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Will The Rain Hurt The Rhubarb?

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Obamamania, Obamabot, Obamathon, Obamamentum— the list of variations on the name “Obama” goes on and on. Is there an English word that means “the in-laws of your son or daughter”? And what does it mean when someone says, “Well, that was odder than Dick’s hatband!”?

This episode first aired January 17, 2009.


 The hosts discuss two Obamafications: Obamanation and Obamination. Slate’s book and web widget include many Barack Obama-derived words in Obamamania!: The English Language, Barackafied.

Origin of Eavesdropping

 You’d be forgiven for wondering if eavesdropping derives from the idea of would-be spies slipping and falling from the eaves of a house. But it doesn’t.

Bye Week

 Time for a sports question! If an NFL team has a week without having to play a game during the season, it’s called a bye week. But a caller says he’s also heard bye week refer to a week in which a team draws no opponent. Which is correct? Hint: Tie goes to the adjective.

Etymology of Simping

 In our recent episode, Dust Bunnies and Ghost Turds, Grant mentioned simping, a slang term for “the act of pursuing a woman online in a fawning fashion.” What’s the etymological source of simping? “Cyberpimping”? “Acting like a simpleton”? “Simpering”?

Baby Talk Puzzle

 Quiz Guy and proud papa Greg Pliska stops by with a word puzzle in honor of his infant daughter. The quiz is called– what else –“Baby Talk.”

Your Child’s In-Laws

 What do you call the parents of your son’s or daughter’s spouse? They’re your child’s in-laws, but what are they in relation to you and your spouse? A caller who spent years in Latin America says Spanish has a specific term for this: consuegro. She’s frustrated by the apparent lack of such a term in English.

Odder Than Dick’s Hatband

 “Well, that was odder than Dick’s hatband!” A caller says his mother always used that term. Now he wants to know: Who was Dick? And what was so odd about his headwear?

Pope’s Nose

 Ever sat down to a turkey dinner where someone offered you a bite of the Pope’s nose? That’s a name sometimes applied to the bird’s fatty rump, which many consider a delicacy. Martha and Grant discuss this and other terms for the so-called “part that goes over the fence last.” Is this part of a turkey any more appetizing if you call it the parson’s nose, the uropygium, or le sot-l’y-laisse? The last of these is a French term for that part of a turkey; roughly translated, it means “only a silly person won’t eat it.”

Shelf of Unwanted Books

 When it comes to books, some people are pack rats; others make a point of periodically culling from the word herd. In a recent New York Times essay, Laura Miller describes her own mixed feelings about getting rid of unwanted books. A full shelf of unread books, she writes, can feel like “a kind of charm against mortality.” Martha and Grant discuss Miller’s essay, “The Well-Tended Bookshelf.”

Slang This! with Beagle-Chased

 This week’s “Slang This!” contestant from the National Puzzlers’ League tries to pick out the real slang terms from a puzzle that includes the expressions beagle-chased, green-shifted, kiln-fired, and shovel-ready.

Parental Non-Sequiturs

 A caller who grew up with 10 brothers and sisters recalls that whenever sibling squabbles erupted, her parents would intervene with a cheery, “Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” The children were expected to respond with: “Not if it’s in cans!” Such silliness, she says, would get everyone laughing, and the dispute would be defused. Grant and Martha discuss this and other handy non sequiturs.

Suped Up vs. Souped Up

 You’ve modified that car to make it go faster and look sharper. But is your car correctly described as suped up (as in “supercharged”) or souped up?

Indian Summer

 Is there any connection between term Indian summer and the term Indian giver? A caller worries that might be the case, but the hosts assure her it’s not. By the way, that marvelous cultural history of Indian summer that Martha recommends is Beneath the Second Sun, by Adam Sweeting.

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

Photo by kahvikisu. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Obamamania!: The English Language, Barackafied by the Editors of Slate
Beneath the Second Sun by Adam Sweeting

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1 comment
  • A friend of mine just asked if I’d ever heard the expression, “Will the rain hurt the rhubarb?” With the answer, invariably, “Not if it’s in the can.” She was sure it was unique to her family, and not having any idea, I said, “Bet it’s not just you. Check out ‘A Way with Words….’ ” and here it is! But could it be a non sequitur that at one time made sense? If so, are there other such examples? Anyway, two possibilities for the rhubarb retort. At one time it was popular to force rhubarb in winter, and this was done by covering (darkening) them with specially made earthen jars or, if you weren’t that fancy, with a big old upturned bucket or trash can with holes punched in bottom to let rain in. (See, See, http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=126) Another possibility is that people used to “can” rhubarb (really in jars), and of course a rain storm would have no chance of drowning your spring crop of rhubarb if you’d already done your canning. For full directions, even how to cook rhubard “in the can,” see New Rhubarb Culture by J.E. Morse, 1909.

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