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April 25, 1999 - Slangman: Space Terms - 2002-02-06

INTRO: VOA's Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble are back this week with a language lesson that is out of this world.

MUSIC: "Star Wars"

AA: The much anticipated prequel to the star wars trilogy doesn't open in movie theaters nationwide until may 19th. But hard-core star wars fans began lining up a little early, you might say.


MAN #1: "I've been here since April 9th. "

WOMAN: "April 8th.

MAN #2: "I got here on April 8th at about nine in the morning. "

RS: Some fans outside Mann's Chinese theater in Hollywood.

Friends come to take their place in line from time to time. But these fanatics are holding their ground, determined to be among the first to see "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. "

AA: Our "Slangman" David Burke lives nearby, but isn't one of those camped out in line.

RS: ... although when we talked with him, he was ready with a list of space-related idioms that might describe the behavior of some of those fans.


DAVID BURKE: "'To be spaced out. ' Of course, that means to be completely lost in your mind, to have no specific focus. And, 'to be spacey,' which is very common.

"He's so 'spacey. ' He's kind of strange. He doesn't have both 'feet on the ground. ' That's another slang term, another idiom for to be in the here and now.

"Another (space term) I found is the word 'looney. ' Do you know where that comes from? "

AA: "Sounds like lunar. "

RS: "Sounds like moon. "

DAVID BURKE: "You're both right. It comes from (the) Latin 'luna' meaning moon. So, for somebody who is very, very strange, in fact (a) lunatic, that word comes from luna. To 'go to the looney bin,' that means a place crazy people have to go to get rehabilitated. "

AA: "Now it is interesting that there are certain terms, for example if I said that something was 'out of this world,' that's great. But, if I said that this person is 'spaced out,' that's not good. How are people supposed to know the difference between terms like that?"

DAVID BURKE: "That is one aspect that is so complicated, especially for non-native speakers because you really have to listen to the context. My father was from Hungary. He would eat something that was delicious and he would say, 'this is out of this world!' well, my mother's family was from Poland, and when my father would say that, my mother's reaction was, 'you don't like it. ' No, no, no (I would say) that's good! 'out of this world' is a good thing! so, anything that is 'out of this world' is fantastic. I don't believe that I've ever heard it used in a different context, although I guess you would say (with a different tone of voice) that he was 'out of this world ... "

AA: "From another planet!"

DAVID BURKE: "From another planet, exactly that would make more sense!"

RS: "Why do you think that we have looked to the heavens so much for so many of our idioms?"

DAVID BURKE: "I guess because it is so inexplicable the weird things that we see up there. A shooting star, we even use (that expression) in slang now. A 'star' is a movie star."

AA: "That's what we call our celebrities."

DAVID BURKE: "Exactly, a movie star. Or even 'a shooting star' is somebody who is going up and up on the ladder of success. So, I think that any possible way that we can create a slang term out of anything, whatever it is, we are going to do it, and I think that we all have a fascination with the heavens, with space, because there are so many unanswered questions. So, we try to bring it down to a level that is palatable for us by creating slang terms out of heavenly terms. It makes it a little more approachable."

RS: "What kind of advice do you have for our listeners who would like to incorporate some of these space terms into their vocabulary. "

DAVID BURKE: "Well, the only way to fully incorporate them is to fully understand them. It's important sometimes to know where these words come from. It helps you remember them. "

AA: David Burke invites you to visit him in cyberspace, at You'll find the terms you just heard along with additional information to help you learn them. That Web site again is

RS: And, while you're at it, drop us a line to let us know what would you like to hear on Wordmaster. We'll send a VOA guide to everyone who writes. Our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20547 USA or send e-mail to

AA: Until next week, with Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Star Wars"