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Whistling Dixie

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Today’s most popular dog names are Max and Bella. In the Middle Ages, though, dogs would answer to names like Amiable. Or Nosewise. Or even … Clench. ? Is the term redneck derogatory? Some folks proudly claim that name. They say it’s high time they were redneckcognized. ? Also, the origin of the phrase rule of thumb, whistling Dixie, the eephus pitch, terms for flabby underarms, and craptastic substitutes for swear words, like sacapuntas! This episode first aired March 16, 2013.

Adult Spelling Bee

 Grant and Martha recently served as expert spellers at the San Diego Council on Literacy’s annual adult spelling bee, but don’t let the age group or philanthropic mission fool you-spelling bees are always i-n-t-e-n-s-e. The word Rorschach shall forever haunt them, but they also took away a new favorite — homologate, meaning to sanction or officially approve. As in, “I’m Joe Candidate, and I homologate this message.”

Flabby Underarms

 There comes a time in life where waving hello means showing off some flabby underarm, but we have some slang to make “flabby underarm” sound a little less icky. A hi Betty takes its name from the idea of someone waving hi to a friend named Betty. They’re also known as hi Helens, bingo wings, bat wings, and flying squirrels.

Even More Tourist Nicknames

 A while back we asked listeners what they call tourists in their neck of the woods, and we’ve heard back about tourons, which combines tourist and morons, and in the Florida panhandle, folks from out of town are known as sand dollars for bringing along their pocketbooks.

“Redneck” Origins

 Where does the term redneck come from, and is it derogatory? It goes back at least to the 1830s where it pops up in the Carolinas to refer to a farmer that works in the sun. Over time, people like listener Richard Ramirez of Fort Worth, Texas, have taken it as a term of pride, denoting their authenticity and work ethic. The reality series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has furthered the cause with her call to redneckognize! As always, whether such a term is offensive depends on who’s saying it, and to whom.

Old English Proverbs

 Grant dug up an old book of English proverbs, with gems like “Novelty always appears handsome,” and “New dishes beget new appetites.” Perhaps you can consider those before lining up for that new iPhone.

Fandom Quiz

 Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a quiz for all the fans out there — as in fans of Star Trek, or The X-Files, or trains. Come to think of it, what would you call a fan of A Way with Words?

Eephus, Ephus

 Baseball fans know the eeuphus pitch-that arcing lob made famous by Rip Sewell in the 1946 All-Star Game. Before that, the word eephus referred to insider information. Jim Strain in La Mesa, California, even uses it as a verb, as in, “That dog’s not allowed on the couch, but he’ll eephus his way on somehow.”


 Do you have junk in your frunk? As in, the front trunk, found on cars like a zippy Tesla.

Rule of Thumb Origin

 Where does rule of thumb come from? The idiom referring to a practical measure based on experience was never actually a law, though it does pop up in legal opinions suggesting that it’d be okay to let a man beat his wife if the stick was less than a thumb in width.

Sacapuntas and Mock Obscenity

 If you need to release some tension but don’t want to curse, try shouting “sacapuntas!” This Spanish word for “pencil sharpener” falls into a colorful line of curses that aren’t actually curses. For plenty of others, turn to Michelle Witte’s book The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing.


 The term daisy-cutting, which refers to the low-action trot of Arabian and Thoroughbred horses, is reminiscent of the low grounder in baseball known as a daisy cutter and even the daisy cutter explosive, which shoots low-flying shrapnel.

Top Pet Names

 According to vetstreet.com, the top ten female puppy names from 2012 include Bella, Daisy, Lucy, Molly, and Lola. Notice anything odd? They’re all human names! Gone are the days of pets named Fluffy and Pooch. In are the days of human children named after fruits and vegetables. In the Middle Ages, though, you might run into dogs that answer to Amiable, Trinket, Nosewise, Holdfast, and Clench. For more about pet ownership back then, check out historian Kathleen Walker Meikle’s book Medieval Pets.


 Do you have spizerinctum (or spizzerinctum) and huckledebuck? These terms for passion and energy, respectively, are fun examples of false Latin, meaning they replicate the look and mouthfeel of Latin words but aren’t actually Latin. Huckledebuck, which can also mean commotion or craziness, has been in use for over one hundred years but still hasn’t been given an entry in any mainstream dictionaries.

“Whistling Dixie” Origin

 You ain’t just whistling Dixie, and that’s the truth! Whistling Dixie, which refers to a studied carelessness, comes from the song that originated in minstrel shows and from which the South takes its nickname. But if you say someone ain’t just whistling Dixie, it means they’re not kidding around.

Knock a Tater in the Head

 Come on over for dinner, we’ll knock a tater in the head or something! This lovely form of a dinner invite came to us from Vera, a listener in British Columbia who heard it while living in Arkansas.

Elbow Grease

 Elbow grease isn’t a product you can buy at the hardware store. If a task demands elbow grease, that just means whatever you’re doing requires hard work that might result in sweat.

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

Photo by Josh Samson. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing by Michelle Witte
A Hand-Book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn and John Ray
Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker Meikle

Music Used in the Episode

Sham TimeWillie BoboA New DimensionVerve
Spanish GreaseWillie BoboSpanish GreaseVerve
Mission CreepThe New MastersoundsOut On The FaultlineOne Note
Last Train To NewarkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
JoaoCal TjaderSoul SauceVerve
On The BorderThe New MastersoundsBreaks From The BorderTallest Man Records
Soul SauceCal TjaderSoul SauceVerve
Turtle WalkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
Sehorn’s FarmThe MetersThe MetersJosie Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song BookVerve

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