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June 13, 2002 - Slangman: Whimsy - 2002-06-12

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": June 13, 2002
Re-broadcast on VOA News Now: June 16, 2002

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster, some whimsy to liven up your vocabulary!

RS: Slangman David Burke brings us some words and phrases that, in most cases, have been around a long time, and are just plain fun to say.

AA: How did David find these words? Well, it seems that he just got a letter from his mother ...

BURKE: "To my dear son, Slangman, today I went to your rich Aunt Janet's housewarming because she wanted me to see her new nice apartment. She kept telling me how nice it was. Nice-shmice. It was so fancy-shamcny."

AA: "You're making fun of it."

BURKE: "When you make fun of it, you kind of have contempt for it, you feel negative toward it. But fancy-shmancy is really popular, and that word we tend to use not just negatively but also when we're kind of impressed too. It depends on the context. We could easily walk into a house and say, 'Wow this is really fancy-shmancy.'

"So then she continues and says, 'I could never live in a place that was so frou-frou.' This is a very common word which means overly decorated. And then she goes on to say, 'All the paintings were so artsy-fartsy.' I love this one."

RS: So do a lot of people. It's an adjective meaning "pretentiously or affectedly artistic," according to American Heritage Dictionary -- which also warns that its usage might be considered vulgar.

AA: Now back to rich Aunt Janet's new apartment, which is filled with lots of little things. Trivial stuff. And what word does "Slangmom" choose for that? One that the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary dates back to 1682.

RS: That word is "knickknacks."

BURKE: "There were so many knickknacks there it was hard to find a place to sit. And as for her taste in decorating, her apartment was a mishmash of different styles.' Now we'd say mishmash or mishmosh, I've heard both, which means a jumbled, confused mix. 'At least she keeps her apartment spick-and-span.' Well, spick-and-span is extremely clean, you can't get much cleaner than spick-and-span. And what's interesting, because Americans use reductions, just for casual conversations, sometimes a reduction must be used or it isn't really correct. So spick-and-span is never pronounced that way. We always say 'spick-n-span,' and it needs to be pronounced that way.

"So my mother continues and she says, 'Anyway, your aunt introduced me to the other guests who were all so hoity-toity.' This is a great word. 'Hoity-toity' means really pretentious, overly pretentious. 'I felt like riff-raff compared to these people.' Well, 'riff-raff' is a derogatory term for common people, people who don't have a lot of money, they're just average, everyday people, but they're considered lower class, at least compared to people who are hoity-toity."

RS: "The people who are hoity-toity are looking down at the riff-raff."

BURKE: "Exactly, hoity-toity people look down on the riff-raff. Well, 'then some woman wearing expensive shoes which frankly, in my opinion, looked more like flip-flops.'"

RS: "Sandals."

BURKE: "Flip-flops are sandals, right. 'Well, this woman came up to chitchat with me.' To chitchat is either a verb or a noun. To chitchat means to have a light, friendly conversation. 'She went on-and-on.' Now we use a lot of repeating words. On-and-on simply means to continue to talk non-stop. 'This woman went on-and-on with all her exaggerated stories.

"In fact, after 20 minutes, it was clear she wasn't on the up-and-up,' which means she wasn't really being completely honest. Now we don't say 'up-and-up.' We must use the reduction, apostrophe-n, to be on the up 'n up, to be honest. So she wasn't really on the up-and-up, 'and we couldn't see eye-to-eye.' Again, another repeating group."

AA: "One thing, getting back to up-and-up and on-and-on, when you write those out, though, you do spell out the a-n-d rather than ... "

BURKE: "You know, it's interesting. There's really a choice there, because if you're writing something more formally, you would say 'the person spoke to me and went on and on.' However, in a comic strip, for example, we tend to write how we speak, so in a comic strip you would probably see 'on 'n on.'"

RS: Now, we could go on 'n on, but we're running out of time, so we'll playfully say 'tah-tah' … or goodbye … for now to our friend, Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles.

AA: You can learn all about his English teaching books and other materials at Now to find the script and audio of this and other Wordmaster programs, go to

RS: And our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "On and On"/Stephen Bishop 1977