You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more – and make sure to include a wide variety of publications. But what if you just don’t have that kind of time? Martha and Grant show how to learn new words by making the most of the time you do have. Also, when new words are added to a dictionary, do others get removed to make room? Plus, words of encouragement, words of exasperation, and a polite Japanese way to say goodbye when a co-worker leaves at the end of the day. Also, “you bet your boots,” “the worm has turned,” “raise hell and put a chunk under it,” “bread and butter,” “on tomorrow,” a love letter to libraries and an apology to marmots.

This episode first aired July 12, 2016.

Download the MP3.

 Martha’s Marmot Apology
After inadvertently maligning marmots in an earlier discussion of the term “whistle pig,” Martha makes a formal apology to any marmots that might be listening.

 Etymology of “Uff-Da!”
Uff-da! is an exclamation of disgust or annoyance. In Norwegian, it means roughly the same as Yiddish Oy vey!, and is now common in areas of the U.S. settled by Norwegians, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 The Worm Has Turned
“The worm has turned” suggests a reversal of fortune, particularly the kind of situation in which a meek person begins behaving more confidently or starts defending himself. In other words, even the lowliest of creatures will still strike back if sufficiently provoked, an idea Shakespeare used in Henry VI, Part 3, where Lord Clifford observes, “The smallest worm will turn being trodden on, and doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.”

 Raise Hell and Put a Chunk Under It
“Raise hell and put a chunk under it” is simply an intensified version of the phrase “raise hell,” meaning “to cause trouble” or “create a noisy disturbance.”

 Betting Boots and Britches
The phrases “You bet your boots!”” and “You bet your britches!” mean “without a doubt” and most likely originate from gambling culture, where you wouldn’t want to bet your boots or trousers without being confident that you’d win.

 New License Plate Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski takes us on a road trip, which means another round of the License Plate Game!

 Dictionaries: Print to Online
A Chicago-area listener wonders: When dictionaries go from print to online, are any words removed? What’s the best print dictionary to replace the old one on her dictionary stand? For more about dictionaries and their history, Grant recommends the Cordell Collection of Dictionaries at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana.

 Bread and Butter Superstition
When two people are walking side-by-side holding hands but briefly separate to go around an obstacle on opposite sites, they might say “bread and butter.” This phrase apparently stems from an old superstition that if the two people want to remain inseparable as bread and butter, they should invoke that kind of togetherness. There are several variations of this practice, including the worry that if they fail to utter the phrase, they’ll soon quarrel. Another version appears early in an episode of the old TV series The Twilight Zone, featuring a very young William Shatner.  

 Neither Heat Nor Light
John Webster’s 1623 tragedy The Duchess of Malfi includes the memorable line: “Glories, like glowworms, afar off shine bright, / But looked to near have neither heat nor light.” Much later, Stephen Crane expressed a similar idea in his poem A Man Saw a Ball of Gold in the Sky.

 On The Morrow
A woman in Monticello, Florida, is bothered by the phrase “on tomorrow,” and feels that the word on is redundant. However, this construction is a dialect feature, not a grammatical mistake. It has roots in the United Kingdom and probably derives from the phrase “on the morrow.”

 Facebook Discussion for Encouraging Phrases
What phrases do you use to encourage others to pick themselves up and dust themselves off? What words do you say to acknowledge someone’s bad luck and encourage them to move on? In a discussion on our Facebook group, listeners offer lots of suggestions, including “tough beans,” “tough darts,” “suck it up,” “tough noogies,” and “you knew it was a snake when you picked it up.”

 Word a Day for Expanding Vocabulary
A listener in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, requests advice about expanding her vocabulary as a writer, but admits she spends only about ten minutes a day reading. The hosts offer several suggestions: Make sure to stop and look up unfamiliar words; listen to podcasts, which will also introduce you to new words; check the etymology, which is sometimes a helpful memory aid; build vocabulary practice into your routine with a word-a-day calendar or a subscription to Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day newsletter.

 And So Isn’t He
A teacher in Oakley, Vermont, noted a curious construction among his students while teaching in Maine. They would say things like “We’re all going to the party, and so isn’t he” or “I like to play basketball, and so doesn’t he.”  Primarily heard in eastern New England, this locution has a kind of internal logic, explained in more detail at one of our favorite resources, The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project.

 Japanese Professional Farewell
A Jackson, Mississippi, woman who used to work in Japan says that each day as she left the office, her colleagues would say Otsukaresama desu, which means something along the lines of “Thank you for your hard work.” Although its literal translation suggests that the hearer must be exhausted, it’s simply understood as a polite, set phrase with no exact equivalent in English.

 Library Marvels
Pulitzer-winning historian Barbara Tuchman has observed that her single most formative educational experience was exploring Harvard’s Widener Library. She captured the feelings of many library lovers when she added that her own daughter couldn’t enter that building “without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle.”

 Going Bald-Headed
To go at something bald-headed means “to rush at something head-on.” The same idea informs the phrase to “I’m going to pinch you bald-headed,” which an exasperated parent might say to a misbehaving child. The more common version is “snatch you bald-headed,” a version of which Mark Twain used in his Letters from Hawaii.

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

Photo by Rosewoman. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

Henry VI by William Shakespeare
Cordell Collection of Dictionaries
Practicing History: Selected Essays by Barbara W. Tuchman

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Cold Damage Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae Autumn Breeze Rivas Recordings
Lazy Lover Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae Autumn Breeze Rivas Recordings
Lady, You Look Good To Me Galt McDermott Shapes of Rhythm Kilmarnock
She Did It Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae Autumn Breeze Rivas Recordings
Heavier Rock Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae Autumn Breeze Rivas Recordings
Coffee Cold Galt McDermott Shapes of Rhythm Kilmarnock
The Hawk Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae Autumn Breeze Rivas Recordings
Mesothelioma Magic In Three’s Magic In Three’s GED Soul Records

2 Responses

  1. RobertB says:

    I can never do the word games because it costs me all day to assemble the sounds of the alphabets into the visual images of words.  Is that a kind of mental defect or a common phenomenon?  When you hear someone spell out a word, is it normal that you have to assemble the sounds to make out the picture of a word in your mind?

  2. Heimhenge says:

    RobertB asked: When you hear someone spell out a word, is it normal that you have to assemble the sounds to make out the picture of a word in your mind?

    I think that might depend on whether English is your first language. What you’re describing here is extremely subjective, so I’m not sure if I read your question correctly, but here’s my take.

    English is my first language, and when I play those word games I jump right from the spellings to the words … no conscious processing in between that I’m aware of. But since I moved to Arizona I’ve been picking up more and more Spanish. Never took a course, but there’s so much Spanish in the culture down here that you can’t escape encountering the language in newspapers, signs, TV channels, etc. When I see a new Spanish word I think I do what you described, assembling the overall sound from individual phonemes, diphthongs, diacriticals, inflections. And I still get it wrong about half the time.

    Perhaps with one’s first language, this has all become so internalized and automatic that the process is “invisible,” even though it’s still happening at some subconscious level? I certainly don’t think it’s a “mental defect” … especially with a second language.