Remember a few years ago when Amazon introduced that mysterious device called a Kindle? People worried that electronic readers would replace traditional books. Turns out the death of the hardcover was greatly exaggerated. Also, the expression “bump and grind” doesn’t always mean what you think. Plus, the origin of jet black, the roots of fugacious, a game called Goin’ to Texas, and how to punctuate the term y’all. And is there anything express about espresso?
This episode first aired March 1, 2013.
Remember the olden days of 2007, when Amazon first introduced the Kindle? Oprah named it her Favorite New Gadget. Some people thought e-readers signaled the death of hardback books, but as Nicholas Carr notes in the Wall Street Journal, only 16% of Americans have purchased an e-book, while 60% say they have no interest in them at all. What is clear is that no matter the medium, people are reading more in general.
“I don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump n’ grind,” sings the R&B star R. Kelly, referring to the hip-thrusting dance that’s all the rage with kids these days. While some people use the phrase the old bump and grind to refer to the daily grind of workaday life, it’s probably better not to use it unless your job involves, well, bumping and grinding.
Alan from Austin, Texas, asks: How do y’all punctuate the contraction of you all? Is it y’all or ya’ll? You’d think it’d follow the pattern of she’ll and we’ll, but y’all is an exception to the rule.
A while ago we talked about the drink called a suicide, also known as a Matt Dillon. That’s when the bartender pours whatever’s dripped on the bar mat into a shot glass and some lucky fellow downs it. We’ve heard lots of variations from listeners, including the Jersey Turnpike, the Gorilla Fart, the Buffalo Tongue and the Alligator Shot. Strangely enough, it’s yet to be called the Tasty.
Our Master of Quiz John Chaneski has a game from his home borough of Brooklyn. For this quiz, he gives us the definition of a word, plus its Brooklynese definition. For example, “a couple with no children” and “a synonym of ponder” are both known as what?
Why do we say something is jet black? It doesn’t have anything to do with aircraft. The jet in jet black is the name of a black semi-precious stone, which in turn takes its name from the part of Syria where it was found in abundance in antiquity.
Dan Henderson of Sunnyvale, California, sent us a great cartoon of two guys at a bar. One says to the other, “Explain to me how comparing apples and oranges is fruitless?”
Is master a gender-neutral title? James from Seattle, Washington, hosts a local pub quiz night, where he’s known as the Quizmaster. But, he wonders, would it be appropriate to call a woman a Quizmaster? Of course! Many titles, like Postmaster or even actor, have come to be gender-neutral. We wouldn’t say Quizmistress because mistress has taken on a specific connotation–namely, the female lover of a married man. For more on gender and language, Grant recommends University of Michigan professor Ann Kurzan’s book Gender Shifts in the History of English.
Hey kid, hey kid, give ‘em the saliva toss, the perspiration pellet, the damp fling, deluded dip, the good ol’ fashioned spitball! An essay on baseball slang from 1907 sent Martha off on a search for more of these wet ones.
In Chicano English, the word barely, which traditionally means “just happened,” can also mean “almost didn’t happen,” as in I just barely got here. This locution apparently reflects the fact that in Spanish, the word apenas can mean either one of these. The Chicano use of the barely in this sense is a calque, or loan translation, which occurs when a pattern from one language gets transferred to another.
Our earlier conversation about sign language reminded Martha of this quote from Helen Keller: “Once I knew only darkness and stillness…my life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.”
One of our listeners was visiting the Orchid House at the San Diego Zoo and happened across the word fugacious, meaning “blooming only briefly.” The word can also apply to one’s mood, and shares a Latin root with “fleeting” words like refuge, fugitive and subterfuge.
Is there an express in espresso? Nope. Cafe espresso is literally “pressed-out coffee.” So the name espresso has nothing to do with the speed with which espresso is made. The term express, on the other hand, as in express train, derives from the idea of “directly,” or “specific to a particular destination.” It’s the same express as in expressly forbidden, meaning “specifically forbidden.”
Mary, from Royal Oaks, Michigan, says she once confused a friend by offering to relieve her of snow shoveling duties with the question, Can I spell you? This usage of spell, which refers to substituting for a period of time, has been deemed archaic by Merriam Webster, although we believe it’s alive and well.
Bill Watkins from Tallahassee, Florida, is having a tough time knowing which setting to use on his microwave. He figures this moment of indecision while standing there with your finger poised over the buttons deserves a name. His suggestion: microwavering.
What do you call that children’s game where you hold hands and spin around until you’re too dizzy to stand? Sally Jarvis, who grew up in Eastern Arkansas, says she and her childhood playmates called it Going To Texas.
Latin phrases are commonly misused, but there’s perhaps no better example than Vampire Butters’ butchering of per se, which simply means “in itself,” in this episode of South Park.
Photo by cstrom. Used under a Creative Commons license.