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You Sound Old

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Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound, well, of a certain age? Grant and Martha discuss language that’s lost on other generations. Why is the entree the main course? Shouldn’t it come first? And why is the letter k silent in “knot” and “knight”? Plus, the right way to say “the,” a remedy for the superstition of splitting the pole, names for the toes straight from Mother Goose, the difference between finished and done, and a special word quiz for all you zombie fans!

This episode first aired October 31, 2011.

Outdated Language

 Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound out of touch? Are you using outdated slang? Changes in pop culture and catchphrases are always marking the generational gap, from the sitcom characters we love to the way we say something’s cool. The “Doogie Howser” scene in the movie 50/50 is a perfect example.

Done vs. Finished

 What’s the difference between done and finished? If you’ve completed something, are you done? Or are you finished? Grant and Martha contend that there’s no historical evidence to suggest a difference between the two, although finished is slightly more formal.


 Why are main courses called entrees in the US? Why isn’t the entree the first course of a meal? In 19th Century Britain, the entree came after a course of soup or fish, but before the main portion of the meal, such as a boar’s head. Over time, the main course converged into one course, but the name entree stuck.

“Of” Instead of “Before” the Hour

 If it’s ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.

More Old-Fashioned Language

 Grant and Martha share some more terms that make a person sound old-fashioned these days. Ever get a blank stare when you mention the icebox?

Zombie Word Puzzle

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a zombiefied puzzle called Dead Reckoning. What’s the problem with putting zombies in the legislature? A deadlocked government!

Pronouncing “Garage”

 How do you pronounce garage? Does it rhyme with “barrage,” or do you say it like the British so it rhymes with “carriage”? The variations abound, and they all work.

Rule for Pronouncing “The”

 There’s a rule for the pronunciation of the word “the.” If it’s followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like “/thee/,” as in, the end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with “duh,” as in “the dog”. That’s thuh long and thuh short of it.

Outdated Word Comebacks

 Some outdated words wind up coming back in cheeky and ironic ways. For example, kids these days likely know groovy from Austin Powers, not from the flower children.

Pole-Splitting Superstition

 It’s a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn’t each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there’s a remedy: just say bread and butter! There’s an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that. And of course, there’s a Facebook page devoted to keeping poles whole.


 There’s a story going around about a 19th Century priest named Giuseppe Mezzofanti who claimed to speak forty to fifty languages. Hyperpolyglots, or those who speak six or more languages fluently, offer some key insights into learnings language. Michael Erard chronicles all this in his linguistic cliffhanger, Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners.

Mouthfeel of Words

 Is there a term for the way words feel when they’re spoken that has nothing to do with their meaning? The word “suitcase” feels nice to say, unlike rural. “Cellar door” certainly has a different quality than “moist ointment.” Mouthfeel is an oft-noted concept. But in his book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount, Jr., says of his favorite term to enunciate: polyurethane foam. His reason? “It’s just so sayable.”

Not Those Rubbers, These Rubbers

 Depending on what generation you’re from, “Get your rubbers!” could mean put on your galoshes or it put on something else!

Silent K

 Did we ever pronounce the “k” sound in the words “knot” or “know”? The now-silent k underwent apheresis, from Greek meaning “to take off.” In olden days, the word knight also had an initial-k sound, and a “kin-not” was the thing you tie. But nowadays, as Blount would say, the k in knot is silent, “like the p in swimming.”

Innocent Boner

 At one time, a boner was a mistake. And now, it’s — you know. Beware of that outdated usage, grownups!

Names for the Toes

 Do our toes have names? Mother Goose and Scandinavian nursery rhymes gave us variants of Tom Pumpkin, Long Larkin, Betty Pringle, Johnny Jingle, and Little Dick. Sounds cooler than big toe, no? A whole lot more shared here.

Baseball Riddle

 What dessert would you serve a baseball player? Why, a bundt cake, of course!

Photo by amie2105. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard
Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.

Music Used in the Episode

Funky FeverJoe ThomasFeelin’s From WithinGroove Merchant
A Place in SpaceJoe ThomasHere I ComeLester Radio Corporation
PolarizerJoe ThomasFeelin’s From WithinGroove Merchant
Dig On ItJimmy McGriffSoul SugarCapitol Records
NTKool and The GangThe Best of Kool and the Gang (1969-1976)Mercury
Base LineSyd DaleCinemaphonic 2: Soul PunchMotel Records
Do I Have To Boogaloo?The Double Dozen OrchestraDance DateAmphonic Music Ltd
London LifeThe Syd Dale OrchestraLondon LifeAmphonic Music Ltd
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings the George & Ira Gershwin Song BookUMG Recordings

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