Why are the names of cars so unimaginative? Grant argues that auto manufacturers might take inspiration from ornithology to build a better car name. (Then again, would you be any less aggravated if you were rear-ended by a lazuli bunting?) Also this week, why do so many young folks pepper their speech with the word “like,” and what, if anything, can be done about it? All that, plus Luddites, chicken bog, a ducks on June bug, and the possible origins of the phrase to get one’s goat.
Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).
Ever been met with a quizzical look and the question, “Do what?” The hosts discuss this dialectal equivalent of “How’s that?” or “Come again?”
For many Southerners, it’s very picture of eagerness and alacrity: He was all over that like a duck on a June bug! Martha and Grant reveal the memorable image behind this curious expression.
Grant notes that birds sometimes get re-christened with a different name. Often a bird’s commemorative name—one that honors a bird’s discoverer—will be replaced years later. Case in point: Rivoli’s hummingbird is now known as the magnificent hummingbird.
Puzzle Guy Greg Pliska takes equal portions of words and numbers, mixes well, and whips up a quiz called “Initiarithmetic.” The idea is to guess the words based on the initial letters of well-known phrases involving numbers. For example: “There are 12 M in the Y.” Wait, that was too easy. How about this one: “There are 2 K of P in the W. T W D the W into T K of P, and T W D.“
Is there a way to get youngsters to stop overusing the word “like”? The mother of a middle-schooler who’s picked up the habit wonders where it came from and how she can stop it. Grant and Martha have suggestions, and Martha mentions this enlightening essay about teenagers and “like” by linguist Geoffrey Nunberg.
Chicken bog isn’t a bird name, nor is it a place. It’s a dish of rice, chicken, country sausage, and lots of black pepper, found primarily in the Southeast. It sometimes goes by the name chicken perlow or pillow or pilau. A South Carolina caller wonders about the origin of these food terms. By the way, if you like chicken bog, you’ll love the annual bog-off in Loris, South Carolina.
Some folks use the old-fashioned exclamation “Good night, nurse!” as a handy substitute for a cussword. But where’d it come from? Grant explains how this phrase became popular in the early 20th century.
What’s a Luddite? Martha explains that this term for “someone resistant to technological change” has its roots in a form of populist rage in the early 19th century.
A Texas grandmother says she’s long been baffled about the origin of a counting rhyme that she learned from her grandmother. During the game, her grandmother bounced her on her knee, saying, “Malagee Buck, Malagee Buck, how many fingers do I hold up?” The caller learned that the game she loved as a child is incredibly widespread throughout the world in various forms, and dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
If you’re told to keep your eyes peeled, you’re being warned to stay alert. But…”peeled”?
Where’d we get the expression “to get someone’s goat“? A caller suspects it comes from a Sicilian folk tale. But does it?
A Way with Words is sponsored by Mozy:
Today I heard you discuss Luddites. Pretty much everything you said was incorrect, albeit common knowledge. There was really no one in the XIX century who was against machines in the way that modern Luddites are. The original Luddites, followers of the fictional Ned Ludd, were stocking frame weavers. They had been among the most mechanized and automated workers in the world since the invention of the stocking frame in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. They were not protesting the use of stocking frames. They were attacking unskilled workers who were charging lower prices for inferior goods. Their “masters”, far from being the object of their actions, often went with them on their expeditions. Their actions were entirely about prices not about machines. They smashed the machines of competitors to supress competition. They did not smash their own machines.
The closest you can get to the myth of machine haters in the XIX century is Captain Swing. That was a movement against the use of mechanical threshers to replace farm workers. They did, for a short period, smash mechanical threshers but their complaint was not that the machines were evil, but that their employers were stupid. The farmers in question needed farm hands in the spring, summer and fall, but replaced the hands traditional winter work by using the machines. That put the farm hands on the dole, which the farmers had to pay. There was no actual economy for the farmers, only loss of dignity for the hands.
Modern Luddites, who rage against machines, live in the world that William Morris imagined in News from Nowhere, where machines run everything, allowing people to live with less effort and spend time thus freed from sustenance enjoying themselves, thinking and debating, but the machines are invisible, forgotten, and discredited. It is hip to proclaim that you are a Luddite and cannot use a computer, but few indeed are the people in this world who could exist without them, especially those with enough leisure to complain about them. Such posers cite such figures as Morris, John Ruskin, and the Luddites as precursors, but none of those took a stand against machines.
It is interesting to remember, in such discussions, that from the fifteenth century until well into the twentieth, printing was among the most technologically sophisticated enterprises in the world. Even if you go back before movable type, language, the alphabet and writing are advanced technology, not pastoral simplicity.
How the myth of Luddites managed to prevail against the simple truth of the matter is interesting in itself, but rather long.
Hi, ewfox –
There was really no one in the XIX century who was against machines in the way that modern Luddites are. The original Luddites, followers of the fictional Ned Ludd, were stocking frame weavers. They had been among the most mechanized and automated workers in the world since the invention of the stocking frame in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. They were not protesting the use of stocking frames. They were attacking unskilled workers who were charging lower prices for inferior goods. Their “masters”, far from being the object of their actions, often went with them on their expeditions. Their actions were entirely about prices not about machines. They smashed the machines of competitors to supress competition. They did not smash their own machines.
Can you point us to sources on this? Tx.
I just wrote a fairly long post in reply. It seems the machine had logged me out and therefore ate it.
Just now I do not have time to redo it. The short answer is that I spent several years studying the period and much of what I wrote is the result of searching for anyone who actually took a principled stance against machinery. I found no one. I looked carefully at such cited critics as Ruskin and Morris, rare figures in an age that realized how much their lives depended on machinery for the degree that those lives were lifted out of misery and squalor. Ruskin and Morris did not like machinery, but they both recognized that their dreams of arts and crafts depended on the wealth created by machinery. They both recognized the level of artistic design, both in the works and in the decoration, that machinery embodied. They simply preferred to promote arts and hand crafts.
I have seen the patent issued by Queen Elizabeth for the stocking frame.
While it has been too long for me to be sure, I would start by checking Eric Hobsbawm for a discussion of the Luddites themselves that recognizes just who they were. There were several groups of agitators in the first part of the century of which the Luddites were only one. The only one I found who wrecked the machines that replaced them, or that they worked on themselves, was Captain Swing and their is a book by that name that describes in detail what the movement was about. It was a local economic dispute, not a principled stance against machinery.
If this is insufficient, I could try a little more.
On March 4 like, Joseph O’Connor (respected Irish author) presented a radio diary like on RTÃ‰ radio in which he like talked about a word he likes imported from America like.
My favourite extract is where he mentions a camera “like a Leica like.”
MP3 download (3’13” 3.2MB)
Grant mentioned that “like” can have various meanings when used as a supplementary word, and described it as a discourse marker. Dr. Ingrid van Alphen of the University of Amsterdam is collecting words like these (“like”, “go” and “all” in English) in all languages, but she calls them new quotatives. Like Grant, she describes their use for an approximation of a quotation and gives examples of their use.
re: Malagee Buck..
I let my mind float a little to childhood back in Va.
We used a variation of Ms Malagee.
Albeit a bit on the crude side.
I have no idea where we learned it.
It was something of a game and it was usually played when me and my 3 siblings were confined to the back seat of our ’50 Ford.
When one of us made a very audible “toot” the game was on..
You had to yell loudly “safety”. If one forgot the phrase “buck 7″ was announced by any one of the offended. It was then that 7 blows..rather punches..to the shoulder were administered to the offendee.
After a couple of those one would remember the courtesy word “safety” (to the gritted teeth again of the offended) or one would generally stop because their shoulder was pretty sore by the middle of the trip.
You wondered about who said “There are 2 K of P in the W. T W D the W into T K of P, and T W D.”
It was the great humorist Robert Benchley. I can’t recall the name of the essay it appeared in (or I would look it up to check), but the quote is most often presented as:
“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”
re: Malagee Buck..
When I was Just a Little Girl… my daddy used to recite a ditty about “Amelia Ma a Muck a many fingers stands up?” I’d be cuddled up with him and he’d pat me on the ..um.. rearend.. and recite it and then hold up a certain number of fingers and I was to guess how many. Then came the reply “One you said and One there was … ONE!” and there would be another pat.
I always wondered about Amelia Ma… I’m sure she was a friend of Malagee Buck!
Thanks… Love the podcast.. can’t wait for new episodes in the Fall. Just when is Fall by your calendar anyway?
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