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Sweet Spot

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If you’re in a book club, how do you decide what books to read? There are lots of different ways, depending on your group’s goals. And is it ever wise to correct someone who mispronounces a word? Sometimes you have to decide if it’s better to be right–or simply get along. Plus, some research suggests that when presented with photos from nature, humans naturally focus on animals instead of plants. Botanists even have a term for this tendency: plant blindness. Also, tight as a drum, a funny quiz about slightly altered Stephen King titles, sweet spot, lemniscate, kehrätä, mais garde donc, fourth-person pronouns, meronymy, shambles, semantic bleaching, opening lines of Turkish fairy tales, and the business end.

This episode first aired the weekend of February 10, 2024.

A Word for Grandparents Who Move to Be Near Their Grandkids

 A Minnesota couple thinks there should be a word in the English language for the act of grandparents who relocate to the town where their grandchildren live, specifically to be near the little ones. They propose the word grandate.

Tight as a Tick

 The expression tight as a tick is inspired by the idea of being full-to-bursting, like one of those insects when it’s engorged with blood. Tight as a tick can also describe someone who’s quite drunk or very miserly. Other phrases that connote extreme tightness are tight as a drum and tight as a duck’s butt.

Callous Kids Call for Feline Fearmongering

 Our conversation about the phrase I beg your pardon reminded Patricia in Greenville, North Carolina, of a playground taunt from her childhood. If one kid said I beg your pardon, another would respond I grant your grace, I hope the cat will spit in your face. Another version of this ditty ends with I hope the cat will scratch your face.

The Business End

 Sean in New York City is curious about the expression the business end, as in the business end of a gun. It’s simply “the end of an object that fulfills its function or purpose,” such as the business end of a shovel, the business end of a nail, the business end of a stick, the business end of a snake, and the business end of a wasp. In addition, the term business can mean “difficulty” or “fuss” or “bother,” as in to give someone the business which means “to give someone a hard time.

Plant Blindness

 Some research suggests that photos of animals tend to capture the attention of humans more readily than photos of plants. Botanists even have a term for “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.” They call it plant blindness.

Stephen King One-Letter Different Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been reading the novels of author Stephen King’s annoying doppelganger, Stephen Kong, whose titles are like those of King’s, with the exception of one letter. For example, Kong’s first novel recalls the harsh high school experience and terrible prom of the author of Peter Pan (Bookshop|Amazon). What’s that book called?

The Etiquette of Correcting Someone’s Pronunciation

 Christine in Denver, Colorado, is pondering the etiquette of correcting someone’s pronunciation. How do you approach knowing the actual pronunciation of a word, when it’s not the most common one? For example, Christine learned that the name of the Japanese clothing store Uniqlo is pronounced YOO-ni-kloh, but some people she knows call it yoo-NEEK-loh. Is it kinder to offer a gentle correction, or should you adopt what you know is the wrong pronunciation in order to be agreeable?


 If you need another word for the infinity symbol, there’s always leminscate, from a Greek word meaning “ribbon” or “bow.”

Shambles: From Bloody Stools and Stalls to a Messy Bedroom

 The word shambles originally referred to an abattoir or butchers’ stalls filled with blood and guts. Over time, this word underwent semantic bleaching, and now simply refers more generally to “a mess.”


 The Finnish verb kehrätä can mean “to spin thread” or “to purr like a cat.”

How to Choose Books for a Book Club

 If you’re in a book club, how do you decide what books to read? In some groups, everyone takes turns choosing a book. In others, they take a vote. Others encourage everyone to read a different book and then report on it to the group. Emily Drabinski, president of the American Library Association, is in a group that reads 50 books a year, choosing from a list that includes “a book with a word or phrase that describes you in the title,” “a book with a color in the title, “a book you first heard about in social media,” and other suggestions. These broad categories make for reading that’s invigorating, mind-expanding, and serendipitous.

Chat, the Collective Noun for Livestreaming Viewers

 Mav in Madison, Wisconsin, has heard content creators on platforms like YouTube and Twitch address their viewers collectively with the word chat, as in Chat, is this real? and Do you see this, chat? She’s heard some people describe chat used in this way as a fourth-person pronoun. Is that correct? No, it’s simply a vocative use of the noun, much the same way one might address one’s audience or listeners or readers. The word gamers is increasingly used in the same way, such as YouTube videos in which the speaker greets viewers with Hi, gamers! This usage of part of something to indicate the whole — in this case, the whole experience of streaming — is a form of meronomy, as in nice wheels to mean “nice car,” even though the phrase alludes to only part of the vehicle. Another example of a meronym is boots on the ground, which denotes actual service members on the ground, not just their footwear.

When Camels Were Town Criers and Fleas Were Barbers

 In Korea, fairy tales often begin with the saying In the old days, when tigers used to smoke. Turkish children often hear an opening like this one: Once there was, once there was not, when camels were town criers and fleas were barbers, when I rocked my grandfather’s cradle back gently. Then the story begins.

Garde De Donc

 Dan from Jacksonville, Florida, grew up in south Louisiana, where speakers of Cajun French say garde de donc! to mean “Well, would you look at that!” or “Can you believe this?” The phrase is used to point out something foolish or surprising. The same idea may be rendered as mais garde donc or garde donc or garde mais donc, the garde coming from the French word meaning “look at” and the donc meaning “there.” It’s unrelated to the term gaga, which originates in French hospital slang gâteux, referring to someone who lacks all their faculties.

Right in the Sweet Spot

 Gary in Loris, South Carolina, started listening to this show on the public radio station WHQR, which broadcasts from Wilmington, North Carolina. Then he realized that because of his location, he could also pick up the show through South Carolina Public Broadcasting. That got Gary wondering about the term sweet spot, meaning “the ideal location.” Sweet spot is used in many different sports contexts, but the earliest uses are in golf, referring to the spot on the head of a golf club that has the greatest effect on the ball.

A Lovely Bit of Writing About Autumn

 Liam in San Francisco, California, emailed to share a passage from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Secret History (Bookshop|Amazon). It’s a sensuous description of the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn in Vermont.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Bookshop|Amazon)
Peter Pan by James Barrie (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Feeling GoodThe Overton Berry TrioAt Seattle’s Doubletree InnLight In The Attic
Guacamolian ShuffleThe Overton Berry TrioAt Seattle’s Doubletree InnLight In The Attic
I Could CryKieferIt’s OK, B UStones Throw
Easin’OrgoneThe Killion FloorUbiquity
DiamondsFranco BixioValeria Dentro E Fuori OSTCinevox Records
La Mente PersaFranco BixioValeria Dentro E Fuori OSTCinevox Records
My DisorderKieferIt’s OK, B UStones Throw
Trop’sAlberto Baldan BemboLingua D’ArgentoQuartet Records
SurveillanceAlan TewDrama Suite Part IITIM
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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