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A Classic Children's Story, Leavened With Food-Related Slang

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: Our theme is food, or more precisely, slang having to do with food. So we're dusting off a vintage WORDMASTER: a segment we did with our old friend, David Burke, better known as "Slangman." It's a story he wrote for our listeners based on a children's classic, "Jack and the Beanstalk."

SLANGMAN: "Once upon a time, there lived a woman who was as American as apple pie. She lived in The Big Apple."

RS: "Where else."

AA: "New York."

SLANGMAN: "New York. With her only son Jack, the apple ...

AA/RS/SLANGMAN: " ... of her eye!"

SLANGMAN: "The most important thing to her. Unfortunately, she just couldn't cut the mustard in the working world. And to cut the mustard means to succeed. So she could not cut the mustard in the working world, and Jack was such a couch ... "

RS: "Potato!"

SLANGMAN: "Very good. A coach potato, a lazy person who does nothing but sit on the couch and usually just watch television. He was such a couch potato that there was no one to bring home the bacon, which means to earn money for food. For now, selling milk from their cow was their bread and butter, which means the only way they could earn money. But the cow they bought turned out to be a lemon, defective. [laughter] That's something you buy then you discover later that it just doesn't work."

AA: "Like a car."

SLANGMAN: "Right, we hear that a lot, especially of course with cars. If a car doesn't work after you bought it, it's a lemon.

"But in this case, the cow was a lemon and stopped producing milk! They were certainly in a pickle -- a bad situation. I have no idea why we say that, although we do. That's the interesting thing about some of these expressions. If you ask an American 'why do you say that, where does it come from?' we don't know, we just use it. So, 'Jack,' said his mother. "I'm not going to sugar-coat this.' That means to tell it like it is, even though it may be painful for the other person to hear. Well, the mother said, 'We have to sell the cow.' 'Sell the cow?!' Jack exclaimed. 'Mother, I think your idea is half-baked!'"

RS: "Not a great idea."

SLANGMAN: "Right, not carefully considered. It's half-baked. But Jack's mother kept egging him on, which means pushed him to do something, to encourage him. And the next morning, Jack took the cow to the city to sell it. Well, on his way to the market, Jack was stopped by a man who said 'I'd like to buy your cow, and I'll give you five beans for it.'

"And Jack said: 'What are you, some kind of a nut?' -- somebody who's crazy. We can say nutty. In fact, the movie 'The Nutty Professor' means the crazy professor. 'Ah, but these are magic beans!' said the man, 'and that's no baloney!' And baloney, which is ... "

AA: "Processed meat."

SLANGMAN: "Processed meat. I was going to say it's a food, but it simply means in this case nonsense, 'that's baloney.' The man told Jack that if he planted the beans, by the next morning they'd grow up tall, tall, tall and reach the sky. Well, since Jack really didn't know beans about ...

SLANGMAN/RS: " ... beans!"

SLANGMAN: "If you don't know beans about something, it means you don't know anything about it. Well, he did agree, and took the beans, then ran home to tell his mother the good news. When his mother discovered what Jack had done, she turned beet red. Now a beet is a vegetable that is really deep red. She turned beet red and went bananas, and threw the beans out the window.

"When he woke up the next morning, to Jack's surprise, there was growing an enormous beanstalk. 'Hmm, I'll see where it goes,' thought Jack, and with that he stepped out of the window on to the beanstalk to climb up and up and up.

"In the distance, he could see a big castle. When he walked in, Jack tried to stay as cool as a cucumber -- which means very calm, very relaxed. Well, it was difficult to stay as cool as a cucumber, because sitting there at the table was a giant who was rather beefy."

AA: "A big guy."

SLANGMAN: "A big guy. Big and muscular, that's beefy. And the giant was definitely what you would call a tough cookie, a stubborn and strict person. The giant placed a goose on the table and said, 'Lay three eggs!' and out came three golden eggs!

"The giant took the eggs, and left the room. 'Wow!' thought Jack. 'If I borrow the goose, my mother and I will have no more money problems! This is going to be as easy as pie!' he thought. Which means something extremely easy to do, which is kind of strange because pie is not that easy to make. Have you ever tried to make a pie?"

AA: "That's true."

SLANGMAN: "So he climbed up the table and grabbed the goose. The giant came running after Jack. Jack quickly climbed all the way down the beanstalk, took an ax, and chopped it down. And that, my friends, is the whole enchilada."

RS: "Enchilada."

SLANGMAN: "That's a Mexican dish, meat and cheese, that's wrapped in a tortilla which is made of flour and water. 'The whole enchilada' -- that means that's the whole story."

AA: For more of a taste of how you can learn English with help from Slangman David Burke, you can visit his Web site, With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.