Why call it a doggy bag when it’s really for your husband? Grant and Martha talk about the language of leftovers and why we eat beef and not cow. And how old is the typical public-library patron? Plus, in Afghanistan, proverbs are part of everyday conversation — like the one about how every proud porcupine coos to its baby, “Oh, my child of velvet!” Also, the origin of the word khaki, the cycling term Fred, and how to pronounce calliope and kyarn.
This episode first aired October 5, 2013.
In Afghanistan, proverbs and poetry are part of everyday conversation. When Martha spoke with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and And The Mountains Echoed, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, he told her about graffiti in Kabul, which sometimes includes verse from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.
There are doobies, and then there are good doobees. A caller from Traverse City, Michigan, says her husband refers to himself as a good doobee whenever he’d clean the house or pay the bills. The phrase goes back to Romper Room, a children’s television series, where the Do Bee bumblebee taught kids lessons like, do be a plate cleaner, don’t be a plate fussy.
To dime someone out is to nark or tattle, common in the days when it cost ten cents to use a pay phone and snitch. Of course, that’s when pay phones were used at all.
Here’s an Afghan proverb about honesty: “A tilted load won’t reach its destination.”
In American English, khaki has come to connote “business casual,” but it comes from the Farsi word for “earthy.” In the 1840s, the British picked it up in the north of India as a descriptor for their sturdy soldiers’ pants that matched the color of dust.
“Every plate that is made, breaks.” This Afghan proverb means that all things come to an end.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a number game about things so grand, words like forever become five-ever.
Do you still take your leftovers in a doggy bag? The term used to refer to a bone or shank the chef would give a guest to take home to their dog. Nowadays, there’s no shame in keeping your leftovers, and that parcel goes by other names, like to-go box.
A listener from San Diego, California, sent us two terms: pawburst, which happens when a cat reaches out to stretch, and head-to-hat ratio, or the number of jobs one person has to juggle.
A calliope — that organ often found on steamboats or at circuses — ends like Penelope, not cantaloupe. The word originally comes from the Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry, though the sound of a calliope today is associated more with carnival sideshows.
A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender says, what is this, a joke? Yep.
When someone says maybe, are they suggesting an option, or merely being polite? A caller from Anna, Texas, met a Canadian who used the word maybe to soften his imperatives. The same effect is often achieved with conditional phrases: “Would you mind moving your car?” sounds better than, “Move your car, please.”
Here’s a great Southernism: “If someone’s nothing but breath and britches, and means they don’t amount to much.”
How old is the typical library patron? Grant shares a study that says Americans ages 16-29 are considered more likely to read actual printed library books and search the databases, and to spend more time at the libraries themselves.
We eat chicken and fish, but not cow. Instead, we use terms like veal, beef, mutton, and pork to refer to red meat. It’s largely the result of the Norman invasion of the British Isles, when French started to meld with English.
He has soaked a hundred heads but hasn’t shaved one. This Afghan proverb refers to someone who doesn’t finish what they start.
Kyarn is an Appalachian regional pronunciation of carrion, as in a roadkill carcass.
Here’s another Afghan proverb: “Five fingers are brothers, but they’re not equals.”
In cycling, a Fred is a chubby poseur who’s bought a fancy bike and a fancier outfit but can’t even pedal up a hill.
The shade of tan called bisque derives its name from the color of a biscuit.