A Way with Words

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, produced by Stefanie Levine
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Pants on Fire - 16 October 2017

A highly anticipated children's book and the epic history behind a familiar vegetable. Fans of illustrator Maurice Sendak are eagerly awaiting the publication of a newly discovered manuscript by the late author. And speaking of children's literature, some wise advice from the author of Charlotte's Web, E. B. White: "Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears." Plus, when is a mango not a mango? If you're in Southern Indiana, you may not be talking about a tropical fruit. And: the longest F-word in the dictionary has 29 letters, and is rarely used -- partly because pronouncing it is such a challenge. Also, Limestone Belt, I swanee, gorby, fluke print, pour the cobs on,  and Liar, liar, pants on fire.


After we discussed the Smile Belt and other "belt" regions of the United States, listeners chimed in with more, including the Potato Belt and Potato Chip Belt in Pennsylvania, and Banana Belt, a term used for the southern regions of both Vermont and Alaska.

The saying Liar, liar pants on fire is part of a longer children's rhyme that's been around since 1841 or so. There are several different versions of what comes after the line Liar, liar, pants on fire, such as Hanging by a telephone wire / While you're there, cut your hair / And stick it down your underwear. A listener in Indianapolis, Indiana, reports finding other taglines, such as Stick your head in boiling water, and the milder Wash your face in dirty water.

To describe someone who is dazed, lost, or confused, you might say he looks like he was sent for and couldn't go.
An 11-year-old in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders about a phrase her late grandfather used. Instead of swearing, he'd exclaim I swanee! or I'll swanny! This mild oath, and its shorter version, I'll swan, derives from an English dialectal phrase, I shall warrant.

The Indiana Limestone Belt has an abundance of this type of rock. The limestone industry figured prominently in the movie Breaking Away, in which affluent residents of Bloomington, Indiana, referred derisively to quarry workers and their families as cutters, as in stonecutters.

For this week's puzzle, Quiz Guy John Chaneski is inventing new breeds of dogs by changing one letter in the name of an existing breed. If you take a Rottweiler, for example, then change one letter in the breed's name, you'll have anew mutt that can exist on carrots, parsnips, turnips, and the like.

A woman in Mandeville, Louisiana, wonders about a term her grandfather used when someone hogged all the ice cream or took more of their share of cookies: Don't be a gorby! This termmay derive from the Scots word gorb, meaning "glutton." Her grandfather was from northern Maine, where the term gorby also applies to a kind of bird called the Canada jay, known for swooping in and making off with food.

A woman in Farmers Branch, Texas, explains how the simple term cousin succinctly denotes a complicated relationship.

The phrase he doesn't know from, meaning "he doesn't know about," is a word-for-word borrowing, or calque, of a Yiddish phrase Er veys nit fun.

A fluke print is the pattern a whale's tail leaves on the surface of the water.

A man in San Clemente, California, and his friends are debating the term for when a substance in a smoking device is all used up. Which phrase is correct: the bowl is cashed, or the bowl is cacked? In this case, both terms work.

For a clever way to describe someone as arrogant, you can always say I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth. A less common variant: I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he'll bring.

A new Maurice Sendak manuscript, Presto and Zesto in Limboland, will be published in 2018, several years after the death of the beloved illustrator. E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, had some wise advice about writing for children: "Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears."

A woman who relocated from the eastern United States to Evansville, Indiana, was confused when her mother-in-law there asked her to bring in some mangoes from the garden, since tropical fruits don't grow in the Midwest. In that part of the country, the word mango means "green pepper." The reason involves a deliciously circuitous history.

In an earlier episode, we talked about the butterfly mating behavior known as hilltopping, in which male butterflies try to appeal to females by flying as high as possible. A listener in Fairbanks, Alaska, reports that the term hilltopping is used among sledheads, or "snowmobile enthusiasts," to mean a different kind of showing off -- riding up a hill on a snowmobile as high as possible before falling back. This move is also called hightopping.

An Indianapolis, Indiana, man says that when his grandmother wanted to urge someone on, she'd say It's time to pour the cobs on or It's time for the cobs. What's the origin?

A woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wants to know the pronunciation of floccinaucinihilipilification, and why such a long word means "the habit of estimating something as worthless."

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


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2017-10-16 03:59:00 UTC

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