Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 31 December 2018


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Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to anyone online. Finally, the art of accepting apologies. If a co-worker is habitually late but apologizes each time, what words can you use to accept their latest apology but also communicate that you never want it to happen again?


What do the terms flummox, butterfingers, and the creeps have in common? They were all either invented or popularized by Charles Dickens. The earliest citations we have for many familiar words and phrases are from the work of the popular 19th-century novelist. You can find more in What the Dickens: Distinctly Dickensian Words and How to Use Them by Brian Kozlowski.

A San Diego, California, 12-year-old whose last name is Jones wonders: Why do so many African-Americans as well as European Americans share the same last name?

The exclamation Oh my stars and garters! likely arose from a reference to the British Order of the Garter. The award for this highest level of knighthood includes an elaborate medal in the shape of a star. The expression was probably reinforced by Bless my stars!, a phrase stemming from the idea that the stars influence one's well-being.

If you're having a particularly tough time, you might say that you're having a hard fight with a short stick. The idea is that if you're defending yourself with a short stick, you'd be at a disadvantage against an opponent with a longer one.

A man in Chalk Mountain, Texas, recalls a sublime evening of conversation with a new German friend. As they parted, the woman uttered a German phrase suggesting that she wanted the moment to last forever. It's Verweile doch, Du bist so schoen, and it comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragic play, Faust.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's game involves clues about the names of countries. For example, a cylindrical container, plus an abbreviation on the back of a tube of toothpaste, combine to form the name of what neighbor to the north?

Why is a factory called a plant?

A flat tire is a slang term for the result of stepping on someone's heel so that their shoe comes loose.

The word jackpot can denote the pile of money you win at a game of poker, but another definition is that of "trouble" or "tangled mess" or "logjam."

What do you call the holes in a Pop-Tart? Those indentations in crackers, Pop-Tarts, and similar baked goods are called docker holes or docking holes, used to release air as the dough gets hotter.

The phrase Don't cabbage that, meaning "don't steal that," may derive from the old practice of tailors' employees pilfering scraps of leftover fabric, which, gathered up in one's hands, resemble a pile of cabbage leaves.

The first known citation for the word dustbin is credited to Charles Dickens.

Language enthusiasts, rejoice! Jonathon Green's extraordinary Dictionary of Slang is now available online.

What's the most effective way to respond to someone who keeps apologizing for the same offense? Say, for example, that a co-worker is habitually late to work, and is forever apologizing for it, but does nothing to change that behavior? How do you accept their apology for their latest offense, but communicate that you don't want it to happen again?

When comparing two things, what's the correct word to use after the word different? Is it different than or different from? In the United States, different from is traditional, and almost always the right choice. In Britain, the most common phrase is different to.

If a Southerner warns she's going to put a spider on your biscuit, it means she's about to give you bad news.

A listener in Omaha, Nebraska, says his mother always ends a phone conversation not with Goodbye, but 'Mbye. How common is that?

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.


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