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Mute Point (full episode)
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2012/03/20
1:59pm
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What do you call it when you roll past a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? A California stop, a Michigan stop — or something else? And if someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? Also, Puddin’ Tame, the outmoded design elements called skeuomorphs, a clever Spanish proverb, moot point vs. mute point, and the meaning of the military slang term go hermantile.

This episode first aired March 17, 2012.

Download the MP3.

 Skeuomorphs
Why do we make a hand-crank motion when asking someone to roll down their window? After all, in most new cars, that's done with the press of a button. An outmoded gesture like this is similar to a skeuomorph, a design element that still used even though it no longer has a function. For example, smartphones still use images of old handsets or tape recorders to indicate phone and voicemail functions.

 Puddin' Tame or Pudding Tane
"What's your name?" "I'm Puddin’ Tame, ask me again and I'll tell you the same!" This and other rhymes, such as "What's your number? Cucumber!" derive from French, English, and American children's folklore that dates to at least as early as the 17th century. Iona and Peter Opie have collected a bundle of these children's sayings.

 Rolling Stops
What's it called when someone rolls past a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? People across the country have coined terms like California roll or California stop, New York stop, and Michigan stop as a way of expressing pride in their local delinquencies.

 A Dole of Doves
Like the famous murmuration of starlings, a dole of doves is another beautiful collective noun from the aviary world.

 Geographic Portmanteaus
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of geographic and astrological portmanteaus. For example, if you're looking for something with a spongy-pointed marker in Pittsburgh, how about a Felt Tip Pennsylvania? Or if someone born in June is a place of exercise putting on makeup, chances are they'd wear Geminishadow.

 Apricity
A Vermont kindergarten teacher discusses unusual vocabulary with his class. He's trying to revive apricity, which means the warmth of the sun in the winter. This term comes from the Latin meaning "to bask in the sun." This caller hopes people will warm to the idea.

 Voracious Reader
If someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? And is it better to be a voracious reader of nonfiction rather than novels? The word voracious, which shares a root with devour and carnivore, might connote a lack of discernment when it comes to eating, but if one reads voraciously, it's typically a point of pride. What other gustatory tropes are there in the ways we talk about reading and eating?

 Spanish Proverb
"El pez se muere por la boca" is a wise and vivid Spanish proverb. It means "the fish dies by its mouth."

 Go Hermantile
In the Navy and the Marines, if someone goes hermantile, they're angry, shouting, and unpredictable. This slang expression is of uncertain origin. It goes back to World War I but has stayed almost exclusively within the military's lexicon and writings related to the Navy or the Marines.

 Asafetida
Asafetida, the plant used in asafidity bags intended to ward off disease, is also a common ingredient in Indian cooking, and it's said to counterbalance heavy spices and relieve stomach cramps.

 Including the Scandinavian
Why can't you tear the tag off a mattress? And why do old books say that the right of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian, is reserved? These bits of jargon, not necessarily intended for the consumer, have seeped into our language because of nuanced copyright laws and the like.

 Mute Point vs. Moot Point
How do you pronounce moot point? Does it sound like mute, or rhyme with toot?

 Another Skeuomorph
Here's another fun skeuomorph: Martha's father bought an exercise bike for the den, but the pedals have reflectors on them.

 Why Baby Talk?
Why do we speak to babies in high pitched voices? Often our eyes grow wide, we give big smiles, and we talk in exaggerated, singsongy voices because these are the things that infants respond to. Chances are this parental cooing has gone on since time immemorial.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona and Peter Opie

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Black Is Beautiful Roy Budd The Stone Killer Soundtrack Cinephile
Nyx Karl Hector and The Malcouns Sahara Swing Now-Again
Double Polygone Sauveur Mallia Cosmosynthetic Vol. 2 Tele Music
Evolute The Dub Delay Band Changing Tracky Bottoms
Followed Path Karl Hector and The Malcouns Sahara Swing Now-Again
Slick Cat Carol Kaye and Joe Pass Better Days Hot Wire Records
Let's Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
2012/03/20
9:46pm
hippogriff
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Stop sign running: 1940s, Dallas area: "coasting through in second" – definitely obsolete.

 

Collectives: almost as rare as a crash of the generally solitary rhino, armadillos are an "armada" – I have actually seen two adults together at 2:00 pm – rare enough to see an individual in the daylight.

 

Kindergarten language: Then if a white bird that follows cattle wins a bug-eating contest, it is a victorious egret?

 

Voracious readers:  I once had a book store (back in the day of free enterprise, before capitalist chains destroyed them).  Most niche fiction (romance, mysteries, westerns, SF, etc.) have voracious readers of one (only) of those genera.

 

Baby talk: Walt Kelly had a character in Pogo comics, a baby "groundchuck", Grundoon, who only spoke in consonants.  I have gotten an interesting reaction from even a fussy baby by "speaking in Grundoonese" to them – in an otherwise normal voice.  They are first totally confused, then appear to figure it out and break into a broad grin.

2012/03/20
10:12pm
Ron Draney
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One thing you didn't mention about baby talk is the sing-song rhythm. "Iggum boogum diddle wubble…." It's relentlessly trochaic!

On the subject of collective names for animals, I thought this was amusing:
Attempted murder

2012/03/22
7:56am
Wenny
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In my family, we've always called rolling through a stop sign a "slow-n-go".  

 

I love "apricity" -- and it makes me think of apricots! I wonder if there's any liguistic connection there? 

2012/03/22
2:03pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Why do we speak to babies using high-pitched voices? I read an article about that in Scientific American some time back. Turns out the human ear is most sensitive to frequencies between 2-5 kHz. Babies' ears (because of the diminutive size of resonating features therein) are less sensitive to the typically lower frequencies of an adult voice (Tiny Tim notwithstanding). So mothers learned over time that they get more response to audible stimulation in that higher range.

That might be why we also use a higher pitch when talking to our smaller pets. Probably wouldn't matter to your horse or hippo. :)

Interestingly, the (annoying) sound of a baby's crying takes advantage of that too. The average pitch of their crying sound is smack dab in the middle of the ear's sensitivity range. Evolution selected for that, since it evoked attention during times of illness, pain, hunger, thirst, etc.

2012/03/23
10:29pm
Chauncey
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I have “hermantile” in my vocabulary. While listening to your program, I got wondering where I picked it up. I'm a Navy
Veteran (Submarines), but I think I got it from my father who was a WWII Army Veteran. To
put it nicely, my usage basically describes a senior bombastically chastising a
junior without actual physical harm, but with utmost permanence.  In other words – A lesson well remembered or
else! The more I think about it, maybe it was my Mother (WWII wife): " Your Dad is going to go hermantile…."

In reference to "skeuomorph", I hope this picture of a dialable cell telephone comes through.

Rotary cell phone

Thanks for your program, you do your predecessors proud!

2012/03/24
1:15pm
Los Lunas, NM
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I think you missed the best (and funniest) explanation of how to pronounce "moot point."

 

Joey Tribbiani says, "It's like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter. It's moo."

 

 

2012/03/24
9:41pm
carolsj
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Re skeuomorphs: How about the icon of an hourglass to show waiting on a computer. And how many kids these days ever see digital clock faces? Knowing clockwise and counterclockwise must be confusing. What other term would we use to designate that?

2012/03/24
10:27pm
Ron Draney
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"Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey"?

2012/03/25
2:26pm
jumblepie
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Re: voracious reader

 

I DO see a negative connotation for this phrase!  I was a voracious reader when I was a child/young adult.  I read everything in my parents' library simply because I had access to it -- which resulted in reading some very good books and some absolute drivel!  Today I would much rather be called a "discerning reader."  To be a bit facetious, a voracious reader would read all the Twilight books, whereas a discerning reader (me) would give up in disgust.  :-)

2012/03/27
4:09pm
xheralt
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Even someone who reads voraciously-but-uncritically is preferable to someone who doesn't read, in my book ;) "The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot" -- Mark Twain

A "gourmand" reader can always develop better taste later; "gourmet" readers tend to be such insufferable snobs, believing in their elevated tastes to the exclusion of all else.

2012/04/03
10:03am
Chana C
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A "Puddin' Tame" we'd use as kids in Houston, Tx:

"What's your name?"

"Mary Jane."

"Where do you live?"

"Down the drain."

"What's your phone number?"

"Cucumber?"

"What do you drink?"

"Pink ink"…

 

Now, I'm wondering if this would fall under the same category: Often when I call someone's name they'll answer back, "That's my name, don't wear it out!" Anyone know?

2012/04/05
7:59am
Richard Prevett
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As for a rolling stop, in English Canada it's called (used to be called?) a "Montreal Stop".  Coming from Ontario, I actually saw this in Montreal and was surprised since it is (was?) unheard of and unimaginable in Ontario. The Montreal Stop is freighted with value judgement and ethnic superiority, since the connotation is that Montrealers (being mainly Catholic and French) are lacking the fine moral fibre so widespread amongst the Protestant British population in Ontario.

2012/04/10
5:33am
Peter
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I learned the term "California stop" in drivers ed class in high school in Tennessee circa 1971. My memory is a bit dim but I believe the teacher was an African-American man. He used to ask us "What's the difference between a full stop and a California stop?" Answer: $20. I'm not sure what that is in today's dollars.

2012/05/19
2:47pm
Marla
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Is there such a thing as a "false skeuomorph"? I'm thinking of a common tradition in movies and television (I first noticed it in the original Aliens) where information displayed on a computer screen is accompanied by a barrage of clackety-clacking, grindy noises – sort of like a teletype, I suppose. None of the many computers I've used or owned has made any such sounds when firing electrons :) In my house whenever that sound effect begins, we vie with each other to make the loudest, weirdest, most inappropriate noises to indicate the scrolling text.

I do remember the strange sounds the modem made when connecting (I'm old). 

2012/12/02
7:26am
jverduin
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Okay, so I'm new to this site, thus the belated post on this topic…just listened to the podcast after learning about your website through CUE (Computer Using Educators). I love words.

My family lived in St. Louis in 1962-1963. My parents always referred to rolling through a stop sign as a "St. Louis stop" because in the early 60s St. Louis still had only 4-way stops downtown. If you were polite, you'd be stuck at an intersection forever.

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