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The Secret Language of Families

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Does your family use a special word you’ve never heard anywhere else? A funny name for “the heel of a loaf of bread,” perhaps, or for “visiting relatives who won’t leave.” In this week’s episode, Martha and Grant discuss “family words,” and Martha reveals the story behind her own family’s secret word, “fubby.” This episode first aired January 19, 2008.

Why do we say that someone who’s pregnant is “knocked up”? The hit movie starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen has a caller wondering about this term.

A man whose last name is McCoy wants a definitive answer about the origin of the expression “the real McCoy.” He’s been told it comes from the name of turn-of-the-century boxing champ Kid McCoy. Is that really the case? Grant and Martha reference the Dictionary of Scots Language for answers.

A Michigander wants to know about the difference between titled and entitled. She’d assumed that a book is titled Gone with The Wind and a person is entitled to compensation for something. Grant and Martha explain it’s a little more complicated than that.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska presents a quiz about “False Plurals,” based on the old riddle: What plural word becomes singular when you put the letter “s” at the end of it? (Hint: Think of a brand of tennis racket, as well as the former name of a musical artist before he changed it back again.)

Quick, which is faster? Something that happens instantly or that happens instantaneously? A caller wants to know if there’s any difference between the two.

A Brazilian has been researching why actors use the unlikely expression “break a leg” to wish each other well before going on stage. He suspects it’s a borrowing of a German phrase that means, “May you break your neck and your leg.”

A caller who lived in the Bay Area during the 1960s remembers using the word loosecap to describe someone who’s “not playing with a full deck.” He wonders if he and his friends are the only ones to use it, as in, “Don’t be such a loosecap!”

This week’s “Slang This!” contestant tries to decipher the slang phrases dance at two weddings and put the big pot in the little pot. She also shares her own favorite slang terms for crumb crusher, rug rat and ankle biter. By the way, you can read Grant’s essay about slang terms for small children, “Sprogs in a Poop Factory.” His column about language appears every two weeks in The Malaysia Star newspaper.

A caller fears that the term Indian giver is politically incorrect, and wants an alternative to teach her children.

A Princeton University student wonders if his school can lay claim to being the first to apply the Latin word campus to the grounds of an institution of higher learning.

By the way, if you want to read about more family words, check out Paul Dickson’s book, Family Words: A Dictionary of the Secret Language of Families.

Here’s hoping all of you are happy fubbies!

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