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The Thought Plickens

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If you’re inappropriately focused on the minutiae of a project instead of the bigger picture, you’re said to be bike-shedding. Grant talks about that modern slang term and Martha discusses a word that goes way back in time, right back to “In the beginning,” in fact. The word is tohubohu, and it means a “mess” or “confusion.” This episode first aired February 7, 2010.


 Grant and Martha discuss a new term, bike-shedding, and an old one, tohubohu.

Swan Song

 Where’d we get the term swan song? A caller says this expression came up in conversation just before her retirement and she wonders about its origin. Martha reads email from listeners suggesting alternatives to the word retirement.


 Is the word criteria singular or plural?

Make it a Double Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle is about phrases that suggest a pair of words that are spelled alike, except that in one of them, a letter is doubled. Try to guess the two nearly identical words suggested by this phrase: “Wagered on a root vegetable.”

English Derivatives of Tagalog

 It’s likely America’s greatest linguistic export: O.K. A caller raised in the Philippines is curious about its origin. The hosts give him an answer, and also point out a familiar word in English that derives from the caller’s native language, Tagalog.

Female vs. Woman

 When is it more appropriate to use the word female as opposed to woman?

Slang Quiz with David Pogue

 David Pogue, technology columnist for The New York Times, grapples with a slang quiz. First he shares own his favorite slang term, nonversation, then tries to guess the meaning of the archaic technological slang terms planktonocrit, phenakistoscope, and sphygmograph.

Regional Pronunciations of Crayon

 What’s the correct pronunciation of crayon? Is it cray-on? Cran? Crown? Here’s a dialect survey map that shows the distribution of these pronunciations.

A Mother’s Playful Interjections

 A Green Bay, Wisconsin, caller is curious about her mother’s playful interjections. If someone said, “Well,” her mother would add, “Well, well. Three holes in the ground.” If someone started a sentence with “So” she’d interject, “Buttons on your underwear!” Or if someone said, “See,” she’d add “Said the blind man as he picked up a hammer and saw.” And if they were watching a movie and the dramatic tension rose, she’d declare, “The thought plickens!” The caller wonders if those expressions date back to a particular era or context, and says she’s now taught them to her Indonesian husband.

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

Photo by Originalni Digitalni. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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