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Crash Blossoms: When Words Collide (full episode)
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2009/12/12
10:23am
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This week, it's headlines that make you do a doubletake, like "Child's Stool Great for Use in Garden." Martha and Grant discuss a few of these bloopers, also known as crash blossoms. Also, if you unthaw something, are you freezing it or unfreezing it? Do hotcakes really sell that fast? What's the likelihood of getting people to use a new gender-neutral pronoun? And Grant shares the story behind the term knucklehead.

First aired December 12, 2009. Listen here:

[audio:http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~5/d0t1k7ziV4Q/100705-AWWW-crash-blossoms-when-words-collide.mp3

Download the MP3 here 23.5 MB).

To be automatically notified when audio is available, subscribe to the podcast using iTunes or another podcatching program.

Some call them crash blossoms, those funny turns of phrase that copy editors may or may not intend, like "Milk Drinkers Turn To Powder." More about crash blossoms in this article in Good by Mark Peters.

Where'd we get the expression they're selling like hotcakes?

A Pensacola man says he's invented a gender-neutral pronoun, and wants to know how to popularize it. He's not the first to try, as shown by linguist Dennis Baron's chronology of failed attempts to create and popularize epicene pronouns.

If a recipe calls for "unthawed" corn, is that corn supposed to be frozen or unfrozen?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz called "Scronsonants." The object is to guess two-word phrases containing a pair of words starting with the same three consonants. Here's one: "I get a particular joy from the pain of others, but I had to learn how to do it. So I attended ___________."

A Texas listener says her infant daughter is soothed by white noise. She's curious as to why it's called white noise instead of gray noise.

"You knucklehead!" Where'd we get an epithet like that? Grant tells the story about the wartime cartoon that helped popularize the term. Check out the adventures of R.F. Knucklehead in LIFE magazine. More about cartoons used for war-time education.

Grant shares more crash blossoms.

A Southern California woman says she was caught up short when she enthused, "It's the bomb," and a 12-year-old had no idea what she was saying. Does our slang need to change as we grow older? Why do we say "the bomb"?

In an earlier episode, the hosts talked about the slang term bobo, meaning "stupid" or "inferior." Many listeners wrote in to discuss about their own use of bobo and its variants, and to point out that bobos also refers to a kind of cheap canvas shoes. Grant reports on some of their emails.

How should you pronounce the word jewelry? That prompts a conversation about the transposition of letters and sounds called metathesis—not only in jewelry, but many others including realtor, foliage, larynx, and introduce.

Here's a handy word: fomite. It means "an inanimate object that can transmit an infectious agent" like a doorknob handle or a comb infested with head lice. It also has a picturesque Latin origin. Martha explains, and shares a related word: Dracula sneeze.

If you have a word lover on your gift list, Martha and Grant have book recommendations for you. For adults, Martha recommends linguist Geoffrey Nunberg's collection of essays, The Years of Living Dangerously. For kids, Grant's been enjoying David Shannon's work, which includes, Good Boy Fergus, No, David, David Smells, and David gets in Trouble.

A woman from Dallas wants to know about a verbal habit she grew up with in her Cajun French speaking Louisiana family. It's use of repetition for emphasis, as in, “it's hot, but it's not hot hot.” Grant explains how reduplications, or a repetition of a word or part of a word, appear in many languages, including Cajun French. For more, check out Albert Valdman's French and Creole in Louisiana, and Mary Ellen Scullen's paper "New Insights Into French Reduplication".

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2009/12/12
10:16am
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Grant said:

How should you pronounce the word jewelry? That prompts a conversation about the transposition of letters and sounds called metathesis—not only in jewelry, but many others including realtor, foliage, larynx, and introduce.

I first thought 'colonel' fit into this list, but realized it did not.

However, my daughter had a little angel doll she called, "Tithomy," named after our at-the-time preacher, Timothy.

Emmett

2009/12/15
4:46am
Christopher Murray
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Are they and them not the correct pronouns to use when the person's gender is indeterminate?

2009/12/15
7:43am
Word Nerd
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I think they/them is becoming an acceptable gender-neutral pronoun.

2009/12/15
7:46am
Word Nerd
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As a speech pathologist, I'm always very self-conscious about saying larynx. I probably overthink it, but as the "expert" I don't want to mispronounce it.

2009/12/15
9:51am
mpg
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If 'fomite' has its roots in starting fires and such, is it at all related to 'foment'?

-mpg

2009/12/15
9:53am
mpg
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So we heard knucklehead was popularized in WWII, but little was given about how/why is was first coined. Why "knuckle", one wonders? Similar in spirit to "bonehead", e.g. a "bone-headed" (stupid, ill-considered) action?

-mpg

2009/12/15
2:27pm
johng423
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thawed, unthawed – The words that come to my mind are flammable and inflammable. Dictionary.com says this:

Usage note:
Inflammable and flammable both mean "combustible." Inflammable is the older by about 200 years. Flammable now has certain technical uses, particularly as a warning on vehicles carrying combustible materials, because of a belief that some might interpret the intensive prefix in- of inflammable as a negative prefix and thus think the word means "noncombustible." Inflammable is the word more usually used in nontechnical and figurative contexts: The speaker ignited the inflammable emotions of the crowd.
("inflammable." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 15 Dec. 2009. .)

Someone once wrote (and I'm paraphrasing): Many people think "inflammable" means the opposite of "flammable," when in fact they both mean combustible. If it would save any lives, then by all means use FLAMMABLE.

2009/12/15
2:45pm
johng423
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crash blossom –
The headline read: "5 Women to Become 500 Princesses"

As it turns out, the newspaper article was about female college students who had won positions in the beauty pageant for the Speedway 500 car race in Indianapolis that year. (Oh, THAT "500"!)

When I first read the headline (before reading the article), I was quite startled and perplexed.
I asked a co-worker how this would be possible. He replied, "Slice 'em r-e-a-l thin."

2009/12/15
3:10pm
Glenn
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On our last trip to Washington D.C., my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Newseum. Upon first entering, we stopped in the restrooms and both came out laughing. They had many of the wall tiles reproducing various crash blossoms. One sure item on our gift-shop list was their book of these collected crash blossoms, Correct Me If I'm Wrong. Since this is a news museum, all of the quotes come complete with reference citations.

Newseum Site

Some of the charmers are:

Crack in toilet bowl leads to 3 arrests.
Nuns forgive break-in, assault suspect
Water parasite fears move to Alberta
Police oversight group like San Jose model

If you like crash blossoms, go to the Newseum.org online shop and buy the book.

2009/12/15
3:48pm
travellinpat
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There is a word for saying "Joo-ler-y", "ree-la-tor", "lare-nicks" or "foil-age" -- and it's MISPRONOUNCED. It's SAID WRONG. It is NOT an "acceptable variation" on pronounciation. No, no, NO!

The worst one in modern times has been Eisenhower and both Bushes (and countless others) talking about "nu-cyoo-lar" energy or bombs. What's so hard about "nuclear"?

Likewise, soldiers on horseback are cavalry. Christ died on a hill called Calvary. They are not interchangeable.

Neither are "climatic" (about the climate) and "climactic" (at the climax).

The mispronounciations that bug me the most are when whole letters and syllables get dropped, not re-arranged. Common examples:

cellular (not "seh-yer") deteriorated (not "deteer-y-ated")
Europe (not "Yurp") necessarily (not "nes-sarily")
regularly (not "reg-ya-ly") terrorism (not "terr-ism")
problem (not "prah-bm") rural (not "rool")

My mother ground her teeth over "liberry" (for library), "Feberary" (for February) and "artic" (for Arctic"). I've practically given up on newscasters who talk about the "goverment" or "baskaball." But it was a bit alarming to hear a major team referred to as the "St. Louis Carnals."

2009/12/15
3:59pm
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"St. Louis Carnals."

If Tiger ever picks up baseball, he could play for them.

2009/12/15
4:13pm
Glenn
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Crack in toilet bowl leads to 3 arrests.
Nuns forgive break-in, assault suspect
Water parasite fears move to Alberta
Police oversight group like San Jose model

Crowds Rushing To See Pope Trample 6 To Death

2009/12/17
5:55am
Glenn
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My mother ground her teeth over "liberry" (for library), "Feberary" (for February) and "artic" (for Arctic"). I've practically given up on newscasters who talk about the "goverment" or "baskaball."

I suspect your mother hated doing the ironing, especially on Wednesday, and rarely, if ever, bought Worscestershire sauce.

2009/12/17
10:08am
Word Nerd
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travellinpat said:

There is a word for saying "Joo-ler-y", "ree-la-tor", "lare-nicks" or "foil-age"


I haven't caught up on my podcasts yet….I can figure out the mispronounciation of realtor, larynx, and foliage….but what are the various pronounciations of jewelry? I know, I know…if I have to ask, I'm probably saying it wrong.

2009/12/17
10:09am
Word Nerd
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My pet peeve is "kindergarten" being pronounced "kindy-garten".

2009/12/17
10:26am
Glenn
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Word Nerd said:
what are the various pronounciations of jewelry?


These two are listed in many dictionaries:
/dʒu(w)əlri:/ Joo-wul-ree
/dÊ’u:lri:/ Jool-ree

This one is the bugaboo:
/dʒu:ləri:/ Joo-luh-ree

2009/12/17
10:35am
Word Nerd
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Yup, I mispronounce "jewelry". Oh well.

2009/12/17
11:39am
Glenn
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Don't be so hard on yourself. It is time to make yourself heard. There are lots of people who don't mind ironing on Wednesdays. You might even enjoy Worscestershire sauce.

For the record, I fall into the two-syllable pronunciation minority, ie. jewel is monosyllabic and rhymes with cool, yule, gruel (don't judge me!).

2009/12/17
11:45am
Word Nerd
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LOL, but I do pronounce 'February, climactic, arctic, and picture' correctly….but not 'often'

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