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Sweet Dreams

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In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weekend went to when the boss is on his way. Plus, English speakers borrowed the words lieutenant and precipice from French, and made some changes along the way, but not in ways you might suspect. Finally, how do you pronounce the name of the New York concert hall you can reach with lots of practice? Is it CAR-neg-ghee Hall … or Car-NEG-ghee? Plus, “no great shakes,” Gomer, a limerick about leopards, foafiness, and “sleep in the arms of Morpheus.” This episode first aired June 17, 2016.

New Door Word Puzzle

  Try this tricky puzzle: Take the words new door and rearrange their letters into one word.


  How do you pronounce the name Carnegie? The Scottish industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, pronounced it with an accent on the second syllable, as his namesake the Carnegie Corporation of New York takes pains to make clear. Good luck explaining that to New Yorkers, though. They may know that the famous concert venue is named in his honor, but it’s become traditional to stress the first syllable in Carnegie Hall. In the 19th century, people would have encountered his name in print first rather than hearing it by radio broadcast and incorrectly surmised it was CAR-neh-ghee, not car-NEH-ghee.

Losing My Faculties

  A Dallas woman says that when she rebukes the advances of the courtly old gent she’s dating, he apologizes with the words “I’m sorry for losing my faculties.” Using the term “my faculties” in this sense is not all that common, but understandable if you think of one’s faculties as “the ability to control impulses and behavior.”

Experiential Foafiness

  Foafiness, which derives from friend of a friend, is the condition of knowing a lot about someone even though you’ve never actually met, such as when you feel like you know a friend’s spouse or children solely because you’ve read so much about them on Facebook. But is there a term for “experiential foafiness,” when you feel like you’ve visited someplace but then realize you’ve only read about it or seen it in a video?

Most Common Words Quiz

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski brings a quiz based on what editors for the Oxford English Dictionary say are the 100 Most Common Words in English.

Ask vs. Question

  Is it okay to use the word ask as a noun, as in “What’s our ask going to be?” Or should we substitute the word question or request? Actually, the noun ask has handy applications in the world of business and fundraising, where it has a more specific meaning. It’s taken on a useful function in the same way as other nouns that started as verbs, including reveal, fail, and tell.

Little Gomer

  A Burlington, Vermont, listener says that when he was a boy, his dad used to call him a “little Gomer.” It’s a reference to the 1960’s sitcom “Gomer Pyle,” which featured a bumbling but good-hearted U.S. Marine from the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina. As a result, the name Gomer is now a gently derogatory term for “rube” or “hick.”

Leopard Limerick

  Glenn Reinhardt and his 8-year-old daughter Camryn of San Antonio, Texas, co-authored a limerick that makes clever use of the words leopard, shepherd, and peppered.


  A native French speaker wants clarification about the use of the word precipice in English.

My Little Liver

  A listener in Lashio, Myanmar, reports that a term of endearment in the local language translates as “my little liver.”

Sawmill Worker Secret Language

  In deafening industrial workplaces, such as textile factories and sawmills, workers often develop their own elaborate system of sign language, communicating everything from how their weekend went or to straighten up because the boss is coming.

No Great Shakes

  The phrase “no great shakes” means “no great thing” or “insignificant.” The term may have arisen from the idea of shaking dice and then having a disappointing toss. If so, it would fall into a long line of words and phrases arising from gambling. Or it may derive from an old sense of the word shake meaning “swagger” or “boast.”

Etymology of Lieutenant

  A listener in Montreal, Canada, asks: How do you pronounce lieutenant? The British say LEF-ten-ant, while Americans say LOO-ten-ant. In the United States, Noah Webster insisted on the latter because it hews more closely to the word’s etymological roots, the lieu meaning “place” and lieutenant literally connoting a “placeholder,” that is, an officer carrying out duties on behalf of a higher-up.

Origin of Ushers

  Why doesn’t an usher ush? The word goes all the way back to Latin os, meaning “mouth,” and its derivative ostium, meaning “door.” An usher was originally a servant in charge of letting people in and out of a door.

Rest in the Arms of Morpheus

  A San Diego woman says her mother always tucked her into bed with the comforting wish, “Sweet dreams, and rest in the arms of Morpheus.” This allusion to mythology evokes a time when people were more familiar with Greek myth, and the shape-shifting god Morpheus who ruled over sleep and dreams and inspired both the word metamorphosis and the name of the sleep-inducing drug, morphine.

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

Photo by Pyry Matikainen. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

The Oxford English Dictionary

Music Used in the Episode

My GuruDan The AutomatorBombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars, and SitarsMotel Records
Professor PyaradalDan The AutomatorBombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars, and SitarsMotel Records
Super StrutDeodatoThe Roots of Acid JazzSony
Fists of CurryDan The AutomatorBombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars, and SitarsMotel Records
Theme From DonDan The AutomatorBombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars, and SitarsMotel Records
SatchidanandaDan The AutomatorBombay The Hard Way – Guns, Cars, and SitarsMotel Records
SidemanLonnie SmithThe Roots of Acid JazzSony
Bang The BallDan The Automator2K7 InstrumentalsDecon
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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