Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, produced by Stefanie Levine

A Way with Words — language, linguistics, and callers from all over

Public radio's lively language call-in show! Talk about favorite expressions, odd turns of phrase, old and new words, word origins, grammar disputes, style questions, word puzzles and quizzes--anything language-related.
A Way with Words — language, linguistics, and callers from all over

Description

A fun weekly radio show about language seen through culture, history, and family. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers who have questions and stories about linguistics, old sayings, word histories, etymology, regional dialects, slang, new words, word play, word games, grammar, family expressions, books, literature, writing, and more. Email your language questions to words@waywordradio.org or call with your questions toll-free *any* time in the U.S. and Canada at 1 (877) 929-9673. From elsewhere in the world: +1 619 800 4443. All past shows are free: http://waywordradio.org/. On Twitter at http://twitter.com/wayword.

Link: www.waywordradio.org

Episodes

Mimeographs and Dittos - 25 June 2018

Jun 25, 2018 52:25

Description:

How colors got their names, and a strange way to write. The terms "blue" and "orange" arrived in English via French, so why didn't we also adapt the French for black and white? Plus, not every example of writing goes in one direction across the page. In antiquity, people sometimes wrote right to left, then left to right, then back again -- the same pattern you use when mowing a lawn. There's a word for that! And: a whiff of those fragrant duplicated worksheets that used to be passed out in elementary schools. Do you call them mimeographed pages or ditto sheets? Also, three-way chili, hangry, frogmarch, the cat may look at the queen, hen turd tea, and the  rhetorical backoff I'm just saying.

FULL DETAILS

Is there a word or phrase that's particular to your hometown? The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary would like to hear about it. In Cincinnati, for example, three-way refers to a kind of style of serving chili. You can contribute your examples on the OED's site, or talk about it on Twitter using the hashtag #wordswhereyouare.

If you're of a certain age, you may remember the smell of pages from ditto machines. Before those fragrant pages, there were sheets printed by mimeographs. Both the words ditto and mimeograph were originally brand names. Xerox machines later came along, a brand name deriving from the Greek word xeros, or dry, a reference to the printing process. From the same Greek root comes xeroscaping, which is landscaping that requries little or no water. The word ditto goes back to an Italian word that means said, while mimeograph comes from Greek words that mean "to write the same." Other terms for similar types of printing devices are formograph, mimeoscope, spirit duplicator, hectograph, roneograph, and pyrograph.

When trying to make themselves understood, kids cab be wonderfully creative with language. A couple of examples sent in by listeners: lasterday, referring to any time in the past, and spicy, describing bath water that's too hot.

Colleen from Fairbanks, Alaska, is pondering the word hangry, a portmanteau of hungry and angry, and applied to someone who's irritable as the result of hunger. Although hangry has been around sincet at least the 1950s, it enjoyed a boost in popularity in the 1990s. In 2018, the Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for this useful adjective.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's quiz involves words and phrases that the late writer Tom Wolfe helped popularize. For example, what phrase is associated with Wolfe's 1979 book with a title that might be paraphrased as Just What Is Needed?

Why does English derive words for some colors, such as blue and orange, from French, but not words for other colors, such as black and white? A fantastic resource about the history of colors is Kassia St. Clair's The Secret Lives of Color.

On Twitter, @mollybackes notes that in Wisconsin, a Tyme machine dispenses cash, not time travel.

Nancy in Panama City Beach, Florida, remembers that as a girl, whenever she asked why her mother was looking at her, her mother would respond, Well, can't the cat look at the queen? This phrase goes all the way back to the mid-16th century. A 1652 book of proverbs includes the version What, a cat may look on a king, you know. Another version goes, a cat is free to contemplate a monarch.

To frogmarch someone means to hustle them out of a place, usually by grabbing their collar and pinning their arms behind. Originally, this verb referred to police carrying an unruly person out of a building face down with a different person grasping each limb.

Steve in Dennis, Massachusetts, remembers a cartoon that showed a boy trying to persuade a donkey to pull a cart by holding out a carrot suspended from a stick. Is that the origin of the expression carrot and stick? The original metaphor involved the idea of motivating an animal with intermittent rewards and punishment -- that is, proffering a carrot or threatening with a stick.

In his collection of essays, A Temple of Texts, writer William Gass observed: The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words."

Boustrophedonic writing goes from right to left, then left to right, then right to left again. This term derives from Greek word bous, meaning "ox," also found in bucolic and bulimia (literally, ox hunger) and strophe, meaning turn, like the downward turn that is a catastrophe. The adjectival form is boustrophedonic.

Mark from Los Angeles, California, is curious about the slang term gank, meaning to steal.

Monte from San Antonio, Texas, responded to our query about what to call people who hold up traffic in turn lanes. Monte and his fellow truck drivers refer to such motorists as steering-wheel holders.

Eric in Fairbanks, Alaska, notes the use of the phrase I'm just saying as a way to soften one's comment or avoid responsibility for an observation. Linguists, who've been studying this phrase since the early 2000s, call such a statement a rhetorical backoff. Other examples are present company excluded, no offense, not to be critical, no offense or the even more elaborate I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Julie in Nantucket, Massachussetts, was tickled when her father used the expression weak as hen turd tea. More commonly called chicken poop tea, or chicken poo tea, or in Australia chook pop tea, hen turd tea is a mixture of poultry manure steeped in water that some believe is helpful to spread over garden soil.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Spicy Jambalaya - 18 June 2018

Jun 18, 2018 51:58

Description:

Teen slang from the South, and food words that are tricky to pronounce. High schoolers in Huntsville, Alabama, give Martha and Grant an earful about their slang -- including a term particular to their hometown. All we can say is: Don't be a "forf"! And: How do you pronounce the name of that tasty Louisiana specialty: Is it  JUM-buh-lye-yah or JAM-buh-lye-yah? And which syllable do you stress when pronouncing the spice spelled T-U-R-M-E-R-I-C? Finally, the word spelled W-A-T-E-R is of course pretty simple . . . so you might be surprised it can be pronounced at LEAST 15 different ways! Plus gnat flat, looking brave, vog, Russian mountains, high hat, whisker fatigue, chi hoo -- eh, fuggedaboudit!

FULL DETAILS

During a visit to Lee High School in Huntstville, Alabama, we collect a treasure trove of slang, including a term that seems to be particular to the Huntsville area: forf, which as a verb means to fail to follow through on commitments, and as a noun denotes the kind of person who does that, or in other words, a flake. Thanks to our friends at WLRH in Huntsville for inviting us.

Jared in Liberty, New York, wonders when and how the term Fuggedaboudit originated and how came to be popularly associated with the New York metropolitan area. The films of Martin Scorsese had a lot to do with that. The word doesn't always literally mean forget about it; it can also be used to mean No problem! or Certainly!

The Spanish term for rollercoaster, montana rusa, or "Russian mountain," refers to the earliest versions of rollercoasters, which were Russian slopes for sled built from wood and covered with ice. Oddly enough, the Russian for roller coaster translates as "American mountain."

Pearl, a youngster in Massachusetts, asks how to pronounce the name of the East Indian spice turmeric.The accent falls on the first syllable, and pronouncing that first r sound is optional.

Students at Lee High School in Huntstville, Alabama use the slang terms snack and whole meal. A snack is an attractive person, and if you're better than a snack, you're a whole meal!

"Rhyme and Time" is the name of this week's puzzle from Quiz Guy John Chaneski. All the answers are rhyming words separated by the word and. For example, what do you call the technique for narrowing the aspect ratio of a wide-screen movie so it will fit on your TV screen?

Peg in Papillion, Nebraska, has been reading Winston Graham's Poldark series, which is set in Cornwall around the turn of the 19th century. The characters sometimes greet each other with You're looking brave. Although brave usually means courageous, it's also been used to mean finely dressed or excellent. This sense also appears in the related Scots term brawf and as well as braw, all of which may derive from the Italian word bravo, meaning good or brave.

Aiya from Toronto, Canada, finds that whenever he moves to a new location, he adopts some of the local dialect, which feels a bit uncomfortable. At one point, for example, he found himself unable to recall if he used on accident or by accident to refer to something that happened accidentally. It's natural to pick up some of the lingo of those around you, so no need to overthink it. In the case of the phrases on accident versus and by accident, though, something very interesting is going on.

The housing shortage in crowded urban areas has led to ever smaller domiciles known as micro-units. Even smaller ones are sometimes called nano units or gnat flats.

Gary from Santa Maria, California, has been arguing with a friend for years over how to pronounce that tasty Louisiana mix of meat, vegetables, and rice called jambalaya.

Vog is the air pollution caused when sulphur dioxide and other volcanic gases react with oxygen. The word vog is a portmanteau of volcano and fog.

Martha reads the poem "Instructions on Not Giving Up" by the poet Ada Limon. Used with permission.

Rachel from San Diego wonders whether the exuberant Hawaiian cry Chi hoo! is onomatopoetic--that is, if the sound of the word resembles what it actually denotes. The cry is not originally Hawaiian. It's a version of the Samoan war cry known as a fa'aamu or sisu or ususu. The Honolulu Advertiser's Lee Cataluna has written about its use in Hawaii.

In South Africa, the word spookasem is a term for cotton candy, although it literally translates as ghost's breath. Elsewhere in the English-speaking word, the sweet stuff is called candy floss or fairy floss.

Cindy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is going through her mother's diary from the 1930's and finds the term high hat used as a transitive verb. To high hat someone means to act in a supercilious,  condescending, affected manner, as if wearing a high hat. In a someone similar way today, the slang term to cap someone can mean to be boastful.

In the United States alone, there are 15 different pronunciations of the word water!

Cats' whiskers, or vibrissae, are exceedingly sensitive. If a cat seems reluctant to eat out of a particular bowl, she may be bothered by whisker fatigue.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

A request from Martha — 13 June 2018

Jun 13, 2018 01:12

Description:

A request from Martha. - 13 June 2018

Have you ever wanted to know who we really are? How Grant and I really see ourselves?

Well, for one thing, we believe that talking about language should be about the variety of its possibilities. It shouldn’t be about limiting, or condemning, the different language of other people.

Isn’t it cool that there are more than 15 pronunciations of water in the United States?

Isn’t it fascinating that our language preserves the footprints of historical migrations?

Isn’t it compelling to reach for the right word — only to find yourself sounding just like your parents or grandparents?

And isn’t it just fine not to judge anyone for those things?

We think it is.

On our website you can read our mission, vision, and values statement. It’s not boring corporatese! It’s something we put together with each other, the board of our nonprofit, our staff, and through interactions with listeners.

It’s who we really are.

Go to https://waywordradio.org/mission to read the full statement. To endorse that statement — and to support the show and its mission — make a donation that will make a difference.

https://waywordradio.org/donate

We can’t do it without you.

Thank you.

Martha Barnette
co-host of A Way with Words.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: https://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.

https://waywordradio.org/

Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Chopped Liver — 11 June 2018

Jun 11, 2018 51:58

Description:

There's a proverb that goes "Beloved children have many names." That's at least as true when it comes to the names we give our pets. "Fluffy" becomes "Fluffers" becomes "FluffFace" becomes "FlufferNutter, Queen of the Universe." Speaking of the celestial, how DID the top politician in California come to be named Governor Moonbeam, anyway? Blame it on a clever newspaper columnist. And: still more names for those slowpokes in the left-turn lane. Plus munge and kludge, monkey blood and chopped liver, a German word for pout, and the land of the living.

FULL DETAILS

There's a proverb that goes Beloved children have many names. That's also true for pets, and listeners are discussing that process on Facebook.

Gary in Denton, Texas, is looking for a word for the pout that precedes a baby's wail. The Germans have a word for that: Schippchen, which means little shovel, and refers to the shape of that wet, protruding lower lip.

The phrase the land of the living goes all the way back to passages in the Bible like Psalm 52:5. Since at least the 1700s, this expression has been used to denote the realm of those still alive.

In the 1940s, the noun munge was student slang for crud or filth, then later became a verb denoting the action of messing with data in a way that might produce the equivalent of trash or rubbish. Over time, munge, which was sometimes spelled mung, lost its negative connotation and simply meant to manipulate data, as in to munge the numbers. Another computing-related term is kludge, which means to come up with a jerry-rigged solution, and may derive from a German word meaning clever.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a brain-stretching challenge to think of the longest word that begins and ends with a particular pair of letters. For example, what's the longest word you can think of that starts with A and ends with A?

Jessica in Omaha, Nebraska, was excited to discover an arrowhead, then puzzled when archaeologists told her that its age was probably between 6000-3000 BP. Why do some scientists measure time with the designation BP, or Before Present, instead of BC or BCE? The reason has to do with the advent of carbon dating techniques.

Obstetricians use the term multip as shorthand for multiparous, the adjective describing a woman who has given birth to more than one child. A woman who is nulliparous has not given birth at all, and a primipara has given birth only once.

Why is California governor Jerry Brown sometimes called Governor Moonbeam? This ethereal moniker was bestowed by the great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko to suggest a kind of hippie-dippie, insubstantial, lack of practicality.

Cartoonist Sarah Anderson has a very funny take on the multiplicity of names we give our cats.  

Clementine, a young caller from Omaha, Nebraska, wonders why we use the term run-of-the-mill to describe something ordinary. The expression originates world of manufacturing, where a run of the mill is the entire run of things being produced, whether it's lumber or bricks, including defective products. This sense of the word run as an overall production process also appears in the expression run of the mine and run of the kiln. (In the process of discussing this last one, we're surprised to learn from each other that's there's more than one way to pronounce the word kiln!)     

During a discussion in our Facebook group, a listener shares that her cat's name evolved from Poor Nameless Cat to PNC to Pansy.

What shall we call those drivers who take so much time when the left-turn light changes to green that you miss your chance to go and sit through another red light? Our conversation about that prompted a whole slew of emails from listeners who've clearly had time in traffic to think about it. Their suggestions include lane loafer, lane lingerer, lazy lefty, left-turn loiterer, lane loiterer, left-lane loiterer, laneygaggers, light laggers, light lingerers, light malingerers. There were also punny offerings, such as phonehead and light-wait. Another suggestion, playing on the term rubbernecker, was bottlenecker.

A Fort Worth, Texas, man remembers putting monkey blood on cuts and scrapes, and wonders about its name. It's not really monkey's blood; it's a bright red substance variously known as Mercurochrome or Merthiolate, also known as Thiomersal. In parts of the Spanish speaking world, that substance is also called sangre de mono or sangre de chango, both of which literally mean monkey blood.

A San Diego, California, man tweets his request for a term for what a dog does when she's happily writhing around on the grass. How about shnerking? Other terms people use for it are stink bathing, mole diving, itchy-scratchies, flea smothering, scruffling, or being a grass shark.

Does the expression to be roped into doing something carry a negative connotation? It all depends on the context.

Following up on our conversation about unconventional forms of diet and exercise, Martha shares an exercise regimen that turns into a paraprosdokian.

A woman in Reno, Nevada, wonders about the expression What am I, chopped liver? Chopped liver is a traditional Jewish dish that's always a side item, never the main course. Speaking of traditional Jewish foods, the term schmaltzy, meaning overly sentimental, derives from the Yiddish term shmalts, which means chicken or goose fat.

In our online discussion about the variety of things we call our pets, one woman shares how her pet's name went from Lucy to Queen of the Universe. Sounds like a perfectly natural progression to us!

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Busted Melon (Rebroadcast) - 4 June 2018

Jun 4, 2018 52:25

Description:

When writing textbooks about slavery, which words best reflect its cold, hard reality? Some historians are dropping the word "slave" in favor of terms like "enslaved person" and "captive," arguing that these terms are more accurate. And raising a bilingual child is tough enough, but what about teaching them three languages? It's an ambitious goal, but there's help if you want to try. Plus, a class of sixth-graders wonders about the playful vocabulary of The Lord of the Rings. Where did Tolkien come up with this stuff? Also, funny school mascots, grawlixes, that melon's busted, attercop, Tomnoddy, purgolders, and dolly vs. trolley vs. hand truck.

FULL DETAILS

In an earlier episode, we discussed funny school mascot names. Listeners wrote in with more, including the Belfry Bats (the high school mascot of Belfry, Montana) and the Macon Whoopie hockey team, from Macon, Georgia.

A Fort Worth, Texas, couple disagrees about how to pronounce the word gymnast, but both JIM-nist and the more evenly stressed JIM-NAST are fine.

A musician from Youngstown, Ohio, is designing an album cover for his band's latest release. He wants to use a grawlix, one of those strings of punctuation marks that substitute for profanity. "Beetle Bailey" cartoonist Mort Walker coined the term, but is there a grammar of grawlixes?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle about words and phrases that people have tried to trademark, including a two-word phrase indicating that someone's employment has been terminated, which a certain presidential candidate tried unsuccessfully to claim as his own.

He's a native English speaker who's fluent in Spanish. She grew up in Cameroon speaking French. They're planning a family, and hoping to raise their children to speak all three. What are the best strategies for teaching children to speak more than two languages? The Multilingual Children's Association offers helpful tips.

Offbeat mascot names from Montana include the Powell County Wardens (so named because the high school is in the same county as the Montana State Prison), and the Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart Breakers.

Growing up in Jamaica, a woman used to hear her fashion-designer mother invoke this phrase to indicate that something was good enough, even if it was flawed: A man on a galloping horse wouldn't see it. Variations include it'll never be seen on a galloping horse and a blind man on a galloping horse wouldn't see it. The idea is that the listener to relax and take the long view. The expression has a long history in Ireland and England, and the decades of Irish influence in Jamaica may also account for her mother's having heard it.

The country of Cameroon is so named because a 15th-century Portuguese explorer was so struck by the abundance of shrimp in a local river, he dubbed it Rio dos Camaroes, or "river of shrimp."

The organization Historic Hudson Valley describes the African-American celebration of Pinkster in an exemplary way. It avoids the use of the word slave and instead uses terms such as enslaved people, enslaved Africans, and captives. It's a subtle yet powerful means of affirming that slavery is not an inherent condition, but rather one imposed from outside.

A sixth-grade teacher from San Antonio, Texas, says he and his students are reading The Lord of the Rings. They're curious about the words attercop, which means "spider" (and a relative of the word cobweb) and Tomnoddy, which means "fool." Grant recommends the book The Ring of Words, as well as these online resources: Why Did Tolkien Use Archaic Language? and A Tolkien English Glossary.

If you're in the Ozarks, you might hear the expression that means the same as water under the bridge or spilled milk: that melon's busted. The idea in all three cases is that something irrevocable has happened, and there's no going back.

A listener from Abilene, Texas, recounts the incredulous reaction he got when he was in England and asked some burly fellows for a dolly, meaning a wheeled conveyance for moving heavy loads. He asked for a two-wheeler, then a hand truck, and finally learned that what they were expecting him to ask for a trolley.

Madison East High School in Madison, Wisconsin, is the proud home of the Purgolders. That school mascot resembles a golden puma in purple attire, with a portmanteau name that combines those two colors.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Truth and Beauty - 28 May 2018

May 28, 2018 51:01

Description:

Vocabulary that trickles down from the top of the world. Malamute, kayak, and parka are just some of the words that have found their way into English from the language of indigenous people in northern climes. Also, the surprising language of physicists: in the 1970s, some scientists argued that two quarks should be called "truth" and "beauty." Finally, the many layers of words and worlds we invoke when we describe someone as "the apple of my eye." Plus, to have brass on one's face, frozen statues, good craic, prepone, agathism and agathakakological, and the positive use of I don't care to.

FULL DETAILS

In the 1970s, physicists predicted the discovery of two quarks called T and B for top and bottom. Some poetically-minded physicists argued that the T and B quarks should instead be called Truth and Beauty, but the terms top and bottom eventually won out. terms. For the record, beauty lasts about one picosecond before decaying—at least when you're talking about quarks.

Pepper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, wonders why something valuable to someone is called the apple of their eye. The expression apple of one’s eye is very old, going back to the ninth century. The use of apple derives from the early misunderstanding that the pupil of the eye is a sphere. Similarly, the French word for pupil is prunelle, or little plum. The word pupil itself comes from Latin pupilla, or little doll, because if you look deeply into someone’s eyes, you’ll see a tiny reflection of yourself. For the same reason, the expression to look babies at each other referred to the way lovers look into each others’ eyes, close enough to see themselves.

The expression to have brass on one’s face is used in the South Atlantic region of the United States to describe someone who is bold or overconfident. There’s a similar idea in the word brazen, which derives from an Old English word for brass.

Aru in Omaha, Nebraska, says friends and colleagues tease him about his use of prepone, as in to put something in front of something. It’s a word commonly used in Indian English, is morphologically sound, and quite useful.

Our conversation about Spanish idioms involving food prompted a tweet from Tijuana, Mexico: del plato a la boca, se cae la sopa, or between the dish and the mouth, the soup spills, or don’t count your chickens before they hatch. A similar idea is reflected there’s many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, an English proverb similar to a saying in ancient Greek.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's brain teaser involves puzzling out clues to words beginning with de-. For example: Hey, how can our team play baseball when somebody has quite literally stolen second?

Craig, a whale biologist in Alaska, wonders how many words have been adopted into English from such languages as Inuit, Yupik, Tlingit and Inupiaq. Indigenous languages in the far North have contributed mukluk, malamute, kayak, and parka.The word parka took an especially long route into English, coming originally from native peoples in the Russian region of the Arctic Circle. Native American terms also give us some familiar animal names, such as opossum and raccoon.

Agathism is the doctrine that all things ultimately tend toward good, even though the means by which tha happens may be evil or unpleasant or unfortunate. The word comes from Greek agathos, meaning good, which is also the source of agathakakological, an adjective describing a mixture of good and evil.

Rebecca in Austin, Texas, wonders why the terms cold sore and fever blister describe pretty much the same thing. Also, why do we say we have a cold, but we have the flu? The word flu comes from the Italian word for influence, influenza, and is a reference to an old belief that a contagious illness was influenced by celestial movements.

Nick, an Englishman who divides his time between Ireland and Virginia, says his American friends were baffled when he described a convivial evening with them as good craic, pronounced just like English crack. The word craic is often associated with the Irish, but it first appeared as crac in Northern England and Scotland, then migrated to Ireland, and its meaning evolved from talk or excited chatter to fun and good times. Another evocative Irish word is banjaxed, which describes something messed up.

A proverb about what family members learn from each other: Parents teach their children to talk; children teach their parents silence.

The children’s game of frozen statues putting players in awkward poses, which they must then hold for a while. This outdoor pastime has many variations and goes by many names, including falling statues, swinging statues, squat-where-you-be, statue makers, and game of statues. A similar game of spinning around together and then releasing each other is called going to Texas.

Wayne in Sherman, Texas wonders how the term pear-shaped came to describe something that’s gone badly. The expression seems to have arisen during Falklands War of the early 1980s. If you need a word for pear-shaped, there's always pyriform, from the Latin word for pear, pirum.

Our conversation about the term bear-caught, describing someone with heatstroke, prompted Sondra in Florida to share a poem on the topic written years ago by her late husband, Bert Furbee.

Jane in Austin, Texas, is curious about the expression how the cow ate the cabbage, meaning to give someone a talking-to.

Sugar weather refers to a period of time during the spring in Canada marked by warm days and cold nights, when the sap starts running in the trees.

Jim from Bowling Green, Kentucky, says he's heard some folks in his area use the phrase I don't care when they mean to accept an offer. This affirmative use is somewhat similar to saying Don't mind if I do, meaning yes, thank you.

On our Facebook group, Brett asks: What do you call a society run by rabbits? A carrotocracy? How about a whatsupdocracy?

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Jump Steady (Rebroadcast) - 21 May 2018

May 21, 2018 51:19

Description:

Secret codes, ciphers, and telegrams. It used to be that in order to transmit information during wartime, various industries encoded their messages letter by letter with an elaborate system--much like today's digital encryption. Grant breaks down some of those secret codes--and shares the story of the most extensive telegram ever sent. Plus, we've all been there: Your friends are on a date, and you're tagging along. Are you a third wheel--or the fifth wheel? There's more than one term for the odd person out. Finally, a rhyming quiz about famous poems. For example, what immortal line of poetry rhymes with: "Prose is a nose is a hose is a pose"? Plus, women named after their mothers, variations on "Happy Birthday," at bay, nannies' charges, and a blues singer who taught us to jump steady.

FULL DETAILS

Great news for scavenger-hunt designers, teenage sleepover guests, and anyone else interested in being cryptic! The old-school commercial codes used for hiding information from the enemy in a telegraphs is at your fingertips on archive.org. Have fun.

If you're single but tagging along on someone else's date, you might be described as a fifth wheel, a term that goes back to Thomas Jefferson's day. Not until much later, after the bicycle had been invented, the term third wheel started becoming more common.

The long popular and newly legal-to-sing "Happy Birthday to You" has always been ripe for lyrical variations, particularly at the end of the song. Some add a cha cha cha or forever more on Channel 4, but a listener tipped us off to another version: Without a shirt!

We spoke on the show not long ago about yuppies and dinks, but neglected to mention silks: households with a single income and lots of kids.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski brings a game of schmoetry—as in, famous lines of poetry where most of the words are replaced with other words that rhyme. For example, "Prose is a nose is a hose is a pose" is a schmoetic take on what famous poem?

A young woman who works as a nanny wants to know why the term charge is used to refer to the youngsters she cares for. Charge goes back to a Latin root meaning, "to carry," and it essentially has to do with being responsible for something difficult. That same sense of "to carry" informs the word charger, as in a type of decorative dinnerware that "carries" a plate.

Plenty of literature is available, and discoverable, online. But there's nothing like the spontaneity, or stochasticity, of browsing through a library and discovering great books at random.

After a recent discussion on the show about garage-sailing, a listener from Henderson, Kentucky, sent us an apt haiku: Early birds gather near a green sea/ Garage doors billow on the morning wind/ Yard-saling.

To jump steady refers to either knocking back booze or knocking boots (or, if you’re really talented, both). It's an idiom made popular by blues singers like Lucille Bogan.

Long distance communication used to be pretty expensive, but few messages have made a bigger dent than William Seward's diplomatic telegram to France, which in 1866 cost him more than $300,000 in today's currency. This pricey message aptly became known as Seward’s Other Folly.

Someone who's being rude or pushy might be said to have more nerves than a cranberry merchant. This idiom is probably a variation on the phrase busier than a cranberry merchant in November, which relates to the short, hectic harvesting season right before Thanksgiving.

The Spanish version of being a fifth wheel on a date is toca el violin, which translates to being the one who plays the violin, as in, they provide the background music. In German, there's a version that translates to, "useless as a goiter."

It's far less common for women in the United States to name their daughters after themselves, but it has been done. Eleanor Roosevelt, for one, is actually Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Jr.

A listener from Dallas, Texas, wonders why we say here, here to cheer someone on, and there, there to calm someone down. Actually, the phrase is hear, hear, and it's imperative, as in, listen to this guy. There, there, on the other hand is the sort of thing a parent might say to console a blubbering child, as in "There, there, I fixed it."

We spoke on the show not long ago about how the phrase to keep something at bay derives from hunting. A listener wrote in with an evocative description of its origin, referring specifically to that period when cornered prey is able to keep predators away--that is, at bay--but only briefly. It's a poignant moment of bravery.

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
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Dessert Stomach - 14 May 2018

May 14, 2018 51:01

Description:

Funny cat videos and cute online photos inspire equally adorable slang terms we use to talk about them. When a cat leaves its tongue out, that's a blep. A boop is a gentle tap on its nose. Also, when is a salamander not a salamander? The name of this animal once referred to a mythical beast that was impervious to fire. Now it also refers to heating devices. And: the story of how the Italian term for a dish towel became a word heard halfway across the world in Rome, New York. Plus, Bozo buttons, betsubara, both vs. bolth, straight vs. shtraight, mlem, hoosegow, sticky bottle and magic spanner, all served up with a helping helping of caster sugar.

FULL DETAILS

A listener shares a story on our Facebook group about how a child's misunderstanding that illustrates the power of metaphor.

Michael in San Diego, California, plays a game with his 3-year-daughter that involves spotting small round property markers in the sidewalk, which he calls bozo buttons. His mother played the same game as a youngster, but calls those metal discs monkey buttons. It's unclear whether there's a connection with the Bozo button from the old Bozo the Clown TV show from the 1960s. Losing contestants on that show received a button with a picture of the clown on it, and the term Bozo button came to mean the prize you get when you think you deserve an award but no one else agrees.

You know how you can feel full after a meal, but then dessert arrives and you suddenly find a little more room? The Japanese have a term for this: betsubara, which literally means other stomach. In English, it's your dessert stomach.

Jan in Ketchikan, Alaska, says when she worked in a hospital in Maine, co-workers described a patient with a low pain threshold or otherwise reluctant to move about as spleeny. New Englanders in particular use the term spleeny to mean fussy, hypochondriacal, or malingering. The blood-filtering organ called the spleen takes its name from a similar-sounding word in ancient Greek. The phrase to vent your spleen means to express anger.

A listener notes that among the many Italian-Americans in Rome, New York, term mappine is commonly used for dish towel. In some some dialects of Italy, particularly the Piedmont and Neapolitan regions, the word mappina means cloth or towel or rag. In the mouths of Italian-Americans, that final syllable was dropped, a linguistic process known as lenition, and handed down through generations, resulting in variable spellings such as mopeen. Mappine also extends metaphorically to someone who is filthy or disreputable or spineless. Another term used by many Italian-Americans is gagootz, from the Italian word for a type of squash, which applies to someone acting goofy.

In an earlier episode, we talked about plogging and trashercize, those workouts that involve picking up trash while jogging or walking. Jeannie from Port Wing, Wisconsin, wrote to share another fitness gimmick, the Bean Diet. Just open a bag of dried beans, toss them into the air, and then squat or bend over to pick them all up.

Funny cat videos and squee-worthy photos on sites like Cute Overload have inspired equally adorable slang terms. When a cat leaves its tongue out, that's a blep. A boop is a gentle tap on a critter's nose, so if a friendly pup is nearby, you can reach out and boop a snoot. Mlem is a cats' gentle licking of its whiskers. Tocks, short for buttocks, is a fuzzy behind that makes you say Anh!, and those squishy pink pads on a paw are fondly referred to as toe beans. Many more affectionately silly terms are in Cute Overload's glossary, and are also found in the Dogspotting group on Facebook and the @weratedogs Twitter feed. Linguist Gretchen McCullough, co-host of the Lingthusiasm podcast, has described still more cute internet language involving animals, such as doggo for dog.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's brain teaser this week is inspired by the Grammys, Emmys, and other awards shows. For example, if the nominees Double Bubble, Juicy Fruit, Dentyne, Trident, and Orbit, what coveted honor are they competing for?

We've talked before about needing a word for the disappointment you feel when your favorite restaurant closes for good. A listener suggests a pun on melancholy, meal-ancholy.

Jason in San Antonio, Texas, is curious why the term salamander is applied to small heater on a construction site. In ancient lore, the mythical beast called a salamander was impervious to fire. Later salamander was applied to various heating instruments, from an 18th century browning iron to modern pizza broilers. Salamander has also been applied metaphorically to the seeming invincibility of brave soldiers, fire-eating jugglers, and women who stay chaste despite temptation.

Benjamin in Seattle, Washington, was surprised when someone pointed out his nonstandard pronunciation of the word both as bolth. About 10 percent of respondents to our online survey said they pronounce the word both with an l sound in it.

Martha shares a poem by Mexican-American poet Sandra Cisneros, "Peaches--Six in a Tin Bowl, Sarajevo." It's from My Wicked, Wicked Ways, copyright 1987 by Sandra Cisneros. By special arrangement with Third Woman Press. Published by Vintage Books in paperback and ebook, in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Service. All rights reserved.

Eben, a chef in Lummi Bay, Washington, who blogs about food at UrbanMonique, is curious about the term caster sugar, which denotes sugar less fine than powdered sugar, but less coarse than the regular table variety. The name caster sugar derives from the fact that it's typically sprinkled, or cast, from a small container with holes that accommodate the size of the grains. It's also called baker's sugar or castor sugar, although the spelling it sharese with foul-tasting castor oil is merely a coincidence.

Our conversation about gram weenies, those ultralight backpackers who go to extremes to shave off every last bit of excess weight in their gear, prompts a bicyclist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to share some cycling slang about ways to find a competitive edge. A weight weenie is a cyclist concerned about ensuring that their wheels and other bike components are the lightest weight possible. Another term, sticky bottle, refers to the way that during a race, a support team pulling up alongside a biker to hand off a water bottle will hang onto the bottle slightly longer than needed, allowing the biker to briefly hitch a ride. The expression magic spanner involves a similarly shady strategy--handing the biker a wrench from the support car, but holding on a little longer than necessary, helping to pull the biker along for a few seconds.

Paul in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, has noticed that some people pronounce street as shtreet and straight as shtraight. Why do some people add that sh sound?

Sandee from New York City thought that she was the only person who had misunderstood a line from the song "Ladies Who Lunch" from the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, memorably performed on Broadway by Elaine Stritch. Years later, however, she learned that Stritch had had the same misunderstanding. Such an instance of words misheard is known as a mondegreen.

The word hoosegow means jail, and derives from the Spanish word for tribunal, juzgado. In some dialects of Spanish, the d sound is not pronounced.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Scat Cat (Rebroadcast) - 7 May 2018

May 7, 2018 51:01

Description:

The dilemma continues over how to spell dilemma! Grant and Martha try to suss out the backstory of why some people spell that word with an "n." At lot of them, it seems, went to Catholic school. Maybe that's a clue? Plus, the saying "Close, but no cigar" gets traced back to an old carnival game. And the French horn isn't actually French—so why in the world do we call it that ? Plus, a word game based on famous ad slogans, the plural form of the computer mouse, a Southern way to greet a sneeze, and remembering a beloved crossword puzzle writer.

FULL DETAILS

The dilemma continues over how to spell dilemma. Are there Catholic school teachers out there still teaching their students to spell it the wrong way, i.e., dilemna?

The saying close but no cigar comes from the famous carnival game wherein a bold fellow tries to swing a sledgehammer hard enough to make a bell ring. The winner of the game, which was popular around 1900, would win a cigar. The game still exists, of course, but tobacco is no longer an appropriate prize for a family game.

Here's a riddle: What seven-letter word becomes longer when the third letter is removed?

The most common plural form of mouse—as in, a computer mouse—is mice. But since the mouse was introduced in the 1960's, tech insiders have applied their own sense of humor and irony to the usage of mice.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game based on nicknames and slogans sure to test your knowledge of both geography and niche comestibles, such as the product sold with the line, That's rich.

We heard from a woman who told her boyfriend about her plan to get her haircut. He responded that he thought that particular style would make her hair "worse." Does the word worse in this case imply that her hair was bad to begin with?

Nook-shotten is an old word meaning that something has many corners or projections. Shakespeare used it in Henry V when he spoke about the nook-shotten isle of Albion.

Scat cat, your tail's on fire is a fun variant of scat cat, get your tail out of the gravy—both of which are Southern ways to say bless you after someone sneezes.

The crossword puzzle community lost an exceptional man when Merl Reagle died recently. Reagle was a gifted puzzle writer and a lovely person who gave his crosswords a sense of life outside the arcane world of word puzzles.

What do you call the phenomenon of running into a dear friend you haven't seen in decades? Deja you, maybe?

The French horn, a beautiful instrument known for its mellow sound, originated as a hunting horn. The French merely added some innovations that made it more of a practical, usable instrument. But professional musicians often prefer to call it simply the horn.

It might be the grooviest new holiday since Burning Man: Hippie Christmas is the annual festivity surrounding the end of the college school year, when students leave perfectly good clothing and household goods by the curb or the dumpster because they don't want to schlep it all back home.

That foam thing you put around a beer or soda can to keep your drink cold and your hand warm is called a koozie. Or a cozy. Or a coozy, or a kozy or any variant of those spellings. It originates from the tea cozy, pronounced with the long o sound. But a patented version with the brand name Koozie came about in the 1980's, making the double-o sound a popular way to pronounce it as well.

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Far Out, Man - 30 April 2018

Apr 30, 2018 51:01

Description:

An Ohio community is divided over the name of the local high school's mascot. For years, their teams have been called the Redskins. Is that name derogatory -- or does it honor the history of Native Americans in that area? And: You know when you're waiting in line to make a left turn at a traffic light, but the driver ahead of you is so busy with their cell phone that you end up having to sit through another red light? There ought to be a word for that, right? Maybe there is. Finally, the surprising connection between a passage of ancient poetry and familiar brand of athletic shoes. Plus rhyming phrases, far out, using a wheelchair vs. confined to a wheelchair, honey hole, pirate lingo, honte, and floorios.

FULL DETAILS

On Twitter @flaminghaystack asks: What if the person who named walkie talkies named everything? For starters, we might refer to a defibrillator as a hearty starty and stamps as licky stickies.

A San Diego, California, listener wonders if the expression far out originally had to do with surfing. This expression describing something excellent or otherwise impressive originated in the world of jazz, where far out suggested the idea of something beyond compare.

The Yiddish phrase Hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik and its variants have been used to tell someone to stop babbling or making noise. Literally, it means Don't knock me a teakettle.

After the death of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, @tommysantelli tweeted a powerful reminder about the language we use to describe someone who uses a wheelchair.

A Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, listener notes that the word cunning is sometimes used to describe a cute baby. In the 14th century, this adjective had to do with the idea of knowing, and eventually also acquired the meaning of quaint or charming. The word cute itself followed a somewhat similar path, deriving from acute, meaning sharp or knowledgeable.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a take-off puzzle this week, offering clues to rhyming two-word phrases made by removing the letter D from the beginning of one of them. For example, if your sound equipment was damaged in a flood, what are you left with?

A debate is raging in a Cincinnati, Ohio, community over the name of a local high school mascot, the Redskins. What's the origin of the word redskin, and is it a derogatory term or an homage to Native Americans? The book Redskins: Insult and Brand by C. Richard King is a helpful resource on this topic. In this local dispute, the adults seem to be arguing past each other, and the hosts suggest that the students themselves should be brought into the discussion.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time. This may be a Jewish proverb, although its provenance is uncertain. In any case, it's a reminder that while young people still have much to learn, they also know things their elders don't.

A law enforcement professional describes a dispute that arose over the term honey hole. He and some of his colleagues understand it to mean a place where many citations would be written, but two others took offense at what they perceived as a sexual connotation. Actually, the term honey hole has had a variety of meanings over the years, including a hole in a tree where honey is found, a good fishing or hunting spot, a place on a baseball field where a hit ball is likely to land, a strong source of income or profit, a hole made in a log to attract raccoons, a spot where in-ground compost is made. Honey hole is also used ironically to mean a latrine or an area where one is likely to catch a serious illness like malaria.

A ninth-grade English teacher in Canfield, Ohio, says that when her class reached the climactic scene in The Odyssey where Odysseus bends his mighty bow and kills his wife's suitors, a student wondered whether the correct phrase is shoot a bow or shoot an arrow. The latter is far more common.

The Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano, or "a healthy mind in a healthy body," comes from one of the Satires of the ancient Roman poet Juvenal. Fast-forward to 1977, when the Japanese manufacturer of athletic footwear was looking for a name for his new product. He chose an acronym based on a phrase with roughly the same translation, anima sana in corpore sano, or ASICS.

You know when you're waiting in line to make a left turn at a traffic light, but the pokey driver ahead of you is so busy with their cell phone that you end up having to sit through another red light? Shouldn't there be a word for those selfish drivers? How about left-lane losers? Or light hogs? Maybe lanesquatters? A listener in La Jolla, California, believes that naming this phenomenon will be the first step to ending it.

Honeypots is a children's game in which players sit or squat with their hands gripping the backs of their thighs, while other players lift them up by the armpits and shake or swing them in an attempt to make them lose their grip. What fun!

Why is the past tense of buy not buyed but bought? Often the verbs most likely to have such irregular forms are the simplest, reflecting the residue of centuries-old grammatical features.

A chance encounter with University of California San Diego professor of history Mark Hanna, author of Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, leads to a discussion of how the saying Arrr! came to be associated with pirates. This exclamation seems to have been popularized by British actor Robert Newton in the 1950 movie Treasure Island.

A woman in Lafayette, Louisiana, and wonders about the Cajun French word honte, which means extreme embarrassment and shame.

Food that fell on the floor that you go ahead and eat anyway? That's a floorio.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Beat the Band (Rebroadcast) - 23 April 2018

Apr 25, 2018 51:01

Description:

This week on "A Way with Words": This week on "A Way with Words": Can language change bad behavior in crowded places? The Irish Railway system has launched ad campaign to encourage passengers to be more generous at boarding time. For example, have you ever rummaged through your belongings or pretended to have an intense phone conversation in order to keep someone from grabbing the seat next to you? Then you're busted -- there's a word for that! Also, one of America's top experts on garage sales is looking for the right term for that kind of bargain-hunting. Is it garage-sailing? Yard-selling? Or something else? Plus, a Godfather-themed word game you can't refuse. And conversational openers, see-saw vs. teeter-totter, ledged out, scartling, trade-last, and beat the band.

FULL DETAILS

If you're the type of person who wants so badly to sit alone on a train that you have strategies for deterring other passengers from taking the seat next to yours, the Irish train system is onto you. Irish Rail's #GiveUpYourSeat campaign has posters all over trains warning people about frummaging (pretending to rummage through your bag in the seat next to yours) and snoofing (spoof snoozing).

The guy who may be the nation's foremost garage sale expert called us from Crescent City, California, with a question that's vital for anyone writing or thinking about garage sales: Do the verbs garage-saling or yard-saling refer to the person holding the sale or the shopper visiting the sale?

Someone who looks like the wreck of Hesperus isn't exactly looking their best. The idiom comes from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, inspired by an 1839 blizzard off the coast of Massachusetts that destroyed 20 ships.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski presented a word game we couldn't refuse based on the line in The Godfather, "I’m gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." Except in this game, he can't refuse is replaced with other words that rhyme.

There's no one correct way to pronounce buried, but depending on where you live, it might be common to hear it in a way that rhymes with hurried. As the spelling of the word changed from the original old English version, byrgan, no single standard pronunciation was settled on.

A mobile-phoney, as defined by the Irish rail system's new ad campaign, is someone on a train who pretends to be having a phone conversation in order to prevent fellow passengers from taking the seat next to them.

The exhortation in Shakespeare's Henry V, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends," is now a part of common speech. But not every fan of the Bard knows what a breach is. It's simply a gap—a space between two things.

Scartle is an old Scots word meaning to scrape together little bits of things, like picking the coins and crumbs out of a car seat.

Bill Cosby is perhaps the latest but certainly not the first celebrity whom the public has fallen out of love with over something terrible they did that went public. Is there a term for this kind of mass disenchantment with a celebrity?

Goggle-bluffing is the train passenger's trick of averting your line of eyesight so as to fool other passengers into not taking the seat next to you.

The first occasion when a new mother sees company after having a baby is called the upsitting. But upsitting in certain cultures is also used to describe a courtship ritual where two people on either sides of a thin partition get to flirt with each other. William Charles Baldwin talks about it in his book, African Hunting, From Natal to Zambesi.

What do you call the piece of playground equipment with a long board and spots for a kid to sit on either end and make it go up and down? A see-saw? A teeter-totter? A flying jenny, or a joggling board? The term you're most familiar with likely has to do with where you grew up.

When hiking off-trail, it's important to keep an eye on where you've been as well as where you're going. Otherwise, you run the risk of what experienced hikers call being ledged out, which means you've descended to a point where you can't go any farther, but you've slid down so far that you can't go back up and try a different route. It's a good metaphor for life as well.

A trade-last, also known as a told-last, is a compliment that's relayed to the intended recipient by someone else.

We've spoken on the show before about conversation openers that differ from the often dreaded "What do you do?" and we heard from one listener who prefers "What keeps you busy?"

Beat the band, as in, it's snowing to beat the band, or he's dressed to beat the band, is an idiom that's mainly used as a positive intensifier. It evolved from shouting to beat the band, meaning someone is talking so loudly they can be heard over the music.

Billennials, or bilingual millennials, is a new term being bandied about by marketers and television programmers who've realized that young Americans who grew up in Spanish-speaking homes don't necessarily care for the traditional telenovela style shows on Spanish language networks.

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Brollies and Bumbershoots - 16 April 2018

Apr 16, 2018 51:01

Description:

If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In Britain, it's a brolly. Plus, a man who works a ski resort shares the vocabulary he and coworkers use to describe grooming the snow. And there's more than one way to pronounce the name of the bread that you pile with lox and cream cheese. Also: strong like bull, whistle britches, long suit and strong suit, homey and homely, wet behind the ears, and dead nuts.

FULL DETAILS

If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States; in Britain, it's a brolly.  You'll learn that and much more about the differences between British English and American English in the marvelous new book The Prodigal Tongue, by linguist Lynne Murphy.

A middle-school teacher and her students in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, have a question about one girl's pronunciation of the word bagel. Is this round yeast roll with a hole in the middle pronounced BAY-gul or BAG-ul? Although most people pronounce it with a long a, a growing number are pronouncing it to rhyme with waggle.

A ski slope groomer in Stowe, Vermont, says he and his colleagues vehicles that make corduroy, the packed, ridged surfaces of snow that are perfect for skiing. Another term for corduroy, or someone who wears it, is whistle britches, because of the sound they make when the wearer is walking.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz similar to the board game Tribond, in which the object is to figure out the bond that links three things. For example, what's the common bond that links the words playground, trombone, and microscope?

In The Prodigal Tongue, linguist Lynne Murphy recounts the story of a friend from the US who was confused when her physician inquired about her waterworks. In Britain, that's a slang term for urinary tract.

The terms long suit and strong suit, are both used metaphorically to refer to a particular strength someone possesses. Both expressions arose from card playing.

In the US, if you're ambivalent about something, you're said to be of two minds. In the UK, however, they use a different preposition -- they're said to be in two minds. Also, Americans talk about brainstorms, which in Britain are called brain showers.

A woman in Bowling Green, Kentucky wonders: How did the phrase wet behind ears come to describe someone who's inexperienced?

Martha shares a quote from author Madeleine L'Engle about how growing up means accepting vulnerability.

An Escanoba, Michigan, construction worker who specializes in plumbing and pipefitting says that when he and his co-workers finish a job just so, they say approvingly Dead nuts! But he wonders if there's anything obscene about that expression.

In the US, if you step on a Lego, you scream bloody murder; in the UK, you step on a piece of Lego and scream blue murder. Also, in the US, you eat scrambled eggs; in the UK, it's scrambled egg.

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by linguist Lynne Murphy is a trove of information about differences between these two versions of English. Murphy's blog, Separated by a Common Language, is another great source, and you can take online quizzes to test your knowledge of the two.

A woman in Omaha, Nebraska, wonders about the difference between the adjectives homey and homely. In the UK, the word homely is a positive term that means cozy.

If you're in England and want some cream cheese to go with your bagel, ask for Philadelphia.

The word bougie evolved from bourgeois, meaning characteristic of the middle class. Bougie often has a derogatory sense, but not always.

Bert Vaux, the linguist whose data was the basis of the wildly popular New York Times Dialect Quiz, is collecting more data about American English, and invites you to take a survey. The answers will help inform a new app he's working on.

A woman in Fairbanks, Alaska, says she's been described as strong like ox, smart like streetcar. Is that a compliment? Other variations include strong like bull and smart like tractor or smart like dump truck. The phrase strong like bull was likely popularized by the character of Uncle Tonoose on the 1950s sitcom, The Danny Thomas Show.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Cool Your Soup - 9 April 2018

Apr 9, 2018 51:01

Description:

According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it's important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on your own and teach yourself. Also, some Spanish idioms involving food: What does it mean to flip the tortilla or to eat turkey at a dance? Plus, a conversation about the difference between compassion and sympathy. Also recursive acronyms, bear-caught, leaverites, jonesing, mon oeil, Jane Austen's pins, high-water pants, and save your breath to cool your soup.

FULL DETAILS

In English, if someone's terrified, they might be shaking like a leaf. In Spanish, the phrase is temblar como un flan, or to tremble like a flan. The Spanish phrase darle la vuelta a la tortilla literally means to flip the tortilla, but metaphorically it means to turn the tide, as in an athletic contest where the losing team finds a way to start winning.

Is the word mac actually an acronym for macaroni and cheese? No, just a shortening of the term. If it mac were an acronym, however, it would be a recursive acronym, or one that refers to itself.

A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls that when she was a youngster, she'd pester her mother by asking the name of lots and lots of rocks on the ground. Her mother eventually began referring to those specimens as leaverites--as in leave 'er right there. The term is popular among geology enthusiasts.

The saying You might as well save your breath to cool your soup is centuries old. Variants include save your breath to cool your porridge and save your breath to cool your pottage. In all those cases, it's a wry way to suggest that someone to be less long-winded.

A San Diego, California, man is having a dispute with his wife, who is a linguist. How exactly do you pronounce the word exactly?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle inspired rhyming terms with the eee-aww, eee-aww, eee-aww sounds of police sirens. For example, what sound does a donkey make?

A podcast listener in Buenos Aires, Argentina, wonders about the differences between the words compassion, sympathy, and empathy.

The Spanish phrase estar en la edad del pavo literally translates as to be in the age of the turkey--to be, in other words, at that awkward age. Comer pavo, literally to eat turkey, means to sit alone at a dance because no one has asked you to join them. The Spanish word pavo comes from Latin word pavo, which means peacock, and is the source of the English word pavonine, which means resembling a peacock or having coloration similar to a peacock's.

An Omaha, Nebraska, man asks about the origin of the term bear-caught, which applies to someone with sunstroke or heat exhaustion. The point of popularization for this expression appears to be the 1965 book by Donn Pearce and subsequent movie, Cool Hand Luke.

In many cultures, tugging at one's lower eyelid is an expression of skepticism, as if to indicate that the person is being watchful and alert and won't be taken in. In the United States, the gesture may be accompanied by a phrase like Do you see the green of my eye? In France, it's accompanied by mon oeil, or my eye, and in Japan, this action is referred to as akanbe or red eye.

In a 1994 interview in The Paris Review, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe offered some great advice about having faith in your process as a writer based on his own experiences as an undergraduate.

To be jonesing for something means to be craving it. The phrase arose in 1960's drug culture, but beyond that, there are competing stories about its origin.

The cut-and-paste feature in word-processing programs makes it easy to rearrange text. But in the past, some writers literally cut and pinned their copy. At the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries, you can see the pins Jane Austen used to fasten together parts of pages from her unfinished novel, The Watsons.

A listener in Fargo, North Dakota, ask which is correct: graduated from high school or graduated high school? Increasingly, the former is falling by the wayside.

A member of our Facebook group posted a photo of a box that left him completely puzzled until he realized that if you look at the word spoons upside down, it spells suoods.

A Lakeland, Florida, woman wonders about the use of the term floodin' or flooding to describe someone wearing pants that are too short, as in He's floodin.' There are many terms for such ill-fitting pants, including flash-flooders, flood pants, floods, high waders, and high waters, all based on the image of keeping one's pants above the ankles in order to avoid getting them wet in a flood.

In English, women give birth; in Spanish, they give to the light, expressed as dar a luz or dar a la luz. Another luminous word, alumbrando, is applied to a woman who is giving birth.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
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Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Fighting Artichokes (Rebroadcast) - 26 March 2018

Mar 26, 2018 51:01

Description:

What’s in a mascot name? Maybe you’re a fan of the Banana Slugs, or you cheer for the Winged Beavers. Perhaps your loyalty lies with the Fighting Artichokes. There are some strange names for sports team out there. But what’s even stranger is the origin of the word mascot itself. It’s from a 19th-century opera! And: the host of a television show about gardening is tired of using the verb “to plant,” and is desperate for an alternative. But coming up with one is harder than you might think! Plus, a word for that sinking feeling when your favorite restaurant closes. Also, a word quiz based on the party game Taboo, the history of cataract, a begrudging ode to office jargon, and an old children’s song about popping the heads off of flowers.

This episode first aired October 2, 2015.

Come From Away, a new musical about the 7000 passengers whose planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, after the September 11th attacks, is not only a fine piece of theater. It’s also a rich trove of Newfoundland language, including “come from away,” and a noun that means “visitor.”

Evergreen State College in Washington is certainly in the running for best school mascot, with the Geoduck. But you can’t forget the UC Santa Cruz Fighting Banana Slugs, or the Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes. The term mascot itself was popularized by a 19th century French comic opera, called La Mascotte. The word is also related to the Spanish term for “pet,” mascota.

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English offers a look at some intriguing vocabulary from that part of the world, such as the expression “best kind,” meaning “in the best state or condition.”

If you pronounce roof to rhyme with hoof, you’re not alone. Millions of people all over the U.S. say it that way, though the pronunciation with the long o sound is more common.

You’re not a true resident of Poca, West Virginia, if you’re not cheering on the local high school, the Poca Dots.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski brought us a puzzle based on one of his favorite party games: Taboo. If he gave you a series of terms that all match up with a certain word — like car, clock, burglar, and siren — what word would you say goes with them?

We got a call from Nan Sterman, host of the public television gardening show A Growing Passion, who writes so much about plants that she’s looking for some alternatives to the verb “to plant.” But what to say if you don’t want to sound pretentious or stilted? What about variations such as “Stick that little guy in the soil,” or “Bury that gem in a pot?”

“Fair weather to you, and snow to your heels,” is one way for Newfoundlanders to wish each other good luck.

The Fibber McGee drawer is that essential place where you quickly shove a bunch of junk when you need to clean up fast and don’t have the time or care to organize anything. It comes from the old radio comedy, Fibber McGee and Molly, which featured a running gag in which Fibber had a closet crammed with junk that fell cacophonously to the floor whenever he opened it.

The high school in Hoopeston, Illinois, calls its teams the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers, and in Avon, Connecticut, the Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers are a beloved hockey team. In case you’re shopping for school districts.

A cataract is not only an eye condition, it’s also a waterfall. And the two uses of the word are related, in the sense that in the ancient world, a cataracta was one of those iron gates that hung outside a city, such as Pompeii, to protect against invading hoardes.

A chemist who spent years working in the pharmaceutical industry sent us an amusing sendup of corporatespeak that begins, “It is what it is, so let’s all reach out and circle the wagons…” Although his jargon-laden riff wonderfully satirizes such cliched writing, it’s worth noting that many find the phrase “circle the wagons” objectionable.

“Biting the bit,” akin to champing at the bit, means someone’s raring to go, or out of control.

Expressions like, “I don’t not like that,” or, “You can’t not like being out,” are versions of litotes, a rhetorical device used for expressing understatement.

In Newfoundland, the word wonderful is often used as an intensifier for both positive and negative things. For example, a Newfoundlander might refer to something as a wonderful loss.

There’s an old children’s ditty that goes, “Mama had a baby and its head popped off,” which you sing while popping the top off of a dandelion or similar flower.

Is there a word for when your favorite restaurant closes? What about goneappetit?

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Burn Bag (Rebroadcast) - 19 March 2018

Mar 19, 2018 51:01

Description:

This week on "A Way with Words": Slang from the 19th century. The slang coming out of Victorian mouths was more colorful than you might think. A 1909 collection of contemporary slang records clever terms for everything from a bald head to the act of sidling through a crowd. Plus, how to remember the difference between CAV-al-ry and CAL-va-ry. And: what's the best way to improve how introverts are perceived in our society? For starters, don't bother asking for help from dictionary editors. Also, collieshangles, knowledge box, nanty narking, biz bag, burn bag, yuppies, and amberbivalence.

FULL DETAILS

Mind the grease is a handy phrase to use when you're trying to sidle through a crowd. It's found in 1909 volume of English slang called Passing English of the Victorian Era. Speaking of greasy, in those days something extravagant might be described as butter upon bacon.

If you're telling a story involving someone with an accent, and while relaying what so-and-so said, you imitate that person's accent, is that cool? If your retelling starts to sound offensive or gets in the way of good communication, best to try paraphrasing rather than performing.

Collieshangles is an old Scottish term for a quarrel, possibly deriving from the notion of two collie dogs fighting.

We've previously discussed the term going commando, meaning "dressed without underwear." It first appears in print in 1974, but likely goes back further than that. The scene in a 1996 episode of Friends, wherein Joey goes commando in Chandler's clothes, likely popularized the saying.

A Chicago-area listener suggests that approaching to a yellow traffic light and deciding whether or not to go for it might be described as amberbivalence. It's somewhat like that decision you face when coming toward what you know is a stale green light—do you gun it or brake it?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski wasn't savvy enough way back when to snag an email address like john@aol.com, but he was clever enough to come up with a game about apt email addresses that serve as a pun on the word at. For example, a prescient lawyer might have claimed attorney@law.com.

What's the difference between cavalry and calvary? The first of these two refers to the group of soldiers on horseback, and is a linguistic relative of such "horsey" words as caballero, the Spanish horse-riding gentleman, and cavalcade, originally a "parade of horses." The word calvary, on the other hand, derives from the Latin calvaria, "skull," and refers to the hill where Jesus was crucified, known in Aramaic as Golgotha, or "place of the skull."

Knowledge box is an old slang term for noggin; one 1755 describes someone who "almost cracked his knowledge box."

An introvert in Baltimore, Maryland, is unhappy with an online definition of introvert, and is speaking up about wanting it changed. The definition describes an introvert as someone preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings—such as a selfish person, or a narcissist. The problem is, Google's definitions come from another dictionary, and dictionary definitions themselves come from perceived popular usage. So the way to change a definition isn't to petition lexicographers, but to change the popular understanding of a term.

What's the female equivalent of a man cave? Some people are promoting the term she shed.

Ann Patchett, the author of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, among other books, has some great advice about writing. She says the key is to practice writing several hours a day for the sheer joy of getting better, and find the thing that you alone can say.

The term biz bag, meaning a bag to stuff your discarded items in, comes from an old commercial for Biz stain-removing detergent.

If you're looking for a little nanty narking, try going back to the 19th century and having a great time, because that's a jaunty term the British used for it back then.

Betamax players and hair metal bands may be trapped in the 1980's, but the term yuppie, meaning "young urban professional," is alive and well. Dink, meaning dual income, no kids, is also worth throwing around in a marketing presentation.

In the world of covert secret agents, a burn bag is the go-to receptacle for important papers you'd like to have burned rather than intercepted by the enemy.

A listener from Santa Monica, California, says he's going to mow something down, as in, he's going to eat a huge amount of food really fast. But when he writes it, he spells mow as mau, and pronounces it to rhyme with cow. Ever heard of this?

A fly-rink, in 19th-century slang, is a bald head—perfect for flies to skate around on!

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Gee and Haw - 12 March 2018

Mar 12, 2018 51:01

Description:

The highly specialized vocabulary of people who work outdoors, like farmers and fishermen, can bring us closer to the natural world. Also, a woman who trains sled dogs discusses the words she uses to communicate with her animals. You may be surprised to hear that "Mush!" is not one of them! Finally, if you're getting ready to go rock climbing, you'll first want the beta--a word with roots in the technology of video recording. Plus church key, browse line, smeuse, nitnoy, mommick, zawn, zwer, boom dog, and I think my pig is whistling.

FULL DETAILS

There's a word hole in a hedge or wall made by the repeated passage of a small animal. It's called a smeuse. This dialectal term from the UK is one of hundreds from Landmarks, a book of essays in which Robert Macfarlane seeks to reanimate our connection with nature by showcasing some of the specialized language involving features of the natural world.

A listener doing volunteer work in Tempe, Arizona, is puzzled when a co-worker refers to a bottle opener as a church key.

The highest point on trees that grazing animals can reach is called the browse line.

A rock climber in Omaha, Nebraska, wonders about the term beta, which her fellow climbers use to refer to  information about a particular route. It's a reference to using Betamax video to record information about a climb. A good source for the vocabulary used in this sport is Matt Samet's The Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms, & Lingo.

Samuel Butler once likened definitions to a kind of scratching.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's punny puzzle involves words that end in -ISH. For example, something that's somewhat like a mark used to identify livestock might be what word that ends in -ISH?

In dogsledding, the exclamations gee and haw are used for left and right respectively. A woman in Fairbanks, Alaska, uses those terms when training her dogs for the Iditarod and wonders about their origin. (As promised, here are her pups.)

The German idiom Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift is used to express tremendous surprise. Literally, it means I think my pig is whistling!

The term nitnoy means a little bit, and most likely derives from a Thai term that means the same thing.

Robert Macfarlane's book Landmarks, a collection of dialectal terms for features of the natural landscape, includes zwen, the sound of partridges taking off, and zawn, a wave-smashed chasm in a cliff.

A young woman in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is conflicted after a professor writes a glowing recommendation for her that also describes her as sassy. Isn't sassy a gendered term that should be avoided? And if so, how should she handle the situation?

According to Robert Macfarlane's book Landmarks, long, thin patches of snow that have not yet melted are called snow bones.

A trucker in Glasgow, Kentucky, wonders about the term boom dog, a device used to secure things on a trailer. The boom may be inspired by a ship's boom. The word dog has long been used in a variety of ways to refer to something that holds something else tightly in place.

A caller from coastal North Carolina says that in her part of the country, people use the word mommicked to mean flustered or deeply frustrated. It derives from mammock, which means to tear or muddle, and was used that way in Shakespeare's time. She reports they'll also say I'm bent double for I'm laughing really hard, and use the phrase in the merkles, to describe someone's lost their way--a phrase that probably derives from in the myrtles, or in other words, having wandered away from a cleared path.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Gung Ho - 5 March 2018

Mar 5, 2018 51:01

Description:

The stories behind symbols and expressions around the world. The peace symbol popular during 1960's antiwar demonstrations had been around for decades. It originated in the antinuclear movement in the UK. Also, why do we say someone who's enthusiastic is all "gung ho"? The term derives from Chinese words meaning "work together." It was popularized by a Marine officer who admired the can-do spirit of Chinese industrial collectives. Plus, a tasty spin on stuffed foccacia that originated in eastern Sicily and is now a popular menu item in Omaha, Nebraska. Also: curling parents, sharking, ribey, a great book for young readers, and man lettuce.

FULL DETAILS

In English-speaking countries, overprotective Moms and Dads are called helicopter parents for the way they hover and meddle in their children's lives. In Denmark, they're called curling foraeldre, or curling parents, alluding to the sport of curling and frantic efforts to sweep away all obstacles in their offspring's path.  

A man in Orlando, Florida, asks if there's a word for slowly circling a parking lot in search of a space for your car. Slang terms for this practice include sharking and sharking for parking, and sometimes such drivers are jokingly called vultures.

Following up on our conversation about the need for a collective noun for librarians, a Ranchester, Wyoming, man suggests a Marian of librarians, a nod to The Music Man. And a woman in Bennington, Vermont, suggests that although many people are likely to propose a hush of librarians, she thinks a far more appropriate term would be a riot of librarians.

A Chicago, Illinois, man says his Appalachian relatives describe a thin or gaunt person as ribey. This adjective probably derives from the Scots term ribe, meaning a tall, scraggly plant and by extension a tall, thin person.

The low, wheeled device that auto mechanics use to slide under a car is called a creeper.

After noting how similar the word genre sounds to his own first name, Quiz Guy John Chaneski crafted a quiz that involves replacing the letters gen- with John- to form an entirely new word. For example, he says, from now on when you talk about a person's role in society as a man or a woman, as opposed to their biological sex, you'll be talking about not gender, but ...?

A Huntsville, Alabama, man asks: What's the origin of the peace symbol? A good resource on this topic is Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, by Ken Kolsbun.

In cycling slang, on the rivet refers to putting out maximum effort, and derives from the way cyclists lean all the way forward on the hard bicycle seat, which traditionally has a flat rivet in the very front.

An Omaha, Nebraska, woman wonders about an Italian food that's like a stuffed, pizza-size calzone stuffed with potatoes and spinach, or meat, or broccoli. She's seen it spelled several ways, including goodierooni, goudarooni, and cudaruni. The original version, cudduruni, comes from Sicily and is found in Sicilian dictionaries as far back as the 16th century.

A Mandarin Chinese speaker is curious about the origin of gung ho, referring to great enthusiasm. It derives from an anglicized Chinese expression, kung-ho, meaning "work together," which was adapted and popularized by Marine officer Evans Fordyce Carlson as gung ho.

Grant recommends a book for young readers by Rita Williams-Garcia. It's called One Crazy Summer, and it's about three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.

The parent of a highschooler in Madison, Wisconsin, says that at the beginning of each semester, when her daughter's classmates introduce themselves and their preferred pronouns, gender-neutral students often say their pronouns are they and their. Linguist Denis Baron has compiled an extensive list of other epicene pronouns. Although they and their may be applied to an individual, in that case, it's best to use plural verb.

Texas journalist Molly Ivins delighted in collecting colorful expressions from state legislators, including Who put Tabasco sauce in his oatmeal?, said of a suddenly invigorated colleague.

A Houston, Texas, woman asks: Why are there so many different dictionaries?

What's man lettuce? A Tallahassee, Florida, listener uses that term for beard. If you have a beard you might be said said to be barbigerous. If you get it trimmed, you've had a pogonotomy.  

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 26 February 2018

Feb 27, 2018 51:01

Description:

Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a hard "g." But why? And: Mark Twain and Helen Keller had a devoted friendship. When he heard accusations that she'd plagiarized a story, Twain wrote Keller a fond letter assuring her that there's nothing new under the sun. Finally, a well-crafted message header makes email more efficient. A subject line that contains just the word "Question" is almost as useless as no subject line at all. Plus, flop sweat, vintage clothing, the solfege system, on line vs. in line, groaking, the Hawaiian fish dish called poke, and around the gool.

FULL DETAILS

Someone who's anxious about performing may break out in a flop sweat, meaning excessive perspiration. The term flop sweat comes from theater slang, and the idea of sweating profusely due to nervousness that a production will flop. In the film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks's character breaks into a flop sweat when he finally gets a shot at hosting the newscast, only to be so rattled that he starts sweating heavily, to the point where it soaks right through his shirt.

The term Re: in a message header, means "regarding" or "with reference to," but it's not an abbreviation for either one of those things. It comes from a form of the Latin word res meaning "matter" or "thing." The hosts discuss strategies for making an email subject line more efficient.

A listener in New York City wonders about how to pronounce gerrymander, which means "to redraw the lines of an electoral district so as to favor a particular political party." The term comes a joking reference to Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 presided over such a redistricting. Gerry pronounced his name with a hard g, and for a while, the term gerrymandering also retained that pronunciation. In the absence of audible mass media, the name spread, but the pronunciation varied. By 1850, for example, an Indiana politician alluded to this variation, declaring, "You are constantly gerrymandering the State, or jerrymandering, as I maintain the word should be pronounced, the g being soft."

The World Tae Kwan Do Federation has dropped  the word Federation from its name, and will no longer be known as the WTF. As the organization's president explained: "In the digital age, the acronym of our federation has developed negative connotations unrelated to our organization and so it was important that we rebranded to better engage with our fans."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's musical puzzle is based on the solfege system of the syllables do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti. Each answer is composed of combinations or repetitions of those notes. For example, if the musical question is about a bird that's now extinct, what's the musical answer?

The word vintage, from the Latin word vinum, or "wine," originally applied to the yield of vineyard during a specific season or a particular place. Over time, vintage came to be applied to automobiles, and eventually to clothing. The term vintage clothing suggests more than simply "old clothes" or "hand-me-downs"; it carries an additional connotation of taste and style and flair.

Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner has written about the popular fish dish called poke, which takes its name from a Hawaiian word that means "to cut crosswise." Many other foods take their names for the way they're sliced, including mozzarella, feta, scrod, schnitzel, and even the pea dish called dahl, which goes back ultimately to a Sanskrit word meaning "to split." The way poke traveled between Hawaii and the mainland mirrors the migration of many other words.

A New York City man wonders if there's any truth to the story that New Yorkers say they stand on line, as opposed to in line, because of lines painted on the floor at Ellis Island. Although such lines are useful for managing large queues, the origin of this usage is uncertain. What we do know is that New Yorkers have been using on line in this way for at least 100 years.

Mark Twain and Helen Keller enjoyed a close, enduring friendship. When he learned that she was mortified to have once been accused of plagiarism, he sent her a fond letter as touching as it was reassuring.     

A San Diego, California, man recalls working on a cruise ship with a Canadian who insisted the proper phrase is not Let me buy you a beer, but Let me pay you a beer. Is that construction ever correct?

We've talked before about surprising local pronunciations, like the name of a particular town or street.  A term or pronunciation that distinguishes locals from outsiders is called a shibboleth. The word derives from the biblical story of the warring Gileadites and Ephraimites. Gileadites would demand that fleeing Ephraimites pronounce the word shibboleth, and if they could not, because their own language lacked an sh sound, they were exposed as the enemy and executed on the spot.  

To groak is an obscure verb that means "to look longingly at something, as a dog begging for food. In the Scots language, it's more commonly spelled growk.

A woman in Monkton, Vermont, says that when she and her 91-year-old mother return from a leisurely drive, her mother will proclaim That was a nice ride around the gool. The phrase going around the gool appears in the Dictionary of American Regional English in a 1990 citation from Vermont. It appears to come from an older Scots word that could mean "a hollow between hills" or some sort of "anatomical cleft."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
https://waywordradio.org/
Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

Smile Belt (Rebroadcast) - 19 February 2018

Feb 19, 2018 51:01

Description:

The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is called the corona, from the Latin word for "crown" -- just like the little crown on a bottle of Corona beer. Plus, the phrase "throw the baby out with the bathwater" contains a vivid image of accidentally tossing something -- and so does the phrase "to fly off the handle." But where did we get the expression "to hell in a handbasket"? The origin of this phrase is murky, although it may have to do with the fact that handbaskets are easily carried. Also: Biscuit Belt vs. Pine Belt, how to pronounce via, streely, pizza, tuckered out, FOOSH, and Sorry, Charlie!

FULL DETAILS

You probably know about the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt, but have you heard of the Smile Belt? How about the Biscuit Belt or the Pine Belt? The word belt is sometimes used to denote a loosely defined geographical area.

An Omaha, Nebraska, woman reports that a customer emailed her after a sales presentation to correct her pronunciation of the word via, meaning "through" or "by means of." In this case, the customer wasn't right: via can be pronounced either VEE-ah or VYE-uh. There's a slight preference for the former if you're talking about a road, and the latter in the case of the method.

A Huntsville, Alabama, man finds that his younger co-workers have never heard the phrase going to hell in a handbasket. Although the expression is at least as old as the U.S. Civil War, its etymology remains unclear. In the early 1960s, the humorist H. Allen Smith helped popularize the phrase with his book To Hell in a Handbasket, a dubious title for an autobiography.

If you're tired of telling youngsters to hurry up and close the refrigerator door, try this admonishing them with this phrase or one like it: Stop letting the penguins out!

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle involving synonyms for the word hard. For example, the title of a popular Netflix series might otherwise be known as the Hard Kimmy Schmidt.

A Vermont family used to tease one of its members with the phrase Sorry, Charlie! She's surprised to learn that this catchphrase comes from a long-running series of TV commercials for canned tuna.

A bolt-hole is a place where you can escape to avoid people you don't want to run into. This term for "a type of refuge" is used mainly in Britain, comes from the idea of a place where an animal might hide or bolt from if disturbed.

A listener in Cambridge, Wisconsin, says her mother, who is of Irish descent, used to tell her children to wash their hair so it wouldn't be streely. This word derives from Irish for "unkempt," and perhaps ultimately from a Gaelic term having to do with something "flapping" or "undone."


In Ireland, if you say someone's not as slow as he walks easy, you mean he's a whole lot smarter than he appears.

A listener in Quebec, Canada, wonders about the origin of to fly off the handle, meaning "to lose control." It refers to the image of the head of an axe becoming loose and flying through the air.

The word pizza derives from an Italian term at least a thousand years old for a type of savory flat bread. The type of pie we now think of as pizza, with tomato sauce, has been around since the 15th century, when tomatoes were first brought back to Europe from the New World.

During a full solar eclipse, you can see the sun's glowing outer atmosphere called the corona. In Latin, the term corona, means "crown" or "garland." It's the source of coronation, as well as the coronary arteries that wreathe the human heart, and coroner, originally an officer of the Crown. Another eclipse-related term, penumbra, comes from Latin for "almost shadow," and refers to the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area where a partial eclipse is visible. A related word, umbrage, means "a sense of offense" or "resentment."

To be tuckered out, or "tired," is thought to derive from the image of a starved quadruped that's so skinny and worn out that it has a "tucked" appearance just behind the ribs. It may have been influenced by an older verb tuck, meaning "to chastise."

A lecturer in business law in St. Cloud, Minnesota, is astonished to discover his students are unfamiliar with throw the baby out with the bathwater, meaning "to accidentally get rid of the good while getting rid of the bad." You can find out pretty much everything you could ever possibly want to know about this phrase from an article by Wolfgang Mieder.

For a luscious description of exactly what you will see during a total solar eclipse, check out Dan McGlaun's site, Eclipse 2017.

A middle school teacher in Flower Mound, Texas, responds to students' protests and excuses with If all our butts were candied nuts, we'd all be fat for Christmas. It's probably a variation of a phrase popularized by former Dallas Cowboys star turned sports commentator Dandy Don Meredith, who often observed, If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a merry Christmas?" The practice of using ifs and buts as nouns goes back at least 900 years.

The medical term FOOSH is an acronym for a painful injury. It stands for "fall onto outstretched hand."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
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Crusticles and Fenderbergs - 12 January 2018

Feb 12, 2018 51:01

Description:

A second-generation Filipino-American finds that when he speaks English, his personality is firm, direct, and matter-of-fact. But when he speaks with family members in Tagalog, he feels more soft-spoken, kind, and respectful. Research shows that when our linguistic context shifts, so does our sense of culture. Also: why do we describe movies that are humorously exaggerated and over-the-top as "campy"? This type of "camp" isn't where your parents sent you for the summer. It derives from slang in the gay community.  Finally, if someone looks after another person, do you call them a caregiver? Or a caretaker? Plus crusticles, screenhearthing, growlerly and boudoir, krexing, delope, and go do-do.   

FULL DETAILS

Is there a word to describe focusing so intently on your computer that you don't notice the sun has gone down and the only light in your room is from your computer screen? A Twitter user suggests the neologism screenhearthing. Or is there a better word? Screensetting, perhaps. The English word focus, by the way, derives from Latin focus, meaning hearth or fireplace.

A deckhand on the Lake Champlain ferry in Burlington, Vermont, wonders if there's a word for those accumulated chunks of ice in the wheel wells of cars. He calls them crusticles, but as we've discussed before, they go by lots of names, including snow snot, fenderbergs, carsicles, slush puppies, and kickies.

Charles Dickens is credited with the first use of the term growlery to mean a person's private sitting room or a place to retreat when one is in a bad mood. Long before that, the French were using the term boudoir for something similar. Boudoir comes from bouder, meaning to sulk.

A worker in Montgomery, Alabama, doctor's office reports that when the office is extremely busy, she and her colleagues will say We're slammin' or We're slammed. It's a common expression in the American South, and particularly in the restaurant business.

Members of our Facebook group have been sharing stories of signs altered in funny ways, such as the one that someone with a can of spray paint changed from No Logging Allowed to No Flogging Allowed.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's "Coffee Cup" quiz requires the addition of the letters M (as in milk) or S (as in sugar) to a word to form another word that fits a clue. For example, if the original word is cap, but what he's looking for is a place to pitch his tent, which letter would you add?

A New York City man who grew up speaking both English and Tagalog reports an experience common to bilinguals: his behavior and emotions tend to shift when he's speaking one language as opposed to the other. Two good books on the topic: Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism by Francois Grosjean and Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.

A Huntsville, Alabama, physical therapist notes that patients with a hamstring cramp will sometimes say I've got a rising in my leader. Rising is a dialectal term for swelling, and leader is a regional term for tendon or muscle, perhaps inspired by the old use of the term leader for the ropy stalk of a plant. Another dialectal term for a medical condition is the sugar, which means diabetes.

What's the difference, if any, between a caregiver and a caretaker? Generally in the United States, a caretaker is someone who tends property; a caregiver looks after a person. The term caregiver is far more recent.

Our discussion about grammagrams prompts listeners to send in several more stories from their workplaces. A high-school drama teacher in Arlington, Texas, reports that in the theater world, the letter Q is scribbled in scripts to mean cue.  A plumber points out that pipes that are Y-shaped are called wyes. A Virginia man who works in a shipyard that refuels nuclear submarines says that because the abbreviation for Bill of Materials is BOM, he and his colleagues joke about exploding nuclear BOMs.

The noun camp and the adjective campy refer to movies, theater, or a style or an exaggerated manner of creative or personal expression that combines high and low elements of culture. These terms were first used in the underground gay community, and may have originated from French se camper, which means to strike a pose. Camp was introduced into mainstream discourse by Susan Sontag's 1964 essay Notes on Camp.

Delope is a term used in duelling that to throw away one's shot. Incidentally, before taking office, elected officials in Kentucky, including notary publics, must swear they have never fought in a duel.

A listener in Richmond, Virginia, is understandably bothered by the overuse of the word gentleman, as when media outlets report that police have apprehended the gentleman suspected of committing a heinous crime.

A new arrival to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is curious about a phrase used by her husband's family: go do-do (DOH-doh), for go to sleep. It's from French dormir, to sleep. Grant recommends the Dictionary of Louisiana French: As Spoken in Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities.

Krex is a dialectal term, probably from German and related to Yiddish, that means to grumble or complain.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.
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Bun in the Oven - 5 February 2018

Feb 5, 2018 51:01

Description:

Family words, and words about being in a family way. How many different ways ARE there to say you're have a baby on the way? Sure, you can say you're pregnant, or that you're great with child. But there are lots of other terms. How about clucky, awkward, eating for two, lumpy, clucky, or swallowed a pumpkin seed? And: the story behind the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It's older than the Mary Poppins movie. Plus, the made-up foreignisms families share with each other. Anyone for scrambled eggs and . . . oikenstrippen?

FULL DETAILS

In our Facebook group, Laurie Stiers shared the fake German name her father used for bacon: oikenstrippen. That prompted a discussion of other faux foreignisms, such as pronouncing Target as tar-ZHAY or Kroger as kroh-ZHAY.  

A father-to-be in Susanville, California, wonders about how many different ways there are to say a woman is pregnant. He likes the term great with child, but isn't crazy about knocked up. Fortunately, there are more than 120 terms, including: swallowed a pumpkin seed, swallowed a watermelon seed, lumpy, clucky, awkward, eating for two, delicate condition, in the familiar way, double-ribbed, preggers, poisoned, with a kid in the basket, joined the pudding club, shot in the giblets, full in the belly, belly up, apron up, up the spout, up the stick, and up the way.

A woman in Omaha, Nebraska, is puzzled when a friend refers to the fatty tail bump of a cooked chicken as the bishop's nose. The term may reference this structure's resemblance to a human nose or perhaps to a bishop's miter. This jocular name may reflect anti-Catholic sentiment in 17th-century England. This structure is also called the parson's nose or the north end of a chicken flying south or the last part over the fence. The French term for this morsel is le sot-l'y-laisse, meaning a silly person leaves it, the idea being that only a fool would pass up this savory bite.

Lapidary prose is so elegant and precise that it's worthy of being carved into stone. Lapidary comes from Latin lapis, meaning stone, and is related to the brilliant blue stone, lapis lazuli, and the word dilapidated, from a Latin word meaning to destroy--originally, to pelt with stones.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle is based on a Twitter thread that involves intentionally misunderstanding the name of the adult cartoon show Rick and Morty. For example, isn't Rick and Morty what occurs when you die and your body gets all stiff? Oh no, wait that's . . . .

A listener in Evansville, Indiana, wonders: Why do we say when something is undesirable that it's for the birds?

The term wordsmith is formed by analogy with older words such as blacksmith, goldsmith, silversmith, and locksmith--all denoting skill and expertise with a particular medium.

Our conversation about rebuses and grammagrams prompts several listeners to note that people in scientific fields sometimes use the letters NRG as a stand-in for the word energy.

A Traverse City, Michigan, man is curious about the phrase his mother-in-law uses: breathing a scab. She uses it to indicate that someone who's pushing limits or otherwise on thin ice metaphorically. Actually, the phrase is breeding a scab, and it describes someone whose behavior risks retaliation, such as a punch in the nose that might actually leave a scab.

A Black Mountain, North Carolina, man is trying to popularize the word earspace, which he feels can be used in two different ways. One sense is the room a person has to take in something by listening, as in I have earspace for a new podcast. The other meaning suggests things that sound somewhat similar, as in the following sentence: Nickel Creek and The Mountain Goats are in the same earspace for me because the bands have a similar sound and I listen to them when I'm in the same mood.

The rarely used English noun list, meaning desire or craving, is entirely different from the word list that denotes a series of things. That meaning is at the root of the term listless, which in its original sense meant a lack of desire. Similarly, the word listy is an old term that means desirous. Another word that isn't what it seems is the adjective full-blown, which means fully developed, such as a full-blown case of pneumonia. The blown in this sense literally means in bloom or having blossomed, and is from the same linguistic root as the word peachblow, which means having the color of a peach blossom.

A San Diego, California, man says a colleague jokingly greets him with What's cookin' good lookin'? It's a version of a question popularized by a Hank Williams song that goes Hey, good-lookin, whatcha got cookin'? This greeting goes back to at least the 1920s.

Our earlier conversation about gram weenies, another name for ultralight backpackers, prompted a San Diego, California, man to email with the story of Bill Lear, the inventor of the LearJet, who once said he'd trade his own grandmother for a one-pound reduction of weight in the design of one of his aircraft. As a result, Lear's engineers adopted the term grandmother as a synonym for one pound.

Which is correct, toward or towards, meaning in the direction of? If you're in the United States, the far more common term is toward.

If you're not feeling quite right, you might describe yourself as awvish. This dialectal term used in parts of Northern England may derive from a local pronunciation of the word half.

The mouthful supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is often associated with the song by the same name in the 1964 movie Mary Poppins. But versions of this word were around for decades, including in a 1949 song called Supercalafajalistickespeealadojus. That similarly formed the basis of an unsuccessful copyright infringement lawsuit against brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote the song for the Disney movie.

The scientific name for that part of a fowl otherwise known as the pope's nose or the bishop's nose is uropygium. The Greek root of this word, pyge, meaning "rump," is also found in the English adjectives callipygian, which means having a shapely butt, and dasypygal, which means having hairy buttocks.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443.

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Flying Pickle - 29 January 2018

Jan 29, 2018 51:01

Description:

How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels of all your canned foods and scattering cornflakes in your bed? That tradition has almost died out, but such a party used to be called a shivaree (SHIV-uh-ree). Also: the expression My name is Legion goes back to a Bible story that also gave us another English word that's much more obscure. Finally, tips for reading a book AND looking up the words you don't know--without losing the narrative thread. Plus lazy wind, plumb, bucklebuster, squinnies and grinnies, pollyfoxing and bollyfoxing, That smarts!, and hanged or hung.

FULL DETAILS

A listener shared a story in our Facebook group about hearing the term lazy wind, which refers to the kind of wind that's so bitterly cold that it seems to go straight through you, rather than going around you.

A woman in Puyallup, Washington, disagrees with her husband about the pronunciation of avocado. She pronounces it as if it were spelled alvocado, but the standard pronunciation is ah-voh-KAH-doh. A small minority of English speakers insert an l sound in the first syllable, which arises from the way the tongue works inside the mouth when pronouncing such a vowel. Something similar happens with the word both, which a some people pronounce as bolth.

Leah, a 9-year-old from Argyle, Texas, heard her mother answer a question with No, no, no--absolutely yes. Why did her mother do that? There are two things going on: the surface meaning of sentence, and the metanarrative.

A woman in Hemet, California, wonders about plumb crazy, as in totally, completely crazy. The plumb in this case has to do with a plumb line, a weighted line used to determine verticality, and derives from Latin plumbum, the word for the metal known as lead and abbreviated on the periodic table as Pb.

In theater slang, a bucklebuster is a line that's sure to get a big laugh.

Ermahgerd! Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle this week was inspired by the Gersberms meme, and involves adding R sounds to book titles to create books with entirely different plots. For example what George Orwell novella would be about a horse, a duck, a dog, and several pigs, and how they get rid of people and start their own company?

Martha and Grant share tips and tricks for learning unfamiliar words in a book without breaking up the narrative. A handy online resource for quick lookups is onelook.com, which lets you search several dictionaries at once.

After Martha gave a presentation to the Special Libraries Association's Southern California chapter, she was left wondering whether there's a good collective noun for a group of librarians. A Dewey?

A San Diego, California, listener recalls that growing up in Mississippi, friends and family would use the terms bollyfox or bollyfoxing, referring to a sassy way of walking. The more common version is pollyfox, meaning to waste time or lollygag.

An opera singer from Ontario, Canada, just finished a run of La Faniculla del West with the Virginia Opera. His character is put to death by hanging. Is it correct to say his character was hanged? Or was his character hung?

The adjective gadarene describes something headlong or precipitate, such as a gadarene rush to pass legislation. It derives from a story in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus visits the land of the Gadarenes and casts out demons from someone possessed by them. The exorcised demons invade a herd of swine, driving the animals mad, and sending them plunging to their deaths in the Sea of Galilee. From another version of the story in the Book of Mark comes a phrase that may be more familiar: My name is Legion.

A shivaree, also spelled charivari, is a raucous tradition of playing tricks on a newlywed couple. The practice was immortalized in the 1955 musical Oklahoma! (Starts at 2:09:22)

Among whale-watchers, the term flying pickle is used to refer to a newborn baby humpback whale breaching the surface.

A listener in Abilene, Texas, wonders about the expression That smarts! The verb to smart, meaning to sting or cause sharp pain goes back more than a thousand years. The adjective smart meaning intelligent evolved from that sense of something sharp.

Can you munch frozen yogurt, or does the verb to munch imply that whatever's being eaten has some crunch or resistance to it?

A woman who has spent most of her life in Des Moines, Iowa, says she's always used the word squinny for chipmunk, but doesn't hear it outside of her hometown. The term is definitely specific to Iowa, but an even more common word for the same striped animal in that area is grinnie.

In 1963, the writer James Baldwin was the subject of a profile in LIFE magazine, in which he observed, "You think your pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Happy as Larry - 22 January 2018

Jan 22, 2018 51:01

Description:

New research shows that you may be less influenced by superstitious behavior like walking under ladders or the magic of four-leaf clovers if you're reading about it in another language. And: sometimes not cursing will catch someone's ear even more than a real curse word. Finally, in what sport do you enjoy a glass-off and speck out before getting flushed? Martha brings back a firsthand report from the language of paragliding.

FULL DETAILS

In what sport would you hear the slang terms glass off, speck out, and get flushed? They're all expressions used in paragliding. Glass-off refers to a smooth, effortless takeoff; to speck out is to go so high that you're nearly invisible to those on the ground; to get flushed means to lose lift and be forced to make a landing. The United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association offers a glossary of the slang of free flight. As promised, here's video that Martha shot while getting flushed toward the end of her first paragliding flight. The song is "Fear of Flying," by Pam Delgado, performed by Blame Sally, and used with permission. (By the way, we have no idea who Cindy is, but we hope she said yes.)

A roofer in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has a dispute with his boss over how to pronounce the word roof. Most people pronounce it to rhyme with the word proof, but about 10 percent of the English-speaking world population pronounces roof like the word rough.

A listener in Williamsburg, Virginia, wants to know the correct pronunciation of the condiment known as Worcestershire sauce. The proper pronunciation involves what linguists call haplology, the loss of a syllable next to a similar-sounding one.

This week's puzzle by Quiz Guy John Chaneski involves limericks based on notable news from 2017. For example, how would you finish this one? My dependable British authorities / Say the royals have excellent qualities / Like handsome Prince Harry / Who announced he will marry / Meghan Markle who hails from the ________________.

The piece of playground equipment you slide down goes by several different names, depending on which part of the U.S. you're from: slide, sliding board, sliding plank, and sliding pond.

A Fort Worth, Texas, woman remembers her grandfather used to say You live and learn, then you die and forget it all. She wonders if he made it up. Actually, this phrase goes back to the 1840s and may allude to the brevity of life or to putting trivial matters into perspective.

Our discussion about finding a word that means both nervous but excited prompted several suggestions from listeners. A listener in Melbourne, Australia, contributed another term used in his part of the world: toey. If you're toey, you're full of anxious anticipation--an allusion, perhaps, to a horse pawing at the ground.

A listener in Huntsville, Alabama, says that in her native Scotland, the phrase send out for messages means to send someone to go shopping. The phrase stems from a time when people actually did pick up their postal mail or other messages at the local store.

To eat al desko is a joking term for having lunch at work without leaving the office.

New research published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that people who speak more than one language tend to be less superstitious if they're reading or thinking in a different language.

A San Antonio, Texas, woman wonders about the phrase to ask for your John Henry, meaning to ask for your signature. It's a variant of the far more common phrase, to ask for your John Hancock, a reference to the bold signature of John Hancock, one of the original signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The slang of paragliding includes the term cu's, also known as cumies, also known as cumulus clouds, which indicate good lift is available. For paragliders, the term cloud street refers to a line of cumulus clouds that stretches for miles, suggesting ideal conditions for flying.

A Los Angeles, California, man says his mother studiously avoided swearing. Instead of a curse word, she substituted the word piffle, which was often even more effective than a four-letter word because it was so unexpected. Piffle is most likely onomatopoetic, suggesting a disgusted exhalation through pursed lips. It's common in the United Kingdom, and figured in the title of the popular 2006 British television program about etymology, Balderdash & Piffle.

Someone does both paragliding and hang gliding is jokingly said to be biwingual. Really!

A woman in Perote, Alabama, wonders about the phrase happy as Larry, meaning very happy. This expression is commonly heard in Britain and Australia. It may derive from a jocular reference to the biblical Lazarus, who presumably would have been happy to be raised from the dead. Or it might be some sort of rhyming slang that evolved from very happy to Larry happy to happy as Larry. But the truth is no one knows who this particular Larry is or why he's so pleased.

Among paragliders, the expression the locals refers not to humans, but to birds. If the locals are able to soar without flapping their wings, then paragliders know that conditions are good for flying.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

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A Shoo In (Rebroadcast) - 15 January 2018

Jan 15, 2018 51:01

Description:

This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from Sara Pennypacker's book Pax. And are there word origins? Well, does a duck swim? We'll hear the stories of polka, smarmy, bully pulpit, and the exes and ohs we use to show our affection. Plus! Sarcastic interrogatives, the echo questions we give as answers to other people's no-duh queries.


FULL DETAILS


Hiking in the mountains, Martha kept noticing butterflies at about 4,000-to-5,000 feet above sea level. Those butterflies are hilltopping. It’s when male butterflies of many species go to high points to advertise their fortitude and genes to the female butterflies.


Judy in Huntsville, Alabama, has hundreds of song lyrics playing on auto-shuffle in her head. When the Polka Dot Polka started playing, she began to wonder how polka dots came to be associated with the music. It turns out that the polka dance craze of the early 1800s — named after the Polish word for a Polish woman — gave its name to a lot of things, including this fabric pattern.


Writing advice from Mark Twain, who was not a fan of adjectives. In The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, he says, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.” He also wrote a letter with clever, useful advice that still holds true for the modern writer.


When you would ask the father of Chris from Reno, Nevada, something to which he thought the answer was obvious, he’d answer with jokey phrases like “Is a pig pork?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Does a bear poop in the woods?” (but with a different verb!). These sarcastic interrogatives, also known as a kind of echo question, are wonderfully discussed in an article by Charles Clay Doyle titled “Is the Pope Still Catholic?” in the journal Western Folklore. (The article is free with registration.)


The Greek word for the cuckoo bird, kokkux, is related to our word coccyx, the tailbone, because the bone looks like the bill of a cuckoo.


Our New York City quiz guy John Chaneski joins us for a punny word quiz. How to play: There’s a pun with a key word missing. You need to fill in the blank. For example, if you don’t pay your e_______, you get repossessed. The answer: exorcist. Get it?


Steve in Bend, Oregon, asks: Does bully pulpit mean what people think it means? Is the bully the same as the bully you might find in a schoolyard? What did Teddy Roosevelt really mean when he said he had a bully pulpit? There’s an old meaning that has fallen away that changes how we understand the phrase.


Hamid in San Diego, California, says that his wife is a job recruiter who finds people to fill high-profile positions. She will come home and say, “This candidate’s a shoo-in.” What’s the story with shoo-in? Where does it come from? It has something to do with an old slang term for rigging a horse race. It’s not, shoe-in, by the way, although that is a common misspelling, and it has nothing to do with footwear. There are many everyday terms that come from horse-racing, such as the term hands-down.


Growing up in Kentucky, where the state religion seems to be basketball, Martha played a lot of rounds of horse, where players compete to make baskets from the same court positions, shot for shot. If you miss, you get a letter from the word horse. If you get all the letters, you lose. Basketball star Steph Curry instead challenged a bunch of high school students to a game of sesquipedalian. We’ve talked about long words like that before.


Rodney in Suffolk, Virginia, is interested in the word tattoo. His grandmother didn’t use it to mean skin art. She used it to rave about seeing a great concert or band: “It was just such a wonderful tattoo!” It might have something to do with a musical military tradition involving a tattoo (of Dutch origin) that is unrelated to the skin tattoo (which has a Tahitian origin).


A belly flower is a small low-growing flower you have to get down on the ground to see.


Martha recommends Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, a book targeted at children but in which adults will find much to admire and mull over. In preparing the book, Pennypacker spent a great deal of time studying the behavior of foxes. Martha shares a particularly perfect passage.


Zach from Plano, Texas, watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. In it, a protegé of the star sushi chef ends a long explanation about how much he’s learned from his mentor by saying, “I don’t sleep with my feet in his direction.” What does this Japanese expression it mean?


Man-eating spiders! Martha tells a charming story about how illustrators and authors work together when they make children’s books.


Greg, calling from Norfolk, Virginia, says that when he uses the word smarmy, some people seem not to know it. What does it mean? Where does it come from? Is it even a real word? It’s related to an old verb meaning to smear or be-daub. It’s kind of like the word unctuous.


Andrea in Haslett, Michigan, and her six-year-old daughter Neevee had a question about the way we show love in writing. When they were texting back and forth with Neevee’s daddy, she got to wondering where where we get X and O for kisses and hugs. It may have something to do with the way people used to sign and kiss important documents, and the Christian cross.


Plot bunnies are writing ideas that you can’t get rid of. The only way to purge yourself of the ideas is to write them!


This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

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Noon of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 January 2018

Jan 8, 2018 51:01

Description:

Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!" What's the term for that kind of practical joke? Is it a crank call or a prank call? There's a big difference. Also, if someone has a chip on his shoulder, he's spoiling for a fight -- but what kind of chip are we talking about? Potato? Poker? Hint: the phrase arose at a time when there were many more wooden structures around. Finally, a conversation with an expert on polar bears leads to a discussion of history and folklore around the world.

FULL DETAILS


After our conversation about a verbose admonition to use short words, a Tallahassee, Florida, man called with a version he learned as a boy: Do you have the audacity to doubt my veracity? Or even to insinuate that I would prevaricate? While I'll thrust my phalanges into your physiognomy with such intensity that it will horizontalize your perpendicularity.

There's a difference between a crank call and a prank call.

If someone has a chip on their shoulder, they're spoiling for a fight. The phrase derives from the old practice of literally putting a chip of wood or other small object on one's shoulder, and daring an adversary to knock the chip off--a gesture indicating that a line had been crossed and the opponent was ready to fight.

In Ireland, the word omadhaun means "a foolish person."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle this week involves adding a letter to the names of famous bands to come up with entirely new ones. For example, Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool are trading in their instruments for a lime-colored delivery truck. What are they known as now?

Those strings of amber lights on 18-wheelers are known as chicken lights. But why? Although the term's origin is unclear, a participant in a discussion forum of the American Historical Truck Society suggests they may have been originally associated with trucks hauling Frank Perdue chickens.

Noon of night is an archaism, a poetic way of saying "midnight."

A New York City listener recalls that as a youth in Erie, Pennsylvania, he and his peers referred to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as a choke-and-slide or choke-n-slide. It's a reference to the qualities of the sticky peanut butter and the slippery jelly. The colloquial names of some other foods also refer to how they make their way down the throat, including gap-and-swallow and slick-and-go-down or slip-go-down. Other foods named for action associated with them are saltimbocca, literally "jump into the mouth," and tiramisu, from Italian for "pick me up!"

A woman who grew up in south central Minnesota grew up using the phrase too yet, which can have various meanings at the end of a sentence, usually with some negative sense. An article by Peter Veltman in American Speech suggests that the tag too yet used this way is a calque from Dutch.

A conversation with a leading expert on polar bears has Martha thinking about several bear-related words, including the term arctic and the feminine name Ursula.

In the 1940's, kids commonly teased a playmate who'd just gotten a short haircut by pointing at them and saying Baldy Sour! Baldy Sour!

A man in Bowling Green, Kentucky wonders: is the correct phrase You have another thing coming? Or is it You have another think coming?

The medical term tragomaschalia means "smelly armpit sweat," and derives from Greek words that mean "goat armpit."

A woman from Abilene, Texas, is preparing to make a move to the Northeast, and was amused when a realtor in her new hometown used the phrase Bada boom, bada bing, a phrase she'd heard only in movies. It's possible that this term is older than the 1960's, although so far no such record has been found.

--

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Naked as a Jaybird - 1 January 2018

Jan 1, 2018 51:55

Description:

What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you're doing other chores. Plus, book recommendations for youngsters. Finally, military slang, and the one-word prank that sends Army recruits running--or at least the ones who are in on the joke! Also: fanboys, technophyte, galoot, landsickness, to have one's habits on, Zonk!, and a sciurine eulogy.
 
FULL DETAILS
 
On our Facebook group, a listener asks if anyone else's children have been taught the term fanboy, meaning "coordinating conjunction." These connecting words include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, and a helpful way to remember them is with the acronym FANBOYS.
 
A Huntsville, Alabama, listener says that when someone was being abrasive or mean or defiant, her mother would say she's got her habits on. This phrase appears in the work of many blues singers, including Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith, and writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston.
 
A vast Corinthian column. A fair, flaxen-haired sister with golden ringlets. An old citizen of the town. A harp upon which the wind makes music. An athlete that shows its well-developed muscles. A great green feather stuck in the ground. These are all phrases that Henry David Thoreau used in his journals to describe what familiar sight?
 
A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, wonders if she's alone in using the phrase single as a jaybird to describe herself as unpartnered. The far more common phrase is naked as a jaybird, which is of uncertain origin, but which may stem from a young jay's featherless appearance.
 
A man who's not so handy with computers described himself not as a technophobe, but as a technophyte--a misapprehension of the components of the term neophyte, a word stemming from Greek words meaning "newly planted."
 
Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a puzzle inspired by the word age, featuring punny, one-word answers that end in -age and answer a question, such as "How old do you have to be to study podiatry"?  
 
What's the best way to learn lots of new vocabulary while studying for a test like the GRE?
 
A man in Rupert, Vermont, says his wife affectionately calls him a big galooly. It's unclear where that word might have come from, although it might derive from galoot.
 
Spread out like a week's washing is a colloquial way to describe something extending far and wide.
 
In Kansas, the gravelly residue from mines is often called chat, or less commonly, chert.
 
The German word for "mnemonic device" is Eselsbrucke, or literally, "donkey bridge."
 
Grant has two recommendations for young readers: Full of Beans, by Jennifer L. Holm, and the Lumberjanes series, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen.
 
A listener in Fort Rucker, Alabama, remembers a prank played on new Army recruits: when a sergeant barked the order Zonk!, all the seasoned soldiers would fall out of formation and run away, leaving the newbies to wonder what was going on.
 
What's for the word for when you get off a boat, but still feel like you're moving? It's called landsickness. A more severe version is mal de debarquement, French for "sickness from disembarkation," abbreviated MdDS.
 
A theater professor who has cast many students in productions wonders about the past tense of the verb to cast. Is it cast or casted?
 
A listener in Bonifay, Florida, says when she was young and asked her mother what she was doing, her mother would respond I'm stacking greased bb's with boxing gloves on. This nonsensical phrase is part of a long tradition of parents brushing off inquiries with creative responses, including layoes to catch medlars and I'm sewing buttons on ice cream.
 
In the early 18th century, squirrels were popular pets in Britain and the American colonies. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once wrote a grand eulogy for a girl's pet squirrel named Mungo. The adjective sciurine means "referring or pertaining to squirrels."

--

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Hot Dog, Cold Turkey (Rebroadcast) - 25 December 2017

Dec 26, 2017 52:13

Description:

Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we say they quit "cold turkey"? This term's roots may lie in the history of boxing. Plus, a transgender listener with nieces and nephews is looking for a gender-neutral term for the sibling of one's parent. Finally, the words "barber" and "doctor" don't necessarily mean what you think. They can both be weather words, referring to very different types of wind.  

FULL DETAILS

Brickfielder, Simoom, and Haboob are all types of winds. Others include snow eater and chinook.

Why do we call a frankfurter a hot dog? In the late 19th century, hot dog was a jocular reference to rumors that these sausages were stuffed with dog meat. They were also called hot pups.

Say you're introducing someone to a married heterosexual couple, and both members of the couple are physicians. What titles should you use? This is Dr. and Dr. Jones? Dr. and Mrs.? What if one holds Ph.D.? What if both hold doctorates?

Here's a humorous take on how optimists differ from pessimists.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been swapping out letters on Broadway marquees to create the names of entirely new theatrical productions. For example, what Broadway play might you be watching if it's about a famous woman who leaves her career as a sharpshooter for a job at McDonald's?

The grandmother of a woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says tousled hair looks like a Hoorah's nest. Also spelled hurrah's nest or hooraw's nest, this means "an untidy mess" or "a commotion." Its origin is uncertain. In 1829, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described someone as having a head like a hurra's nest. The term's origin is obscure, although it might have to do with the nest of an imaginary creature.

A transgender and gender-nonconforming listener wonders if there's a gender-neutral term for "aunt" or "uncle." Some people have suggested pibling, meaning the "sibling of one's parent." Others have proposed baba, titi, bibi, zizi, unty or untie, or simply cousin. In the same way that kids often come up with a pet name for their grandparents, perhaps nieces and nephews (or nieflings, as they're sometimes collectively called) will come up with their own term. The tumblr Gender Queeries has more suggestions for all kinds of gender-neutral words denoting kinship.

A thesaurus, a collection of synonyms, derives from the Latin word thesaurus, or literally, "treasury."

A San Antonio, Texas, man says his 6-year-old son wonders: If the plural of house is houses, why is the plural of mouse mice? And why is the plural of tooth teeth? These plurals are vestiges of a time when the middle vowel sound in some nouns changed to form the plural. Other old plural forms are reflected in such words as children and oxen.

"A cool wind" or "a wind that brings good health" is sometimes called a doctor, such as the Freemantle Doctor of Western Australia. A barber wind is a harsh wind so cold and wet it can freeze a person's hair and beard.

Jessica Goodfellow spent several weeks as an artist-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska while finishing her latest book, Whiteout. The poems in this collection explore the stark natural beauty of that mountain, which drew her uncle there for a climb that turned out to be deadly. Martha shares one of those poems, "The Magpie."

When you quit something abruptly, you're said to quit cold turkey. This expression's origin is unknown, although its earliest recording uses are from 19th-century boxing.

A listener in Port Washington, Wisconsin asks: When is it appropriate to get rid of an old edition of a dictionary?

The cloth case for a pillow is variously known as a pillowcase, a pillow slip, or a pillow cover.

An Evansville, Indiana, says she responds to the question How are you? with a phrase she adopted from her grandmother: If I was any better, I'd be twins. There are several versions along these lines: If I was any better, I'd be you; If I was any better, there'd be two of me; If I was any better, I'd be dangerous, and If I was any better, vitamins would be taking me. In all of these jokey responses, the meaning is straightforward. It's simply that the speaker is doing very well indeed.

Kapai is a Maori term used in New Zealand meaning "good."

--

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There's more of everything!

Dec 22, 2017 01:04

Description:

Donate to help support A Way with Words all year long https://waywordradio.org/donate

...

We’ve got a curious problem here at A Way with Words. Over the last decade, we’ve grown the show from just 12 stations in four states to more than 300 signals in 37 states.

What that means is that our success is outpacing our resources! We have more listeners to help, more stations provide service to, more email, more phone calls, more of everything that it takes to run the business behind the scenes.

This podcast may be free to download but it isn’t free to make.

Our need is greater than ever!

You can help. Sign up to be a sustaining donor at waywordradio.org/donate today. Leave it, set it, and the episodes will keep showing up in your podcast app.

And there’s even more good news! Thanks to a generous challenge grant from Jack and Caroline Raymond, your donation goes twice as far through the end of 2017! They will double whatever you give! It’s a two-for-one but you have to donate before the end of the year to activate the challenge grant.

Go to https://waywordradio.org/donate now.

Thank you!

Martha and Grant

Brand Spanking New - 18 December 2017

Dec 18, 2017 51:56

Description:

Words of the year and correcting a mispronounced name. Taking a look back at some notable words and phrases from 2017: Remember path of totality? How about "milkshake duck"? Also, a committee has to choose a new mascot for a school's sports teams. They want to call them the Knights, as in the heroes in shining armor. But is the word knight gender-neutral? Finally, Finally, a Spanish-speaking man tries in vain to correct peoples' mispronunciation of his first name. But should he bother? Plus: daylighting, a grammagram, an anagram, serendipity, fidget spinner, sports dictionaries, and brand spanking new.

FULL DETAILS

Grant reviews notable words and phrases from 2017. One is path of totality, meaning the part of the earth completely covered in shadow when the moon blocks the sun.  Another is milkshake duck, which arose from a tweet by Australian cartoonist Ben Ward.  Milkshake duck encapsulates the idea that in the age of social media, people can become suddenly famous and admired, only to suffer a swift fall when unsavory information about them swiftly comes to light. Ward's popular comic strip is called One Giant Hand.

A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman serves on a committee that is choosing a new school. Some members propose calling their sports teams the Steel Knights. But is the term knight gender-neutral?

Daylighting refers to uncovering built-over rivers and streams and reintegrating them into the urban landscape.

An 8-year-old from San Diego wonders about the origin of the term bullseye.

The name Britney Spears anagrams to the name a certain Protestant denomination.

Great news! You have a 50 percent chance of getting all of the answers to Quiz Guy John Chaneski's "Band or Short Story?" puzzle. For example, is My Life with The Thrill Kill Kult an electronic industrial rock band or the title of a short story?

Can words ever be perfect synonyms? No. Words can have approximate synonyms, but there are always shades of implicit and explicit meaning. Consider, for example, the terms butt and derriere. Although both refer to the same part of the anatomy, they carry somewhat different connotations.

A winemaker in Suttons Bay, Michigan, reports that he and his coworkers indicate that a vat contains no wine by marking it with the letters MT, which when pronounced together, sound like the word empty. Such a combination of letters is a kind of rebus known as a grammagram or gramogram.

A North Carolina man moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and encountered puzzlement when he used the word souge to mean plunge into water or immerse abruptly. More often spelled souse, this term is more likely to be heard in the Southern U.S.

A lexical lagniappe at a gas pump leads to a discussion of the word serendipity, coined by 18th-century writer Horace Walpole.

The spanking in the phrase brand spanking new has been used as an intensifier since the 16th century, and may be related to a Danish word meaning to strut.

Listeners write in with suggestions for a young caller's request for a single term to describe someone in a state of nervous anticipation. They propose aflutter, atwitter, nervousited, happrehensive, and a noun form, antrepidation.

A Corpus Christi, Texas, man named Luis is exasperated when people insist on pronouncing his name LOO-is rather than Loo-EES, which is the way he prefers, and reflects his Spanish-speaking heritage. He's well within his rights to correct them.

One term that rose to prominence in 2017: fidget spinner.

The KPBS Radio Reading Service provides audio recordings of daily newspapers for the visually impaired. A volunteer who reads for the service has trouble understanding some of the jargon from the sports pages. Good references for the language of sports include The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson, the Dictionary of Sports and Games Technology by Adrian Room, and A Dictionary of Sports Studies by Alan Tomlinson. In addition, OneLook Dictionary Search lets you search several dictionaries at once.

A listener in Enterprise, Alabama, recalls that when a storm was approaching his grandfather would say It's going to come up a Joe Moore. This slang term comes from the word mojo, meaning a magic spell or magic power. By metathesis, which is what linguists call the transposition of letters or sounds in a word, mojo became jomo, and ultimately Joe Moore.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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The Last Straw - 11 December 2017

Dec 11, 2017 51:56

Description:

Books for word lovers, plus the stories behind some familiar terms. Want a gift for your favorite bibliophile? Martha and Grant have recommendations, from a collection of curious words to some fun with Farsi. Plus, some people yell "Geronimo!" when they jump out of an airplane, but why that particular word? Also, we call something that heats air a heater, so why do we call something that cools the air an air conditioner? The answer lies in the history of manufacturing. Also, quaaltagh, snuba, the last straw vs. the last draw, and I have to go see a man about a horse.

FULL DETAILS

There's a word for the first person to walk through your door on New Year's Day. The word quaaltagh, and it's used on the Isle of Man. This Manx term is one of many linguistic delights in a book Martha recommends for word lovers: The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words, by Paul Anthony Jones.

Why do we use the term air-conditioner to refer a mechanism for cooling air, when we use the word heater to describe a mechanism for heating air? The term air conditioning was borrowed from the textile industry, where it referred to filtering and dehumidifying. The first use of this term is in a 1909 paper by Stuart Cramer called Recent Developments in Air Conditioning.

Snuba is a portmanteau--a combination of snorkel and scuba--and refers to snorkeling several feet underwater while breathing through a long hose that's attached to an air supply float on a raft.

What do you call that last small irritation, burden, or annoyance that finally makes a situation untenable? Is it the last straw or the last draw? Hint: it has nothing to do with a shootout at the OK corral.

We've talked before about kids' funny misunderstandings of words. Martha shares another story from a Dallas, Texas, listener.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has an inside-out puzzle that's clued by a short sequence of letters inside a longer one. For example, what holiday contains the letters KSGI?

A man in Surprise, Arizona, wonders why people jumping into a pool sometimes yell Geronimo! The history of this exclamation goes back to an eponymous 1939 movie about the famed Apache warrior Geronimo. The film was quickly popular on U.S. military bases, where the warrior's name became a rallying cry. A widely circulated story goes that in 1940, a U.S. Army private named Aubrey Eberhardt responded to teasing about his first parachute jump by yelling Geronimo! as he leapt into the wild blue yonder.

The acronym NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard. A more emphatic version used among urban planners is BANANA, which stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Someone who's really hungry might say I'm falling to staves, meaning they're famished. It's a reference to the way a barrel falls apart if the metal hoops that hold them together are removed.

A listener in Plaza, North Dakota, says he tried to signal some teenagers to lower their car window by moving his fist in a circle, but since they grew up with push-button window controls, they didn't understand the gesture. What's the best gesture now for communicating that you want someone to roll down their car window?

For the book lover on your gift list, Grant recommends the mix of magic in science in All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. He also likes the work of Firoozeh Dumas: It Ain't So Awful Falafel, about an Iranian teenage girl living in California, as well as Dumas's books for adults, Funny in Farsi, and Laughing Without An Accent. Martha recommends Kory Stamper's love letter to lexicography, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, and Jessica Goodfellow's poetry collection about mountaineering, Whiteout.

A woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says her Appalachia-born grandmother would occasionally say that it was time to string the leather britches, or hang up the leather britches, or string up the leather britches. She was referring to preserving green beans. So why the leather and britches?

If you're living with a chronic illness or disability, you often have to ration your physical and mental energy. And if that illness isn't readily apparent to others, it can be hard to explain how debilitating that process can be. On her website But You don't Look Sick, writer Christine Miserandino, who has lupus, illustrates that process with handful of spoons, each representing a finite amount of physical and mental energy that must be spent in order to get through a typical day. Someone without a disability or illness starts each day with an unlimited number of spoons, while others must weigh which task is worth spending a spoon for, and then making more decisions as the supply is depleted. Inspired by that metaphor, a growing community of people facing such invisible challenges call themselves spoonies.

A listener in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, recalls that his grandfather used to announce he was headed to the restroom by saying I have to go see a man about a horse. An earlier version of the phrase is I have to go see a man about a dog. These phrase are among many euphemisms for leaving to take care of bathroom business, such as going to see Miss White or going to go pluck a rose.

A Burlington, Vermont, listener wants to settle a dispute: Can laughter be described as gregarious?

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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A gift for your language nerd!

Dec 9, 2017 01:07

Description:

Donate to support A Way with Words https://waywordradio.org/donate

....

Here’s the perfect gift for your language nerd: a donation to A Way with Words.

For more than ten years we’ve been producing fun episodes about words and language that are heard millions of times each year by people like your word nerd.

Making the show takes money, of course. We don’t get any from NPR. And we don’t get any from your local station. We get much of our support from our podcast and radio fans.

This year, go to waywordradio.org/donate and sign up as a sustaining donor on behalf of the linguistics geek in your life. Your linguaphile. Your thesaurus brontosaurus. Your lexical BFF-exical.

PLUS! Thanks to a challenge grant from Jack and Caroline Raymond, your donation goes twice as far through the end of 2017! They will double whatever you give! It’s a two-for-one, but you have to donate before the end of the year to activate the challenge grant.

In return, you and your loved one get more new episodes all year long.

Pause this show and go to https://waywordradio.org/donate.

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Sincerely,

Martha and Grant

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 4 December 2017

Dec 4, 2017 51:42

Description:

The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten." So why don't their names correspond to where they fall in the year? The answer lies in an earlier version of the Roman calendar. The sweltering period called the "dog days" takes its name from the movements of a certain star.
A new book offers an insider's view of the world of dictionary editing.

FULL DETAILS

You're trying to unscrew the stubborn lid on a jar of pickles and ask someone to hand you that flat, round, rubber thing that helps you get it open. What do you call that item? In a discussion on our Facebook group, listeners share several names, including rubber husband, second husband, rubber grippy thing, and round tuit.

A surfer in Imperial Beach, California, wonders who coined the word gnarly to describe waves that are particularly challenging. This term may have originated in the slang of surfers in South Africa in the 1970s, and eventually spread into everyday slang.

The slang term sky hag was originally a negative appellation for an older flight attendant. But it's now being reclaimed by longtime airline employees as a positive self-descriptor.

A woman in Mammoth Lakes, California, says her father used to offer this advice: In promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, beware of preposterous ponderosities. In other words, don't use big words. This particular phrase and variations of it were passed around in 19th century, much like internet memes today.

Gram weenie is a slang term for an ultralight backpacker who goes to extreme lengths to shave off every last bit of weight they must carry.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares puzzle called "Blank in the Blank." For example, what classic toddler's toy shares its name with a fast-food restaurant?

A college student in Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the origin of the word emoji. Although you might guess that the name for these little pictures inserted into text messages contains the English word emotion, that's just a coincidence. Instead, the word derives from Japanese e meaning "picture" and moji, meaning "letter" or "character."

The phrase to be nebby is heard particularly in Western Pennsylvania, and means to be "picky" or "gossipy." Originally, it meant "nosy" or "snooping." Nebby is a vestige of Scots-Irish, where the word neb means "nose" or "beak."

Some parents take homeschooling a step further with world-schooling, or educating children through shared travel experiences.

A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls hearing the term las caniculas to denote a period of 12 days in January where the weather seems to run the gamut of all the kinds of weather that will be experienced in the coming year. This period is also known as las cabanuelas. Canicula derives from Latin for "little dog," a reference to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which at a certain time of the year appears in the eastern horizon just before sunrise, appearing to accompany the sun like a faithful pup. There's a great deal of folklore associated with la canicula, a term applied at different times in different Spanish-speaking countries. In English, this period in late summer is known as the dog days.

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, is a must-read for anyone interested in language and how dictionaries are made.

The months September, October, November, and December derive from Latin words that mean "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten" respectively. So why are they applied to the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months of the year? The answer lies in the messy history of marking the year, described in detail in David Duncan's book, Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.

A sneck is a kind of latch. A listener in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says his British relatives use the term snecklifter is sometimes used to mean "a gift that will get you in the door at a dinner party."

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter in Lakeland, Florida, also teaches classes on chainsaw safety, and wants to make sure he's using gender-neutral pronouns when doing so. The epicene pronoun they will work just fine.

The origin of skedaddle, meaning to "run away in a panic" or "flee," has proved elusive. Renowned etymologist Anatoly Liberman suggests it may be related to a Scottish term, skeindaddle, meaning "to spill." Its popularity in the United States took off during the Civil War.

--

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Coast Is Clear (Rebroadcast) - 27 November 2017

Nov 28, 2017 51:01

Description:

In the military, if you've "lost the bubble," then you can't find your bearings. The term first referred to calibrating the position of aircraft and submarines. And the phrase "the coast is clear" may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. Plus, a dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado dip. Finally, one more place where people are starting sentences with the word "So"--during prayers at church. Also: elbow clerk, smitten, Tennyson's brook, fussbudget vs. fuss-bucket, clinomania, and 50k south of Woop Woop.


FULL DETAILS

Our conversation about goofy German Antiwitze prompts listeners to send in their own silly jokes. For example: What's the difference between a duck? A pencil, because a duck has no sleeves!

A brother and sister in Elgin, Illinois, disagree about how to pronounce guacamole. She argues that it rhymes with whack-a-mole. She's wrong.

Speaking to a conference of judges and lawyers, Grant learns the term elbow clerk, meaning a clerk who works in the judge's chambers.

A woman in Vancouver, Washington, wants to know the origin of the phrase the coast is clear, meaning "it's safe to proceed." It most likely has to do with a literal coast, whether from the perspective of a ship at sea or guards patrolling the shoreline. The Spanish equivalent No hay Moros en la costa translates literally as "There are no Moors on the coast."

Why does it seem that more and more people start responses to a question with the word So? After hearing our discussion about sentence-initial so, a Nashville, Tennessee, churchgoer calls to say that he often hears something similar at the beginning of a prayer after a sermon or to conclude a service.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about people whose names are words. For example, if he asks, "Is the comedian who was one of the Three Amigos vertically challenged?" you'd answer with name of a funny man whose last name is also an adjective.

A woman who is fond of the word smitten is curious about about the word's origin. Smitten is the past participle of "smite," so if you're smitten with someone, you're struck by them, metaphorically speaking.

A San Antonio, Texas, woman who has taught at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, says one of her Spanish-speaking students taught her the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black: el conejo gritando orejon, which translates literally as "the rabbit yelling 'big ears.'"

A listener in Marquette, Michigan, says her daughters criticize her for saying Where you at? They argue that the word at in this case is unnecessary. In many cases, this phrase is indeed a pleonasm, but Grant explains that in some contexts this use of the word at plays a particular linguistic role to convey additional meaning.

In response to our conversation about euphemistic terms for one's age, a listener says that he fudged his age on his last big birthday by telling friends he'd turned 21 in Celsius.

Two-hander is theater jargon for a play that features just two people.

The expression on and on like Tennyson's brook describes something lengthy or seemingly interminable, like a long-winded speaker who goes on and on like Tennyson's brook. The phrase is a reference to a lovely poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about the course of a body of water.

To lose the bubble means "to lose track" or "lose one's bearings," and refers to the bubble in an inclinometer on an airplane or ship, much like the bubble in a carpenter's level. It's described in detail in Gene Rochlin's Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization.

In Australian slang, Woop Woop is a joking term for any remote town, and if you want to denote someplace even more remote, you can describe it as 50k south of Woop Woop.

A fussbudget is someone who's "ill-tempered" or "overly critical," the -budget in this term deriving from an old word for "purse" or "pouch." Variants include fussy-budget, fuss-a-budget, and fussbucket.

The words clinomania and dysania both refer to extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.

If the car you bought is a lemon, it's defective. This negative use of lemon derives from the tart taste of this fruit, which first inspired an association with a sourpuss, then a generally disappointing person, and then finally a similarly disappointing product.

--

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Hidden Treasures - 20 November 2017

Nov 20, 2017 51:01

Description:

Civil War letters and the opposite of prejudice. A new online archive of Civil War letters offers a vivid portrait of the everyday lives of enlisted men. These soldiers lacked formal education, so they wrote and spelled "by ear," and the letters show how ordinary people spoke back then. Plus, is there a single word that means "the opposite of prejudice"? How about "unhate"? Or maybe "allophilia"? Finally, there's an old joke that if you buy clothes at a flea market, they throw in the fleas for free. But the story behind the term "flea market" is a lot more complicated. Plus: go to grass, go up the spout, take the devil out of it, bobbery, and diabetes of the blow-hole.

FULL DETAILS

Private Voices, also known as the Corpus of American Civil War Letters, is an online archive of thousands of letters written by soldiers during the U.S. Civil War. Because the soldiers lacked formal education and wrote "by ear," the collection is a treasure trove of pronunciation and dialect from that time and place. One phrase frequently appearing in these letters is go up the spout, meaning to die, be lost, or ruined. In fact, the transcript from the trial of John Wilkes Booth quotes a witness who testified that Booth told him Old Abe Lincoln must go up the spout. A similar idea is expressed by the phrase go up the flue.

A flea market is a type of bazaar, usually outdoors, where vendors of second-hand and discount goods sell their wares. But why flea market? The term probably reflects the influence of two linguistic strains: In 18th-century New York City, the Fly Market took its name from a similar-sounding Dutch word. Later, English speakers adopted the French phrase for a similar type of market, marche aux puces, or literally, market of the fleas.

In the Private Voices corpus of American Civil War letters, the term pill is often used to mean bullet, although this slang term is at least a century older.

A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman says her family has long used the term nun puckeroo to designate a kind of vague, non-serious malaise. Neither Martha nor Grant knows that one, but the Dictionary of American Regional English lists lots of jocular terms for such illness, including none-puck in Delaware and rum puckeroo in Rhode Island. Any of these sound preferable to diabetes of the blow-hole.

The term bobbery means a noisy disturbance or hubub. The word's origin is disputed, although one explanation is that it comes from the Hindi exclamation Bap re! or literally, Oh father!

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has us looking for Hidden Treasures, specifically terms for valuable items you might find in adjacent sounds in a sentence. For example, the name of a precious metal is hidden in the following sentence: If you don't reach your goal, don't get discouraged.

A researcher in Port Jefferson, New York, wonders if there's a single word that means the opposite of prejudice. Unhate? He suggests the word allophilia, a combination of Greek words that mean love or like of the other.

There are three words in the English language that sound like "too." So how do you indicate in writing how word should be pronounced? IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) to the rescue!

A San Antonio, Texas, woman wonders about a tradition she grew up with. Before drinking an alcoholic beverage, you hand the drink to someone else to have a sip in order to take the devil out of it.

An Indianapolis, Indiana, woman offers a followup to our discussions about various geographic belts around the country. The Bungalow Belt in Chicago refers to a strip of small brick bungalows just inside the city limits originally occupied by Catholic European immigrants.

Martha has a special connection to the U.S. Civil War soldier who wrote this letter.

A man from Fort Smith, Arkansas, says his Canadian wife is baffled by his pronouncing the word cement as CEE-ment. Stressing the first syllable of such words as police, insurance, umbrella, and vehicle is an occasional feature of Southerners' speech.

A woman in Suffolk, Virginia, is curious about the origin of the word onus, as in responsibility. The word onus is borrowed directly from Latin where it means burden. This Latin word is also the root of the words onerous, which describes something burdensome, and exonerate, meaning to free from a burden.

Salisbury steak is named for Dr. James H. Salisbury, who prescribed what he referred to as muscle pulp of beef for Civil War soldiers suffering from so-called camp diarrhea.

A woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says that when her mother was indicating that two things were roughly equal, she's say they were six and one half dozen of the other. The more common version is six of one and half a dozen of the other or six of one, half a dozen of the other. Another phrase for saying two things are equivalent is a horse apiece.

A saying attributed to the 13th-century poet Rumi goes Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.

Go to grass is In the 1600s, go to grass meant to be knocked down. In the 1800s, the phrase was the equivalent of telling someone to die and go to hell. Go to grass has also been used to refer to a racehorse or working horse that's been retired from service. A variant is go to grass and eat hay.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Butterflies in Your Stomach - 13 November 2017

Nov 13, 2017 51:01

Description:

If you're not using a dictionary to look up puzzling words as you read them, you're missing out on a whole other level of enjoyment. Also, when you're cleaning house, why not clean like there's literally no tomorrow? The term "death cleaning" refers to downsizing and decluttering specifically with the next generation in mind. The good news is that older folks find that "death cleaning" enhances their own lives. Finally, you know when anticipating something has you extremely nervous but also really excited? Is there a single word for that fluttery feeling? Plus, marrow, set of twins, skid lid, I reckon, vicenarian, miniscule vs. minuscule, and how to pronounce potable.

FULL DETAILS

Someone in their 70s is septuagenarian, someone in their 80s is an octogenarian, and someone in their 90s is a nonagenarian. Someone in their 50s is a quinquagenarian, and if they're in their 40s, they're a quadragenarian. If you're between 100 and 110, you're a centenarian, and older than that, well, congratulations! In that case you're a supercentenarian.

How do you pronounce the word potable, which means drinkable. A woman in the Navy stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, says most of her fellow sailors pronounce it with a short o, but she pronounces it with a long o. The word derives from Latin potare, meaning to drink, and traditionally the long o sound in the Latin has been preserved in the pronunciation of potable. Increasingly, though, many people pronounce it with a short o, as if assuming that the adjective describes something that might be put in a pot and boiled. This pronunciation is especially common in the military. Potable is a linguistic relative of the word potion, a type of drink, and symposium, from Greek words that literally mean drinking together.

A listener in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, was surprised to learn that in England the word marrow refers to zucchini.

A woman and her 10-year-old daughter are looking for a word that describes being excited but anxious. It's not exactly twitterpated, and the Southernism like a worm in hot ashes is vivid, but a phrase. If a single word for this feeling exists, maybe it involves butterflies?

If you're between the ages of 10 and 19, you're a denarian.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiet quiz involving words that are usually shouted. Suppose, for example, someone said,  Excuse me, Mr. Horse, I'd appreciate it if you stopped. What's the exclamation suggested by this request?

If you tell someone you have a set of twins, does that mean you have two kids or four kids? It depends on the meaning of the word set.

A woman in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders: Why is the less busy period in a tourist area known as the shoulder season?

Skid lid, cage, and backyard are all slang terms from the world of motorcycle enthusiasts. A skid lid is a helmet, a cage is an automobile, and a backyard is a favorite place to ride. The phrase lay it down means to have a motorcyle accident.

The phrase I reckon meaning I suppose is marked in the United States as rural, rustic or uneducated. The term is centuries old, however, and used widely in the United Kingdom.

Death cleaning is the translation of a Swedish term describing a kind of de-cluttering later in life, when you downsize to make things easier for the next generation. It's being popularized by The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning by Margareta Mangusson.

Martha shares an email from a listener from Delray Beach, Florida, about the rewards of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

If you're in your 20s, you're a vicenarian; the word for someone in their 30s is tricenarian.

A Dallas, Texas, listener is annoyed when he sees a price listed with the dollar sign after the amount, rather than before, as in 500$ rather than $500. In some parts of the world, however, the currency symbol routinely follows the number.

The word stenophagous means eating a limited variety of food. It derives from Greek stenos, meaning narrow, also found in stenography (literally, narrow writing) and stenosis, a medical term for abnormal narrowing.

A nonprofit that promotes literacy in Reno, Nevada, held a spelling bee in which adult competitors were asked to spell words from books in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. The author made up some of those words herself. But are they really words if they're not in the dictionary? Yes, if it's said or written and has a meaning, it's a word. The word that took out a lot of the competitors was minuscule, which Rowling used in The Prisoner of Azkaban. In the United States, the word is usually spelled differently: miniscule.

A Bay Area listener says she always giggles when she sees a sign in the Oakland airport that reads You are leaving a sterile area. Among security experts, the term sterile specifically means an area that is officially under control and clear of threats.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Catch You on the Flip Side - 6 November 2017

Nov 6, 2017 51:01

Description:

Some countries have strict laws about naming babies. New Zealand authorities, for example, denied a request to name some twins Fish and Chips.  Plus, Halley's Comet seen centuries before English astronomer Edmund Halley ever spotted it. That's an example of Stigler's Law, which says no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Funny thing is, Stigler didn't come up with that idea. Finally, anagrams formed by rearranging the letters of another word. But what do you call anagrams that are synonyms, like "enraged" and "angered"? There's a word for that, too. Also, flip side, over yonder, kyarn, old-fashioned script, avoiding adverbs, and another country heard from.

FULL DETAILS

Anagrams are words formed by rearranging the letters of another word, such as star and arts. As Paul Anthony Jones points out on his site Haggard Hawks, some words can be anagrammed to a synonymous word, such as enraged and angered, or statement and testament. Such pairs are known as synanagrams.

A New York City listener wonders about the origin and literal meaning of the phrase Catch you on the flip side. It's a reference to the B side of vinyl records, and became part of truckers' CB lingo in the 1970s.

A San Diego, California, man wonders about the meaning and distribution of the directional phrase over yonder.

The letters in the word sterilize can be rearranged to form the synangram Listerize.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle features variations on the phrase lawyer up, in which the answers are a verb followed by the word up. For example, if someone's in his car and trying to change gears, but getting a little verklempt about it, what's he about to do?

The former student of a Spanish teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, will soon give birth in her homeland, the Czech Republic, one of several countries that have strict naming laws. The mother-to-be would like to name her son Lisandro, but needs official evidence that Lisandro a legitimate baby name. There is, by the way, a dictionary of Guatemalan Spanish edited by a Lisandro Sandoval. A good source for names mentioned by the Bard is The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.  Most Czech parents chose baby names from a book with a title that translates as What is Your Child Going to Be Called?

A Montreal, Canada, woman wonders why sometimes in old manuscripts the letter S looks like the letter F. A great resource on this topic is Andrew West's blog Babelstone.

New Zealand has strict naming laws, but somehow the names Violence, Number 16 Bus shelter, Midnight Chardonnay, and for twins, Benson and Hedges all passed muster. However, the proposed names Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Sex Fruit, and Fish and Chips didn't make the grade.

Stigler's Law is states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Halley's Comet, Fibonacci numbers, the Pythagorean theorem, and the Bechdel test all bear the names of people who didn't discover or formulate them. The funny thing is, Stephen Stigler, the University of Chicago statistics professor credited with this law of eponymy, wryly claims that sociology professor Robert K. Merton was the first to come up with it.

Author Stephen King's book On Writing is an excellent guide to the craft. In it, he warns that "the road to hell is paved with adverbs." For another take on writing guides, check out the work of Oliver Kamm, grammar columnist for the Times of London.

An antigram is a variety of anagram, in which the letters of one word are rearranged to create its opposite. Examples of antigrams include united and untied, and the word forty-five, which anagrams to over fifty.

A listener calling from the public library in Chowan County, North Carolina, says her father used the word kyarn to describe something unpleasant or repulsive, as in describing something that isn't worth a kyarn or stinks like kyarn. Also spelled cyarn, this dialectal term derives from the word carrion, which means dead or rotting flesh.

A grandmother in Ferndale, California, wonders about a phrase her own grandmother used. If one of the grandchildren walked into a room and joined a conversation already taking place, she'd exclaim, Oh! Another country heard from! Although her grandmother used the expression affectionately, traditionally, it's had a more dismissive sense. It derives from an older expression, Another county heard from!, a reference to the days when election results could take days or even weeks to come in.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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All Verklempt - 30 October 2017

Oct 30, 2017 51:01

Description:

Of all the letters in the alphabet, which two or three are your favorites? If your short list includes one or more of your initials, that's no accident. Psychological research shows we're drawn to the letters in our name. And: if you doubt that people have always used coarse language, just check out the graffiti on the walls of ancient Pompeii. Cursing's as old as humanity itself! Plus, just because a sound you utter isn't in the dictionary doesn't mean it has no linguistic function. Also: verklempt, opaque vs. translucent, chorking, bruschetta, mothery vinegar, and a goose walked over your grave.

FULL DETAILS

Psychological research shows that when it comes to letters of the alphabet, people tend to like their own initials, perhaps because of a sense of ownership. This phenomenon is called the name-letter effect.

A listener in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, wonders about the origin of the word verklempt, which describes someone all seized up with emotion. This Yiddish term enjoyed a surge in popularity during the 1990s when it was used by Mike Myers playing talk show host Linda Richman on TV's Saturday Night Live.

A nullifidian is someone who subscribes to no particular faith or religion.

A girl in Omaha, Nebraska, has a dispute with her father about the meaning of the words opaque and translucent. Opaque describes something that blocks light completely; something translucent lets some light pass through.

The verb to chork means to make the noise your feet make if your shoes are full of water.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a Double Stuff puzzle in which each answer consists of two rhyming words with two syllables each. For example, what would you call food provided by God for your grandmother?

Bruschetta is the Italian bread soaked with olive oil and topped with savory ingredients. But how do you pronounce it? With a k sound or a sh sound? Bruschetta should be pronounced broo-SKETT-ah.

A Pasadena, California, man says some of his relatives make a noise that sounds like unh-Unh, and it's clear to everyone in the family that it means Well, what did you expect? A lexical utterance like that does have meaning, even if it's not in the dictionary.

The word sacrilegious, describing something that violates the sacred, is tricky to spell. It's easy to assume that it contains the word religious, but it doesn't. Sacrilegious derives from sacrilegus, a Latin word that means a stealer of sacred things.

Why are psychiatrists and psychologists called shrinks? It's a jocular reference to the ritual practice in certain tribal societies of literally shrinking the heads of one's vanquished enemies. The term shrink was adopted as a joking reference to psychotherapists in the 1960s.
Martha shares a letter from a San Antonio, Texas, listener about a child's misunderstanding of the word sophisticated.

How far back does cursing go? People have been using coarse language for thousands of years. Just check out the filthy graffiti on the walls of Pompeii. Although cursing has changed over time, the F-word and its ilk have been around for hundreds of years.

A woman in Cheyenne, Wyoming, says her mom used to refer to the cloudy scum that sometimes forms atop vinegar as mother. The term has been around at least 500 years, and can refer to the scum on the top or sediment on the bottom. It's also used as a verb, and a liquid with that kind of surface can be described with the adjective mothery. A similar cloudy substance that forms atop old wine is called a wineflower.

An observation about life and language from author Michael Sims: Every encounter with another human being is like being able to read half a page from the middle of a novel, isn't it? And then someone grabs the book away.

A Temecula, Califonia, man recalls that whenever he feels a chill, he says, I guess someone walked on my grave. If someone else feels a chill, he'll say, Did someone walk on your grave? Then one day he shivered, and before he could get the words out, a friend asked, Did a goose walk on your grave? Which came first, the person or the goose? A similar expression may be used during a lull in a conversation. The earliest known reference to someone walking over one's final resting place is in the writing of Jonathan Swift.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Hunk Waffle - 23 October 2017

Oct 23, 2017 51:01

Description:

Decisions by dictionary editors, wacky wordplay, and Walt Whitman's soaring verse.  How do lexicographers decide which historical figures deserve a mention or perhaps even an illustration in the dictionary? The answer changes with the times. Plus, a tweet about basketball that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. It goes: "LaBron has played more career minutes than MJ, Shaq, Hakeem, Ewing, and others. Crazy how we never expect him to get fatigued in a game." Turns out there's an entire Twitter feed full of tweets that pull off that same linguistic trick! Also, a Walt Whitman poem that crosses time, space, and experience. And Friday Wednesday vs. Wednesday Friday, actress vs. actor, balling the jack, a la mode, and grab the brass ring.

FULL DETAILS

A pangram is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. The Twitter feed Pangram Tweets (@pangramtweets) uses a bot to scour the internet for pangrammatic tweets, providing a weirdly wonderful window on what people write.

A writer at an ad agency in Rochester, New York, has a dispute with his chief copy writer: If you're taking off Thursday and Friday, is your last day of work that week a Wednesday Friday? Or is it a Friday Wednesday?

A Fort Worth, Texas, listener wonders about the pronunciation of the word apricot. Is that first syllable long or short? The answer depends on what part of the country you're in. If you're in the Northern United States, for example, you're far more likely to pronounce apricot with a long a.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle takes the definition of a word, and then alphabetizes all the words in the definition. For example, the definition of one familiar noun consists of the following words, but not in alphabetical order: and army engaged especially in in military one service the. What's the word?

A man who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, says that when he and his friends were playing a game of tag and wanted to take a break they would call "Pax!" This Latin word for peace used in this way is what's called a truce term. Other examples are King's X, truce, time, times, full stop, scribs, skinch, cree, barley, and I freeze my seat.

Why do we differentiate linguistically between an actor and an actress, but don't make a similar distinction between a male doctor and a female one? The profession of being an actor was initially limited to men, so the word actress came later. For a helpful reference on this topic, check out Language and Gender by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet.

A ride on the carousel in San Diego's Balboa Park has Martha pondering the origin of the phrases to grab the brass ring, meaning to achieve something difficult, and to reach for the brass ring, meaning to try hard to reach a goal, and by extension, to live life with gusto.

A Tallahassee, Florida, man says that when his father was passed by a speeding car, he'd say that the driver was balling the jack. In the early 20th century, a fast, high-energy dance among African-Americans was called balling the jack. The term was later adopted by those in the railroad industry.

Martha reads Walt Whitman's poem "On the Beach at Night, Alone."

A listener in Albany, New York, wonders who decides which historical personages deserve mention a dictionary, and how editors decide which of those people merit a photo or illustration? Grant explains the process by which lexicographers handle these encyclopedic entries.

A slice of pie topped with ice cream is said to be served a la mode, a French phrase that means in the fashion of. A listener in Greenfield, Massachusetts, wants to know why.

On our Facebook group, a member told the story of teaching English in Japan, where a student couldn't remember the slang expression stud muffin, but came pretty close by substituting his own term, hunk waffle.  

A woman in Eureka, California, is curious about the term bailiwick. It comes from a Middle English word for bailiff, and wik, a Middle English word that means dwelling and is related to several English place names, such as Gatwick and Norwich.

"LaBron has played more career minutes than MJ, Shaq, Hakeem, Ewing, and others. Crazy how we never expect him to get fatigued in a game." That's an astute observation about basketball, but it's also a pangram, a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. More on Pangram Tweets (@pangramtweets).

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Pants on Fire - 16 October 2017

Oct 16, 2017 51:01

Description:

A highly anticipated children's book and the epic history behind a familiar vegetable. Fans of illustrator Maurice Sendak are eagerly awaiting the publication of a newly discovered manuscript by the late author. And speaking of children's literature, some wise advice from the author of Charlotte's Web, E. B. White: "Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears." Plus, when is a mango not a mango? If you're in Southern Indiana, you may not be talking about a tropical fruit. And: the longest F-word in the dictionary has 29 letters, and is rarely used -- partly because pronouncing it is such a challenge. Also, Limestone Belt, I swanee, gorby, fluke print, pour the cobs on,  and Liar, liar, pants on fire.

FULL DETAILS

After we discussed the Smile Belt and other "belt" regions of the United States, listeners chimed in with more, including the Potato Belt and Potato Chip Belt in Pennsylvania, and Banana Belt, a term used for the southern regions of both Vermont and Alaska.

The saying Liar, liar pants on fire is part of a longer children's rhyme that's been around since 1841 or so. There are several different versions of what comes after the line Liar, liar, pants on fire, such as Hanging by a telephone wire / While you're there, cut your hair / And stick it down your underwear. A listener in Indianapolis, Indiana, reports finding other taglines, such as Stick your head in boiling water, and the milder Wash your face in dirty water.

To describe someone who is dazed, lost, or confused, you might say he looks like he was sent for and couldn't go.
 
An 11-year-old in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders about a phrase her late grandfather used. Instead of swearing, he'd exclaim I swanee! or I'll swanny! This mild oath, and its shorter version, I'll swan, derives from an English dialectal phrase, I shall warrant.

The Indiana Limestone Belt has an abundance of this type of rock. The limestone industry figured prominently in the movie Breaking Away, in which affluent residents of Bloomington, Indiana, referred derisively to quarry workers and their families as cutters, as in stonecutters.

For this week's puzzle, Quiz Guy John Chaneski is inventing new breeds of dogs by changing one letter in the name of an existing breed. If you take a Rottweiler, for example, then change one letter in the breed's name, you'll have anew mutt that can exist on carrots, parsnips, turnips, and the like.

A woman in Mandeville, Louisiana, wonders about a term her grandfather used when someone hogged all the ice cream or took more of their share of cookies: Don't be a gorby! This termmay derive from the Scots word gorb, meaning "glutton." Her grandfather was from northern Maine, where the term gorby also applies to a kind of bird called the Canada jay, known for swooping in and making off with food.

A woman in Farmers Branch, Texas, explains how the simple term cousin succinctly denotes a complicated relationship.

The phrase he doesn't know from, meaning "he doesn't know about," is a word-for-word borrowing, or calque, of a Yiddish phrase Er veys nit fun.

A fluke print is the pattern a whale's tail leaves on the surface of the water.

A man in San Clemente, California, and his friends are debating the term for when a substance in a smoking device is all used up. Which phrase is correct: the bowl is cashed, or the bowl is cacked? In this case, both terms work.

For a clever way to describe someone as arrogant, you can always say I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth. A less common variant: I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he'll bring.

A new Maurice Sendak manuscript, Presto and Zesto in Limboland, will be published in 2018, several years after the death of the beloved illustrator. E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, had some wise advice about writing for children: "Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears."

A woman who relocated from the eastern United States to Evansville, Indiana, was confused when her mother-in-law there asked her to bring in some mangoes from the garden, since tropical fruits don't grow in the Midwest. In that part of the country, the word mango means "green pepper." The reason involves a deliciously circuitous history.

In an earlier episode, we talked about the butterfly mating behavior known as hilltopping, in which male butterflies try to appeal to females by flying as high as possible. A listener in Fairbanks, Alaska, reports that the term hilltopping is used among sledheads, or "snowmobile enthusiasts," to mean a different kind of showing off -- riding up a hill on a snowmobile as high as possible before falling back. This move is also called hightopping.

An Indianapolis, Indiana, man says that when his grandmother wanted to urge someone on, she'd say It's time to pour the cobs on or It's time for the cobs. What's the origin?

A woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, wants to know the pronunciation of floccinaucinihilipilification, and why such a long word means "the habit of estimating something as worthless."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Frozen Rope - 9 October 2017

Oct 9, 2017 51:01

Description:

Where would you find a sports commentator talking about high cheese and ducks on a pond? Here's a hint: both terms are part of what make the language of America’s pastime so colorful. And: a government official in New Zealand proposes a new, more respectful term for someone with autism. Plus, the roots of that beloved Jamaican export, reggae music. Also, hang a snowman, goat rodeo, jimson weed, work-brickle vs. work-brittle, OK vs. okay, and banana bag.

FULL DETAILS

Ducks on the pond, frozen rope, tumblebug, and high cheese are baseball slang. Ducks on the pond means "runners on base," frozen rope is "a line drive," a tumblebug is "a fielder who makes a catch and adds theatrical flair," and high cheese is "a fastball high in the strike zone." The definitive reference book on baseball slang is The Dickson Baseball Dictionary.

A San Antonio, Texas, middle-schooler has observed that when she and her friends are texting, they use different spellings to indicate agreement. Her friend types OK, but the caller prefers okay. Either is correct. For an engaging, thorough history of the word, however you spell it, check out Allan Metcalf's OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word.

In baseball, a yakker is a curveball with a big break. The term apparently derives from yawker, a kind of bird that has  the same kind of swooping flight.

A New York City listener enjoys the music played between segments of our show, particularly the reggae tunes, and wonders about the origin of the word reggae. This musical form was popularized by the Jamaican band Toots and the Mayfield, and may be related to the Jamaican patois term streggae, meaning "a loose woman." A great resource for learning about the English spoken in Jamaica is the Dictionary of Jamaican English.

In baseball, to hang a snowman is "to score eight runs in one inning," inspired by the shape of the numeral 8.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a "Takeoff" quiz, in which the letter C is removed from a word to yield a rhyming two-word phrase. For example, if someone wanted to find out how old an animal enclosure is, what would they be trying to find?

A woman in Indianapolis, Indiana, says her father regularly used the phrase out in the giggleweeds, meaning "out in the middle of nowhere" or "off the beaten path." Giggleweed is slang for both marijuana and jimson weed, a highly dangerous, hallucinogenic plant, Datura, which resembles the morning glory.

A Montreal, Canada, caller says that when he does something annoying, his wife will say simply, Can you not? He wonders if that construction is grammatically correct.

The plant jimson weed has dangerous hallucinogenic effects. The weed takes its name from Jamestown, Virginia. In 1676, settlers there ingested the weed, and its poisonous effects were vividly described a few years later in a volume called The History and Present State of Virginia.

A man who works as a caregiver in Calais, Vermont, says one of his elderly clients insists on saying banana bag to mean "fanny pack." Banana bag is a term used by horseback riders to refer to a pouch that fits under a saddle.

A government official in New Zealand has devised a new Maori-based glossary to replace some of the English words used by the government for talking about mental health, disability, and addiction. For example, he proposes replacing the word autism with takiwatanga, which translates as "in his or her own time or space."

How did the acronyms POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS for "President of the United States," "First Lady of the United States," and "Supreme Court of the United States" come about?

Some of us can remember when typing an exclamation mark required hitting four different keys: the shift key, the apostrophe, the backspace, and the period!

Goat rope, goat roping, and goat rodeo describe a "messy, disorganized situation." Grant wrote about these terms in his book The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English.

Kid cheater and child cheater are synonyms for "spatula," because when you're baking a cake, a spatula is so efficient for removing the remnants of a sweet mixture from a bowl that there's little left for a kid to lick off.

A Indianapolis, Indiana, woman remembers that her Kentucky-born grandfather used to say that a lazy person wasn't very work-brickle. The dialectal term work-brickle is a variant of work-brittle, which, in the late 19th century, described someone who was "industrious." Over time, work-brittle also came to mean "lazy," perhaps because of associating the word brittle with the idea of being "delicate" or "fragile." The use of work-brittle in the positive sense of being "energetic and eager to work" is especially common in Indiana.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Gone to Seed (Rebroadcast) - 2 October 2017

Oct 2, 2017 52:30

Description:

Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. Some restaurants now advertise that they sell "clean" sandwiches. But that doesn't mean they're condiment-free or the lettuce got an extra rinse. In the food industry, the word "clean" is taking on a whole new meaning. Plus, a Marine veteran wonders about a phrase he heard often while serving in Vietnam: "give me a Huss," meaning "give me a hand." Finally, some surprising idioms used in Greece today. For example, what does a Greek person mean if he tells you "I ate a door"?

FULL DETAILS

In English, the expression keep your eyes peeled means "pay close attention" or "be on the lookout." In Modern Greek, the equivalent is ta matia sou dekatessera, literally, "your eyes fourteen." In Greece today, if you've been rejected you might say so with a phrase that translates as "I ate a door." If you've been looking for someone for a very long time, you might say Efaga ton kosmo na se vro, the equivalent of "I ate the world to find you."

A listener in New York City asks: Why do we say yesterday but not yesterweek?

The phrase ignorance gone to seed invokes an agricultural metaphor. Picture a field that is so far gone it's no longer flowering and is now beyond the point of further cultivation.

If someone feigns ignorance, a Greek might describe him with an expression that translates as "He pretends to be a duck."

Unless you're having a bad dream about equine creatures, a nightmare doesn't have anything to do with horses. The mare in nightmare comes from an old word that means "goblin."

In Modern Greek, if you want to say something is "fantastic," "out of this world," or otherwise "terrific," you can say Den iparchei!, which literally means "It doesn't exist!"

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's challenge requires removing an initial letter from one word to form a two-word rhyme. For example, what two rhyming words are suggested by the clue "I'd like to try that ice cream, but you didn't give me enough"?

A Marine Corps veteran in Omaha, Nebraska, is puzzled by a phrase he often heard during his service in Vietnam: give me a huss, meaning "give me a hand" or "help me." One strong theory for its origin involves a type of helicopter known as the Huss, described in the book Marines and Helicopters 1962-1973, by William Fails.

Some people, particularly younger folks, are adamant that the term belligerent means "drunk." It's a misanalysis of the word, perhaps associating being intoxicated with being ready to fight. Instead, belligerent derives from the Latin word bellum, meaning "war," also found in bellicose, and the term applied to that period before a war, particularly the U.S. Civil war, antebellum.

A woman in Carmel, Indiana, wonders about the use of the verb kimble to mean a certain kind of "strutting." Kimbling is that proud, confident way of walking you might associate with Barack Obama or Denzel Washington. But its origin is unclear.

Second-acting, the once-common practice of sneaking in to see the second act of a Broadway show for free by mixing in with paying patrons outside at intermission, largely ended as theaters began tightening their security and fewer people step outside for a cigarette.

What is the plural of attorney general? Attorneys general or attorney generals?

The word clean, as in clean food, has taken on a whole new life as a buzzword describing food free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, or added color. A restaurant chain now boasts clean sandwiches, and the topic is now covered by the magazine Clean Eating.

Scobolotch is a term used in Wisconsin for the mayfly, and may derived from a Native American language. Variants include scobblotcher and skoplotch. This short-lived insect goes by many other names, including Green Bay fly and Canadian soldier.

The words flet and dray, or drey, refer to types of squirrel's nests.

Why don't we pronounce the letter b in the word subtle? The word derives ultimately from Latin subtilis, meaning "fine, delicate," and was adopted into Middle English from Old French as sotil. The b was later added back in so that the spelling reflected the word's original Latin roots, but the pronunciation continued to lack the b sound.

The mayfly, that insect whose time is up in a mere 24 hours or so, goes by many other names, including bay fly, cisco fly, drake fly, dun, eel fly, fish fly, flying clipper, green fly, July fly, June bu, June fly, and more.

Spondulix, also spelled spondulicks, is a slang term for money. Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn, although it had been around for a while before that. The word may derive from the Greek word spondylos, meaning "vertebra" or "spine," suggesting the similarity between a column of those round bones and of a stack of coins.

The Spanish phrase tiene mas lana que un borrego means someone is quite wealthy. Literally, the phrase means "he has more wool than a lamb."

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Hell's Half Acre (Rebroadcast) - 25 September 2017

Sep 26, 2017 52:17

Description:

Hundreds of years ago, the word girl didn't necessarily mean a female child. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the term "girl" could refer to a child of either sex. Only later did its meaning become more specific. Plus, some people think that referring to a former spouse as an ex sounds harsh or disrespectful. So what DO you call someone you used to be involved with? Finally, the story behind the real McCoy. This term for something that's "genuine" has nothing to do with the famous feud. Also, hairy at the heels, Spanglish, nose out of joint, punctuating abbreviations, and gaywater.

FULL DETAILS

Listeners respond to our discussion about what to call a baby shower for the dad-to-be, suggesting Huggies and Chuggies, beer shower, beer for diapers, diaper kegger, baby boot camp, and Baby Fat Tuesday.

Why do we describe something that's genuine or authentic as the Real McCoy?

The expression Hell's Half Acre denotes a small patch of land or a place that's otherwise undesirable, and has been around for a century and a half.

A Courtland, Alabama, woman wonders about the phrase hairy at the heel. Along with hairy-heeled, hairy about the heels, and hairy about the fetlocks, this snobby term describes someone who is considered ill-bred, and derives from the fact that non-thoroughbred horses often have tufts of hair above their hooves.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a fill-in-the-blank puzzle about famous hip-hop rhymes. For example, from Run DMC, there's the verse: I'm the King of Rock / There is none higher / Sucker MC's should call me _________.

A man in Carlsbad, California, contends that the word ex for "a former partner" or "a former spouse" sounds too harsh. Is there a better term besides wasband?

Responding to our discussion about what to call a baby shower for a dad-to-be, one listener suggests the term bro bath.

A man who divides his time between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, wonders if linguistic mixtures similar to Spanglish arise at other borders. Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language by Ilan Stavans, offers a comprehensive look at this phenomenon.

A Hindi proverb that means "Unity is strength" literally translates as one and one make eleven.

Why, when writing out an abbreviated name like NATO for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, don't we use periods between the letters?

When someone's buried in a cemetery, you can visit their grave. But what do you call the place where you go to visit someone's scattered ashes? Listeners ponder that question on our Facebook group.

Hundreds of years ago, the word girl could refer to a child of either sex, and the word boy applied specifically to a servant. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is a useful resource for understanding which terms were in common use during what period.

A listener suggests a sartorial twist on our conversation about baby showers for dads-to-be.

Why, when someone's unhappy about something, do we say someone's nose is out of joint or out of socket?

A man in Devon, England, notes that where he lives, wetting the baby's head is a term for a baby shower for a soon-to-be dad, and involves taking the man out to a pub for copious amounts of beer.

A San Diego, California, says his high school history teacher used the phrase Chop chop wiki wiki meaning "Hurry up!" The first part of this phrase comes from similar-sounding Cantonese words--the source also of the chop in chopsticks--and the second half comes from a Hawaiian word that means "quick," and is also found in the name of the online reference work that can be edited quickly, Wikipedia.

Gaywater is a Southern term for whiskey, especially the illegal variety.

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Steamed Bun (Rebroadcast) - 18 September 2017

Sep 18, 2017 52:30

Description:

This week on "A Way with Words”: The language we use to cover up our age, and covering up a secret message. Do you ever find yourself less-than-specific about your age? Listeners share some of their favorite phrases for fudging that number, like: "Oh, I'm 29, plus shipping and handling." Plus, since ancient times, people have hidden messages in clever ways. Nowadays, coded messages are sometimes concealed in pixels. Finally, uber-silly German jokes: Did you hear the one about the two skyscrapers knitting in the basement? It's silly, all right. Plus, the origin of hello, the creative class, all wool and a yard wide, get some kip, a handful of minutes, and jeep.

FULL DETAILS

On our Facebook group, listeners share a variety of ways to refer to someone who's lived a half-century or more: 50-plus, member of the 600 Month Club, 29 plus shipping and handling, the 40th anniversary of my 30th birthday, and Jack Benny-plus.

There's the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, the bathroom, and the TV room. So why don't we call the kitchen the cooking room?

The hell in hello has nothing to do with the Devil's abode. The word is related to similar shouts of greeting, such as Hallo or Halloa. Several languages have similar exclamations, such as Swedish hej, which sounds like English hey.

A listener in our Facebook group reports that sometimes he says he's not old -- he's just been young for a really long time.

A man in Del Mar, California, wonders about the expression must needs meaning "must by necessity." Is it a regionalism, pretentious, or perhaps used just for emphasis?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a tricky quiz with false answers. For example, if the plural of mouse is mice, then what's the false plural of spouse?

A listener has been baffled for years by a riddle told a German friend. It goes: What's the difference between a frog? Answer: The greener it is, the faster it swims. It's an example of an Antiwitz or "anti-joke," a popular form of German humor that has the structure of a traditional joke, but involves absurd imagery and lacks a satisfying punchline. In China, a similarly silly type of humor goes by a name that translates as "cold joke."

A popular Hindi proverb about blaming everyone but oneself translates as "One who knows no dance claims that the stage is tilted."

The term creative class has been around for a century, but it was popularized by economist and sociologist Richard Florida and his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida uses the term to refer to artists, designers, tech producers, and other knowledge workers whose products and ingenuity invigorate local economies.

The translation of one silly German Anti-witz joke begins, "Two thick feet are crossing the street…" Another starts, "Two skyscrapers are sitting in the basement knitting…" They go downhill from there.

All wool and a yard wide means "reliable and trustworthy." The phrase was part of an advertisement in the late 19th century, touting material produced by textile mills that wasn't shoddy, or made from the shredded fiber of old scraps.

In Appalachia, the term handful of minutes refers to something small, as in She's no bigger than a handful of minutes.

Steganography is the practice of concealing messages within text, digitized data, or other objects. The word derives from Greek words that mean "covered writing."

A listener in Ypsilanti, Michigan, wonders how the Army vehicle called a jeep got its name. It was associated with Eugene the Jeep, a strange creature from the 1930s comic strip, Popeye.

In a discussion our Facebook group, a woman shares her mother-in-law's favorite expression for fudging her age.

A triathlete in Traverse City, Michigan, calls to say she's going stir-crazy while recuperating from an injury. The term stir-crazy makes sense if you know that stir is an old synonym for "prison."

A witty euphemism from our Facebook group for discussing one's age: I'm plenty-nine.

Time to get kip means "time to get some sleep." Kip goes all the way back to an old Dutch word that means "brothel."

The tradition of the German Antiwitz or anti-joke includes a groaner that starts with a couple of muffins sitting in an oven. When one muffin complains about the heat, the other muffin exclaims incredulously, "Oh my god, a talking muffin!"

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Charismatic Megafauna (Rebroadcast) - 11 September 2017

Sep 12, 2017 52:17

Description:

Choosing language that helps resolve interpersonal conflict. Sometimes a question is really just a veiled form of criticism. Understanding the difference between "ask culture" and "guess culture" can help you know how to respond. And what words should you use with a co-worker who's continually apologizing for being late--but never changes her behavior? Finally, charismatic megafauna may look cuddly, but they're best appreciated from a distance. Plus, in like Flynn, gradoo, champing, pronouncing the word the, pilot episodes, and Bless your heart.

FULL DETAILS

Following our discussion about how to handle repeated excuses from a perpetually late co-worker, a listener sends a snarky solution from a stylist in her hair salon.

The multipurpose phrase Bless your heart is heard often in the Southern United States. Although it sounds polite and solicitous, it often has a cutting edge to it.

The phrase loose lips sink ships is a warning to be careful about what you say publicly. It stems from propaganda posters from World War II that proclaimed Loose Lips Sink Might Sink Ships, meaning that anything you say could be overheard by an enemy, with literally catastrophic results.

An ex-Marine reports that his commanding officer used to castigate his men for any stray threads hanging from their uniforms, calling those loose threads Irish pennants. That term is an ethnophaulism, or ethnic slur. Other examples of ethnopaulisms include Irish screwdriver for "hammer" and Irish funnies for "obituaries."

In the 17th century, the verb to bate and the likely related verb, to bat, were used in falconry to mean "to flap wildly."  By the 19th century, to bat was also part of the phrase to bat one's eyelashes.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle is inspired by the periodic table, and involves adding the chemical symbol for an element to one word in order to form an entirely new word. For example, if you take the hat from a baseball fan and add helium to it, it becomes very inexpensive. What's the new word?

In comic strips, a bright idea is symbolized by a light bulb over a character's head. This association between an incandescent bulb and inspiration was popularized in the early 20th century by the cartoon character Felix the Cat, but the notion of an idea being bright goes back as least as far as the writing of Jonathan Swift.

Listeners weigh in on a call about what language to use with a co-worker who continually apologizes for being late, but doesn't change their behavior.

To be in like Flynn means to be "quickly and easily successful." The phrase has long been associated with hard-living heartthrob Errol Flynn, but was around before he became famous. Some people use the phrase in like Flint to mean the same thing, a phrase probably inspired by the 1967 movie In like Flint.  

If two people are like five minutes of eleven, they're close friends. The phrase reflects the idea of the position of a clock's hands at that time.

Why is the first episode of a television series often called a pilot?

As the 19th-century British jurist Charles Darling observed: "A timid question will always receive a confident answer."

After researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego discovered a seahorse-like creature called the Ruby Sea Dragon, they described this brilliant red fish as a charismatic species. Many scientists use the word charismatic to characterize animals that humans may find particularly appealing, which makes such animals useful for raising public awareness of biological diversity and environmental concerns. Such fauna--or in the case of pandas and elephants, megafauna--are sometimes called glamour animals or hero species. A hero shot in advertising, by the way, is a photo of a product or service that sums up its appeal to potential customers.

A psychotherapist in Burlington, Vermont, observes that couples in counseling together ask each other questions that are actually veiled criticisms. Such indirect communication was the topic of a spirited conversation on Metafilter.  Much has been written about direct vs. indirect communication styles, or as it's sometimes called, "ask culture" vs. "guess culture."

A Palm Springs, California, listener was taught that when the word the is followed by a vowel, it should be pronounced with a short e, and otherwise with a schwa sound. However, there's no basis for such a rule.

The Churches Conservation Trust helps maintain and repurpose more than 300 churches in Britain that are no longer used for worship. To raise money for the buildings' upkeep, the trust now offers visitors the chance to have a sleepover in the sanctuary, which they've dubbed champing, a portmanteau that combines the words church and camping. Their promotional materials also offer a slap-up breakfast, slap-up being a Britishism that means "first-rate."

A Dallas, Texas, listener wonders if his family made up the term gradoo, meaning "grime" or "schmutz." It's definitely more widespread than that, and may derive from a French term.

The noun bangs, meaning "hair cut straight across the forehead," may derive from the idea of the word bang meaning "abruptly," as in a bangtail horse whose tail is trimmed straight across. The verb curtail, meaning to "cut off," was first used to mean "dock a horse's tail," and then later applied more generally to mean "shorten" or "diminish."

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Knuckle Down (Rebroadcast) - 4 September 2017

Sep 4, 2017 52:30

Description:

A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So why is it a pejorative term for those of a certain political persuasion? Also, is there something wrong with the phrase "committed suicide"? Some say that the word "commit" is a painful reminder that, legally, suicide was once considered a criminal act. They've proposed a different term. Finally, a word game inspired by that  alliteratively athletic season, March Madness. Plus, rabble rouser vs. rebel rouser, BOLO, feeling punk, free reign, sneaky pete, and a cheesy pun.

FULL DETAILS

Did you hear about the explosion in the French cheese factory? (If you don't like puns, brace yourself.)

Which is it: rabble rouser or rebel rouser? It's rabble rouser, rabble meaning "a confused collection of things" or "a motley crowd." Rubble rouser is another variant listed in The Eggcorn Database.

A listener in Carmel, New York, remembers his father's phrase knuckle down screw boney tight, a challenge called out to someone particularly adept at playing marbles. The game of marbles, once wildly popular in the United States, is a rich source of slang, including the phrase playing for keeps.

An Omaha, Nebraska man wonders about starting a sentence with the word anymore, meaning "nowadays." Linguists refer to this usage as positive anymore, which is common in much of the Midwest, and stems from Scots-Irish syntax.

BOLO is an acronym for Be On the Lookout. An all-points bulletin may also be described as simply a BOL.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz inspired by March Madness, taking us through the year with the name of a month followed by an adjective with the suffix -ness attached to form an alliterative noun phrase. For example, what do you call a festival in which everyone wears a hat a rakish angle, and the attendees decide which is the most lively and cheerful?

A listener in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says his grandmother, born in 1899, used to say I'm feeling punk, meaning "I'm feeling ill." The term derives from an older sense of punk meaning "rotted wood."

Linguistic freezes, also known as binomials or irreversible pairs, are words that tend to appear in a certain order, such as now and then, black and white, or spaghetti and meatballs.

To give free rein, meaning "to allow more leeway," derives from the idea of loosening one's grip on the reins of a horse. Some people mistakenly understand the term as free reign.

The Mighty is a website with resources for those facing disability, disease, and mental illness. In an essay there, Kyle Freeman, who lost her brother to suicide, argues that the term commit suicide is a source of unnecessary pain and stigma for the survivors. The term commit, she says, is a relic of the days when suicide was legally regarded as a criminal act, rather than a last resort amid terrible pain. She prefers the term dying by suicide. Cultural historian Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, has written that the phrase dying by suicide is preferable, but for a different reason: it's more blunt, and "doesn't let death hide behind other words."

A woman in Hudson, New York, says her boyfriend, who grew up on Long Island, uses the expression call out sick, meaning "to phone an employer to say you're not coming to work because you're ill." But she uses the phrase call in sick to mean the very same thing. To call out sick is much more common in the New York City area than other parts of the United States.

A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So how did it come to be a pejorative term for those of a particular political persuasion?

In English, we sometimes liken feeling "out of place" to being a fish out of water. The corresponding phrase in Spanish is to say you feel como un pulpo en el garaje, or like an octopus in a garage.

A man in Red Lodge, Montana, says he and his wife sometimes accuse each other of being a sneaky pete. It's an affectionate expression they use if, say, one of them played a practical joke on the other. The origin of this term uncertain, although it may have to do with the fact that in the 1940's sneaky pete was a term for cheap, rotgut alcohol that one hides from the authorities.

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What Kids Know and Want to Find Out - 1 September 2017

Sep 2, 2017 29:04

Description:

Our youngest listeners have questions about everything from love to one of their favorite foods. Kids ask why we might end a text with the letters xoxo, what the word "canoodle" means, and how pizza got its name. And it turns out that when it comes to words, sometimes kids know even more than their parents!

FULL DETAILS

Andrea in Haslett, Michigan, and her six-year-old daughter Neevee had a question about the way we show our love in writing. When they were texting back and forth with Neevee’s dad, she got to wondering where where we get X and O for kisses and hugs. It may have something to do with the way people used to sign and kiss important documents, and the Christian cross.

Seven-year-old Charlie and his mom were playing a word game when his mom mentioned the word canoodle. He wonders: What does canoodle mean and where does it come from?

Katie from Tallahassee, Florida, remembers that her late grandfather used to exclaim I swannee! whenever he needed a euphemism for "I swear." She still uses the phrase in his memory, and is curious where it came from. It's a form of the older phrase, I shall warrant, which means "I promise."

Eleven-year-old Sophia in Omaha, Nebraska, is having a debate with her dad about the meaning of the words opaque and translucent. Opaque describes something that blocks light, and translucent means that a little bit of light can get through. (She's right, he's wrong!)

Lilly, a 14-year-old from San Diego, California, is a fan of vintage clothing, and wonders when vintage, from the Latin word vinum, meaning "wine," began to be used to describe clothing. Originally the word vintage applied to the yield of vineyard during a specific season or a particular place. Over time, vintage came to be applied to automobiles and eventually to clothing. The term vintage clothing suggests more than simply "old clothes" or "hand-me-downs"; it carries an additional connotation of taste and style and flair.

Eleven-year-old Eleanor, from San Antonio, Texas, has noticed that when texting, some of her friends respond affirmatively with the expression OK, but Eleanor prefers writing it out as okay. Which is preferable? Either is fine, as long as you're consistent. A great resource on the history of this term is OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word by Allan Metcalf.

Sophia, a 13-year-old in San Diego, California, observes that terrible and horrible are synonyms, so how did terrific and horrific come to be antonyms? In the 17th century terrific meant "causing fear." Over time, it went through a process that linguists call amelioration, which turned its meaning into something positive. A similar thing happened with the word tremendous, a relative of the word tremble, which originally described something "frightful," but eventually came to describe something "awe-inspiring" or "remarkable for its size."

The word pizza derives from an Italian term at least a thousand years old for a type of savory flat bread. The type of pie we now think of as pizza, with tomato sauce, has been around since the 15th century, when tomatoes were first brought back to Europe from the New World.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Lie Like a Rug (Rebroadcast) - 28 August 2017

Aug 28, 2017 51:01

Description:

The words we choose can change attitudes--and change lives. A swing-dance instructor has switched to gender-neutral language when teaching couples. He insists that using words like "leader" and "follower" actually works better than using gendered terms. But not everyone agrees. Plus, a pithy observation about how stray comments can seem meaningless at the time, but can lodge in other people like seeds and start growing. Plus, slang you might hear in Albuquerque, sufficiently suffonsified, make ends meet, cut a chogie, and minders, finders, and grinders.

FULL DETAILS


Sometimes English grammar means that prepositions and adverbs pile up in funny ways. Take, for example, "It's really coming down up here" or "Turn left right here."

A listener in Shreveport, Louisiana, reports that after a fine meal, her father used to announce, "I have dined sufficiently, and I have been well surossfied." It's a joking exaggeration of the word satisfied. In a 1980 article in American Speech, former editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English Frederic G. Cassidy reported lots of variations, including suffancifed, suffencified, suffoncified, suffuncified, and ferancified. Another version of the phrase goes
"My sufficiency is fully surancified; any more would be obnoxious to my fastidious taste."

A 1957 story by James Thurber includes a sentence with an oddly stranded preposition.

Why do some place names include the word The, as in The Hague or the Bronx?

The word traces denotes the long, thin leather straps that secure a horse to a wagon. The expression to kick over the traces, meaning "to become unruly," refers to the action of a horse literally kicking over those straps and getting all tangled up, and can be used metaphorically to describe a person who rebels against authority or tradition.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's game involves misreading memos that start with Re: For example, if Don Draper of Sterling Cooper Draper Price leaves a message asking you to "comprehend written matter", what's the subject of that message?

A San Antonio, Texas, listener says some of her friends use the word toasted to mean "drunk" and some use it to mean "high on marijuana." Which is it?

Attorneys use the terms minders, grinders, and finders to refer to different roles in a law firm. Finders get the business, grinders do the business, and minders keep the business.

To cut a chogi, also spelled choagy or chogie, is a slang term meaning "Let's get out of here." It probably stems from Korean words meaning "go there," and was picked up by U.S. soldiers during the Korean War.

The medical term sialogogic, which means "producing saliva," comes from Greek words meaning "to bring forth saliva."

A San Diego, California, man says that when he got into trouble as a boy, his mother would say, "You lie like a rug and you hang like a cheap curtain."

If you go to a party and the host neglects to put out the food that guests brought, or offers only a small portion of it, they're what you might call a belly robber.

The Humans of New York series of portraits and quotations includes one subject's wise observation about how a single offhand remark can change a life.

A swing-dance instructor in Burlington, Vermont, says gender-neutral language has been well-received in his own dance classes. Instead of the words man and woman, he now uses leader and follower. He reports this not only helps clarify his instructions but makes everyone feel welcome. Swing dancer Cari Westbrook has detailed discussions about the pros and cons of such gender-neutral language, as well as the word ambidanectrous, on her blog The Lindy Affair.

To make ends meet means to make money last through the end of a calendar period.

Poet Adrienne Rich wrote powerfully of the "psychic disequilibrium" that occurs when people don't see their own identities reflected in the language of others, "as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing."

Burqueno slang, spoken by residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico, includes such expressions as umbers, said ominously when someone's caught doing something wrong, as well as get down, meaning "to get out of a vehicle" and put gas for "fill a vehicle's gas tank." Then there's the Burqueno way to get off the phone: bueno bye!

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Pig Latin (Rebroadcast) - 21 August 2017

Aug 28, 2017 51:01

Description:

This week on "A Way with Words": Grant and Martha discuss the L-word--or two L-words, actually: liberal and libertarian. They reflect different political philosophies, so why do they look so similar? Also, is the term expat racist? A journalist argues that the word expat carries a value judgment, suggesting that Westerners who move to another country are admirable and adventurous, while the term immigrant implies that someone moved out of necessity or may even be a burden to their adopted country. Finally, what do guys call a baby shower thrown for the father-to-be? A dad-chelor party? Plus, glottalization, film at 11, grab a root and growl, and Pig Latin.

FULL DETAILS

In a futile situation, English speakers might say that we're spinning our wheels. The French have a phrase for the same situation that translates as to pedal in sauerkraut. The Illustrated Book of Sayings collects similarly colorful idioms in other languages. There's a Turkish expression that literally translates as Grapes darken by looking at each other, and means that we're influenced by the company we keep. In Latvian, there's an expression that means  "to prevariate," but literally it translates as "to blow little ducks."

An Austin, Texas, listener says he and his buddies are throwing a baby shower for a dad-to-be, but they're wondering what to call a baby shower thrown for the father. A man shower? A dadchelor party?

We go back like carseats is a slang expression that means "We've been friends for a long time."

The political terms liberal and libertarian may look similar, but they have very different meanings. Both stem from Latin liber, "free," but the word liberal entered English hundreds of years before libertarian.

Half-filled pots splash more is the literal translation a Hindi expression suggesting that those who bluster the most, least deserve to. Another Hindi idiom translates literally as Who saw a peacock dance in the woods? In other words, even something worthy requires publicity if it's going to be acknowledged.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle of Container Clues, in which one word is inserted whole into another to create a new word. For example, if the definition is "kind of potatoes," and the clue is "She is in mad," what kind of potatoes are we talking about?

A Carmel, Indiana, teacher is puzzled to hear younger colleagues pronounce the words kitten and mitten as KIT-un and MIT-un, with a noticeable break between the syllables. Linguist David Eddington of Brigham Young University reports that this phenomenon, called glottalization, is a growing feature of American dialect, mainly among young women in their 20's and 30's, particularly in the western United States.  

A New York City caller wonders why we refer to clothing as duds. The term dates back to the 1300's, when the word dudde referred to a cloak or mantle of coarse cloth. Over time, it came to refer to shabby clothing, and eventually acquired a more neutral meaning of simply "clothes." The earlier sense of "ragged" or "inferior" may also be reflected in the term dud, denoting something that fails to function.

For English speakers of a certain age, Film at 11 is a slang phrase means "You'll hear the details later." It's a reference to the days before 24-hour cable news, when newscasters would read headlines during the day promoting the 11 p.m. broadcast, when viewers would get the whole story, including video.

The exhortation Grab a root and growl is a way of telling someone to buck up and do what must be done. The sense of grabbing and growling here suggests the kind of tenacity you might see in a terrier sinking his teeth into something and refusing to let go. This phrase is at least 100 years old. A much more rare variation is grab, root, and growl. Both expressions are reminiscent of a similar exhortation, root, hog, or die.

Is the term expat racist? Journalist Laura Secorun argues that the word expat implies a value judgment, suggesting that Westerners who move to another country are adventurous, while the term immigrant suggests someone who likely moved out of necessity or may be a burden to society in their adopted country.

In much of the United States, the phrase I'll be there directly means "I'm on my way right now." But particularly in parts of the South, I'll be there directly simply means "I'll be there after a while." As a Marquette, Michigan, listener points out, this discrepancy can cause lots of confusion!

Why do so many people begin their sentences with the word So? In linguistics, this is called sentence-initial so. The word So at the start a sentence can serve a variety of functions.

Ix-nay on the ocolate-chay in the upboard-cay is how you'd say Nix on the chocolate in the cupboard in Pig Latin. English speakers have a long history of inserting syllables or rearranging syllables in a word to keep outsiders from understanding. The pig in Pig Latin may just refer to the idea of pig as an inferior, unclean animal.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 August 2017

Aug 14, 2017 51:01

Description:

Echoes of the Greatest Generation, and a tasty bite of history. The language and melodies of military marching songs can connect grown children with their parents who served. Is there a collection of those military cadences somewhere? Also, a story about a woman sifting through her parents' love letters from World War II, and a puzzling phrase to describe an awkward love triangle: "running a sandy." Finally, is Northern Spy the name of a military operation or a kind of apple? The surprising story of how this apple variety got its name. Plus, kayakers' slang, wooden spoon, Shakespearean knock-knock jokes, Sunday throat, celestial discharge, and mickey mousing.

FULL DETAILS

Whitewater rafting has a rich tradition of slang that includes such terms as boulder garden, strainer, and drop pool.

An Indianapolis, Indiana, teacher and his class wonder about the origin of whistling in the dark, which means "to put on a brave face in a scary situation." As it happens, the teacher's band, The Knollwood Boys, recorded a song by the same name.

A listener reports that the pronunciation of Novi, Michigan, is counterintuitive. It's pronounced noh-VYE.

The manager of a cider mill in Rochester, Minnesota, is curious about the name of the variety of apple known as Northern Spy. The origins of its name are murky, but it was likely popularized by the 1830 novel Northern Spy, about a wily abolitionist. Other names for this apple are Northern Pie and Northern Spice.

An Omaha, Nebraska, listener has a word for using Google Earth to fly around the planet virtually and zoom in on far-flung locations: floogling, a combination of flying and Googling.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about 4-letter anagrams. For example, what letters can anagram into words meaning either "cruel" or "designation"?

A historian in Indianapolis, Indiana, says a World War II-era letter from her father to her mother refers to running a sandy. It's a phrase that derives from poker, and the act of sandbagging, or in other words, "bluffing," an opponent.

Locals pronounce the name of the town of Thoreau, New Mexico, as thuh-ROO.

In Cantabrigian tradition, a wooden spoon was jokingly awarded to low achievers in mathematics. That practice later extended to other types of competitions. It's also key to a heartwarming story about a charitable organization that arose from a friendly spoon-swapping rivalry between English and Irish rugby teams.

If you complain that something went down my Sunday throat, you mean that it went into your windpipe. To go down your Sunday throat may derive from the fact that just as Sunday is a special day of the week, the bite you swallowed went into an unaccustomed place.

In kayakers' slang, a park and play is a part of a river where you park your vehicle closer to a river and enter the water to paddle around a particular water feature, then paddle back to your launch spot rather than continue downstream. If you make a wet exit, you end up in the water.

As we mentioned earlier, knock-knock jokes were once a fad sweeping the nation. What we didn't mention is that there are quite a few Shakespearean knock-knock jokes. Such as: Knock-Knock. Who's there? Et. Et who? Et who, Brute? (Hey, don't blame us! Blame some guy named Duane.)  

A caller from San Antonio, Texas, remembers a song her father, a World War II vet, used to sing: Around the corner and under a tree/ A sergeant major proposed to me / Who would marry you? I would like to know / For every time I look at your face it makes me want to go -- at which point the verse repeats. These marching songs are known as cadence calls or Jody calls. They apparently arose among American troops during World War II, when a soldier named Willie Duckworth began chanting to boost his comrades' spirits. Such songs echo the rhythmic work songs sung by enslaved Africans and prison chain gangs, which helped to make sure they moved in unison and also helped pass the time.  

The Indianapolis, Indiana, caller who asked about running a sandy figures out the movie she saw that included that phrase: Action in Arabia. And sure enough, the expression is used by a character during a poker game.

Who is she from home? meaning "What's her maiden name?" is a construction common in communities with significant Polish heritage. It's what linguists call a calque--a word or phrase from another language translated literally into another. From home is a literal translation of Polish z domu, just as English blueblood is a literal translation of the older Spanish term sangre azul.

Celestial discharge, in medical slang, refers to a patient's death.

The terms mickey mouse and mickey mousing can be used as pejoratives.

In whitewater rafting, river left and river right refer to the banks of the river on either side when looking downstream.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Chocolate Gravy (Rebroadcast) - 7 August 2017

Aug 7, 2017 51:01

Description:

Say you have an acquaintance you always see at the dog park or the playground. But one night, you run into them at the movies, and for a moment, it's confusing. Is there a word for that disorienting sense of someone or something being out of place? Yes! Plus: the term sea change doesn't have to do with winds changing direction on the surface of the sea. It's a kind of profound transformation that Shakespeare wrote about. Finally, Martha and Grant have recommendations for the book lovers on your gift list. Plus: titch, chocolate gravy, the overview effect, the cat's pajamas, snot otters, and zoomies.

FULL DETAILS

The book Lingo, by Dutch linguist and journalist Gaston Dorren, is an enjoyable whirlwind tour of languages throughout Europe.

An anachronism is something that's placed in the wrong time period, like a Roman soldier wearing Birkenstocks. But what's the word for if someone or something is literally out of place geographically speaking? You can use the word anatopism, from the Greek word for "place," or anachorism, from Greek for "country."

An eighth-grade history teacher from Denton, Texas, is teaching about colonial America, and wonders if there's a difference between the phrases to found a colony or establish a colony.

The "Think and Grin" section of Boy's Life magazine has some pretty corny jokes, including one about a parking space.

The word titch means "a small amount," and is most likely just a variant of touch.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a game that involves finding the synonym with the most syllables. For example, one synonym for the word dumb is vacuous. But can you think of another that has five syllables?

A listener in San Antonio, Texas, has fond memories of chocolate gravy over biscuits, the word gravy in this sense having nothing to do with a meat-based sauce. Grant shares his mother's own recipe.

Overview effect refers to the cognitive shift in awareness and sense of awe experienced by astronauts who observe Earth from space. The term also inspired the title of Benjamin Grant's new book, Overview: A New Perspective of Earth, a collection of spectacular images culled from satellite photographs.

Where does the accent fall in the word Caribbean? Most English speakers stress the second syllable, not the third. The word derives from the name of the Carib Indians, also the source of the word cannibal.

The Italian word ponte means "bridge," as in the Ponte Vecchio of Florence. Ponte now also denotes the Monday or Friday added to make for a long weekend.

A sea change is a profound transformation, although some people erroneously use it to mean a slight shift, as when winds change direction on the surface of the ocean. In reality, the term refers to the kind of change effected on something submerged in salt water, as in Ariel's song from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

It's book recommendation time! Grant recommends the Trenton Lee Stewart series for young readers, starting with The Mysterious Benedict Society. Martha praises Ronni Lundy's Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes, a love letter to the cuisine, folkways, history, and language of Appalachia.

A San Antonio, Texas, listener lives in a house built by his grandfather, who was from Finland. The house has a small window in an upper corner that supposedly was designed to ensure that evil spirits could escape from the house. He thinks it's called a grum hole. Ever heard of it?

Why do we say I'm just joshing you? Was there a Josh who inspired this verb?

A snot otter is a kind of salamander.

The cat's pajamas, denoting something excellent, arose in the 1920's along with many similarly improbable phrases involving animals and their anatomy or possessions, including the gnat's elbow, the eel's ankles, and the elephant's instep.

What do you call it when your dog or cat suddenly turns into a blur of fur, racing through the house? Trainers and behaviorists call those frenetic random activity periods or FRAPs. Other people just call them zoomies.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 31 July 2017

Jul 31, 2017 51:14

Description:

Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she can think of sound old-fashioned. Is there a better term than malarkey, poppycock, or rubbish? Also, listeners step up to help a caller looking for a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes makes it hard for her to remember words. Finally, you may remember the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate awarded on the old TV show "Laugh-In." As it turns out, though, the phrase "fickle finger of fate" is decades older than that!

FULL DETAILS

Door dwell, hoistway, and terminal landing are all terms from the jargon of elevator design and maintenance.

If you hear someone use the word jumbo used for "bologna," it's a good bet they're from Pittsburgh or somewhere nearby in southwestern Pennsylvania. A regional company, Isaly's, sold a brand of lunchmeat with that name.

Why do say It's academic when referring to a question or topic that's theoretical?

The "Think and Grin" section of Boy's Life magazine has some pretty silly humor, especially in issues from the 1950's.

A listener in Burlington, Vermont, remembers being punished as a youngster for talking during class. His teacher forced him to write out this proverb dozens of times: For those who talk, and talk, and talk, this proverb may appeal. The steam that blows the whistle will never turn the wheel. Translation: If you're talking, then you're not getting work done.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle requires misreading words that begin with the letters P-R-E. For example, the word preaching could be misread as having to do with "hurting beforehand" -- that is, pre-aching.

A young woman from Portland, Oregon, seeks a noun to denote something fake or otherwise dubious. She doesn't want an obvious swear word, but also doesn't like the ones she found in the thesaurus, and thinks malarkey, poppycock, and flim-flam sound too old-fashioned and unnatural for a 20-something to say. Fraud, fake, hoax, janky, don't sound quite right for her either. The hosts suggest chicanery, sham, rubbish, bogus, or crap.

A San Diego, California, listener is bothered by colleagues' use of the expression I'll revert meaning "I'll get back to you."

Regarding suffering caused by others, singer Bob Marley had this to say: The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.

Put up your dukes! means "Get ready to fight!" But its etymology is a bit uncertain. One story goes that it's from Cockney rhyming slang, in which dukes is short for Dukes of York, a play on the slang term fork, meaning "hand." But the phrase may originate from or be influenced by a Romany word involving hands.

Why do we call a peanut a goober? The word comes from the Bantu languages of East Africa.

If you need a synonym for freckle, there's always the word ephelis, from ancient Greek for "nail stud."

Listeners step up to help a caller from an earlier show who was seeking a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes makes it difficult for her to remember words.

Primarily in the Southern United States, the word haint refers to a ghost or supernatural being, such as a poltergeist. Haint appears to be a variant of haunt.

The word pretty, used to modify an adjective, as in pretty good or pretty bad, has strayed far from its etymological roots, which originally had to do with "cunning" or "craft."

Here's something to think about the next time somebody says A penny for your thoughts.

The TV show "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," popular in the late 1960's and early 1970's was famous for awarding its goofy trophy, the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate. But the term fickle finger of fate is actually decades older than that.

Tunket is a euphemism for "hell," as in Where in tunket did I put my car keys? No one knows its origin.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Flop Sweat - 24 July 2017

Jul 24, 2017 51:01

Description:

Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a hard "g." But why? And: Mark Twain and Helen Keller had a devoted friendship. When he heard accusations that she'd plagiarized a story, Twain wrote Keller a fond letter assuring her that there's nothing new under the sun. Finally, a well-crafted message header makes email more efficient. A subject line that contains just the word "Question" is almost as useless as no subject line at all. Plus, flop sweat, vintage clothing, the solfege system, on line vs. in line, groaking, the Hawaiian fish dish called poke, and around the gool.

FULL DETAILS

Someone who's anxious about performing may break out in a flop sweat, meaning excessive perspiration. The term flop sweat comes from theater slang, and the idea of sweating profusely due to nervousness that a production will flop. In the film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks's character breaks into a flop sweat when he finally gets a shot at hosting the newscast, only to be so rattled that he starts sweating heavily, to the point where it soaks right through his shirt.

The term Re: in a message header, means "regarding" or "with reference to," but it's not an abbreviation for either one of those things. It comes from a form of the Latin word res meaning "matter" or "thing." The hosts discuss strategies for making an email subject line more efficient.

A listener in New York City wonders about how to pronounce gerrymander, which means "to redraw the lines of an electoral district so as to favor a particular political party." The term comes a joking reference to Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 presided over such a redistricting. Gerry pronounced his name with a hard g, and for a while, the term gerrymandering also retained that pronunciation. In the absence of audible mass media, the name spread, but the pronunciation varied. By 1850, for example, an Indiana politician alluded to this variation, declaring, "You are constantly gerrymandering the State, or jerrymandering, as I maintain the word should be pronounced, the g being soft."

The World Tae Kwan Do Federation has dropped  the word Federation from its name, and will no longer be known as the WTF. As the organization's president explained: "In the digital age, the acronym of our federation has developed negative connotations unrelated to our organization and so it was important that we rebranded to better engage with our fans."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's musical puzzle is based on the solfege system of the syllables do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti. Each answer is composed of combinations or repetitions of those notes. For example, if the musical question is about a bird that's now extinct, what's the musical answer?

The word vintage, from the Latin word vinum, or "wine," originally applied to the yield of vineyard during a specific season or a particular place. Over time, vintage came to be applied to automobiles, and eventually to clothing. The term vintage clothing suggests more than simply "old clothes" or "hand-me-downs"; it carries an additional connotation of taste and style and flair.

Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner has written about the popular fish dish called poke, which takes its name from a Hawaiian word that means "to cut crosswise." Many other foods take their names for the way they're sliced, including mozzarella, feta, scrod, schnitzel, and even the pea dish called dahl, which goes back ultimately to a Sanskrit word meaning "to split." The way poke traveled between Hawaii and the mainland mirrors the migration of many other words.

A New York City man wonders if there's any truth to the story that New Yorkers say they stand on line, as opposed to in line, because of lines painted on the floor at Ellis Island. Although such lines are useful for managing large queues, the origin of this usage is uncertain. What we do know is that New Yorkers have been using on line in this way for at least 100 years.

Mark Twain and Helen Keller enjoyed a close, enduring friendship. When he learned that she was mortified to have once been accused of plagiarism, he sent her a fond letter as touching as it was reassuring.    

A San Diego, California, man recalls working on a cruise ship with a Canadian who insisted the proper phrase is not Let me buy you a beer, but Let me pay you a beer. Is that construction ever correct?

We've talked before about surprising local pronunciations, like the name of a particular town or street.  A term or pronunciation that distinguishes locals from outsiders is called a shibboleth. The word derives from the biblical story of the warring Gileadites and Ephraimites. Gileadites would demand that fleeing Ephraimites pronounce the word shibboleth, and if they could not, because their own language lacked an sh sound, they were exposed as the enemy and executed on the spot.  

To groak is an obscure verb that means "to look longingly at something, as a dog begging for food. In the Scots language, it's more commonly spelled growk.

A woman in Monkton, Vermont, says that when she and her 91-year-old mother return from a leisurely drive, her mother will proclaim That was a nice ride around the gool. The phrase going around the gool appears in the Dictionary of American Regional English in a 1990 citation from Vermont. It appears to come from an older Scots word that could mean "a hollow between hills" or some sort of "anatomical cleft."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Smile Belt - 17 July 2017

Jul 17, 2017 51:53

Description:

The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is called the corona, from the Latin word for "crown" -- just like the little crown on a bottle of Corona beer. Plus, the phrase "throw the baby out with the bathwater" contains a vivid image of accidentally tossing something -- and so does the phrase "to fly off the handle." But where did we get the expression "to hell in a handbasket"? The origin of this phrase is murky, although it may have to do with the fact that handbaskets are easily carried. Also: Biscuit Belt vs. Pine Belt, how to pronounce via, streely, pizza, tuckered out, FOOSH, and Sorry, Charlie!

FULL DETAILS

You probably know about the Rust Belt and the Bible Belt, but have you heard of the Smile Belt? How about the Biscuit Belt or the Pine Belt? The word belt is sometimes used to denote a loosely defined geographical area.

An Omaha, Nebraska, woman reports that a customer emailed her after a sales presentation to correct her pronunciation of the word via, meaning "through" or "by means of." In this case, the customer wasn't right: via can be pronounced either VEE-ah or VYE-uh. There's a slight preference for the former if you're talking about a road, and the latter in the case of the method.

A Huntsville, Alabama, man finds that his younger co-workers have never heard the phrase going to hell in a handbasket. Although the expression is at least as old as the U.S. Civil War, its etymology remains unclear. In the early 1960s, the humorist H. Allen Smith helped popularize the phrase with his book To Hell in a Handbasket, a dubious title for an autobiography.

If you're tired of telling youngsters to hurry up and close the refrigerator door, try this admonishing them with this phrase or one like it: Stop letting the penguins out!

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle involving synonyms for the word hard. For example, the title of a popular Netflix series might otherwise be known as the Hard Kimmy Schmidt.

A Vermont family used to tease one of its members with the phrase Sorry, Charlie! She's surprised to learn that this catchphrase comes from a long-running series of TV commercials for canned tuna.

A bolt-hole is a place where you can escape to avoid people you don't want to run into. This term for "a type of refuge" is used mainly in Britain, comes from the idea of a place where an animal might hide or bolt from if disturbed.

A listener in Cambridge, Wisconsin, says her mother, who is of Irish descent, used to tell her children to wash their hair so it wouldn't be streely. This word derives from Irish for "unkempt," and perhaps ultimately from a Gaelic term having to do with something "flapping" or "undone."


In Ireland, if you say someone's not as slow as he walks easy, you mean he's a whole lot smarter than he appears.

A listener in Quebec, Canada, wonders about the origin of to fly off the handle, meaning "to lose control." It refers to the image of the head of an axe becoming loose and flying through the air.

The word pizza derives from an Italian term at least a thousand years old for a type of savory flat bread. The type of pie we now think of as pizza, with tomato sauce, has been around since the 15th century, when tomatoes were first brought back to Europe from the New World.

During a full solar eclipse, you can see the sun's glowing outer atmosphere called the corona. In Latin, the term corona, means "crown" or "garland." It's the source of coronation, as well as the coronary arteries that wreathe the human heart, and coroner, originally an officer of the Crown. Another eclipse-related term, penumbra, comes from Latin for "almost shadow," and refers to the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area where a partial eclipse is visible. A related word, umbrage, means "a sense of offense" or "resentment."

To be tuckered out, or "tired," is thought to derive from the image of a starved quadruped that's so skinny and worn out that it has a "tucked" appearance just behind the ribs. It may have been influenced by an older verb tuck, meaning "to chastise."

A lecturer in business law in St. Cloud, Minnesota, is astonished to discover his students are unfamiliar with throw the baby out with the bathwater, meaning "to accidentally get rid of the good while getting rid of the bad." You can find out pretty much everything you could ever possibly want to know about this phrase from an article by Wolfgang Mieder.

For a luscious description of exactly what you will see during a total solar eclipse, check out Dan McGlaun's site, Eclipse 2017.

A middle school teacher in Flower Mound, Texas, responds to students' protests and excuses with If all our butts were candied nuts, we'd all be fat for Christmas. It's probably a variation of a phrase popularized by former Dallas Cowboys star turned sports commentator Dandy Don Meredith, who often observed, If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a merry Christmas?" The practice of using ifs and buts as nouns goes back at least 900 years.

The medical term FOOSH is an acronym for a painful injury. It stands for "fall onto outstretched hand."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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A Shoo-In - 10 July 2017

Jul 10, 2017 51:53

Description:

This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from Sara Pennypacker's book Pax. And are there word origins? Well, does a duck swim? We'll hear the stories of polka, smarmy, bully pulpit, and the exes and ohs we use to show our affection. Plus! Sarcastic interrogatives, the echo questions we give as answers to other people's no-duh queries.


FULL DETAILS


Hiking in the mountains, Martha kept noticing butterflies at about 4,000-to-5,000 feet above sea level. Those butterflies are hilltopping. It’s when male butterflies of many species go to high points to advertise their fortitude and genes to the female butterflies.


Judy in Huntsville, Alabama, has hundreds of song lyrics playing on auto-shuffle in her head. When the Polka Dot Polka started playing, she began to wonder how polka dots came to be associated with the music. It turns out that the polka dance craze of the early 1800s — named after the Polish word for a Polish woman — gave its name to a lot of things, including this fabric pattern.


Writing advice from Mark Twain, who was not a fan of adjectives. In The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, he says, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.” He also wrote a letter with clever, useful advice that still holds true for the modern writer.


When you would ask the father of Chris from Reno, Nevada, something to which he thought the answer was obvious, he’d answer with jokey phrases like “Is a pig pork?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Does a bear poop in the woods?” (but with a different verb!). These sarcastic interrogatives, also known as a kind of echo question, are wonderfully discussed in an article by Charles Clay Doyle titled “Is the Pope Still Catholic?” in the journal Western Folklore. (The article is free with registration.)


The Greek word for the cuckoo bird, kokkux, is related to our word coccyx, the tailbone, because the bone looks like the bill of a cuckoo.


Our New York City quiz guy John Chaneski joins us for a punny word quiz. How to play: There’s a pun with a key word missing. You need to fill in the blank. For example, if you don’t pay your e_______, you get repossessed. The answer: exorcist. Get it?


Steve in Bend, Oregon, asks: Does bully pulpit mean what people think it means? Is the bully the same as the bully you might find in a schoolyard? What did Teddy Roosevelt really mean when he said he had a bully pulpit? There’s an old meaning that has fallen away that changes how we understand the phrase.


Hamid in San Diego, California, says that his wife is a job recruiter who finds people to fill high-profile positions. She will come home and say, “This candidate’s a shoo-in.” What’s the story with shoo-in? Where does it come from? It has something to do with an old slang term for rigging a horse race. It’s not, shoe-in, by the way, although that is a common misspelling, and it has nothing to do with footwear. There are many everyday terms that come from horse-racing, such as the term hands-down.


Growing up in Kentucky, where the state religion seems to be basketball, Martha played a lot of rounds of horse, where players compete to make baskets from the same court positions, shot for shot. If you miss, you get a letter from the word horse. If you get all the letters, you lose. Basketball star Steph Curry instead challenged a bunch of high school students to a game of sesquipedalian. We’ve talked about long words like that before.


Rodney in Suffolk, Virginia, is interested in the word tattoo. His grandmother didn’t use it to mean skin art. She used it to rave about seeing a great concert or band: “It was just such a wonderful tattoo!” It might have something to do with a musical military tradition involving a tattoo (of Dutch origin) that is unrelated to the skin tattoo (which has a Tahitian origin).


A belly flower is a small low-growing flower you have to get down on the ground to see.


Martha recommends Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, a book targeted at children but in which adults will find much to admire and mull over. In preparing the book, Pennypacker spent a great deal of time studying the behavior of foxes. Martha shares a particularly perfect passage.


Zach from Plano, Texas, watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. In it, a protegé of the star sushi chef ends a long explanation about how much he’s learned from his mentor by saying, “I don’t sleep with my feet in his direction.” What does this Japanese expression it mean?


Man-eating spiders! Martha tells a charming story about how illustrators and authors work together when they make children’s books.


Greg, calling from Norfolk, Virginia, says that when he uses the word smarmy, some people seem not to know it. What does it mean? Where does it come from? Is it even a real word? It’s related to an old verb meaning to smear or be-daub. It’s kind of like the word unctuous.


Andrea in Haslett, Michigan, and her six-year-old daughter Neevee had a question about the way we show love in writing. When they were texting back and forth with Neevee’s daddy, she got to wondering where where we get X and O for kisses and hugs. It may have something to do with the way people used to sign and kiss important documents, and the Christian cross.


Plot bunnies are writing ideas that you can’t get rid of. The only way to purge yourself of the ideas is to write them!


This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 3 July 2017

Jul 3, 2017 51:54

Description:

Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to anyone online. Finally, the art of accepting apologies. If a co-worker is habitually late but apologizes each time, what words can you use to accept their latest apology but also communicate that you never want it to happen again?

FULL DETAILS

What do the terms flummox, butterfingers, and the creeps have in common? They were all either invented or popularized by Charles Dickens. The earliest citations we have for many familiar words and phrases are from the work of the popular 19th-century novelist. You can find more in What the Dickens: Distinctly Dickensian Words and How to Use Them by Brian Kozlowski.

A San Diego, California, 12-year-old whose last name is Jones wonders: Why do so many African-Americans as well as European Americans share the same last name?

The exclamation Oh my stars and garters! likely arose from a reference to the British Order of the Garter. The award for this highest level of knighthood includes an elaborate medal in the shape of a star. The expression was probably reinforced by Bless my stars!, a phrase stemming from the idea that the stars influence one's well-being.

If you're having a particularly tough time, you might say that you're having a hard fight with a short stick. The idea is that if you're defending yourself with a short stick, you'd be at a disadvantage against an opponent with a longer one.

A man in Chalk Mountain, Texas, recalls a sublime evening of conversation with a new German friend. As they parted, the woman uttered a German phrase suggesting that she wanted the moment to last forever. It's Verweile doch, Du bist so schoen, and it comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragic play, Faust.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's game involves clues about the names of countries. For example, a cylindrical container, plus an abbreviation on the back of a tube of toothpaste, combine to form the name of what neighbor to the north?

Why is a factory called a plant?

A flat tire is a slang term for the result of stepping on someone's heel so that their shoe comes loose.

The word jackpot can denote the pile of money you win at a game of poker, but another definition is that of "trouble" or "tangled mess" or "logjam."

What do you call the holes in a Pop-Tart? Those indentations in crackers, Pop-Tarts, and similar baked goods are called docker holes or docking holes, used to release air as the dough gets hotter.

The phrase Don't cabbage that, meaning "don't steal that," may derive from the old practice of tailors' employees pilfering scraps of leftover fabric, which, gathered up in one's hands, resemble a pile of cabbage leaves.

The first known citation for the word dustbin is credited to Charles Dickens.

Language enthusiasts, rejoice! Jonathon Green's extraordinary Dictionary of Slang is now available online.

What's the most effective way to respond to someone who keeps apologizing for the same offense? Say, for example, that a co-worker is habitually late to work, and is forever apologizing for it, but does nothing to change that behavior? How do you accept their apology for their latest offense, but communicate that you don't want it to happen again?

When comparing two things, what's the correct word to use after the word different? Is it different than or different from? In the United States, different from is traditional, and almost always the right choice. In Britain, the most common phrase is different to.

If a Southerner warns she's going to put a spider on your biscuit, it means she's about to give you bad news.

A listener in Omaha, Nebraska, says his mother always ends a phone conversation not with Goodbye, but 'Mbye. How common is that?



This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

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Noon of Night - 26 June 2017

Jun 26, 2017 52:38

Description:

Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!" What's the term for that kind of practical joke? Is it a crank call or a prank call? There's a big difference. Also, if someone has a chip on his shoulder, he's spoiling for a fight -- but what kind of chip are we talking about? Potato? Poker? Hint: the phrase arose at a time when there were many more wooden structures around. Finally, a conversation with an expert on polar bears leads to a discussion of history and folklore around the world.

FULL DETAILS


After our conversation about a verbose admonition to use short words, a Tallahassee, Florida, man called with a version he learned as a boy: Do you have the audacity to doubt my veracity? Or even to insinuate that I would prevaricate? While I'll thrust my phalanges into your physiognomy with such intensity that it will horizontalize your perpendicularity.

There's a difference between a crank call and a prank call.

If someone has a chip on their shoulder, they're spoiling for a fight. The phrase derives from the old practice of literally putting a chip of wood or other small object on one's shoulder, and daring an adversary to knock the chip off--a gesture indicating that a line had been crossed and the opponent was ready to fight.

In Ireland, the word omadhaun means "a foolish person."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle this week involves adding a letter to the names of famous bands to come up with entirely new ones. For example, Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool are trading in their instruments for a lime-colored delivery truck. What are they known as now?

Those strings of amber lights on 18-wheelers are known as chicken lights. But why? Although the term's origin is unclear, a participant in a discussion forum of the American Historical Truck Society suggests they may have been originally associated with trucks hauling Frank Perdue chickens.

Noon of night is an archaism, a poetic way of saying "midnight."

A New York City listener recalls that as a youth in Erie, Pennsylvania, he and his peers referred to a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as a choke-and-slide or choke-n-slide. It's a reference to the qualities of the sticky peanut butter and the slippery jelly. The colloquial names of some other foods also refer to how they make their way down the throat, including gap-and-swallow and slick-and-go-down or slip-go-down. Other foods named for action associated with them are saltimbocca, literally "jump into the mouth," and tiramisu, from Italian for "pick me up!"

A woman who grew up in south central Minnesota grew up using the phrase too yet, which can have various meanings at the end of a sentence, usually with some negative sense. An article by Peter Veltman in American Speech suggests that the tag too yet used this way is a calque from Dutch.

A conversation with a leading expert on polar bears has Martha thinking about several bear-related words, including the term arctic and the feminine name Ursula.

In the 1940's, kids commonly teased a playmate who'd just gotten a short haircut by pointing at them and saying Baldy Sour! Baldy Sour!

A man in Bowling Green, Kentucky wonders: is the correct phrase You have another thing coming? Or is it You have another think coming?

The medical term tragomaschalia means "smelly armpit sweat," and derives from Greek words that mean "goat armpit."

A woman from Abilene, Texas, is preparing to make a move to the Northeast, and was amused when a realtor in her new hometown used the phrase Bada boom, bada bing, a phrase she'd heard only in movies. It's possible that this term is older than the 1960's, although so far no such record has been found.

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Boss of Me (Rebroadcast) - 19 June 2017

Jun 19, 2017 52:36

Description:

If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city's name looks familiar doesn't mean you should assume you know how the locals pronounce it. The upstate New York town spelled R-I-G-A isn't pronounced like the city in Latvia. Turns out lots of towns and streets have counterintuitive names. Finally, why do we describe being socially competitive as "keeping up with the Joneses"? The Joneses, it turns out, were comic strip characters. Also, sugar off, filibuster, you're not the boss of me, and lean on your own breakfast.

FULL DETAILS

When it comes to the names of towns and cities, the locals don't necessarily pronounce them the way you expect. Charlotte, Vermont, for example, is pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable, not the first--and therein lies a history lesson. The town was chartered in 1762, the year after England's King George III married the German-speaking Princess Charlotte, and it's named in her honor.

What's the deal with the use of person, as in I'm a dog person or She's a cat person? The word person this way functions as a substitute for the Greek-derived suffix -phile, meaning "lover of," and goes back at least a century.

A woman from Hartford, Connecticut, remembers her mom used the term clackers to denote those floppy, rubber-soled shoes otherwise known as flip-flops, go-aheads, or zoris. Anyone else use clackers in that way?

A listener in Reno, Nevada, wants to know: If one member of a long-term, unmarried couple dies, what's a good term for the surviving partner, considering that the usual terms widow and widower aren't exactly correct?  

To sugar off means to complete the process of boiling down the syrup when making maple sugar. Some Vermonters use that same verb more generally to refer to something turns out, as in that phrase How did that sugar off?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle involves social media "books" that rhyme with the name Facebook. For example, Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron, posts on on what fancifully named social media outlet?

A Los Angeles, California, listener says his grandmother, a native Spanish speaker, used the word filibustero to mean "ruffians." Any relation to the English word filibuster? As a matter of fact, yes.

To encourage diners to dig into a delicious meal, an Italian might say Mangia!, a French person Bon appetit! and Spaniard would say Buen provecho. But English doesn't seem to have its own phrase that does the job in quite the same way.

A Palmyra, Indiana, listener observes that in online discussions of Pokemon Go, Americans and French-speaking Canadians alike use the word lit to describe an area of town where lots of people playing the game. This usage apparently is related to the earlier use of lit to describe a great party with lots of activity, or recreational drug use.

If you think the city of Riga, New York, is pronounced like the city in Latvia, think again.

A listener in Brazil wants to know about the source of the phrase keeping up with the Joneses, which refers to trying to compete with others in terms of possessions and social status. This expression was popularized by a comic strip with the same name drawn by newspaper cartoonist Arthur "Pop" Momand for several years during the early 20th century.

If you're sitting on a subway or airplane seat and someone's invading your space, you can always offer the colorful rebuke Lean on your own breakfast, meaning "straighten up and move over."

Essayist Rebecca Solnit has excellent advice for aspiring writers.

The phrase You're not the boss of me may have been popularized by the They Might Be Giants song that serves as the theme for TV's "Malcolm in the Middle." But this turn of phrase goes back to at least 1883.

A woman whose first language is Persian wonders about the word enduring. Can she describe the work of being a parent as enduring? While the phrase is grammatically correct, the expression enduring parenting not good idiomatic English.

The poetic Spanish phrase Nadie te quita lo bailado expressing the idea that once you've made a memory, you'll always have it, no matter what. Literally, it translates as "no one can take away what you've danced."

In a roadway, the center lane for passing or turning left is sometimes called the chicken lane, a reference to the old game of drivers from opposite directions daring each other in a game of chicken. For the same reason, some people refer to it as the suicide lane.  

A bible lump, or a bible bump, is a ganglion cyst that sometimes forms on the wrist. It's also called a book cyst, the reason being that people sometimes try to smash them with a book, but  don't try this at home!

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

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Sunny Side Up (Rebroadcast) - 12 June 2017

Jun 12, 2017 52:38

Description:

Baseball has a language all its own: On the diamond, a snow cone isn't what you think it is, and Three Blind Mice has nothing to do with nursery rhymes. And how do you describe someone who works at home while employed by a company in another city? Are they telecommuters? Remote workers? One writer wants to popularize a new term for this modern phenomenon: working in place. Also, a powerful essay on white privilege includes a vivid new metaphor for the pain of accumulated slights over a lifetime: chandelier pain. Plus, sunny side up eggs, count nouns, bluebird weather, harp on, think tank, thought box, and how to remember to spell Mississippi.

FULL DETAILS


Baseball is a rich source of slang, and The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson is a trove of such language. A snow cone, in baseball lingo, is a ball caught so that it's sticking up out of the fielder's glove. And which month of the year is called Dreamer's Month? It's March, when loyal fans believe that anything is possible for their team in the coming season.

Sunny side up eggs sometime go by the name looking at you eggs, an apparent reference to how the yolk in the middle of the egg white makes them resemble eyes. A similar idea appears in the German name, which translates as "mirror egg," and in Hebrew, where such eggs go by a name that translates as "eye egg." The Japanese term, medama yaki, translates as "fried eyeball." In Latvia, they're "ox eyes," and "cow eyes" in Indonesia.

In baseball, a two-o'clock hitter is one who hits well in batting practice, but not during the game. It used to be that games traditionally started at 3 p.m., with batting practice an hour before.

An attorney in El Centro, California, is bothered by the phrase a large amount of people, because the word amount is usually applied to mass nouns, not count nouns. There are exceptions, however.  

In baseball slang, three blind mice denotes the three umpires on the field.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has an artful quiz about, well, art. For example, remove two letters from the end of this painting's title, and now the couple in it has been replaced by a pale young man outside a farmhouse sporting a black T-shirt, eyeshadow, and several piercings. What's the name of this new painting?

In Arabic-speaking families, it's not uncommon for mothers to address their children with the Arabic word for "mama" or for fathers to use the word for "father" when addressing their offspring. These words are used in this way as a term of endearment. Some other languages do the same.

Writer Isabel Allende offers this writing advice: Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the Muse shows up, too.

A listener in Honolulu, Hawaii, wonders about an expression used by her husband's grandmother, who was from Eastern Kentucky: He left so fast, that you could have played marbles on his coattails. The notion that a person is running so fast his coattails are stretched out perfectly flat goes back at least to the 1850's.

Since the 1950's, the term think tank has meant "a research institute." But even earlier than that, going as far back as the 1880's, think tank referred "a person's mind." Another slang term for one's mind is thought box.

A Seattle, Washington, listener wants to know why, when marking time, we say One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, as opposed to other states or rivers. In the United Kingdom, they're more likely to say hippopotamus. Some people count instead with the word banana, or Nevada, or one thousand one. Also, a mnemonic for spelling the pesky name Mississippi: M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked-letter-I-humpback-humpback-I.

In Maryland and Virginia, bluebird weather is a brief period of warm weather in autumn.

What do you call it when you work for a corporation but aren't based in the same place as its headquarters. Writer Michael Erard believe that the term working remotely doesn't really characterize it, and instead has suggested working in place.

A caller from New York City wonders about his grandmother's use of the word says rather than said when she's telling a story about something that happened in the past. It's a form of the historical present tense that helps describe recounted or reported speech.

In a powerful essay on white privilege, Good Black News editor Lori Lakin Hutcherson includes the term chandelier pain to describe how painful accumulated slights can be. Medical professionals use the term chandelier pain to refer to the result of touching an exquisitely painful spot--so painful that patients involuntarily rise from the examining table or reach toward the ceiling.  

Does the expression to harp on something, as in "to nag," have anything to do with the stringed instrument one plays by plucking? Yes. As early as the 16th century to harp all of one string meant to keep playing the same single note monotonously.

We talk about something occurring beforehand, so why don't we talk about something happening afterhand? Actually, afterhand goes all the way back to 15th-century English, even though it's not that commonly used today.

A New Hampshire listener recalls that as a boy, when he talked friends within earshot of his mother and said referred to her as She, his mother would pipe up with She, being the cat's mother. It's an old expression suggesting that it's insulting to refer to people in the third person if they're present.

The early 20th-century Spanish poet Antonio Machado has a beautiful poem about finding one's way. The translation in this segment is by Anna Rosenwong and Maria Jose Gimenez.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

--

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Naked as a Jaybird - 5 June 2017

Jun 5, 2017 51:01

Description:

What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you're doing other chores. Plus, book recommendations for youngsters. Finally, military slang, and the one-word prank that sends Army recruits running--or at least the ones who are in on the joke! Also: fanboys, technophyte, galoot, landsickness, to have one's habits on, Zonk!, and a sciurine eulogy.
 
FULL DETAILS
 
On our Facebook group, a listener asks if anyone else's children have been taught the term fanboy, meaning "coordinating conjunction." These connecting words include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, and a helpful way to remember them is with the acronym FANBOYS.
 
A Huntsville, Alabama, listener says that when someone was being abrasive or mean or defiant, her mother would say she's got her habits on. This phrase appears in the work of many blues singers, including Lucille Bogan and Bessie Smith, and writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston.
 
A vast Corinthian column. A fair, flaxen-haired sister with golden ringlets. An old citizen of the town. A harp upon which the wind makes music. An athlete that shows its well-developed muscles. A great green feather stuck in the ground. These are all phrases that Henry David Thoreau used in his journals to describe what familiar sight?
 
A woman in Fort Worth, Texas, wonders if she's alone in using the phrase single as a jaybird to describe herself as unpartnered. The far more common phrase is naked as a jaybird, which is of uncertain origin, but which may stem from a young jay's featherless appearance.
 
A man who's not so handy with computers described himself not as a technophobe, but as a technophyte--a misapprehension of the components of the term neophyte, a word stemming from Greek words meaning "newly planted."
 
Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a puzzle inspired by the word age, featuring punny, one-word answers that end in -age and answer a question, such as "How old do you have to be to study podiatry"?  
 
What's the best way to learn lots of new vocabulary while studying for a test like the GRE?
 
A man in Rupert, Vermont, says his wife affectionately calls him a big galooly. It's unclear where that word might have come from, although it might derive from galoot.
 
Spread out like a week's washing is a colloquial way to describe something extending far and wide.
 
In Kansas, the gravelly residue from mines is often called chat, or less commonly, chert.
 
The German word for "mnemonic device" is Eselsbrucke, or literally, "donkey bridge."
 
Grant has two recommendations for young readers: Full of Beans, by Jennifer L. Holm, and the Lumberjanes series, by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen.
 
A listener in Fort Rucker, Alabama, remembers a prank played on new Army recruits: when a sergeant barked the order Zonk!, all the seasoned soldiers would fall out of formation and run away, leaving the newbies to wonder what was going on.
 
What's for the word for when you get off a boat, but still feel like you're moving? It's called landsickness. A more severe version is mal de debarquement, French for "sickness from disembarkation," abbreviated MdDS.
 
A theater professor who has cast many students in productions wonders about the past tense of the verb to cast. Is it cast or casted?
 
A listener in Bonifay, Florida, says when she was young and asked her mother what she was doing, her mother would respond I'm stacking greased bb's with boxing gloves on. This nonsensical phrase is part of a long tradition of parents brushing off inquiries with creative responses, including layoes to catch medlars and I'm sewing buttons on ice cream.
 
In the early 18th century, squirrels were popular pets in Britain and the American colonies. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once wrote a grand eulogy for a girl's pet squirrel named Mungo. The adjective sciurine means "referring or pertaining to squirrels."

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Hot Dog Cold Turkey - 29 May 2017

May 29, 2017 51:01

Description:

Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we say they quit "cold turkey"? This term's roots may lie in the history of boxing. Plus, a transgender listener with nieces and nephews is looking for a gender-neutral term for the sibling of one's parent. Finally, the words "barber" and "doctor" don't necessarily mean what you think. They can both be weather words, referring to very different types of wind.  

FULL DETAILS

Brickfielder, Simoom, and Haboob are all types of winds. Others include snow eater and chinook.

Why do we call a frankfurter a hot dog? In the late 19th century, hot dog was a jocular reference to rumors that these sausages were stuffed with dog meat. They were also called hot pups.

Say you're introducing someone to a married heterosexual couple, and both members of the couple are physicians. What titles should you use? This is Dr. and Dr. Jones? Dr. and Mrs.? What if one holds Ph.D.? What if both hold doctorates?

Here's a humorous take on how optimists differ from pessimists.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been swapping out letters on Broadway marquees to create the names of entirely new theatrical productions. For example, what Broadway play might you be watching if it's about a famous woman who leaves her career as a sharpshooter for a job at McDonald's?

The grandmother of a woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says tousled hair looks like a Hoorah's nest. Also spelled hurrah's nest or hooraw's nest, this means "an untidy mess" or "a commotion." Its origin is uncertain. In 1829, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described someone as having a head like a hurra's nest. The term's origin is obscure, although it might have to do with the nest of an imaginary creature.

A transgender and gender-nonconforming listener wonders if there's a gender-neutral term for "aunt" or "uncle." Some people have suggested pibling, meaning the "sibling of one's parent." Others have proposed baba, titi, bibi, zizi, unty or untie, or simply cousin. In the same way that kids often come up with a pet name for their grandparents, perhaps nieces and nephews (or nieflings, as they're sometimes collectively called) will come up with their own term. The tumblr Gender Queeries has more suggestions for all kinds of gender-neutral words denoting kinship.

A thesaurus, a collection of synonyms, derives from the Latin word thesaurus, or literally, "treasury."

A San Antonio, Texas, man says his 6-year-old son wonders: If the plural of house is houses, why is the plural of mouse mice? And why is the plural of tooth teeth? These plurals are vestiges of a time when the middle vowel sound in some nouns changed to form the plural. Other old plural forms are reflected in such words as children and oxen.

"A cool wind" or "a wind that brings good health" is sometimes called a doctor, such as the Freemantle Doctor of Western Australia. A barber wind is a harsh wind so cold and wet it can freeze a person's hair and beard.

Jessica Goodfellow spent several weeks as an artist-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska while finishing her latest book, Whiteout. The poems in this collection explore the stark natural beauty of that mountain, which drew her uncle there for a climb that turned out to be deadly. Martha shares one of those poems, "The Magpie."

When you quit something abruptly, you're said to quit cold turkey. This expression's origin is unknown, although its earliest recording uses are from 19th-century boxing.

A listener in Port Washington, Wisconsin asks: When is it appropriate to get rid of an old edition of a dictionary?

The cloth case for a pillow is variously known as a pillowcase, a pillow slip, or a pillow cover.

An Evansville, Indiana, says she responds to the question How are you? with a phrase she adopted from her grandmother: If I was any better, I'd be twins. There are several versions along these lines: If I was any better, I'd be you; If I was any better, there'd be two of me; If I was any better, I'd be dangerous, and If I was any better, vitamins would be taking me. In all of these jokey responses, the meaning is straightforward. It's simply that the speaker is doing very well indeed.

Kapai is a Maori term used in New Zealand meaning "good."

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Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 22 May 2017

May 22, 2017 51:01

Description:

A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation. Finally, the words "coffee" and "sugar" both come from Arabic, as does another familiar word: ghoul. There's a spooky story about its origin. Also, freckle, diamond in the rough, spur of the moment, literary limericks, the pronunciation of divisive, and a cold vs. the flu. 

FULL DETAILS


In 1936, newspapers across the United States breathlessly reported on a new craze sweeping the nation: knock-knock jokes -- and they were at least as corny as today's version.

A seventh-grader from Colorado wonders where the word freckle comes from. This word's origin is a bit murky, but appears to be related to old Scandinavian term rooted in the idea of "scattering," like the seeds that freckles resemble. The German word for these bits of pigment is Sommersprossen, literally, "summer sprouts."

A native New Yorker who lived as a boy with his grandmother in South Carolina recalls coming home late one day and offering a long-winded excuse, prompting his grandmother to declare, Boy, you're as deep as the sea! She probably meant simply that he was in deep trouble.

Our earlier conversation about the word ruminate prompts a Fort Worth, Texas, listener to send a poem that his aunt, an elementary-school teacher, made him memorize as a child:  A gum-chewing boy and a cud-chewing cow / To me, they seem alike somehow / But there's a difference -- I see it now / It's the thoughtful look on the face of the cow.

What's the meaning of the phrase diamond in the rough? Does it refer to a rose among thorns, to unrealized potential? The phrase derives from the diamond industry, where a diamond in the rough is one taken from the ground but still unpolished. The word diamond is an etymological relative of adamant, meaning "unbreakable," as well as adamantine, which means the same thing.

Looking for an extremely silly knock-knock joke? Here's one that's as silly as they come:

Knock, knock. Who's there? Cows go. Try figuring out the rest.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's challenge involves phrases of two words, each of which ends in the letter a. For example, if you mix nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, you get a yellow, fuming, corrosive liquid that eats metals, even gold. What's it called?

A listener in Hartland, Vermont, has a 25-year-old African parrot named Trouble, and says he's often asked about the bird's vocabulary and how the two of them communicate, which raises the question "What is a word?" Grant argues that the better question is "Does this bird have a language?" and the answer is no. For example, the bird might associate an object with a particular word, but wouldn't understand pronouns, nor would the bird be able to comprehend recursive statements that contain ideas embedded in ideas.

Before knock-knock jokes swept the country in 1936, another silly parlor game called Handies was all the rage.

To do something on the spur of the moment, or to "act spontaneously," comes from the idea of using a sharp device to urge on a horse.

The English language includes several words deriving from Arabic, such as coffee, sugar, and giraffe. Another is ghoul, which comes from an Arabic term for a "shapeshifting demon."

How do you pronounce the second syllable in the word divisive? This question divides lots of English speakers. Either is fine, but the use of a short i is more recent, first recorded in dictionaries in 1961.

Why do we say someone has a cold when we say someone else has the flu, and another person has croup?

A listener in Abu Dhabi responded to our request for literary limericks with one of her own. It starts with "There once was a lass on a ledge … "

A bank teller suffered a brain injury and now sometimes finds it hard to remember simple words. She wants a succinct way to explain to her customers why she's having difficulty.

Some knock-knock jokes stir the emotions, including Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo ...

A woman in Middlesex, Vermont, says that when she was a girl her parents sometimes described her as porky, but they weren't referring to her appearance -- they meant she was acting rebelliously. This use of the word might be related to pawky, or "impertinent," in British English.

Don't worry, be happy -- or, as a quote attributed to Montaigne goes, My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.
 
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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Hell For Leather (Rebroadcast) - 15 May 2017

May 15, 2017 51:01

Description:

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it ever okay to call someone a lady? Or is woman always the better term? Plus, surprising stories behind some familiar car brands. Chances are you've been stopped in traffic behind a car named for an ancient Persian deity -- or passed by an automobile that takes its name from a bilingual pun involving German and Latin.



FULL DETAILS




The 1909 volume Passing English of the Victorian Era by J. Redding Ware has a wealth of slang terms from that era. One entry even includes musical notation for Please mother open the door, a slang phrase that was sung, rather than spoken, to express admiration for a woman.

A 13-year-old from San Diego, California, wonders: Why do we call that breakfast staple toast instead of, say, toasted bread? It's natural to find shortcuts for such terms; we've also shortened pickled cucumbers to just pickles.

A wise Spanish proverb, Cada cabeza es un mundo, translates as "Every head is a world," meaning we each have our own perspective.

A caller from Long Beach, California, say hell for leather describes "a reckless abandonment of everything but the pursuit of speed." But why hell for leather? The expression seems to have originated in the mid-19th century, referencing the wear and tear on the leather from a rough ride on horseback at breakneck speed. But similar early versions include hell falleero and hell faladery. There's also hell for election, which can mean the same thing, and appears to be a variation of hell-bent for election.  

Amazingly few discotheques provide jukeboxes. The job requires extra pluck and zeal from every young wage-earner. Both of those sentences are pangrams, meaning they use every letter of the alphabet. Our Facebook group has been discussing these and lots of other alternatives to the old typing-teacher classic The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy, sleeping dog.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has designed a puzzle inspired by the movie Finding Dory about two language experts who journey around the ocean looking for le mot juste. For example, what sea creature whose name literally means "daughter of the wind"?

When is it appropriate to refer to someone a lady? Is woman a better word to use? Is it ever appropriate to refer to adult females as girls? It all depends on context -- who's doing the talking and who's doing the listening.

As Mark Twain observed, The compliment that helps us on our way is not the one that is shut up in the mind, but the one that is spoken out. Martha describes a compliments challenge that her friends are taking up on Facebook, with happy results.

A Dallas, Texas, caller says his girlfriend from a rural part of his state has an unusual way of pronouncing certain words. Email sounds like EE-mill, toenail like TOW-nell, and tell-tale like TELL-tell. These sounds are the result of a well-known feature of language change known as a vowel merger.

Riddle time! I exist only when there's light, but direct light kills me. What am I?

The stories behind the brand names of automobiles is sometimes surprising. The name of the Audi derives from a bilingual pun involving a German word, and Mazda honors the central deity of Zoroastrianism, with which the car company's founder had a fascination.

A high-school teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, wonders about the origin of the term honky. This word is widely considered impolite, and likely derives from various versions of the term hunky or hunyak used to disparage immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Lots of foods are named for what happens to them. Mozzarella comes from an Italian word that means "cut," feta cheese takes its name from a Greek word meaning the same thing, and schnitzel derives from a German word that also means "to cut."

Why do some people pronounce the word sandwich as SANG-wich or SAM-mitch or SAM-widge?

In the 19th century, the slang term door-knocker referred to a beard-and-mustache combo that ringed the mouth in the shape of a metal ring used to tap on a door.

A Canadian-born caller says her mother, who is from Britain, addresses her grandson as booby.  
In The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, researchers Iona and Peter Opie write that booby is a children's term for "a foolish crybaby," which may be connected.


The 1909 slang collection Passing English of the Victorian Era defines the phrase to introduce shoemaker to tailor this way: "Evasive metaphor for fundamental kicking." In other words, to introduce shoemaker to tailor means to give someone a swift kick in the pants.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Skedaddle - 8 May 2017

May 8, 2017 51:01

Description:

The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten." So why don't their names correspond to where they fall in the year? The answer lies in an earlier version of the Roman calendar. The sweltering period called the "dog days" takes its name from the movements of a certain star.
A new book offers an insider's view of the world of dictionary editing.

FULL DETAILS

You're trying to unscrew the stubborn lid on a jar of pickles and ask someone to hand you that flat, round, rubber thing that helps you get it open. What do you call that item? In a discussion on our Facebook group, listeners share several names, including rubber husband, second husband, rubber grippy thing, and round tuit.

A surfer in Imperial Beach, California, wonders who coined the word gnarly to describe waves that are particularly challenging. This term may have originated in the slang of surfers in South Africa in the 1970s, and eventually spread into everyday slang.

The slang term sky hag was originally a negative appellation for an older flight attendant. But it's now being reclaimed by longtime airline employees as a positive self-descriptor.

A woman in Mammoth Lakes, California, says her father used to offer this advice: In promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, beware of preposterous ponderosities. In other words, don't use big words. This particular phrase and variations of it were passed around in 19th century, much like internet memes today.

Gram weenie is a slang term for an ultralight backpacker who goes to extreme lengths to shave off every last bit of weight they must carry.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares puzzle called "Blank in the Blank." For example, what classic toddler's toy shares its name with a fast-food restaurant?

A college student in Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the origin of the word emoji. Although you might guess that the name for these little pictures inserted into text messages contains the English word emotion, that's just a coincidence. Instead, the word derives from Japanese e meaning "picture" and moji, meaning "letter" or "character."

The phrase to be nebby is heard particularly in Western Pennsylvania, and means to be "picky" or "gossipy." Originally, it meant "nosy" or "snooping." Nebby is a vestige of Scots-Irish, where the word neb means "nose" or "beak."

Some parents take homeschooling a step further with world-schooling, or educating children through shared travel experiences.

A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls hearing the term las caniculas to denote a period of 12 days in January where the weather seems to run the gamut of all the kinds of weather that will be experienced in the coming year. This period is also known as las cabanuelas. Canicula derives from Latin for "little dog," a reference to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which at a certain time of the year appears in the eastern horizon just before sunrise, appearing to accompany the sun like a faithful pup. There's a great deal of folklore associated with la canicula, a term applied at different times in different Spanish-speaking countries. In English, this period in late summer is known as the dog days.

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, is a must-read for anyone interested in language and how dictionaries are made.

The months September, October, November, and December derive from Latin words that mean "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten" respectively. So why are they applied to the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months of the year? The answer lies in the messy history of marking the year, described in detail in David Duncan's book, Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.

A sneck is a kind of latch. A listener in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says his British relatives use the term snecklifter is sometimes used to mean "a gift that will get you in the door at a dinner party."

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter in Lakeland, Florida, also teaches classes on chainsaw safety, and wants to make sure he's using gender-neutral pronouns when doing so. The epicene pronoun they will work just fine.

The origin of skedaddle, meaning to "run away in a panic" or "flee," has proved elusive. Renowned etymologist Anatoly Liberman suggests it may be related to a Scottish term, skeindaddle, meaning "to spill." Its popularity in the United States took off during the Civil War.

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Pop Stand (Rebroadcast) - 1 May 2017

May 1, 2017 51:01

Description:

When it comes to learning new things, what's on your bucket list? A retired book editor decided to try to learn Latin, and ended up learning a lot about herself. There's a word for someone who learns something late in life. And when it comes to card games, how is it that the very same game goes lots of different names? What you call Canfield, other people may call Nertz! Finally, a bit of vulture culture: Words for these birds depend on what they're doing: A kettle of vultures is swirling in the air, while a group of vultures standing around eating is called … a wake. Plus, cat's eyes, Bott's dots, dumpster fire, spagglers, Dan Ratherisms, pussle-gut, and let's blow this pop stand.


FULL DETAILS

A restaurant review in the Myanmar Times describes a steak that "could not have been more middle-of-the-road if it was glued to a cat's eye." This analogy makes sense only if you know that cat's eye is a term for the reflective studs in the middle of a road that help drivers stay in their own lanes.

Card games often go by several different names, like Canfield and Nertz, or Egyptian Racehorse and Egyptian Rat Screw, or B.S. and Bible Study. These names, and the rules for each, vary because they're more often passed from person to person by word-of-mouth rather than codified in print. Incidentally, the use of the word Egyptian in various card game names stems from the fact that playing cards supposedly originated in Egypt.

A woman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, say that there, if someone's fly is open, instead of saying XYZ for Examine Your Zipper, many people say Kennywood is open. Kennywood, it turns out, is a nearby amusement park.

A San Diego, California, woman is baffled by her husband's saying: If a frog had a pouch, he'd carry a gun. It has to do with wishing for the impossible, similar to the saying If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. It's one of many Dan Ratherisms, folksy sayings popularized by the Texas-born CBS newscaster.

The trendy term dumpster fire, meaning "a chaotically horrible situation," may have originated with sportswriters.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's quiz is a challenge to find the odd word out, etymologically speaking. For example, which word doesn't belong in the following group? Bigot, saloon, quiche, tornado.

In Spanish, mordida literally means "a bite," but it's a kind of bribe. It predates the English phrase put the bite on someone by more than a hundred years. One proposed etymology for the Spanish term is that divers rescuing treasure from wrecked Spanish galleons were allowed, on their final dive, to keep as many coins as they could bring up crammed into their mouths. Another story goes that the underlings of a Spanish nobleman collected a special tax to help pay for his extensive dental work, then simply continued the practice after the work was paid for. Both of these colorful stories are probably too colorful to be believed. Mordida! is also a popular cry at birthday celebration in parts of Latin America, where the birthday boy or girl is encouraged by cheering guests to plunge face first into a cake.

A listener in Abilene, Texas, says that his Maryland relatives always referred to asparagus as spagglers, so he was shocked when he got to college and realized no one else knew what he was talking about. This vegetable goes by lots of other names, including spargus, spiro grass, asper guts, dusty roots, and aspirin grass. In upstate New York, it's even called Martha Washington or Mary Washington.

No word if Dan Rather coined this phrase, but shakier than cafeteria jello describes something that's pretty jiggly indeed.

Is it a pitched battle or a pitch battle? Originally, a pitched battle was conducted according to traditional rules of warfare, which called for combat in a prearranged time and place. The pitch in this term has to do with positioning, in much the same sense as to pitch a tent.

Bott's dots are little round pavement markers, named for California highway engineer Elbert D. Botts.

Having retired as a New York book editor, and looking for a way to fill her time, Ann Patty embarked on the study of college-level Latin. She chronicles those studies and the life lessons learned in Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin. Someone who begins to learn late in life is called an opsimath. What's on your opsimathic bucket list?

A caller from Vermont says his Mississippi-born grandfather always called him a pussle-gut, and admonish him about an unseen wampus cat. The former, also spelled puzzle-gut, simply means "a fat or pot-bellied person," the pussle being related to pus, as in the bodily ooze. American folklore is full of stories about the wampus cat, a terrifying, hybrid mythical creature.  

A listener in Springfield, Illinois, recalls that an elderly relative would respond to the question "How are you?" with the answer Forked end down. By that, he meant, "I'm fine." If you've ever drawn a stick figure, you know that the forked end is where the feet are, so forked end down means someone's feet are firmly planted on the ground. In the American West, forked end up long referred to the unfortunate position of a rider thrown from a horse.  

A hike in San Diego's Mission Trails Regional Park has Martha pondering terms for turkey vultures. A flock of vultures in flight is called a kettle, a committee, or a volt, while a group of vultures feeding on carrion is called a wake.

Let's blow this popsicle stand is an adaptation of Let's blow this pop stand, meaning to leave a place, and in a way that's showy. Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

The glow in the eyes of some animals is called eyeshine, and the adjective that describes such shimmering in a cat's eyes is chatoyant, from French for "cat."

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Coast Is Clear - 24 April 2017

Apr 24, 2017 51:01

Description:

In the military, if you've "lost the bubble," then you can't find your bearings. The term first referred to calibrating the position of aircraft and submarines. And the phrase "the coast is clear" may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. Plus, a dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado dip. Finally, one more place where people are starting sentences with the word "So"--during prayers at church. Also: elbow clerk, smitten, Tennyson's brook, fussbudget vs. fuss-bucket, clinomania, and 50k south of Woop Woop.


FULL DETAILS

Our conversation about goofy German Antiwitze prompts listeners to send in their own silly jokes. For example: What's the difference between a duck? A pencil, because a duck has no sleeves!

A brother and sister in Elgin, Illinois, disagree about how to pronounce guacamole. She argues that it rhymes with whack-a-mole. She's wrong.

Speaking to a conference of judges and lawyers, Grant learns the term elbow clerk, meaning a clerk who works in the judge's chambers.

A woman in Vancouver, Washington, wants to know the origin of the phrase the coast is clear, meaning "it's safe to proceed." It most likely has to do with a literal coast, whether from the perspective of a ship at sea or guards patrolling the shoreline. The Spanish equivalent No hay Moros en la costa translates literally as "There are no Moors on the coast."

Why does it seem that more and more people start responses to a question with the word So? After hearing our discussion about sentence-initial so, a Nashville, Tennessee, churchgoer calls to say that he often hears something similar at the beginning of a prayer after a sermon or to conclude a service.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about people whose names are words. For example, if he asks, "Is the comedian who was one of the Three Amigos vertically challenged?" you'd answer with name of a funny man whose last name is also an adjective.

A woman who is fond of the word smitten is curious about about the word's origin. Smitten is the past participle of "smite," so if you're smitten with someone, you're struck by them, metaphorically speaking.

A San Antonio, Texas, woman who has taught at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, says one of her Spanish-speaking students taught her the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black: el conejo gritando orejon, which translates literally as "the rabbit yelling 'big ears.'"

A listener in Marquette, Michigan, says her daughters criticize her for saying Where you at? They argue that the word at in this case is unnecessary. In many cases, this phrase is indeed a pleonasm, but Grant explains that in some contexts this use of the word at plays a particular linguistic role to convey additional meaning.

In response to our conversation about euphemistic terms for one's age, a listener says that he fudged his age on his last big birthday by telling friends he'd turned 21 in Celsius.

Two-hander is theater jargon for a play that features just two people.

The expression on and on like Tennyson's brook describes something lengthy or seemingly interminable, like a long-winded speaker who goes on and on like Tennyson's brook. The phrase is a reference to a lovely poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about the course of a body of water.

To lose the bubble means "to lose track" or "lose one's bearings," and refers to the bubble in an inclinometer on an airplane or ship, much like the bubble in a carpenter's level. It's described in detail in Gene Rochlin's Trapped in the Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization.

In Australian slang, Woop Woop is a joking term for any remote town, and if you want to denote someplace even more remote, you can describe it as 50k south of Woop Woop.

A fussbudget is someone who's "ill-tempered" or "overly critical," the -budget in this term deriving from an old word for "purse" or "pouch." Variants include fussy-budget, fuss-a-budget, and fussbucket.

The words clinomania and dysania both refer to extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the morning.

If the car you bought is a lemon, it's defective. This negative use of lemon derives from the tart taste of this fruit, which first inspired an association with a sourpuss, then a generally disappointing person, and then finally a similarly disappointing product.

--

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Punch List (Rebroadcast) - 17 April 2017

Apr 17, 2017 51:01

Description:

Books for sale, books for free, and wisdom passed down through the ages. Libraries aren't just repositories for books -- they're often a great place to find gently used volumes for sale. Or you can always visit a "little free library," one of those neighborhood spot dedicated to recycling your own books, and picking up new ones for free. Plus: "When two elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers" -- weighty proverbs from East Africa. Finally, the United States and the UK are separated by more than a common language: the way we talk about numbers is also surprisingly different, depending on which side of the pond you're on. Also: I don't know him from Adam, stargazy pie, my dogs are barking, and cheiloproclitic. Ruminate on that!

FULL DETAILS

The stunning play Our Lady of Kibeho, set in Rwanda, includes some powerful East African proverbs gathered by playwright Katori Hall, such as A flea can bother a lion, but a lion cannot bother a flea, and When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

A caller from Deer River, Minnesota, has lots of experience raising ruminants and wonders if the word ruminate, as in "to ponder or muse about something" stems from the image of such an animal chewing regurgitated cud. Indeed it does. In classical Latin, the word ruminare could mean either "to chew cud" or "to turn over in one's mind." Similarly, the English verb to browse originally referred to the action of an animal feeding on the buds and leaves of trees and bushes.

The phrase I don't know him from Adam suggests that if the person were standing next to the person in Western tradition thought to be earliest human being, the two would be indistinguishable. The phrase I don't know her from Adam can be used to refer to a woman who is similarly unrecognizable, but it's less common. Another variation: I wouldn't know him from Adam's off ox.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski invites us to a party to meet all of his dear "aunties" -- as in the "auntie" who makes sure your oily hair doesn't mess up the furniture.

Since the 1930's the term punch list has referred to a list of things to do, or a list of problems to fix. Although there are many proposed explanations for the origin of this term, none is definitive.

A caller from Tampa, Florida, talks about the eerie feeling she had when she heard an audio interview recorded with a speaker who at the time was unaware of his imminent death. She'd like a word to describe that feeling. Postalgia, maybe?

An Alabama woman says Minnesota-born husband has never heard an expression she's used all her life. The phrase is smell the patching, as in If he's not careful, he's going to smell the patching. The idea is that if you do something bad, it will catch up with you. In the early 19th century, patching was the piece of cloth used to tamp down gunpowder in firearms. If you're close enough to a battle to smell the patching, you're pretty darn close.

The Little Free Library movement offers a great way to unload some of your old books and discover some ones that someone else has left for the taking.

A listener in Hartford, Connecticut, is sure he's heard a word that means "an erotic attraction to lips." The word is cheiloproclitic, from ancient Greek words that mean "inclined toward lips." Grant offers a couple of other terms, jolie laide, French for "beautiful ugly," and cacocallia, from Greek words that mean roughly the same thing.

Those of us in the United States and Britain may be separated by a common language, but we're also separated when it comes to how we indicate numbers. A Numberphile video featuring linguist Lynne Murphy explains this in more depth.

If you think stargazy pie sounds romantic, you'd better be charmed by egg-and-potato pie with fish heads sticking out of it.

My dogs are barking means "My feet hurt" or "My feet are tired." As early as 1913, cartoonist Tad Dorgan was using the term dogs to mean "feet." If your "dogs" in this sense are "barking," it's as if they're seeking your attention.

In an earlier episode, we discussed visual signals used in deafening environments such as sawmills. One signal, developed in a textile mill, was holding up both hands, fingertips up and palms out, miming a gesture of pushing. That pushing motion translated to, of course, The boss, as in The boss is coming, so look sharp!

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Sweet Dreams (Rebroadcast) - 10 April 2017

Apr 9, 2017 51:01

Description:

In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weekend went to when the boss is on his way. Plus, English speakers borrowed the words lieutenant and precipice from French, and made some changes along the way, but not in ways you might suspect. Finally, how do you pronounce the name of the New York concert hall you can reach with lots of practice? Is it CAR-neg-ghee Hall … or Car-NEG-ghee? Plus, no great shakes, Gomer, a limerick about leopards, foafiness, and sleep in the arms of Morpheus.

FULL DETAILS

Try this tricky puzzle: Take the words new door and rearrange their letters into one word.

How do you pronounce the name Carnegie? The Scottish industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, pronounced it with an accent on the second syllable, as his namesake the Carnegie Corporation of New York takes pains to make clear. Good luck explaining that to New Yorkers, though. They may know that the famous concert venue is named in his honor, but it's become traditional to stress the first syllable in Carnegie Hall. In the 19th century, people would have encountered his name in print first rather than hearing it by radio broadcast and incorrectly surmised it was CAR-neh-ghee, not car-NEH-ghee.

A Dallas woman says that when she rebukes the advances of the courtly old gent she's dating, he apologizes with the words I'm sorry for losing my faculties. Using the term my faculties in this sense is not all that common, but understandable if you think of one's faculties as "the ability to control impulses and behavior."

Foafiness, which derives from friend of a friend, is the condition of knowing a lot about someone even though you've never actually met, such as when you feel like you know a friend's spouse or children solely because you've read so much about them on Facebook. But is there a term for "experiential foafiness," when you feel like you've visited someplace but then realize you've only read about it or seen it in a video?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski brings a quiz based on what editors for the Oxford English Dictionary say are the 100 Most Common Words in English.

Is it okay use the word ask as a noun, as in What's our ask going to be? Or should we substitute the word question or request? Actually, the noun ask has handy applications in the world of business and fundraising, where it has a more specific meaning. It's taken on a useful function in the same way as other nouns that started as verbs, including reveal, fail, and tell.

A Burlington, Vermont, listener says that when he was a boy, his dad used to call him a little Gomer. It's a reference to the 1960's sitcom "Gomer Pyle," which featured a bumbling but good-hearted U.S. Marine from the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina. As a result, the name Gomer is now a gently derogatory term for "rube" or "hick."

Glenn Reinhardt and his 8-year-old daughter Camryn of San Antonio, Texas, co-authored a limerick that makes clever use of the words leopard, shepherd, and peppered.
 
A native French speaker wants clarification about the use of the word precipice in English.

A listener in Lashio, Myanmar, reports that a term of endearment in the local language translates as "my little liver."  

In deafening industrial workplaces, such as textile factories and sawmills, workers often develop their own elaborate system of sign language, communicating everything from how their weekend went or to straighten up because the boss is coming.

The phrase no great shakes means "no great thing" or "insignificant." The term may have arisen from the idea of shaking dice and then having a disappointing toss. If so, it would fall into a long line of words and phrases arising from gambling. Or it may derive from an old sense of the word shake meaning "swagger" or "boast."  

A listener in Montreal, Canada, asks: How do you pronounce lieutentant? The British say LEF-ten-ant, while Americans say LOO-ten-ant. In the United States, Noah Webster insisted on the latter because it hews more closely to the word's etymological roots, the lieu meaning "place" and lieutenant literally connoting a "placeholder," that is, an officer carrying out duties on behalf of a higher-up.

Why doesn't an usher ush? The word goes all the way back to Latin os, meaning "mouth," and its derivative ostium, meaning "door." An usher was originally a servant in charge of letting people in and out of a door.

A San Diego woman says her mother always tucked her into bed with the comforting wish, Sweet dreams, and rest in the arms of Morpheus. This allusion to mythology evokes a time when people were more familiar with Greek myth, and the shape-shifting god Morpheus who ruled over sleep and dreams and inspired both the word metamorphosis and the name of the sleep-inducing drug, morphine.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Gone To Seed - 3 April 2017

Apr 3, 2017 51:01

Description:

Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. Some restaurants now advertise that they sell "clean" sandwiches. But that doesn't mean they're condiment-free or the lettuce got an extra rinse. In the food industry, the word "clean" is taking on a whole new meaning. Plus, a Marine veteran wonders about a phrase he heard often while serving in Vietnam: "give me a Huss," meaning "give me a hand." Finally, some surprising idioms used in Greece today. For example, what does a Greek person mean if he tells you "I ate a door"?

FULL DETAILS

In English, the expression keep your eyes peeled means "pay close attention" or "be on the lookout." In Modern Greek, the equivalent is ta matia sou dekatessera, literally, "your eyes fourteen." In Greece today, if you've been rejected you might say so with a phrase that translates as "I ate a door." If you've been looking for someone for a very long time, you might say Efaga ton kosmo na se vro, the equivalent of "I ate the world to find you."
A listener in New York City asks: Why do we say yesterday but not yesterweek?

The phrase ignorance gone to seed invokes an agricultural metaphor. Picture a field that is so far gone it's no longer flowering and is now beyond the point of further cultivation.

If someone feigns ignorance, a Greek might describe him with an expression that translates as "He pretends to be a duck."

Unless you're having a bad dream about equine creatures, a nightmare doesn't have anything to do with horses. The mare in nightmare comes from an old word that means "goblin."

In Modern Greek, if you want to say something is "fantastic," "out of this world," or otherwise "terrific," you can say Den iparchei!, which literally means "It doesn't exist!"

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's challenge requires removing an initial letter from one word to form a two-word rhyme. For example, what two rhyming words are suggested by the clue "I'd like to try that ice cream, but you didn't give me enough"?

A Marine Corps veteran in Omaha, Nebraska, is puzzled by a phrase he often heard during his service in Vietnam: give me a huss, meaning "give me a hand" or "help me." One strong theory for its origin involves a type of helicopter known as the Huss, described in the book Marines and Helicopters 1962-1973, by William Fails.

Some people, particularly younger folks, are adamant that the term belligerent means "drunk." It's a misanalysis of the word, perhaps associating being intoxicated with being ready to fight. Instead, belligerent derives from the Latin word bellum, meaning "war," also found in bellicose, and the term applied to that period before a war, particularly the U.S. Civil war, antebellum.

A woman in Carmel, Indiana, wonders about the use of the verb kimble to mean a certain kind of "strutting." Kimbling is that proud, confident way of walking you might associate with Barack Obama or Denzel Washington. But its origin is unclear.

Second-acting, the once-common practice of sneaking in to see the second act of a Broadway show for free by mixing in with paying patrons outside at intermission, largely ended as theaters began tightening their security and fewer people step outside for a cigarette.

What is the plural of attorney general? Attorneys general or attorney generals?

The word clean, as in clean food, has taken on a whole new life as a buzzword describing food free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, or added color. A restaurant chain now boasts clean sandwiches, and the topic is now covered by the magazine Clean Eating.

Scobolotch is a term used in Wisconsin for the mayfly, and may derived from a Native American language. Variants include scobblotcher and skoplotch. This short-lived insect goes by many other names, including Green Bay fly and Canadian soldier.

The words flet and dray, or drey, refer to types of squirrel's nests.

Why don't we pronounce the letter b in the word subtle? The word derives ultimately from Latin subtilis, meaning "fine, delicate," and was adopted into Middle English from Old French as sotil. The b was later added back in so that the spelling reflected the word's original Latin roots, but the pronunciation continued to lack the b sound.

The mayfly, that insect whose time is up in a mere 24 hours or so, goes by many other names, including bay fly, cisco fly, drake fly, dun, eel fly, fish fly, flying clipper, green fly, July fly, June bu, June fly, and more.

Spondulix, also spelled spondulicks, is a slang term for money. Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn, although it had been around for a while before that. The word may derive from the Greek word spondylos, meaning "vertebra" or "spine," suggesting the similarity between a column of those round bones and of a stack of coins.

The Spanish phrase tiene mas lana que un borrego means someone is quite wealthy. Literally, the phrase means "he has more wool than a lamb."

--

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