AA: Slangman David Burke comes to us each month from the VOA bureau in Los Angeles.
BURKE: "Avi, when you wrote this e-mail to me, at first I thought, OK he's lost his mind. How much slang could there be in this category? There is a ton! So let's talk about a few expressions that have to do with energy and shortages and electricity. For some reason, in the United States, and I don't know if this is true around the world, if someone has a great idea -- and we see this on television or a cartoon or a cartoon strip -- what appears over their head?"
SKIRBLE: "A bubble -- a light bulb!"
BURKE: "A light bulb. There's the light bulb -- see, the light bulb just turned on."
SKIRBLE: "I was thinking of the little, you know ..."
SKIRBLE: "Caption -- thank you. Then the light bulb is over the head, that's the picture, the bigger picture."
ARDITTI: "Your bubble got short-circuited."
BURKE: "'To get short-circuited' -- that's a great one also. For example, 'our plans got short-circuited.' Well, in the world of electricity, if something gets short-circuited it stops working because electricity is running the wrong way or getting routed to the wrong place. Well, your plans can get short-circuited, which means they suddenly are no longer good, your plans have to change, they have been short-circuited. Here's another one, which we're not allowed to do here in Los Angeles now because of the energy shortage: the worst thing you could do is go out, leave your house and the lights are still on. We have an expression, what is that if someone is crazy?"
ARDITTI: "Oh yeah ... "
BURKE: "'The lights are on, but nobody's home.' (laughter) We wouldn't want that to happen, that's a really bad one."
SKIRBLE: "You're not really aware of what's going on."
BURKE: "Also, if the lights aren't working very well because of the electricity, it's a blackout. A blackout is where all the lights go off. In fact, if a person has too much to drink, they could experience a blackout also, which means fainting.
"And, if all of a sudden you have a power outage as the elevator is going up, well, you could say this about someone: 'The elevator doesn't go quite up to the top,' which means that person isn't really very intelligent."
ARDITTI: "Sort of 'in the dark.' That's a little different."
BURKE: "To be 'in the dark' means you are unaware of what's happening."
SKIRBLE: "You don't have a clue."
BURKE: "Yes, another good expression. Not to have a clue and to be in the dark both mean 'I don't know what's going on. 'Tell me -- what happened yesterday at work? I'm in the dark, I don't have a clue.'"
RS: And if that's the case -- say you're asking a co-worker about something that happened at work -- then what you don't want to hear is that the boss "pulled the plug" on that big project of yours.
AA: To "pull the plug," of course, literally means to pull a power cord out of the electric socket. Figuratively it means to end something suddenly or let it die a merciful death. Now if that happens at work and you become really angry, your co-workers might describe you as having "blown a fuse."
RS: One place you don't want to blow a fuse is at a "power lunch," where important people chew over important business along with their food. And what with all those influential men in their bright "power ties" and women in their "power suits," some might even find themselves "charged up."
BURKE: "To be 'all charged up,' to be excited -- 'I get a real charge out of you,' that means I really get excited by you."
SKIRBLE: "Aw ..."
BURKE: "'I get a charge out of you.' Or what we say now, this is very common -- remember, these words did not exist before electricity, these are all brand-new slang -- brand new, over the last one-hundred years -- if we 'zap' something, it's in the microwave. 'Give it a zap.' My mother always says that. 'Just put it in the microwave and give it a zap.' If you're tired, you're on 'E' or 'I've run out of gas.'"
MUSIC: "Running on Empty"/Jackson Browne
AA: Fill up on Slangman again next week -- he'll answer some listener mail. In the meantime, David Burke says if you want to learn more about how Americans REALLY speak, check out his books on slang and idioms at slangman.com ... that's S-L-A-N-G-M-A-N dot com.
RS: Or send your questions to Avi and me at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. Our address for e-mail is [email protected] Time to run! With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.
[This segment originally aired on VOA News Now on Feb. 18, 2001, during the energy crisis in California.]