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March 19, 2003 - Slangman: Stress-Related Terms - 2003-03-20

(Recorded March 19, earlier in the day of the outbreak of war in Iraq, for "Coast to Coast")

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- we offer a few minutes of relief with a look at some stress-related slang.

RS: We got on the phone to Los Angeles to our friend David Burke, better known to our listeners as Slangman. He read us a letter from his 80-year-old mother. An imaginary letter, that is -- although he really does have an 80-year-old mother.

AA: Anyway, it seems that Slangmom was feeling "stressed out," but not by the current tensions in the world.

SLANGMAN: "'Stressed out' is slang for tense and nervous. We also just say 'stressed.' And by the way, do you know what stressed spelled backwards is?

RS: "What's that."

SLANGMAN: "Stressed spells desserts."

RS: "That's a positive note."

SLANGMAN: "Which is something that certainly does not make me stressed out at all. Anyway, here is the letter I received from my mother. She says, 'This weekend I went on a date with a man your Aunt Ruth introduced me to. Well, I was on pins and needles waiting for him to arrive.' 'Pins and needles' means excited and nervous, you get a feeling that you're apprehensive, which just means very nervous. 'After an hour of waiting and waiting, I was flipping out.' It simply means to get very upset, you 'flip out.'

"So, 'I was flipping out because you know that nothing gets my goat more than when someone is late.' To 'get someone's goat' -- the kind of visual that must create in someone's head has nothing to do with what it means, which is to get angry. So, 'nothing gets my goat more than when someone is late. Well, I opened the door, and he could tell I was on the edge' -- that's getting very close to being angry -- 'and he said "what's eating you?"'"

RS: "What's the matter with you."

SLANGMAN: "Right. It's like a mosquito eating at you, it's very annoying. So, what's making you so annoyed and upset? So I told him it rubs me the wrong way when people are late.' Well, to 'rub someone the wrong way' simply means to annoy them, to make them angry. 'I know I'm just being touchy' -- if you're touchy, you're overly sensitive -- 'I know I'm being touchy, but it really pushes my buttons.' That simply means make me angry like it always does; it's something that I always react negatively to. It 'pushes my buttons.' 'The worst of it was he seemed like such a creep and he was wearing orange socks.'

RS: "Oh my goodness."

SLANGMAN: "'I'm serious, and I'm not yanking your chain.' To yank someone's chain means to tease someone, to joke with someone."

AA: "Doesn't it also mean to sort of incite. 'Quit yanking my chain.' Well, it's like yanking the chain on a dog, I suppose, it just makes him angry."

SLANGMAN: "Exactly. When you 'yank someone's chain,' it can either be jokingly -- for example, 'Oh, Avi, stop yanking my chain' or if I say to you 'Avi, stop yanking my chain!' it depends on the delivery. That means 'hey, really, stop it, you're really annoying me.' 'So, I thought I should get a grip.' Well, getting a grip simply means to become controlled, to get control of your emotions, become calm, 'get a grip.' 'So we went to a little restaurant around the corner but I kept looking over my shoulder.' And that's what you do when you're nervous about getting noticed by someone, either you may know or even someone you don't know that could cause you harm, either physically or even emotionally by making fun of you.'

"So in this case, my mother is saying 'I kept looking over my shoulder hoping that no one would see me with him. Well, by the end of dinner, I thought I was going to lose it.' What does 'it' represent? Control of your emotions or your temper. 'Because he never stopped talking. He was freaking me out.' It means to make somebody very, very upset. 'So I finally said to him, "Will you please, please take a chill pill."'"

RS: "Calm down."

SLANGMAN: "Calm down. So, 'unfortunately the man drove me up the wall from the very beginning."

RS: "Not literally."

SLANGMAN: "That's another thing I love about these expressions and these idioms, when you take them literally, I mean they're so strange -- 'what's eating you,' 'it rubs me the wrong way,' 'pushes my buttons,' well, another one: 'the man drove me up the wall.' Then my mother continues and says, 'Listen, I have to run. I'm going to your Aunt Ruth's house to walk up one side of her and down the other.' Have you guys heard that one before?"

AA: "No."

RS: "I can imagine what it means."

SLANGMAN: "I love this expression. When you say to someone 'I'm going to walk up one side of her and down the other,' that means you are really angry and you are going to do some serious reprimanding. And then, of course, my mother ends it with, 'Kiss, kiss, hug hug, none other than, Slangmom."

AA: ... also known as Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles. You can learn about Slangman's English teaching materials at his Web site,

RS: We're at, and our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.