How about some wind pudding with a dollop of air sauce? What's in a tavern sandwich? Do pregnant women really crave pickles and ice cream? Grant and Martha dig in to colorful language from the world of food. Plus, ever think of publishing a novel? Be warned: The snarky literary agent from SlushPile Hell shows no mercy when it comes to rejections. Also, piggy banks, children vs. kids, hand vs. foot dexterity, and a bi-coastal quiz. Plus, those flipped sentences known as antimetabole, such as "It's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men."
This episode first aired May 21, 2011.
Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).
Ever thought about getting that novel published? Apparently, others have too, and some of their queries are less than persuasive for the admittedly grumpy literary agent who writes the blog SlushPile Hell. He posts some of the more colorful queries from his inbox, along with his own pithy responses. Take this one: "Have you ever wondered what it's like to be pulled up a waterfall or to be flushed down a toilet?" To which the agent responds, "Hey! Have you been reading my mind?" Ouch.
Is it wrong to refer to children as kids? One discerning mother, when asked about her kids, always replied, "I don't raise goats, but my children are fine." Grant explains that as early as the 1600s, the word kids had popped up to refer to bratty or unruly children. But by the 1800s, it was normal even among upper-class households to call their young ones "kids" without any negative connotations.
A vegetarian from Vermillion, South Dakota, wonders about the origin of a popular loose meat sandwich called a "tavern." It's like a sloppy joe, and also goes by the monikers Maid-Rite and Tastee. Martha notes a diner in Sioux City, Iowa, called Ye Olde Tavern, that claims to have created the sandwich. Still, with food origins, plenty of people lay claim to the inventions of everything, from hamburgers to breakfast cereal.
Tavern Sandwich page at Barry Popik's site.
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a bi-coastal quiz about two-word phrases connecting the letters NY and CA. For example, the man in black is JohnNY CAsh. Keep your eyes wide open for the clues!
A Canadian listener's boyfriend has a special talent. He can remove his socks, roll them up, and throw them across the room into the laundry basket — all with his toes. She says he has toe dexterity, but wonders if the word dexterous can apply to feet as well as hands? Martha notes that great soccer players like Argentina's Lionel Messi are simply called dexterous, although nimble and agile are also appropriate adjectives.
Noctivagant people are those who wander the night, and vespertilian folks have bat-like qualities. Add these to "shirtless" as poignant ways to describe a vampire.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This and other phrases of wisdom are known as antimetabole, from the Greek for "turning about in the opposite direction." Certain forms of these statements also go by the name chiasmus, from the Greek letter chi, meaning "X." They're often effective for making a point in a speech, like John F. Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." No matter the context, these flipped-sentence proverbs are great for making a point clear. Mardy Grothe has a whole book about chiasmus called Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You.
The grumpy agent who writes the blog blog SlushPile Hell received a submission stating, "I have attached a copy of a letter I recently sent to Oprah about my book. She ends her show in September 2011, which leaves little time to select an agent." The agent responds, "Finally! An author who understands the importance of Oprah and has a no-fail plan for getting on her show." As if.
What's for dinner? How about wind pudding, air sauce, and a side of balloon trimmings? This colorful euphemism for "nothing" dates as far back as the American Civil War, when troops would come into the mess tent, see a wild squirrel boiling in a pot, and opt for wind pudding and air sauce instead.
The calls and e-mails keep coming in about Scotts being called Todds and Todds being called Scotts. One listener left a voicemail about a christening where the priest called the baby by its oddly common misnomer. Another listener by the name of Stefanie complains that she keeps getting called Jennifer. Perhaps it has to do with rhythm, and the patterns we develop out of sounds and syllables.
There's been a lot of talk about the place of handwriting in the digital age. Grant has some great books to recommend on the subject: Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry, and Handwriting in America: A Cultural History by Tamara Thornton. A long time ago, part of the reason for teaching longhand cursive was to have students practice transcribing documents with indoctrinating political and social messages. The character of handwriting, from the flourishes to the way a letter sits on the line, brought with it an array of cultural implications.
Why do we have piggy banks instead of any other kind of farm animal banks? In Scotland and Northern England, a kind of Middle Ages earthenware container called pygg. Today we fill our piggs, or piggy banks, with coins.
Do pregnant women enjoy pickles and ice cream? Linguists from the American Dialect Society have been discussing this recently. They found that the expression pickles and ice cream once referred simply to the conjoining of two unrelated things, sort of the opposite of peas and carrots. Not until the middle of the 20th century did it pertain to cravings, simply because pregnant women go through different nutritional patterns than they would when eating for one.
Can the word training be pluralized, as in "How many trainings did you have last week"? Martha and Grant disagree about whether training can be a count noun.
A Minnesotan who relocated to Wisconsin gets called a mud duck, and wants to know why. Much in the way Wisconsinites get referred to as cheese heads, it's really a harmless bit of nomenclature from a cross-state rivalry. In hunting, the term "mud duck" has also been known to mean a mixed kind of species. Unfortunately, "mud duck" has popped up in odd corners with negative racial connotations. Still, most people using "mud duck" mean it simply as a friendly jest.
Martha shares another barb from the SlushPile Hell agent.
I don't know if you guys have seen the hilarious movie "Mystery Men" with Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman), Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Eddie Izzard, and others. One of the characters, The Sphinx, is fond of using antimetabole to often amusing results, especially when Ben Stiller's character figures out the 'macro' he's using and starts anticipating what he says.
Many years ago, when computer programmers were rare and elite, and computers were much slower, a buddy of mine would start a long operation on the computer, take off his shoes, and put his feet up on the desk. When the computer needed some key stroke on another, he would do what was required with his toes. We dubbed him clavopededextrous. The term stuck as long as I worked there.
There is also a poker player, William Rockwell, who plays poker with his feet, having lost the use of his arms and hands. He has played several years in the World Series of Poker. I have never heard him refer to his dexterity with any specific words.
My wife Rebecca, a Cheesehe … um, Wisconsinite, remarks that "mud duck" is another term for loon, which is the state bird of Minnesota. Thus, calling a Minnesotan a mud duck is calling him a loon, in every sense of the word.
Love your show. You seem to have quite a few callers from Wisconsin, and every time I've quizzed my wife about what a particular piece of Wisconsin argot means, she's answered correctly without a moment's hesitation.
Chiasmus: my grandfather used to tell a joke about a hobo during the Depression (the one before the current one) who approached a farmhouse for a handout. The farm wife asked, "you see that big pile of wood when you passed the gate?"
The hobo, not anxious to work for his meal, replied: "maybe you saw me see it, but you ain't gonna see me saw it."
Speaking of food, I recorded Julie and Julia on our DVR. Here is a quote: "This has got to be a cookbook that makes french cooking accessible to Americans who do not have cooks. Who are servant-less! Is that a word? (As she types she almost proclaims) Ser-vant-less! I think it is a word."
I just wanted to mention this. I'm of the sort that loathe misspellings. Gnash my teeth when I hear or see "probly" rather than "probably". Most of the time this is true, but after listening to your show I have come to realize that a word is a word if one uses it. In fact, I believe I remember listening to Grant say this very thing. Language then can be likened to a recipe. We bring together words and phrases. Whisk in interjections and inflection for frothy fullness. Add sprinkles of pauses and pitch to taste. Mix them well in a paragraph or sentence and serve fresh to the receiver at our table of communication. How cheesy!
Another thing comes to mind when thinking about words. I once was taking classes to learn Hebrew (a beautiful language, if you ask me). The Rabbi explained tradition teaches that when GOD was forming the earth and creating those things that inhabit it, that letters, rather than words, came from HIS mouth. As I remember it, if HE spoke, "Let there be light" than the Hebrew letters that spell out light came from HIS mouth and joined to make light. I believe it is an amazing thought whether you believe in a higher power or not.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, as we use food in our cultures to express and define ourselves, we use our own words to present, as it were, a dish that is us. A dish that we have learned to make with the ingredients of our environment, faith, attitude, personality, community, and so on, "Et cetera, Et cetera, Et cetera" (The King and I).
Thank you, A Way With Words, Martha and Grant, Julia Child, food and all those other ingredients that remind me and others that words add flavor to our lives. That remind us that words--our words--are important.
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