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Whistle Britches

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Writers and where they do their best creative work. A new book on Geoffrey Chaucer describes the dark, cramped, smelly room where he wrote his early work. Which raises the question: What kind of space do you need to produce your best writing? Also, Texas football lingo, and the perfect smart-aleck remark for those times when you can’t remember the answer to a question. Plus, how slang terms popular in African-American culture, like bling bling, bae, and on fleek find their way into the mainstream English. Also, salt and pepper cellars, itch a scratch vs. scratch an itch, “sick abed on two chairs,” a new word for nieces and nephews, “the Jimmies and the Joes,” aimless walks on Nantucket, and Dadisms.

This episode first aired February 13, 2015. It was rebroadcast March 7, 2016.


 The father of one of Martha’s friends had all sorts lots of funny sayings, like the one he’d use during a lull in a conversation: “Do you live around here or do you ride a bicycle?” He’d also respond to, “Are you ready to leave?” with “I stay ready, so I don’t have to get ready.” We’re betting that every family has these kinds of goofy, memorable lines. One name for them: Dadisims.

Jimmies and Joes

 A Forth Worth, Texas, listener who interviewed candidates for a head football coach position at a high school reports that out of eight interviewees, six of them used the phrase, “It’s not about the X’s and the O’s, it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes.” It’s a shorthand way of emphasizing the importance of valuing the players themselves, and first pops up in print in an Los Angeles Times story from 1991.

Scratching an Itch

 “Scratching an itch” is far more common than “itching a scratch.” Both are grammatically correct, but the latter is considered informal.

I’ve Slept Since Then

 If someone asks you a question but you’ve forgotten the answer, you might respond with the phrase “I’ve slept since then.” The implication seems to be that it’s been more than 24 hours since you either learned the information or needed to remember it, so you’re excused. It’s a phrase that gets handier the older we get.

Secret Identities Word Game

 Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about secret identities involving words with the first letters IM.

Salt-and-Pepper Cellar

 The -cellar in saltcellar derives from an Old French word meaning “salt box,” and is etymologically related to the word salt itself. A caller from India says she grew up with the expression salt-and-pepper cellar, and it turns out she’s not the only one.

Popularized African American Slang

 Words like bae, bling bling and on fleek have all moved into the common vernacular at different points in the last 30 years, thanks in part to the prominence of African-American slang in music and pop culture.


 The Detroit Free Press reported recently that a man invented and trying to popularize a term for nieces and nephews, although it’s clear that the word sofralia has an uphill battle. English doesn’t have a specific, fixed term for those relatives, although some people have tried to popularize the term nieflings

Sick Abed on Two Chairs

 “Sick abed on two chairs” is an idiom that can describe being sick but working anyway. It can also refer to the idea of being sick and going between two chairs: the dinner table chair, and the porcelain chair in the bathroom.

Rantum Scoot

 On Nantucket, a rantum scoot, or a random scoot, is a walk with no particular destination in mind.

Writing Environments

 The new book Chaucer’s Tale by Paul Strohm describes the cramped, noisy, smelly place in which Chaucer wrote, which got us thinking about the particular environmental preferences we all have for getting serious writing done.

Origin of “Whistle Britches”

 Whistle britches, a Southern term for fellows who draw a lot of attention to themselves, comes from the sound corduroy trousers make when you walk and the wales rub against each other.


 Mealy-mouthed is an old phrase meaning someone is vague, equivocal, or beats around the bush. Even Martin Luther used a German version of the insult, “Mehl im Maule Behalten.” Luther, in fact, was quite experienced at tossing out creative jabs, and thanks to the internet, you can experience some of them yourself with this Lutheran insult generator.

Out of Station

 “Out of station” is an English idiom used in India to mean “going on vacation.”

You’ll Pee the Bed

 If you’re a parent looking for ways to warn your kids not to play with matches, you could do worse than “If you play with fire, you’ll pee the bed.” Similar admonitions are used around the world, apparently because a child can far better relate to the familiar, embarrassing consequences of bedwetting than the more theoretical danger of fire.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Sander’s LamentSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
Rise of The EastSure Fire Soul EnsembleRise of The EastTimeless Takeover
Last Train To NewarkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
Funky RiverSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
The HuntSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
Sunny Santa AnaSure Fire Soul EnsembleRise of The EastTimeless Takeover
Turtle WalkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
Sweltering HeightsSure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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1 comment
  • Regarding “Dadisms”. When I was little, and either me, or one of my siblings, did not want to eat what was provided for lunch or supper, he would say to us. “You can eat, or you can CRY and eat.” It was a joke then, and remains one to this day…..

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