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Make A Train Take A Dirt Road

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Remember the classic films Dogumentary and $3000? Those were their working titles, before they became Best In Show and Pretty Woman. We look at how movie titles evolve and change. Also, is Spanglish a real language? And balaclavas, teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, buying liquor at the packie, making a train take a dirt road, and that weird sensation when you meet a stranger you feel like you already know from your friends’ Facebook updates! This episode first aired November 10, 2012.

Working Titles

 Would some Hollywood classics still have been box-office hits if they’d stuck with their original names? Take Anhedonia, which later became Annie Hall. Or $3000, which became Pretty Woman. And can you guess the eventual title of the movie originally called Harry, This is Sally?

Describing Flavor in Words

 Here’s a puzzler: try to explain what malt tastes like without using the word malty. Or, for that matter, describe the color red. Defining sensory things is one of the great challenges that dictionary editors confront. Imagine writing and entire Dictionary of Flavors.

Make a Train Take a Dirt Road

 If she’ll make a train take a dirt road, does that mean she’s pretty or ugly? Nicole from Plano, Texas, overheard the idiom in the Zach Brown Band’s song “Different Kind of Fine.” The idea is an ugliness is so powerful it can derail a train. But as Zach Brown sings, looks aren’t all that makes a lady fine.


 Sometimes a couple may be paired, but they’re just not connected. As this cartoon suggests, you might say they’re bluetoothy.

Almost “Amous” Word Game

 Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about aptronyms for famous folks, or shall we say folks who were Almost Amous. In this puzzle, you drop the first letter of a famous person’s last name in order to give them a fitting new occupation. For example, a legendary bank robber might become an archer by losing the first letter of his last name. See if you can come up with others!


 If you spend any time on Facebook, then you’ve probably had the experience of knowing a whole lot about someone, even though they’re just a friend or relative of a friend. And meeting them can be a little weird, or even a slightly creepy. There’s a word for that odd connection: foafiness, as in Friend-Of-A-Friend, or foaf.

More Working Titles

 Remember Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in James L. Brooks’ classic Old Friends? No? That’s because they changed the title to As Good As It Gets.

Your Possibles

 If John Wayne asked you to fetch his possibles, what would you go looking for? This term simply means one’s personal belongings, and is found in Western novels and movies.

Very Important Perros

 In Argentina, a certain cinematic cult classic is known as Very Important Perros. But in the United States, the film was first titled Dogumentary, then later Best In Show.

Suck Eggs

 A grandmother in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is curious about the advice don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs. This idiom is used as a warning not to presume that you know more than your elders, and may be connected with the old practice of henhouse thieves poking holes in an eggshell and sucking out the yolk. Variants of this expression include don’t teach your grandmother how to milk ducks or don’t teach your grandmother to steal sheep.


 If you behave in a struthonian manner, then it means you’re behaving like an ostrich. This play term comes from struthos, the ancient Greek word for ostrich. Actually, according to the American Ostrich Association, the old belief that an ostrich will stick its head in the sand is a myth.

The Mighty Ducks

 Jeremy Dick, a listener from Victoria, Australia, grew up in Canada loving the movie The Mighty Ducks. But once he moved down under, he realized the Aussies call it Champions. What’s that all about? Do Australians not think ducks are mighty? TV Tropes explains some reasons why titles change, like, for example, idioms that don’t translate, even across English speaking countries.

Where Do You Buy Alcohol?

 What do you call the place you purchase adult beverages? Is it a liquor store or a package store? Package store is common in the Northeast, while folks in Milwaukee know it as the beer depot, and Pennsylvanians might call it the ABC store. Tell us your preferred term!

Is Spanglish a Language?

 Spanglish. What’s it all about? Is it a real language, or just a funky amalgam? Ilan Stavans‘ book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language traces the varieties of Spanglish that have sprung up around the country, and includes his controversial translation of the first chapter of Don Quixote into Spanglish. Still, by academic standards, Spanglish itself is not technically a language.

“Doozy” is Not from the Car

 On a previous episode, we discussed the origins of doozy, and boy did we get some responses! Many of you called and wrote to say that the Duesenberg luxury car is the source of the term. While the car’s reputation for automotive excellence may have reinforced the use of term, the problem is that the word doozy appears in print at least as early as 1903. The car, however, wasn’t widely available until about 1920.


 Would you be intimidated if someone tried to rob you while wearing a balaclava? What about a ski mask? Trick question: they’re the same thing! The head covering recently made popular in the Pussy Riot protests is known as a balaclava. The name comes from the Port of Balaclava on the Black Sea, an important site in the Crimean War, and the headgear worn there to protect against the bitter cold.

Feisty Heist

 Here’s one to clear up this confusing rule: i before e, except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbor. Got it?

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

Photo by David Barrie. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Dictionary of Flavors by Dolf De Rovira, Sr.
Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language by Ilan Stavans
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Music Used in the Episode

ChicanoDennis CoffeyInstant CoffeySussex
Also Sprach ZarathustraDeodatoPreludeCTI
Ivory and BlueMenahan Street BandThe CrossingDaptone
Magic RideThe CountsMagic Ride 45rpmAware
What’s Up Front That CountsThe CountsWhat’s Up Front That CountsWestbound Records
September 13DeodatoPreludeCTI
Ain’t It HeavyThe Soul SearchersBlow Your WhistleVampi Soul
We The PeopleThe Soul SearchersWe The PeopleSussex
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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