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April 25, 2002 - Slangman: Construction-Related Terms ('The Three Little Pigs') - 2002-04-24


AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- with the remodeling of the VOA News Now schedule, our thoughts turn to construction-related slang. Or, more precisely, words related to construction that have other meanings in slang.


RS: But what are these pigs doing here? It looks like Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles has, once again, built the perfect framework: his own slang version of the classic children's story “The Three Little Pigs.”

BURKE: "Once upon a time there were three little pigs who grew up and decided to build their own homes. The thought of building their own homes was 'ground breaking' -- which, of course, means something that had never been done before -- because they didn't really 'dig' construction."

RS: "Didn't like it."

BURKE: "Didn't like it. 'Well,' said one of the pigs, 'let's get down to brass tacks,' which means, 'let's talk seriously.' 'We each need to build a strong home that will be safe from the mean, old wolf.'

"'I'm going to build a house made of straw,' said the first little pig.

"'What a screwy idea,' said the other little pigs. Now, a screwy idea means a crazy idea, 'it's screwy.'

"'And what are you going to build your house out of?' asked the first pig to the second pig.

"'I'm going to build my house out of sticks.'

"'But sticks aren't strong at all,' said the other little pig.

"'Now don't get all unglued,' which means don't get all upset, don't come apart. 'A single stick may not be strong, but several sticks will be as tough as nails,' which means, 'will be very strong.' And a person can be tough as nails also. If you have a boss who is very strict, that boss is 'tough as nails.'

"Well, finally, the third the little pig said, 'Your ideas are not very concrete.' I love that one, which means simply, 'your ideas are not very good.'"

RS: "They're not very solid."

BURKE: "Exactly, they don't stick together well. 'After all, sticks and straw are not strong enough against the wolf.'

"'Really, and what are YOU going to build YOUR house out of?'

"The third little pig thought about it for a moment, and then suddenly it hit him ... like a ton of bricks. 'That's it -- bricks!' And by the way if you get 'hit by a ton of bricks,' it means something came to you, an idea suddenly came to you with extreme, uh ... "

AA: "Force."

BURKE: "Extreme force. 'It hit me like a ton of bricks.'

"'Bricks?' said the other two pigs.

"'Yes, you hit the nail on the head.' Which means, that is exactly right, a very common expression, used by everyone.

"'OK, let's all make a deal to help each other starting tomorrow afternoon. We'll help each other build our homes. Let's shake hands and cement the deal.'"

AA: "Cement being the active ingredient in concrete, right? People often confuse the two."

BURKE: "Exactly. Something that's very concrete is very solid. But if you 'cement' a deal, it means you're putting the deal together, and that we've cemented it, which means it can't be broken. They all shook hands and 'ramped up' the project. So when you ramp up a project, it simply means to start a project."

AA: "Or speed it up, or increase it."

BURKE: "Exactly. After one week all three houses were finally built. That night, suddenly, the first little pig heard someone yelling outside his straw house. It was the wolf, and he was totally 'hammered,' which means completely drunk.

"'If you don't open up this door right now,' said the wolf, 'I'm going to blow your house down.' Well, after a moment, the wolf inhaled deeply and blew out with all his might until the house collapsed.

"The scared little pig ran down the road to the second pig's house, but the wolf -- who had a very large 'build' -- followed him. So a large build ... "

RS: "A big guy."

BURKE: "If you have big build, or if you're 'built,' it means you are powerful and muscular. Again, after a moment, the wolf inhaled with all his might and blew down the house. The two pigs really 'painted themselves into a corner.' When you paint yourself into a corner ... "

RS: "You can't get out."

BURKE: "You can't get out, you've created a situation that you cannot get out from. So they ran to the third pig's house to be safe from the wolf. But once again the wolf followed them.

"Frustrated, the wolf started to climb up the house in order to get in. Fortunately the second pig had a friend who was a police officer. Just as the wolf was about to go down the chimney, the police officer 'nailed him' for trespassing."

AA: "Oooh."

BURKE: "Ow, got him. When you get nailed, it means you get in big trouble."

RS: So the wolf got arrested, and the three little pigs could now "lay the groundwork" to live happily ever after. The end.

AA: Slangman David Burke invites you to his home, made of electrons, on the Web. Learn about his teaching materials, at www dot slangman dot com.

RS: And our address here is voanews dot com slash wordmaster. Our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.