Accessibility links

October 17, 1999 - Slangman: Car Talk - 2002-02-05


INTRO: This week Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti go for a spin with the language of cars.

MUSIC: "Little Deuce Coupe"/Beach Boys

AA: We hit the road to answer a question from Dustin Mencius at Tianjin Medical University in China. He's baffled by all the different terms Americans use for automobiles. And there are lots of them - starting with the "little deuce coupe" in that Beach Boys song.

RS: A "deuce coupe" is a 1932 Ford with lots of power, a hot rod. "Deuce" is slang for "two" - as in 1932 - and a "coupe" is a car with two doors.

AA: ... not to be confused with a "sedan" which is a car with four doors.

RS: Now either a coupe or a sedan can be a "convertible" also known as a "rag top" -- a car with a fabric roof that goes up and down.

AA: If you need more room, you might want to drive a "station wagon." That's a passenger car with seats in back that can fold down or be removed to open up storage space.

RS: A "mini van" is similar to a station wagon with rows of seats and a back storage area.

But a mini van is built on a higher frame and looks more like a truck than a passenger car.

AA: In recent years Americans have learned a new term: S-U-V. That stands for sport utility vehicle. It's also a cross between a truck and a car, but rides even higher on the road than a mini van and has four wheel drive and a boxy shape. Today half of all new passenger cars sold in America are S-U-V's.

RS: Sport utility vehicles don't have much to do with sports, except that they can lug bikes and other gear off-road through mud and snow.

SFX: (car engine sound)

AA: Let's "shift gears" now and head out to Los Angeles to chat with "Slangman" David Burke.

RS: He says Americans have some pretty endearing names for their cars - that is, when their cars run well.

TAPE CUT ONE: DAVID BURKE

"Usually you'll say baby. `Wow that baby can move.' If you refer to a car as a baby, that's actually a good thing. And that term is also used in general for anything that is really good. Now, on the other side of the coin, taking about cars - a `clunker.' Now that's something that doesn't work very well.

A clunker is generally a car that is very old and looks like it has been in a lot of accidents." AA: You can also refer to a car by its wheels.

RS: As in, "Hey, nice set of wheels!" or "Can I borrow your wheels. They're also known as "rides" - as in, hey, nice ride - meaning nice car.

AA: So what does it mean if you want to take those wheels "for a spin"? David Burke explains.

TAPE CUT TWO: DAVID BURKE

"Now we all know what spinning means.

It means going around and around really fast. If I buy a new car I go to your house and I say, `Come into my car and let's go for a spin.' A spin simply means a quick little trip in the car with no particular destination." RS: And, if I ask someone along, I might say "hop in." AA: That's what David Burke said as he took us for a virtual spin down one of the most famous streets in Hollywood: Sunset Boulevard.

RS: At night young people "cruise" Sunset Boulevard.

David Burke says that means they go out in search of some fun.

TAPE CUT THREE: DAVID BURKE

"The sky is dark, but Sunset Boulevard is bright with lights. Every storefront is lit up. The traffic is `bumper-to-bumper' - which is another good expression - because you are right on top of the other person's bumper practically, because you are hardly moving.

There are lots and lots of convertibles or `drop tops' as we say. People are sticking their heads out screaming and waving to each other, And, it becomes a huge - another expression -- `tailgate party' - where all these kids are just sitting there basically in this gigantic parking lot (stopped traffic).

What happens is the (traffic) creates a lot of `pile ups' - another good expression -- meaning traffic accidents, and `bunch ups,' a good term for traffic accident."

AA: David Burke says it's pretty much "gridlock" - cars backed up in all directions -- for about an hour and a half every night, just after dusk.

RS: Now if you're cruising the Internet, and you'd like to learn about David Burke's latest book on American slang and idioms, you can visit him at www.slangman.com.

AA: And if you'd like to send us e-mail, our address is word@voa.gov. Or write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547.

RS: Now we've got to burn rubber out of here.

AA: OK, Rosanne, put the pedal to the metal.

RS: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Little Deuce Coupe"

XS
SM
MD
LG