Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2019


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Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she can think of sound old-fashioned. Is there a better term than malarkey, poppycock, or rubbish? Also, listeners step up to help a caller looking for a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes makes it hard for her to remember words. Finally, you may remember the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate awarded on the old TV show "Laugh-In." As it turns out, though, the phrase "fickle finger of fate" is decades older than that!


Door dwell, hoistway, and terminal landing are all terms from the jargon of elevator design and maintenance.

If you hear someone use the word jumbo used for "bologna," it's a good bet they're from Pittsburgh or somewhere nearby in southwestern Pennsylvania. A regional company, Isaly's, sold a brand of lunchmeat with that name.

Why do say It's academic when referring to a question or topic that's theoretical?

The "Think and Grin" section of Boy's Life magazine has some pretty silly humor, especially in issues from the 1950's.

A listener in Burlington, Vermont, remembers being punished as a youngster for talking during class. His teacher forced him to write out this proverb dozens of times: For those who talk, and talk, and talk, this proverb may appeal. The steam that blows the whistle will never turn the wheel. Translation: If you're talking, then you're not getting work done.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle requires misreading words that begin with the letters P-R-E. For example, the word preaching could be misread as having to do with "hurting beforehand" -- that is, pre-aching.

A young woman from Portland, Oregon, seeks a noun to denote something fake or otherwise dubious. She doesn't want an obvious swear word, but also doesn't like the ones she found in the thesaurus, and thinks malarkey, poppycock, and flim-flam sound too old-fashioned and unnatural for a 20-something to say. Fraud, fake, hoax, janky, don't sound quite right for her either. The hosts suggest chicanery, sham, rubbish, bogus, or crap.

A San Diego, California, listener is bothered by colleagues' use of the expression I'll revert meaning "I'll get back to you."

Regarding suffering caused by others, singer Bob Marley had this to say: The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.

Put up your dukes! means "Get ready to fight!" But its etymology is a bit uncertain. One story goes that it's from Cockney rhyming slang, in which dukes is short for Dukes of York, a play on the slang term fork, meaning "hand." But the phrase may originate from or be influenced by a Romany word involving hands.

Why do we call a peanut a goober? The word comes from the Bantu languages of East Africa.

If you need a synonym for freckle, there's always the word ephelis, from ancient Greek for "nail stud."

Listeners step up to help a caller from an earlier show who was seeking a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes makes it difficult for her to remember words.

Primarily in the Southern United States, the word haint refers to a ghost or supernatural being, such as a poltergeist. Haint appears to be a variant of haunt.

The word pretty, used to modify an adjective, as in pretty good or pretty bad, has strayed far from its etymological roots, which originally had to do with "cunning" or "craft."

Here's something to think about the next time somebody says A penny for your thoughts.

The TV show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," popular in the late 1960's and early 1970's was famous for awarding its goofy trophy, the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate. But the term fickle finger of fate is actually decades older than that.

Tunket is a euphemism for "hell," as in Where in tunket did I put my car keys? No one knows its origin.

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


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