Accessibility links

Breaking News

Want to Learn Some Slang? Let 'Hansel and Gretel' Show the Way

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: Slangman revisited.

RS: A listener from Libya, Radwan Al-karash, sent us an e-mail earlier this month: "I enjoy listening to your interviews with different people from different countries about different beautiful subjects, and I am wondering why don't we hear any beautiful participations with our buddy Slangman David Burke."

AA: Slangman used to be a regular guest on WORDMASTER. But these days, he's the star of a new TV show, inspired in part by his appearances with us.

RS: "Slangman's World" is an animated series for introducing children to foreign languages and cultures. It's set to debut on January fifth on American Forces Network in one hundred seventy-five countries.

AA: We still have the old segments on our Web site, -- including this one from December of two thousand one.

RS: Once again, just for our listeners, Slangman David Burke has rewritten a popular children's fairy tale to infuse it with some popular idioms -- this time, related to health and eating too much.

AA: A theme in this particular story, which is also an opera that is often performed around Christmas.

MUSIC: "Hansel and Gretel: Dream Pantomime"/Boston Pops Orchestra

DAVID BURKE: "Once upon a time, there was a boy and girl named Hansel and Gretel who were 'bored out of their minds,' so they decided to take a walk in the forest and got lost.

"They saw a very unusual house. It was made of gingerbread and covered with cakes, and the windows were made of clear sugar. And they began to eat parts of the roof and windows. But then they suddenly heard an old woman's voice say, 'Who is eating my house?' 'Oh it's just the wind,' answered Hansel.

"Well, suddenly the door opened and the old woman walked out. 'Oh, do come in and stay with me.' She took them both by the hand and she gave them lots and lots of food to eat.

"Well, Hansel was usually in 'tip-top shape' -- which means great physical condition -- but after eating so much, he was nervous that he was going to 'lose his cookies.' Now that simply means to vomit. Why cookies, I don't know, but it's very common."

RS: "And it's appropriate for this story."

DAVID BURKE: "Well, he felt like he would never 'bounce back.' That means to recover. He felt really 'blah.' This is a great word. It's what we call an onomatopoeia, which simply is a word that sounds like what it means. So if you feel 'blah,' you have no energy, you just feel really terrible."

AA: "Spelled b-l-a-h."

DAVID BURKE: "Right. Oh, don't worry, his condition wasn't bad enough where he would have to 'go under the knife,' which means to have surgery. The last thing he needed was to go see some kind of 'quack.'"

RS: "And that's not a duck."

DAVID BURKE: "That's not a duck, although that is the sound a duck makes. However, a 'quack' means a doctor that's not really very good. The feeling in his stomach would just have to 'run its course.'

"Well, Gretel felt a little 'under the weather,' too. 'Under the weather' simply means kind of sick. She thought she may even 'pass out.' 'Pass out' simply means to faint.' Hansel said, 'Gretel, just mellow out. Take a chill pill.' Because when you're really tense, you're hot. So 'take a chill pill,' relax. Well, early the next morning the old woman -- I mean, the witch -- quietly woke up Hansel and led him into a little room made of more candy. It was actually a cage!

"Gretel heard him screaming and rushed downstairs, but the witch said to her, 'Go take this food to your brother so he will become even more fat, and then I'm going to eat him!' The witch gave Gretel the 'willies.' Well, to give someone the 'willies' means to make them nervous."

RS: "Or scared."

DAVID BURKE: "'Gretel,' screamed the witch, 'go inside the oven and make sure the pilot light is on.' Well, Gretel wasn't 'born yesterday' and said, 'You know, witch, I'm not myself this morning.' When you're 'not yourself,' that means you're not feeling very well. So she said to the witch 'Could you show me how to light that pilot light?'

"When the witch got in, Gretel gave her a push, shut the door and fastened the bolt. Gretel quickly ran to Hansel's cage and let him out and said, 'Hansel, the witch kicked the bucket -- she croaked in the oven!' Now I don't really know why to 'kick the bucket' would mean to die. To 'croak,' that seems more normal,' because when a frog croaks it makes that sound of [throat sound]. So if a frog dies, does the frog croak? Maybe not."

AA: Slangman David Burke comes to us from Los Angeles. Learn all about his different teaching materials on American slang at To reach us here, write to or VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA.

RS: Next week -- welcome the New Year with some cowboy wordplay. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Brother, Come and Dance with Me"/Disney Children's Favorite Songs