germs” or “the creeping crud.” Among the many such joking names for imaginary illnesses are gollywobbles, collywobbles, carlymarbles, pantod on the rummit, can’t-help-its, and school bus cramps.

Odd Grandparent Names

 In response to our conversation about names we call grandparents, John Polk tweeted about a grandfather in his family named Uh-Huh and a grandmother named Who-Who.

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

Photo by Liz West. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

Akilah!Melvin SparksAkilah!Prestige
The Image of LoveMelvin SparksAkilah!Prestige
EsmaMenahan Street BandMake The Road By WalkingDunham
Goin Back To New OrleansHugh MasakelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
To Get Ourselves TogetherHugh MasakelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
Going The DistanceMenahan Street BandMake The Road By WalkingDunham
AdeHugh MasakelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
Johannesburg Hi-Life JiveHugh MasakelaThe Union of South AfricaChisa
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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