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Clean as a Whistle
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Finding that special bottle of wine can be tough, and even tougher if you’re not fluent in winespeak. “Strawberries, rhubarb, and hints of leather are present in the nose.” Say what? Plus, many folks wish each other “Merry Christmas.” But why don’t we use the word merry with anything else? Anyone ever wished you a “Merry Birthday”? Also, picks for Word of the Year 2012, and Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents his annual news of the year Limerick Challenge. And, do you pronounce the word scone to rhyme with “John” or “Joan”?

This episode first aired December 22, 2012.

Download the MP3.

Can a grenache really taste like strawberries, rhubarb, hints of leather and dutch cocoa, all over the course of a long swig? While it may sound ridiculous, it does pose the challenge: how would you describe a flavor? It’s not easy to talk about wine!

 Clean as the Sound of a Whistle
If something’s clean as a whistle, that doesn’t mean it’s shiny and spotless like a silver whistle in a referee’s mouth. The idiom refers to a whistling sound: That piercing noise is super-bright and finely edged on the ear.

 Stuck His Spoon in the Wall
If you say, “He stuck his spoon in the wall,” you mean that he died. In German, the person who’s deceased has passed along his spoon, and in Afrikaans, he’s jabbed his spoon into the ceiling. These expressions reflect the idea that eating is an essential part of life. An article in the British Medical Journal has a long list of euphemisms for dying, from the French avaler son extrait de naissance, “to swallow one’s birth certificate,” to the Portuguese phrase vestir pijama de madeira, “to wear wooden pajamas.”

 Why “Merry” Christmas?
Why must Christmas be merry, but no other holiday? What if you want a merry birthday? While merry‘s heyday was the 1800s, you still see the term, meaning “exuberant” or “joyful,” in phrases like go on your merry way or even merry-go-round.

 Get Another Rib
If a fellow’s getting married, you might say he’s getting himself another rib. What slang do you have for getting hitched?

 Limerick Word Game
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a news of the year Limerick Challenge fit for word lovers and news hounds alike. Try to finish this one: When they speak of their great virtuosity / The team does not speak with pomposity / NASA’s rolling in clover / They’ve delivered a rover / aptly named _______?

What’s the past tense of squeeze? Is it squeezed or squoze? While the former is the proper version, squoze is a real word used in several dialects. Ronald Reagan even used it in the 1980s.

 “When The Sky Falls…” Proverb
When the sky falls, we shall all catch larks. Or in other words, worrying about what’s going to happen won’t change it. If you’ve got a proverb you love, share it!

 Pronouncing “Scone”
Do you pronounce scone to rhyme with Joan or John? In Canada, about 40 percent of English speakers go for the soft o sound, as in John, compared to two third of those in the U.K. But in the United States, 90 percent rhyme it with Joan.

 Words of the Year 2012
Grant has compiled his ninth annual words-of-the-year piece for The New York Times Sunday Review section. Among these gems is the verb doxing, as in documenting someone’s life and share it on the web. What were your picks for the words of 2012?

 Bump! Thank You M’am
Do you have a saying for when you drive over a bump and plop back down? In the Northeast, it’s common to say thank you, ma’am, since the nodding motion of a head going over a bump is reminiscent of genteel greetings. It’s also known as a dipsy doodle, duck-and-dip, tickle bump, whoop-de-do, belly tickler, and how-do-you-do. Our favorite, though, is kiss-me-quick, a reference to seizing the opportunity when a bump in the road throws passengers closer together. The term goes back to the days of horse-drawn buggies.

Do you have a favorite word? Martha’s is mellifluous, which means pleasing to the ear, but goes back to the idea of flowing with honey. If you have a favorite word, take a picture of yourself holding it up and send it in to our Word Wall!

 Astonished by Wine
If you’re a wine connoisseur, do you remember the moment when it really clicked for you, when you could comprehend and describe the flavors of a wine? In his essay Wine and Astonishment, Andrew Jefford contends that every wine writer and wine lover should remember what it feels like to be astonished by wine. Jefford’s essay Source/The Wine Writer is Dead is also directed at wine writers, but contains good advice for anyone interested in crafting prose.

 Hobbies and Hobby Horse
What’s your hobby? Or, rather, do you call your interests or passions hobbies at all, or does the word hobby connote something frivolous or strangely obsessive? The term hobby goes back to a nickname for a horse, which transferred to the popular hobby horse toy for children, who’d play with it incessantly, the way one might obsessively fuss over model trains.

 Noisy River Proverb
A noisy river never drowned nobody. Throw that one back at a blowhard sometime!

 Advisor vs. Adviser
R. Alan Smith from San Diego, California, is a strategic advisor. Or is he an adviser? There’s been a shift over the years from the -er spelling to the -or, but we’re pleased to announce that despite the style guides, advisor is the overwhelmingly preferred version, and is absolutely correct!

 Higgs Boson
Among Grant’s word-of-the-year picks had to be Higgs boson, that fundamental particle of matter discovered by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

 Above Board
When something happens above board, it means things are clear and in the open. But this has nothing to do with being on board a ship. Rather, it comes from the term board meaning “table,” as in room and board, and has to do with poker players keeping their cards above the board, so as to prevent any underhanded sneaky stuff.

 Massive Online Open Courss
Any public-radio-listening polymath should know about MOOCs, or massive open online courses. These classes and lectures, often taught by the brightest minds at the most prestigious universities, are available online, often at no cost. They’re welcomed as a way for learning to reach people all over the world who’d never have to opportunity to learn this stuff otherwise.

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

Photo by Alex Brown. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Title Artist Album Label
Gentleman Fela Ransome Kuti and The Africa 70 Gentleman Barclay
Pot Likker Preston Love Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q Kent
Mellow (Version) Karl Hector and The Malcouns Sahara Swing Stones Throw
Shuffering and Smilling Fela Anikulapo Kuti and The Afrika 70 Shuffering and Smilling Coconut
Cool Ade Preston Love Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q Kent
Soul Liberation Rusty Bryant Soul Liberation Prestige
Mr. Follow Follow Fela Kuti Mr. Follow Follow Celluloid
Mystical Brotherhood Karl Hector and The Malcouns Sahara Swing Stones Throw
Boogie Music Thundermother No Red Rowan Kissing Spell
Fire Eater Rusty Bryant Fire Eater Prestige
Ga Gang Gang Goong Rusty Bryant Until It’s Time For You To Go Prestige
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
Ron Draney
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Grant Barrett said

If you say, “He stuck his spoon in the wall,” you mean that he died. In German, the person who’s deceased has passed along his spoon, and in Afrikaans, he’s jabbed his spoon into the ceiling. These expressions reflect the idea that eating is an essential part of life. An article in the British Medical Journal has a long list of euphemisms for dying, from the French avaler son extrait de naissance, “to swallow one’s birth certificate,” to the Portuguese phrase vestir pijama de madeira, “to wear wooden pajamas.”

If you collect euphemisms for death, you should stop by the Usenet group alt.obituaries some time. An MSN article in 2008 led off with:

Every day in America, folks buy the farm. Some cash in their chips, kick the bucket, croak, bite the
dust. Others enter into eternal life, make their transition, go home to be with the Lord.

To which one of the AO regulars added:

And others are simply NLSTP.

That stands for no longer shopping the Pig, a phrase from an earlier death notice observing that the deceased would never again be seen at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

Five years ago this coming New Year’s Day, a Polar Bear clubber in British Columbia drowned, from which obituary we extracted yet another colorful expression: kissed the inflatable octopus.

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As noted by this search, a pipe culvert is some-times, -places called a whistle. Its intention is to pass water without intending to make a sound. That definition is not contained in the OxED.

With a couple in the low-water bridge below my dad’s house, this summer’s deluges has a whole different connotation on the concept of a clean whistle. I have had to clean their openings several times to aid the water flowing under the road rather than over the low-water bridge. Several times it was unsafe to cross and one should, “Turn around; Don’t drown.”

So, “clean as a whistle” means something entirely different in this context.

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