EVERY THURSDAY American History

Land of the free and home of the brave. See the stories of bold visionaries who set a course for the new world and helped to build the American Experiment.


July 18, 2024

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America's Secret Slang

Coming to America

Ever wonder why American cowboys say "'git along little doggies" when they're talking about herding cattle? Or why a losing wrestler "cries uncle?" And why do we say "ouch" when we stub a toe? The answers to all these questions can be traced to the millions of immigrants who've flooded into the US over the past 200 years and created a language that's entirely America. Join us as we reveal the history behind America's secret slang.




America's Secret Slang

Talking Turkey

Americans have always loved to eat and expressions relating to food--from New York's "big apple" to "wake up and smell the coffee" --pepper our everyday speech. But where did they all come from? For example, why is something that's as "easy as pie" considered "a piece of cake?" Or why do you "talk turkey" about quitting a bad habit "cold turkey?" And what does it really mean to "bring home the bacon"? The answers reveal the hidden history behind America's food and its secret slang.




America's Secret Slang

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

In this episode, we look at the ways that American English has been transformed by animals, food, sports--and death. Ever wonder why we say "that's a horse of a different color" or "that's for the birds"? Why do we "chew the fat" when we talk or "put up our dukes" when we fight? And why, when we die, do we "kick the bucket"? All these terms show the ways that American English has evolved and mutated through the animals we raise, the food we eat, the games we play and the end we want to avoid. Zach Selwyn hosts.




America's Secret Slang

Bite the Bullet

In this episode, we look at words from the worlds of the military, police, aviation, and baseball. Ever wonder why a "last ditch effort" rarely involves digging an actual ditch? Or why a temporary worker is hired as a "freelancer"? How did the army tank get its name? Why do we shoot at a bulls-eye, and is it "duct" tape or "duck" tape? When a test pilot "pushes the envelope," what envelope is his pushing? What's the connection between one of America's outlawed sports, and the front of every plane? Words that started on the baseball diamond have spread to aspects of our everyday life. Why is a "southpaw" so named, not just in baseball, but in life? And if you want to see a bunt, the old ball yard isn't the only place for that... All these words and phrases show the richness and depth of our language. If you just know where to look.




America's Secret Slang

Cut to the Chase

In this episode we look at how entertainment from circuses and vaudeville to plays and movies, influenced the common words and phrases we say every day. How did bad actors give us the word "explode," rude actors give us the phrase "to upstage" someone, and superstitious actors give us "break a leg?" How did the circus give us words like "jumbo" and "Siamese twins," and the idea that politicians "jump on the bandwagon?" Why did vaudeville invent "deadpan" humor, "slapstick" comedy and "off color jokes?" And how did the movies give us expression like "cut to the chase" and "cliffhanger?




America's Secret Slang

Lower the Boom

In this episode, we look at the ways that American English was transformed by the high seas, the ancient world, the movers and shakers of big business, and the news industry. Ever wonder why we're "pooped" when we're tired? Or say that a drunk is "three sheets to the wind"? Why do we say our "ears are burning" if someone's talking about us, and why is October the 10th month, even though its name means "8th"? Why is a rich, powerful person called a "tycoon"? And why are those supermarket scandal sheets called "tabloids"? All these terms show the powerful impact that sailing, big business, the ancient world and the news media have had on American English.




America's Secret Slang

Off the Cuff

In this episode, we look at the ways that American English has been transformed by the clothes we wear, the crimes we commit and the punishments we receive, the insults we use...and the internet. Ever wonder why, when we "speak off the cuff," we're "flying by the seat of our pants"? Why is a street robbery called a "mugging," and does "blackmail" really have anything to do with mail? What's the difference between a "nerd" and a "geek," and who was the first person to use "OMG"? All these terms show the ways that American English has built up a wardrobe of words by begging, borrowing and stealing.




America's Secret Slang

Go for Broke

In this episode, we look at the ways that American English has been transformed by the Vikings, the Cold War, computers, music, gambling, and the different meaning we give to the colors of the rainbow. Why is a "red letter day" good, but being "in the red" is bad? Why do we "boot up" a computer? What's a "jackpot" and why do we "hit" it? Did the term "Cold War" really begin in the Middle Ages? And what's the original meaning of the Viking word "thing"? All these terms show the ways that American English has been invigorated by crises from Viking invasions to the threat of nuclear war, and inspired by the colors we see, the music hear...and the money we lose in bets. And they prove that when it comes to our unique American language, we speak our history every day. If you just know where to look.




America's Secret Slang

Them's Fighting Words

Have you ever wondered why someone who can't get it together is called a "basket case"? Or where the term "Yankee" came from? And why do we say someone "bought the farm" when they die? The answers to these questions all have one thing in common: war. From the American Revolution to WWII, wars have spurred thousands of words and phrases you use every day including "sideburns," "deadlines," and even "hookers!" Join us, as we reveal the history behind America's secret slang.




America's Secret Slang

West Word, Ho!

Expressions from "riffraff" to "betting your bottom dollar", "passing the buck," "acid test" and even "heard it through the grapevine" all come from America's frontier days. But have you ever wondered why these phrases were first used and what they mean today? The answers reveal the hidden history behind America and its secret slang.

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