Death of the Typewriter
Ding! In this week’s episode, Mark Twain would be pleased. Reports that it’s the end of the line for the typewriter have been greatly exaggerated. Well, slightly anyway: it’s not the horseless carriage return yet. Martha and Grant wax nostalgic about the pleasures of pecking away at a rumbling, shuddering Selectric.

This episode first aired on January 5, 2008.

Download the MP3.

 Floundering vs. Foundering
A newspaper headline about a faltering legislative proposal prompts a caller to ask: Should they have written floundering or foundering?

 Origin of Surf Lingo “Groms”
A longboarder reports she and her fellow surfers refer to young surfers as groms or grommets—not to be confused, of course, with hodads and kooks. But where’d that surfing lingo come from?

 Odd Man Out Word Puzzle
Greg Pliska presents a punny political puzzle about the names of presidential candidates.

 Rule of Thumb Origin
A listener says his sister reprimanded him for using the term “rule of thumb.” She says the expression derives from an old British law that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick, as long as it’s no wider than his thumb. Is that story true?

 Alley-Oop
A caller wonders if the acrobatic “alley-oop” in basketball is connected with the V.T. Hamlin comic strip, “Alley Oop.”

 Irregardless
Is irregardless a real word? A caller wants his wife to stop saying it. Good thing he loves her regardless!

 Going Out Of Style
A commuter hears a radio report about an organization that’s “giving away condoms like they were going out of style.” But, he wonders, if they’re really “going out of style,” then why are they so popular? Isn’t the phrase “giving them away like they were going out of style” contradictory?

 Simul and Slug Line
Our slang quiz was played this week by Rich Stevens of the comic Diesel Sweeties. Rich tried to figure out the correct meanings of simul and slug line.

 Santa Anas
In California, everybody gets a little crazy when those hot, dry winds called Santa Anas start blowing. A caller asks the origin of the name. Is it a translation of Spanish for “Satan’s wind”? By the way, here’s that list of names for winds around the world that Grant mentions.

Novelist Raymond Chandler describes that meteorological phenomenon in his short story, “Red Wind”:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

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

Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Short Story Mentioned in the Broadcast

Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler
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33 Responses

  1. C James Walker says:

    Martha and Grant, et al,

    Your show is endlessly fascinating to me, and I want to share my experience with two of today’s topics.

    RE: flounder/founder

    I kept listening throughout this segment expecting to hear a mention of what I had always thought was the principal use of founder. I grew up on a farm in Indiana, and my dad and most of his crew came from horsey backgrounds. Founder was always something that happened as a result of overeating, usually to a horse. It’s the only way I ever heard it used. If you gave a horse too much grain, too rich a diet, he might be likely to overeat and founder, or go lame. Dictionary.com has that usage as a secondary, referring to laminitis, or inflammation of cartilage connecting the horse’s hoof to its ankle bones, and also mentions “to become ill from overeating” and go lame. It also can be used to refer to inflammation caused by stress, trauma, infection, or parturition, the process of pregnancy and childbirth. An older person might say to a younger person who was stuffing himself, “Careful you don’t founder.” Their first definitions had to do with “to sink, fail utterly, fall.” I had never heard it used that way. And I thought I knew just about everything.

    I think Grant was correct in saying that the cited use of flounder was correct, to struggle or stumble clumsily, perhaps heading toward actually foundering, to fail utterly but for now only floundering. It is interesting, however, that a horse which has foundered has a floundering gait. Unfortunately, the condition frequently resulted in the horse going completely down and failing utterly.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary says, “1592, perhaps and alteration if founder….” Perhaps the words are very closely related, and may not always have been distinct from each other. I learned that the etymology of the stumbling and of the fish are not related, and I had always trained myself to think of the flounder’s movement as clumsy, just flopping in the sand. Do I need to differentiate them?

    RE: Rule of Thumb

    I, too, had heard the story many times of the wife beating derivation, and was always skeptical. I was glad to hear Grant say it most likely came from our propensity to use body parts as standards of measure. My earliest memory of it was when I saw a friend’s mother estimating how much fabric she had by pulling a length from the tip of her nose with her head turned to her left shoulder to the tip of her right thumb. When I asked her what she was doing she told me it was the “rule of thumb,” that from the tip of your nose to the tip of your thumb was a yard. I’ll be darned! It works with me. I had also heard that an inch was originally determined by the length of some English king’s distal thumb joint, the one with the nail. I wonder about that. I have relatively small hands, but that joint on me measures 1 and 3/8 inches. I wonder if it was the same king whose foot was 12 inches. Mine is only 9 1/2 inches. He must have had big feet and little hands. Darned inbreeding!

    Thanks for your show.

    C. James Walker DeleteReplyForwardMove…

  2. jerrymack says:

    I used to use the term “not-unirregardlessly” to point up to an irregardless user how silly-sounding irregardless is.

  3. shallit says:

    In this episode, you discussed the term “simul”, referring to a match where a chess master plays many opponents at the same time. But you pronounced it “SIM-yool”, as if it derived from “simulation”. In fact, it is pronounced “SIME-ull”, as it derives from “simultaneous”.

  4. Shallit, the one dictionary in which I could find the term, the New Oxford American Dictionary, gives the pronunciation as I pronounced it. I do see some videos on the Internet that include your pronunciation, which does seem like the more logical one.

  5. Geoff in England says:

    shallit said:

    In this episode, you discussed the term “simul”, referring to a match where a chess master plays many opponents at the same time. But you pronounced it “SIM-yool”, as if it derived from “simulation”. In fact, it is pronounced “SIME-ull”, as it derives from “simultaneous”.


    I agree with your observation up to a point. In England we pronounce ‘simultaneous’ as ‘Sim-ul-tay-knee-us’, so your SIME pronunciation isn’t universally applicable.

    regards, Geoff

  6. Ooooo, I’m stealing “not-unirregardlessly,” guys! And thanks for the input about “simul.”

  7. And C. James: Yes, having grown up in Kentucky myself, my first thought about “founder” also had to do with that terribly sad condition involving horses.

    As for “rule of thumb,” what I didn’t have time to say on the show, is that this penchant for measuring things by body parts also gives us, by way of Ancient Greek, the word “pygmy.”

  8. Frank Korb says:

    Grant and Martha (all all the rest of the Way With Words family) –

    Here is a link to my blog (a brand new blog, with that fresh out of the box smell), frankkorb.blogspot.com, in which I do a small bit of show promotion for your great broadcast. Sadly, my listener ship (or reader ship) isn’t as large as yours’, but I thought you’d enjoy my plug. If you get a chance, please enjoy my artwork at http://www.frankkorb.com, I enjoy sharing my career and passion for the arts with others, just as you enjoy sharing your passion for word smithing with the nation (and world). I enjoyed the listen this past Sunday and the actual conversation with you both weeks prior to the broadcast. I regret not sharing a wonderful story about how everything really led up to me calling, but as things happen on live phone conversations, some things get left out.

    As it happened, my wife and I had come to a resolution about “regardless” (prior to my phone call to the show). She consciously used the word regardless instead of the radioactive word “irregardless.” I could actually see her think about the word before she said it correctly (God Bless Her). We happened to be visiting her 96 year old grandpa in the hospital when in conversation she used the word “regardless” – CORRECTLY! YEAH! Just as she finished the word, not more that a split-second out her mouth, her grandpa corrected her and said, “you mean irregardless.” When her grandpa said that, we looked across his room at one another and burst out laughing. He had no clue what was so funny (if that in-and-of-itself is side splitting funny for anyone else). When that happened, I knew I had to make the call to the word smiths.

    Thanks for the response to my question regarding “regardless” and “irregardless” (ha, the spell check doesn’t pick “irregardless” up as wrong…) and thanks for the great show. I am happy to know that once, I was correct. I will die a very happy man, regardless if I am ever right again.

    Sincerely,
    Frank Korb

    Frank Korb
    http://www.frankkorb.com
    frankkorb.blogspot.com
    Be There – Make Their Day – Choose Your Attitude – Play
    Peace!

  9. bolddeceiver says:

    On the opening discussion:

    am a full-on son of the computerized generation, but I have recently fell in love with a 196? Smith Corona Classic-12 manual typewriter that I found in a second-hand store (great find: perfect working order, brand-new ribbon, marked down from $12 to $6). At first it was mostly an antique, a historical curiosity. But I started using it more and more for my writing, and now I use it for all of my first drafts.

    This is for two reasons. First, like you said, there is a forced contemplation that comes with such a linear method. But beyond that, it forces honest revision. When you have a file on your computer, it’s just too easy to edit on-screen as you go. I’ve found that if I completely retype a work it comes out much stronger, and if I write my first drafts on paper I have no choice.

    Plus, it starts so many interesting conversations. I was sitting in a cafe at midday writing on it, when a woman came in, looked at me for a while, and then came over to tell me that she had owned exactly the same typewriter when she went to college in the 1960s. She even pointed out a problem she remembered with the carriage return that, sure enough, has been a minor annoyance with mine. It was a lovely moment of inter-generational coming together.

  10. dilettante says:

    On a related topic:

    “Carriage return” is a phrase that has taken on a new but related meaning – it was once the device that you used to move the typewriter carriage back to its starting position; now it’s also a symbol / code (ASCII 13) that denotes the end of a line in computerized text.

    Is there a term for this type of transformation?

  11. Johnny says:

    About your listener who wonders about giving things away like they are “going out of style,” I think I have a perfect example for it. Every couple of years, my parents take our “out of style” clothes and whatever pieces of clothes they can collect here in the U.S. to Vietnam and give them to the people in our old town. Everyone in town would come and surround my parents and pick out their clothes. Just in a couple of minutes, all clothes would be gone. Everyone would run around trying on their new clothes and show off to others.

    So I think “going out of style” is just a concept of the givers, not of receivers/recipients. Sometimes the receivers have no concept of styles due to their economic or social situations or environment. So your listener is right, giving like “going out of style” would not work if the givers and receivers are in the same social and economic status or environment.

  12. krt95050 says:

    Martha’s comment about her grandfather’s typewriter sitting on his roll top desk reminded me of something…

    Just as there are comfort foods, I’ve discovered that there are comfort sounds. In the mid/late 60’s my dad was stationed in Vietnam for a year. Every night after tucking us into bed, my mom would write to him using a manual typewriter. I’d be snug in bed with the door open, soft light glowing down the hallway, and fall asleep to clickity-click-clack DING! ZIP! To this day, that sound gives me a feeling of warmth and well being. (By the way, my dad made it home safe and sound.)

    Grant’s comment of moving from typewriters to computers brought up some other memories…

    My brother and I learned to type in a summer school class before I started Jr high. In order to help us practice touch typing, we put little bits of tape over the keys on the typewriter at home. After the class was over, various family members would be writing something and would have to stop periodically and peel off a bit of tape to make sure about which key was where. I think it took about six months before all the tape was finally gone.

    After years of manual typing through Jr. high and high school, my first computer experience was with (shudder) punch-card machines in college. The switches in the keys weren’t quite as stiff as a manual typewriter, but it was close! By the time I finally did something that didn’t require some form of paper, my habits were so ingrained that I’m still slapping the keys as if I’m at a manual typewriter!

    Thanks for a great show that brought back a lot of great memories!

  13. webhill says:

    Like Martha and the previous poster, I thought of laminitis immediately upon hearing the topic of flounder vs founder. I am a veterinarian, and while I work with small animals now I did of course study horses in school and more recently I followed quite closely the work done by my former teacher Dean Richardson during the hospitalization of Barbaro, who foundered and died at New Bolton Center near my home.

    Would I be correct in understanding that you (Martha and Grant) do not believe that there is any association between the colloquial use of the word “founder” and the terrible illness that destroys the foot of a horse, resulting in disability and ultimately death for the affected animal?

    Thanks for a great show as always!
    -Hillary

  14. Glenn Peters says:

    Oh, I cringed at the pronounciation of “simul” in this episode.

    I’ve been going to the US Go Congress for about seven years now, and simuls are a regular event there, and I’ve never heard it pronounced other than “sigh-muls”, with a long “i”.

    It sounds like New Oxford American Dictionary might have gotten this one wrong.

  15. They did indeed. I’ll be sure to let the editors know.

  16. Emmett Redd says:

    RE: “going out of style”

    I always considered that “giving something away like it was going out of style” focused on the “giving”. After all, if it was going out of style, you might not be able to sell it. And, giving it away would make it move faster that trying to sell it.

    Emmett Redd

  17. TootsNYC says:

    I am sometimes quite anxious to buy things that are going out of style, because very soon they won’t be available to buy anymore, no matter how much I like them.

    Those blue jeans fit well, but they’re going out of style, so I better get several pairs.

  18. Tony says:

    Grant Barrett said:

    Shallit, the one dictionary in which I could find the term, the New Oxford American Dictionary, gives the pronunciation as I pronounced it. I do see some videos on the Internet that include your pronunciation, which does seem like the more logical one.


    Have to agree with shallit; I had never heard Grant’s pronounciation. Then I thought perhaps I had been pronouncing simultaneous incorrectly all these years.

  19. windpig says:

    “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas…”

    A few years back, the local NOAA office offered a “contest” to name the strong foehn or katabatic wind that we get in Oregon, coming from the east through the Columbia River Gorge. I’ve heard “Chinook” used to describe this wind, but the ggweather site indicates that is a wind in the Rocky Mountains. It would make sense for Oregon since Chinook used to be spoken in these parts. Anyway, the NOAA contest seems to have gone nowhere. We still refer to these, unapologetically if somewhat unimaginatively, as “east winds”. So much for making up new terms to replace the local organic word.

  20. (Btw, may I just say how much I love reading posts with words like “foehn” and “katabatic”?) 🙂

  21. windpig says:

    martha said:

    (Btw, may I just say how much I love reading posts with words like “foehn” and “katabatic”?) :-)


    Yes, I learned those on the ggweather site that Grant linked us to, and couldn’t resist using them right away.

  22. Mark says:

    When I was entering the chess world in the late ’60s, I would often hear the term “simultaneous exhibition” (never, as Grant said, “simul match”). It became such a frequent abbreviation, always pronounced “SIME-ul,” that I even heard some chess players saying, “SIME-oh.” I distinctly remember my friend Clarence explaining to a newcomer that a visiting master was going to “give a SIME-oh,” which of course meant nothing until it was explained in such a way that clearly indicated that Clarence did not know the origin at all, but had picked up the term by sound over the years.

  23. Wordsmith says:

    TootsNYC said:
    I am sometimes quite anxious to buy things that are going out of style, because very soon they won’t be available to buy anymore, no matter how much I like them.

    Those blue jeans fit well, but they’re going out of style, so I better get several pairs.

    When I heard the “going out of style” topic on the show I immediately thought, “It makes sense to me.” And it still does, because, just as TootsNYC mentioned, you might not be able to get something once it’s out of style because it might not be available.

    In the screenplay to Pulp Fiction, the character Pumpkin (played by Tim Roth) is described as someone who “smokes like it’s going out of style”. Which, at first blush, might not make sense if you have never heard the phrase before—as I hadn’t—since, this character smokes an awful lot! I asked my mother (an English major) what it meant and she explained to me that doing something like it’s going out of style is like saying, as she put it (to the best of my memory) “If it’s going out of style, I’d better use it before it’s gone.”

    Thoughts?

  24. Dan says:

    Here’s a fun short video clip that should look familiar to all of us who learned how to type on a manual typewriter. Enjoy.

    Dan

  25. felixblackcat says:

    Wordsmith said:

    TootsNYC said:
    I am sometimes quite anxious to buy things that are going out of style, because very soon they won’t be available to buy anymore, no matter how much I like them.

    Those blue jeans fit well, but they’re going out of style, so I better get several pairs.

    When I heard the “going out of style” topic on the show I immediately thought, “It makes sense to me.” And it still does, because, just as TootsNYC mentioned, you might not be able to get something once it’s out of style because it might not be available.

    In the screenplay to Pulp Fiction, the character Pumpkin (played by Tim Roth) is described as someone who “smokes like it’s going out of style”. Which, at first blush, might not make sense if you have never heard the phrase before—as I hadn’t—since, this character smokes an awful lot! I asked my mother (an English major) what it meant and she explained to me that doing something like it’s going out of style is like saying, as she put it (to the best of my memory) “If it’s going out of style, I’d better use it before it’s gone.”

    Thoughts?


    Another possibility might be that doing or using something “like it’s going out of style” could mean that someone wants to do something as much as they can before it becomes “uncool” to do it, or get all the use out of something they can, or use up their reserves, before it’s no longer fashionable, and they’re stuck with that unfashionable “something.”

  26. Wordsmith says:

    Exactly.

  27. PeggyJen says:

    Regarding “rule of thumb”
    In research, there’s the term “retrospective sensemaking” where you develop a rationale for the way things turned out after the fact, rather than really understanding WHY things happened based on the issues that people could consider AS the events took place. Is there a term for all these examples of “retrospective etymology”? I’m involved in 18th century living history, and there are dozens of these… most of which are simply not true… and they’ve even been collected into a book that’s sold in Williamsburg where they are presented as being factual. For instance “Son of a Gun” has been described as coming from what the illegitimate child of a sailor might be called because the mother of that child might give birth in the area of the ship where the guns were housed. Or calling shoes or feet “dogs” because shoes were made of dog skin. Or the classic urban legend story of the rhyme “Ring Around the Rosy” actually describing the black plague, when there is no evidence that it does. As a historian, I would love to get rid of a lot of these creative etymologies!

  28. PeggJean, in the language dodge we call them “etymythologies” or “folk etymologies.”

  29. Wordsmith says:

    And, PeggyJean, I’d love to get a copy of that book for historical purposes, does it have an ISBN? I don’t support disinformation (or dysinformation) but I’m interested in what theories people will desperately concoct in lieu of an authentic and historical explanation.

  30. Trevor S says:

    Regarding ‘Typewriters We Have Loved’

    I live in Hong Kong and a few years ago (around 2005) interviewed for a position with a diversified manufacturing company that made household consumer items (hair dryers, telephones, answering machines, etc); and one of their products, funnily enough, was the typewriter, under the brand name, ‘Olympia,’ and, apparently, the only brand name still manufacturing the typewriter.

    I was surprised to learn that – while typewriters are still available for purchase – they were still being manufactured… and manual typewriters, no less. The reason for the continued production is that in places like Africa and South America, where electricity may be scarce, the venerable typewriter is critical component to successful education in the rural and remote-area schools.

    So, there you have it – the typewriter hangs tough where its needed most.

  31. mbower says:

    I just got to listen to this podcast. Here are a couple of comments:

    “Flounder” – you sort of skipped over one meaning and the use of flounder (I
    think). The statement that the insurance proposal was floudering could
    also have been a reference to the fact that is was flip-flopping and,
    therefore, getting nowhere in the legislation. You did mention that
    flounders flip-flop but didn’t really hit on the legislation flip-flopping.
    Working in the DC area, I see this a LOT.

    “Rule-of-Thumb” – Another use of Rule of Thumb is in the Fire/Rescue world.
    In a hazardous materials (HazMat) situtation, the Rule of Thumb is this.
    Hold up your thumb so it is covering the distance view of the suspected
    hazmat incident. If you can see ANY of the incident around your thumb, you
    are TOO close. Back up until you can’t see any of the incident. And THEN
    call in the hazmat team.

    Great podcasts. Makes my commute so much nicer. Or at least bearable.

    Michael Bower
    Ashburn, VA

  32. Glad we could help, Michael. Sorry we can’t also fill your gas tank! 🙂

    Hadn’t heard that about “rule of thumb” in HazMat – thanks.

  33. Trevor, I wouldn’t have imagined that about typewriters. Thanks for the firsthand account. We’ll look forward to hearing more from Hong Kong, okay?