Our colorful language.

I once interviewed a guy, back in the early days of blogging, who insisted on referring to the non-digital, non-online world as “meatspace.” It was trendy at the time, and he refused all nudges to use another word or phrase. The more I looked at my notes, the more I hated the word. It brought to mind a picture of walking veal chops and beef roasts, perhaps leaving grease trails in their wake, like slugs. (Has someone done an online quiz for this yet? “What Cut of Meat Are You?” I like to think of myself as something tasty and delicate, like rack of lamb, but I’m probably closer to a plain old pot roast — cheap, tough, but capable of tenderness after long simmering.)

The digital age has given us some imaginative slang. I think it was one of William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels that first used the term “meat puppet,” to describe genetically engineered sex workers. I like it better than “hooker,” but it never caught on. Whereas every third site I visit seems to use the term “pwned,” which I’ve never really understood. (Oh, I get that it’s a typo-y version of “owned.” So why not just say “owned?”)

“Meatspace” never got into wide use, either. I guess others didn’t think of themselves as whole fryers or pork tenderloins, either.

Anyway, I was thinking of slang this week, after my local weekly ran a story that sent me racing to the bathroom to check the mirror, so sure was I that I had stepped into a time-space crevasse and had fallen into 1971. The story was on the dangers of drugs. It included a sidebar, headlined “Some drug lingo rings a few bells.” It rang none with me, but then, I always ran with straight talkers.

The cocaine years raged around me in the 1980s, and in that time, I can recall only a few alternative words for it. There was “coke,” of course. Occasionally someone would call it “blow,” but always half-ironically, aware of sounding like a pamphlet. “Bolivian marching powder” was for total, arched-eyebrow wiseasses, specifically those who’d read “Bright Lights, Big City.” No one ever called it “nose candy,” which sounded like something a narc would say. And I never, ever heard anyone use the term “Angie,” which, my newspaper informed me, is not only slang for cocaine, it’s “the title of a song by the Rolling Stones.” As is “Aunt Nora,” “coconut” and “Roxanne.” Hmm.

Remember how old you felt when you learned rappers were calling marijuana “the chronic”? How about these hipster alternatives? “Babysitter,” “catnip,” “Colorado cocktail,” “haircut,” “yeh” and “yellow submarine.” I can’t wait to sidle up to a Grosse Pointe high school kid at TCBY and ask where I can score some haircut.

I read this Thursday afternoon and snickered to myself. I was working in the living room later that night when I heard Alan, at the kitchen table, mutter “Jesus Christ.”

“Someone’s reading the Grosse Pointe News,” I called out.

“Let’s ‘fly Mexican airlines,'” he called back. (“To smoke marijuana,” the paper informed its readers.)

One amusing passage I made a note of: To use Ecstasy and Viagra together is known as “hammerheading.” Woo-hoo.

(My favorite drug slang was always hyperlocal, like the time a truck driver told me that amphetamines of all sorts are known among long-haulers as “west coast turnarounds.” Maybe he just made it up. Great slang, though. A girl I knew swore that in the Upper Peninsula, marijuana was known as “browns.” The word was infinitely adaptable. You could smoke a brown. “Let’s get browned.” And my favorite, “Need a brown to bring you around?” She also claimed “strap” as a synonym for sex. Seldom have I heard a putdown as succinct as “All she wants to do is strap.” The UP is a funny-talking place.)

What’s the strangest, silliest or most apt slang you’ve heard? Leave it in the comments. I’ll be on the road most of Monday, so I look forward to coming home in the afternoon and building my vocabulary.

Posted at 1:28 am in Popculch |

55 responses to “Our colorful language.”

  1. john c. said on April 2, 2007 at 7:31 am

    I’m on the board of our local little league. Most of our teams have major league baseball names. But the older kids – 13-14-15-16 – get to choose their own names. Usually it’s something softbally like Crashers or Thumpers or Eagles. But recently a group of 16-year-old wanted to call themselves the “Dirty Birds.” The guy in charge of that league dutifully brought the request to the board. “They want to call themselves the Dirty Birds. Does anyone have a problem with that?” he asked. The general response was: “Ah, why not.” Then someone said, essentially: “We’re not the hippest guys in the world. Maybe we should google it just to see if it has some weird meaning.” “Why not,” we all said, and the meeting moved on while someone whipped out a laptop. Less than a minute later the urban definition of a “Dirty Bird” was read aloud and the response from this group of dads was summed up by the guy next to me. “I can honestly say I’ve heard a lot in my day. But I’ve never heard anything like that.” I can’t figure out how to define it in a way that doesn’t set off alarms with Ms. Nall’s filters. So you can look it up. Let’s just say it involves rear entry and misogynistic deceit. Oh, and it’s thoroughly disgusting.

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  2. nancy said on April 2, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Where would we be without the Google?

    I wonder if those kids knew that when they asked for the name. That’s the more disturbing part.

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  3. alex said on April 2, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Here’s two local ones, so local in fact that google doesn’t know about them yet:

    gump (n.) — a homosexual (i.e., “gump, gump,” the sound of deep-throating cock)

    flahooba (n.) — an African-American, pejorative. An Indianapolis word that low-rent whites use when the N word would otherwise get them in trouble.

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  4. alex said on April 2, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Oh, and then there’s the Dirty Sanchez.

    A Dirty Sanchez is a moustache forcibly drawn on the upper lip of an unsuspecting victim with a finger freshly dipped into one’s rectum; this is from East Noble High School, Kendallville, Indiana, where schoolchildren do this to each other according to a teacher of my acquaintance.

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  5. brian stouder said on April 2, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Well, I have noted that a red flag in any of these colloquialisms is the word “dirty”…

    My lovely wife is from rural Cass County Indiana, and I have picked up many of their sayings – such as “Little pitchers have big ears, and even bigger mouths” (which you say when someone is talking smack about someone else, in the presence of children…warning that the kids will repeat what is said). I always thought the saying was an incoherent (pitchers have ears?) country thing….and then I heard the line on an “I Love Lucy” show (I think Ricky said it!) – which gave Pammy the last laugh!

    Another is “Just as leave” (as in “I’d just as leave grab a burger”) instead of ‘just as soon’. I don’t get the logic in that one, either.

    And another is – when minimizing some minor wound or ache – “luckily it’s far from my heart” – which always cracks me up when I hear it!

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  6. Connie said on April 2, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Our neighbor down in Seymour called green peppers “mangoes”. But as long as he kept giving us all the mangoes and tomatoes we could eat we didn’t ask.

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  7. MichaelG said on April 2, 2007 at 10:09 am

    What was it George Gobel used to say?

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  8. brian stouder said on April 2, 2007 at 10:12 am

    What was it George Gobel used to say?

    I remember him asking if you ever felt like the world was a tuxedo, and you were a pair of brown shoes…

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  9. Laura said on April 2, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Nothing tawdry, here, but here’s one to describe those ice cream headaches: squeegee. By the way, if you feel one coming on, put your tougue on the roof of your mouth The warmth gets rid of the brain freeze.

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  10. MarkH said on April 2, 2007 at 10:45 am

    No, Brian, it was something else. If you must know (and maybe you do), Gobel’s trademark was to call a guest on his show, who had just bested him, “you dirty bird”. He is now spinning in his grave.

    But, wasn’t that “world is a tuxedo” remark a classic?

    We are dating ourselves here; severely.

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  11. Emma said on April 2, 2007 at 11:02 am

    My Grandma occasionally called the telephone “the Ameche.” I think it had something to do with Don Ameche, seriously.

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  12. Emma said on April 2, 2007 at 11:04 am

    The power of Google. From IMDB: “Calling the telephone the ‘Don Ameche’ became popular American Slang in the 1930s and ’40s due to his role as Alexander Graham Bell.”

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  13. Dorothy said on April 2, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Wow so many things to work with here!

    Does anyone remember Kathy Bates’ character in “Misery” calling James Caan a “dirty bird”? That and “Mr. Man.” And Emma I hate to brag, but I knew the thing about Don Ameche immediately because I knew he had played the part of A.G. Bell in the movies!

    My cousin Nora used to refer to fooling around with her husband as “skating.” I’m not sure why, but I always got a kick out of that.

    And Brian in my family we had a similar saying related to the “little pitchers have big ears” thing. My dad’s grandparents were German and he’d repeat what they used to say in German. I don’t know a bit of German, but it sounded like “Das kliner boobalee” I know “kliner” (spelling is probably wrong) means children, or related to children (kinder is another version I think). And I’m sure he fractured the hell out of the rest of it. But we all knew it meant we weren’t supposed to be hearing whatever they were talking about. Naturally we all were rapt after that!

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  14. Bob said on April 2, 2007 at 11:24 am

    I didn’t know that bell peppers weren’t really mangoes until after high school (grad 1957).

    To many of our elderly rural neighbors, an automobile was a “machine” and a bicycle was a “wheel”. You “warshed” your clothes and then you “wrenched” them before hanging them out to dry. I think those latter two may have come from Pennsylvania; I’ve heard “warsh” and “Warshin’ton” used there in recent times.

    My grandmother wore high-top lace-up black leather ladies’ shoes with a low heel, that she could find only at the Boston Store in Bluffton, and she called an umbrella a “bumbershoot”. There were some other Pennsylvania Dutch colloquialisms, too, that I can no longer remember. Some of the older folks were not more than one or two generations removed from the people who settled from Pennsylvania, and Dad said that his grandparents usually spoke that dialect around home.

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  15. 4dbirds said on April 2, 2007 at 11:41 am

    In high school we called our yearbook the annual. Years ago when I asked my husband if he had his annual so I could look at his picture, he didn’t know what I was talking about.

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  16. brian stouder said on April 2, 2007 at 11:56 am

    I remember asking my wife for a mopene (possibly mi-spelling that) as opposed to a kitchen towel or dish rag…and getting a blank stare.

    My Italian mom always called them mopenes; I’d never heard them called anything else

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  17. Dave said on April 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    All I ever heard them called was mangoes until I was out on my own and found out others called them green peppers.

    What about soda and pop. My wife tells of going to visit her New England cousins and they wanted to know if she wanted some soda. Some what?

    Grocery sacks, bags, and pokes, anyone here grow up calling them a poke? As in poke it in, I suppose.

    I guess all of this would date me but I know no up-to-the-minute hip slang and really could have lived just as well not knowing about Dirty Sanchez.

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  18. Connie said on April 2, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Dorothy, correct spelling is kleiner. Would you like me to sing? “Oh Kommen kleiner kindern, oh kommen eins und alles…” OK, no Christmas songs in German.

    As to George Gobel somewhere there is a color picture of him holding baby Connie during a visit to an air force base. It was one of the very first color pics in my parent’s photo album from that era.

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  19. Dorothy said on April 2, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks Connie. Do you maybe know what the correct saying would be for what I was expressing? Something in German that means “Sssssh the children can hear you!” or “Don’t say it in front of the children.”

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  20. Jim Moehrke said on April 2, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Jim Croce had a line in one of his songs, “Speedball Tucker,” where he mentioned west coast turn-arounds:

    I drive a broke down rig on ‘may-pop’ tires
    Forty foot of overload
    A lot of people say that I’m crazy
    Because I don’t know how to take it slow
    I got a broomstick on the throttle
    I got her opened up and head right down
    Nonstop back to Dallas
    Poppin’ them West Coast turn-arounds

    This was written sometime in the early ’70s, so it’s been around at least that long. I had to go hunt the song up on my iPod to make sure…

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  21. basset said on April 2, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    down in Martin County thirty-some years ago “oral” was what Jed Clampett struck while he was shootin’ for some food… and a “feesh” was what you caught in the creek.

    I remember “mangoes,” too.

    a little closer to modern times… I was surprised the Red Lobster, or maybe it was Captain D’s, commercial with Leon Redbone singing about “shrimpin'” stayed on the air as long as it did.

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  22. Danny said on April 2, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Dorothy, that reference to kinder got me thinking of a line from a movie I heard about 20 years ago. The character was a kindergarten teacher and she told her friend that the word kindergarten was German for “to break their spirit.”

    Bob, Baltimore has that same issue with warshed and wrenched. Also warter for water.

    Speaking of pronounciation (pronunciating for Marsha…heheh), did any of you listen to the sound clip that Nancy posted last week? I thought her accent was very level or flat. I could picture her on NPR being all elite and left. Just kidding.

    But that reminds me of a pet peeve I have about NPR. They are so PC there that many of the commentators lapse into these extreme native pronunciations of proper nouns. I notice this mostly with latin american topics (Meh-hee-co).

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  23. Marcia said on April 2, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Nance, you paying attention to what’s going on in Columbus? Escaped criminal roaming my ‘hood; my kids on lockdown…you may wonder why I’m online–nervous energy; don’t know what else to do with myself.

    I have a link up.

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  24. brian stouder said on April 2, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Marcia – I saw that on live tv at lunchtime today; at first they were saying “Youngstown” – and then they said “Hilliard”!! This got Pammy’s and my attention!

    Anyway – when I left, it looked like the guy was dead (the police stormed the house)…but who knows?

    Dramatic video of the occupant of the house plunging from the second story window

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  25. Mindy said on April 2, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Partin’ like Billy Martin means to drive drunk and die in a horrible wreck. I heard it occasionally for many months after he was killed and wondered how people who knew nothing of baseball would ever know what that meant.

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  26. brian stouder said on April 2, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Akin to ‘in like Flynn’

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  27. nancy said on April 2, 2007 at 4:09 pm


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  28. Marcia said on April 2, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Okay; I’ve wound down a little bit. I’m taking the post off of my blog. I only put it up in a bit of hyperactivity. The news link is here:


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  29. Marcia said on April 2, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Oh, man, crosspost. Ha, ha.

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  30. Marcia said on April 2, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    That wasn’t a sarcastic ha, ha. I really did think it was funny.

    Okay. Done with the nervous chatting/commenting now.

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  31. LA mary said on April 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    I volunteer to humiliate myself and make my sons uncomfortable by asking them the local words for weed.

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  32. MichaelG said on April 2, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Shoot, Mary, that’s what kids are for.

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  33. czucky Dimes said on April 2, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Cocaine is known as “white” where I be hangin. Best slang word I ever came across was German: “arschgeier”. Loosely translates to “ass(hole) vulture”.

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  34. MarkH said on April 2, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Dorothy, do you remember moving to Cincinnati after having been in da ‘burgh, and wondering at everyone saying “please?”, when they wanted you to repeat something? Not “excuse me?”, or “beg ‘pardon?”, but “please?” Took us a while to get used to it.

    Connie, that makes sense, and also dates you as well. Gobel was a B-25 bomber instructor pilot during WWII, and remained in the service until 1947.

    Danny, you may be kidding, but I’m not. From what I remembered of Nancy’s voice, coupled with her writing style, I always thought she’d be a natural NPR fit. Listening to her clip only confirmed it. Being “all elite and left” would be her option, I suppose, but she sounds good.

    And, Danny, we share the same pet peeve about the PC pronumciation mandate at NPR, especially when it comes to Latino words.
    Just listen to Mendalit DelBar-r-r(roll those r’s)r-rco go from caucasian to hispanic at the drop of a hat.

    And, don’t get me started about the new wave pronunciation of Qatar. Sorry, it ain’t “gutter”. I spent a year in Saudi and it was always pronounced kuh-TAHR.

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  35. nancy said on April 2, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    You know, Danny, I understand the NPR style isn’t for everyone, but it’s for me. Occasionally when I try to listen to radio news on a commercial station, it simply drives me insane. I can’t STAND it when a broadcaster tries to telegraph a story’s tone or emotion by adjusting their delivery; it just sounds so condescending. I’ve also reached the point where I can’t handle music or commercial radio first thing in the morning, either. In FW, I’d sometimes switch over to Imus in the last half-hour, but I think I liked him mainly because he was so flat and monotonal.

    And yeah, the pronunciation thing is crazy-making. But I think most of the people who do that are native Spanish speakers. It’s probably hard for someone who grew up with Spanish spoken in the home to pronounce Mexican place names American-style. I know, when I listen to a Spanish broadcast, the American proper names go by in a distinctly American accent — blah blah blah New York blah blah blah Michael Bloomberg blah blah blah, etc.

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  36. Danny said on April 2, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Mark, about Qatar, I’ve wondered about that new-fangled pronunciation that ryhmes “gutter.” I distinctly remember hearing kuh-TAHR circa 1991. I wasn’t sure which was right, but it seemed the newer form couldn’t possibly be correct considering the typical phonetic systems in the Middle East.

    Nance, you sounded fine and I actually don’t mind the “NPR style.” It only grates when I tune in and hear someone pretending to be the most dispassionate,well-informed expert in the world…on every topic dontcha-know..when actually they are just being preachy, biased and mis-informed (or stupid). I can think of non-NPR examples too. George Will has his forays into condescension and stupidity from time to time.

    And despite the fact you are neither stupid nor condescending (though you are a smart-ass, and we like it) you would be a ringer for NPR.

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  37. Danny said on April 2, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    And one more thing about talk radio. Most of it is a wasteland, IMHO, but one show that I really like is Jim Rome’s show. It’s mainly sports talk, but I don’t think you have to be a sports fan to enjoy that show. He is one funny and talented dude.

    In fact, when Brian mentioned “talking smack” earlier, I wondered if he too listened to that show.

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  38. Charlie said on April 3, 2007 at 1:35 am

    Well, how about computer/Internet slang? “Blog” isn’t that great, but there are also great words like “hacker” and “worm” in common usage. A little less common but still very handy are “thrashing” (that thing your computer does when you have so many applications open that none of them can do anything) and “lint” (that stuff that collects in your Start menu/Applications folder when you’re in the habit of trying out new programs and then abandoning them when the task is done.)

    And the slang terms we programmers use for different kinds of bugs are as colorful (and as locally varied) as you could possibly ask for – unfortunately, most of them can’t be explained to a non-technical person in less than twenty minutes!

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  39. Connie said on April 3, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Oh MarkH please don’t date me to George’s own air force years. My dad’s own air force years were a decade later and it was during those years. When George was in the air force my Dad was in high school! Please please, I have figured out that I am only two years older than Nancy!

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  40. Dorothy said on April 3, 2007 at 8:03 am

    Oh man, Mark, yessss I remember the “please” thing in Cincinnati! I worked with a guy who did it frequently, but I was used to it by the time I started working there (it was my second job in the city).

    My son’s algebra teacher told him a funny story about when she first moved to Cincy. She was at a restaurant and the waitress asked if she wanted coffee. She replied “Please!” And the waitress repeated the question a little louder. After the second go-round, the teacher got exasperated and said “I said YES PLEASE!” and the waitress said “No, you just said ‘please’ so I thought you didn’t hear me!”

    And I hate to contradict about the pronounciation of Qatar, but my nephew is in the FBI, and he spent several months there about 18 months ago. He said the name as “KUH-derr.” For what it’s worth, I remember “kah-TAHR” too, Danny.

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  41. brian stouder said on April 3, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Ft Wayne radio doesn’t carry his show anymore – or I haven’t found it again since first hearing (and liking) his show some years ago. But he definitely is a California-colloquial guy, where cars are ‘sleds’, a person’s visage is a ‘grill’, lucking out or cashing in is “getting over”, “word” is a richly nuanced response to other people’s points (on just about any subject), “whack” is a good all-purpose negative word (“How whack is THAT?”) and “sick” is a good all purpose positive word..

    Honestly – the words and terms he uses generate most of the fun of listening to his show

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  42. ashley said on April 3, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Brown for marijuana? No way. Brown is heroin, period. Downtown brown. Didn’t anybody see “Bad Lieutenant”?

    And one of my faves is “alligator pear” for an avocado. Here’s more.

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  43. MarkH said on April 3, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Connie, the good news out of this is that makes you three years younger than me! OK, then; took it for granted that the air force reference meant while Gobel was still on active duty. You youngster, you…

    Good point on how the reverse is true on Spanish language broadcasts, Nancy. I have heard that as well. And, I agree with both you and Danny on those delivery issues with both NPR and commercial radio news. I know exactly what I’m getting with NPR news and I still enjoy it in spite of the evident liberal slant. The only thing that gets me to switch off Morning Edition is when Susan Stamberg fills in.

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  44. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Ditto on the Susan Stamberg. I find her so annoying. I used to have a neighbor who worked in a research lab, whose boss found Susan Stamberg extremely attractive, and who would close his door to listen to All Things Considered so he could get into Susan’s voice. It was really creepy. Everyone who worked in the lab knew to knock on the door during ATC.

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  45. Danny said on April 3, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Wow, Mary. I googled a picture of Susan S and think that was a really odd fixation that friend’s boss had. I mean, “extremely attractive?” Nothing wrong with her looks and people should not be judged on such things, but it just seemed odd.

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  46. nancy said on April 3, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Ninety-eight percent of the time, Susan Stamberg drives me straight up a wall. Rarely have I heard anyone — Bill O’Reilly comes to mind — so apparently in love with the sound of her own voice. Her straight hosting is OK and she can occasionally hit a story out of the park (a Christmas Day piece on Bing Crosby a few years back was outstanding), but mostly she just grates. It’s like, now that her title is “special correspondent,” she works mainly by descending upon a story and showering it with her specialness.

    And I’m sorry, but the cranberry-relish thing at Thanksgiving is so played now it’s beyond embarrassing. It’s like Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes.” You just have to look away.

    Oh, and Qatar is truly pronounced “gutter,” only with half the word swallowed. It’s very difficult for a non-Arab speaker to pull off, however, I’ll give it a try. Calling it “KAH-tahr” is just a little too anglo-centric, like insisting on saying “Peking” and “Bombay” when the rest of the world has clearly moved on.

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  47. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    I have to confess, I find Michelle Norris pretty annoying at times too. I’m an NPR listener from way back, and I appreciate the long stories about stuff the commercial news outlets ignore completely, but sometimes I get pretty fed up.
    On the other hand, programs like like Fresh Air, and whatever the name of Krista Tippit’s show is, something about spirituality, and Sounds Eclectic…all great stuff.

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  48. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Speaking of Faith, that’s the name of that show.

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  49. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    The current terms for weed at my son’s high school are weed and mota. He says he favors my archaic term, reefer, as it sounds very beatnik. He also says no one at his high school knows what reefer is.

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  50. Dorothy said on April 3, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    You need to show them “Reefer Madness”, Mary. I mean your boys, not the entire high school.

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  51. brian stouder said on April 3, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I liked the Sonny Bono mod anti-drug film that our (5th grade?) class watched – about 35 years ago!

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  52. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I remember that one Brian. It was really lame.

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  53. bstouder said on April 3, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Isn’t that the one that DEFENDS (more or less) smoking cigarettes?

    I seem to recall a series of “Which would you prefer?” questions, responding to the notion that marijuana doesn’t affect your ability to act –

    including whether you would prefer that the pilot of your airplane is smoking a Kool … or a joint! – as we watch a large jet take off!

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  54. MarkH said on April 3, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I never saw this film, but read all about it here:


    ’nuff said…

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  55. LA mary said on April 3, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I remember Sonny saying, in this laconic voice, “It’s up to you, you make the choice.”

    Being slightly older than you, Brian, I saw it in the ninth grade. We all thought it was pretty funny, even the kids who never smoked dope or would be tempted to smoke dope. When the realy square Dutch Reformed kids who let their mothers choose all their clothes (you know the type, Connie) laugh at your anti drug movie, you know you’re in trouble.

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