On the menu: necessity mess, potato bargain, and other tasty regional foods that won’t break the bank. Plus, what’s a doomaflatchie? And what do you have to do before you rest on your laurels? Grant and Martha share idioms, proverbs, and paraprosdokians, those sayings that take a sudden, unexpected turn. Plus cryptic crosswords, graffiti slang, and new ways to read your the best long writing.

This episode first aired October 8, 2011. Listen here:

Download the MP3 here (23.8 MB).

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Dining on a budget? Just whip up some necessity mess or a potato bargain. That’s a pork, onion, and potato stew popular in Eastern Massachusetts. Or how about some Georgia ice cream? It’s a North Florida term for grits. Martha shares a generous serving of fun food names from the Dictionary of American Regional English (on Twitter as @darewords).

If you’ve accomplished something, go ahead and rest on your laurels. Martha traces this idiom back to Ancient Greece, where victors were crowned with a wreath of bay leaves from the bay laurel tree. In the 16th Century, to retire on one’s laurels referred to “resting after an accomplishment.” Like many inherited idioms, it’s often said today with a tongue in one’s cheek.

The old Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella really knew how to set the soup outside! A baseball fan recalls this overheard phrase from a game in the 60s between the Cardinals and the Dodgers, when Campy smacked one over the fence. Grant speculates this usage of “soup” comes from the old slang term for nitrous oxide, a component in souping up cars. Over time, soup came to refer to any enhanced display of muscle or strength.

What would you bring to a pitch-in? An Indiana transplant shares this newly acquired term for a potluck dinner. Martha points out that the Dictionary of American Regional English has a map showing the distribution of the term, and it’s limited almost exclusively to Indiana.

If something’s a peach out of reach, it’s something lovely that you want but just can’t have. A listener shares this and other idioms from the American South.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game of cryptic crossword clues called Double Definition. For example, if the clue is “trim a tree,” the answer is “spruce.” Or try this one: “crazy flying mammals.” Did you come up with “bats”?

What does it mean to grok the data? A listener from the medical device business wonders about the techie word “grok,” which first popped up in Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

To grok data means to understand all the information you’re looking at. Grant also mentions Jeff Prucher’s Brave New Words, a dictionary of science fiction terms that have made their way into the English language.

New York seems to have a doguero on every street corner. Grant shares this Spanglish term for “a hot dog vendor.”

What’s it called when saying becomes sayin’? It’s not a trick question; it’s simply called an abbreviation. Grant and Martha settle an English major’s confusion about the possibility of a trickier term. With words like “o’er,” a shortening of “over,” the apostrophe can also be called an apologetic apostrophe, but it’s still just an abbreviation.

The old Yiddish word bupkis, referring to something of little or no value, has of late been split up for dramatic effect. As in, that’s worth all of a bup and a kis!

What’s a doomaflatchie? A listener shares this alternate for doohickie, thingamajig, doodad, or any other one of those whatchamacalits.

Here’s the Tim McGraw song about his doomaflatchie.

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong. Listeners share some of their favorite paraprosdokians. It’s not the first time Martha and Grant discussed paraprosdokians.

As ubiquitous as social media and blogs have become, people are still reading long form journalism! Grant shares some great ways Twitter has enabled the spread of long essays from sources like The Atlantic and Wired. In addition, services like Readability, Instapaper and Longreads have streamlined the distribution of articles to our myriad devices.

It takes some work for a writer to go all-city — a graffiti writer, that is. An art supplies dealer from Dallas shares some vocabulary from the world of street art. For example, the old act of photographing trains from benches gave birth to the term “benching,” and the act of tagging or doing graffiti is also known as “bombing.” Grant discusses the related term “going all-city“.

Everyone knows about Tang as that orange kick in a glass, but could it also be an entree? A listener from Plano, Texas, found an elderly relative’s plan for family meals from 1947, which lists “tang with molasses” as a main course. If you’ve heard of tang the food, shoot us a message.

If a meeting gets pushed back, does it get postponed to a later time or rescheduled for a sooner one? Grant explains that push back is generally understood to mean “reschedule for a later date,” but Martha recounts a scenario where the opposite definition caused a debacle with deadlines. As always, when in doubt, seek clarification.

Knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Thank you to our listeners for this and other modern proverbs.

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Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

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17 Responses

  1. Aodhan of Lindisfarne says:

    Some of us view time as a highway down which we travel, while others see it as an endless train of events arriving at our station. If the meeting in question is in a specific car on that train, the person scheduling it might push it back to a car that will arrive later. We “spring forward”, moving everything up a few cars on the train so things arrive earlier, and soon will “fall back” to cars that will arrive later.

    No word on Albert Einstein’s opinion on the matter — last I heard, he was trying to form a grand unified theory of highways and trains, though, personally, the idea of Union Pacific on the interstate rather terrifies me (triple-trailer semis are bad enough).

  2. jbeaver says:

    Just listened to your program for the first and think it’s really great. I just wanted to mention another paraprosdokian that I have been using for years, “If I had two of those, I could throw them both away.” Never knew that there was a word for it.

    Also, would love to know the origin of “your neck of the woods.”

  3. BarristerBrian says:

    I’m so glad someone asked about the concept of “pushing back” a meeting. I thought I was the only one who thinks this phrase is backwards. When I think of time, I think about a timeline. So when someone says “back,” I think back in time. I’ve had to train myself to just ignore the phrase and make sure I have I have the correct date and time which has changed. It was helpful to hear how others can make sense of this phrase.
    By the way, this show is great – It’s unbelievable how good you two are with words!

  4. Kaa says:

    Oh, my. I REALLY hope the caller doesn’t read Stranger in a Strange Land to his daughter. The therapy bills alone will break them. :)

  5. Glenn says:

    Kaa! My thoughts exactly. I read it decades ago when I was in college. If she is young enough to be read to, then she is too young for many events described in the book. I smell some awkward extemporaneous editing in that narration.

  6. Torbett says:

    Speaking of extraterrestrials and language, though: Do you notice how they never get earth references? Whenever I tell my extraterrestrial friends something is “as big as the Grand Canyon,” they all look at me like I have one head.

  7. imajoebob says:

    Wow, two different nits I feel strongly enough to pick in a single episode. This is a first.

    One is the description of the “apologetic apostrophe” as signifying an abbreviation. As explained to me by a number of different teachers, the apostrophe is used to signify the absence of letters, making the word a de facto contraction. An abbreviation, at least in standard American English, requires the use of a period at the end of the abbreviated word. We pronounce a contraction as written, or as close to that as English ever gets. With one exception I can think of, abbreviations are not pronounced as written, but as correctly/originally written. Mr. is mister, St. is street or saint, and in that exceptional case, Messrs. is pronounced “messers.” but it’s actually from messieurs, the plural of monsiuer. While British English does not require the period, the rest of the rule still applies. If ” nothin’ ” is an abbreviation it should be pronounced “nothing.” Let’s just call acronyms the redheaded stepchild and ignore them for now.

    The second item is the discussion of “pushing back” a meeting. My understanding of it was always based on the appointment diary paradigm. When you rescheduled a meeting to a later time or date, you – literally – pushed it toward the back of the book. Rescheduling used the original date/time as a reference point, and the new time is in relation to its position in the diary. When you move the time forward, it’s then closer to the front of the book. So, much like other sayings that have been diluted by the march of technology (do you still say you “dialed” the wrong number?), our PDAs (uh oh, an acronym!) and smartphones have diminished the transparency of this phrase.

  8. tromboniator says:

    I have to agree with imajoebob about the apostrophe question. As I listened to the question I felt quite smug about the answer; when I heard Grant’s reply I started yelling at my computer, “That’s not an abbreviation, you blockhead, it’s a contraction.” Now, I hereby apologize to Grant: I know he’s not a blockhead, but why in the world would an apostrophized form be considered an abbreviation? Sure, an abbreviation is a shortening, but it would be just as logical to call Mr. a contraction. Wouldn’t it?

  9. Torbett says:

    I keep trying to make a pun about contractions, but they all seem so labored.

  10. Glenn says:

    Yes. All hacks and bricks.

  11. mrsstewart3iii says:

    As a knitter, I’ve often heard the terms “yarn bombing” or “yarn tagging” when a bunch of knitters/crocheters/fiber artists cover public spaces with yarn projects. Like, knitting covers for parking meters and lamp posts and such. I’ve heard of one group of knitters that gathers at a particular hotel every year for a convention always leaves little yarn projects all over the hotel.

    In response to the doomaflatchie segment, I’ve used the words whomeewatchit and schneebert. Though, schneebert can also be used (in my world, at least) when I’m trying to say something and get all tongue-tied. I just end whatever gobbledigook that comes out of my mouth with schneebert. It’s even been used as a euphemistic substitute for more colorful words. I find that shcneebert is a very useful term :)

    Amy in Fort Worth

  12. Glenn says:

    I have a buddy who for those nameless somethings systematically uses obscure golf club names: niblick, mashie, and ferndock. While I can confirm niblick and mashie as kinds of golf clubs, I cannot confirm ferndock as such. It does seem that several people employ ferndock for this very purpose, but I have never known anyone else besides my buddy and occasionally me to use niblick or mashie.

    My buddy and I both did time as computer programmers, and you could always tell when he had had his fingers in a program. Whenever there was a place for some temporary local variable of no particular value, it would certainly be called niblick, ferndock, mashie, etc.

  13. Ron Draney says:

    I once did an entire presentation on a database proposal where I used the words freeble, dwink, splam and brovit rather than any of the actual jargon names for things we were going to store in it. The point was to get across the DB concepts as a general method for solving data-storage issues rather than something tailored to the particular problem at hand.

    This was neither the first nor the last time I used words inspired by Steve Allen and Gary Owens in a real-world setting. It would be insegrevious of me to suggest otherwise.

  14. Jazyk says:

    What about apocope for the abbreviation found in sayin’?

  15. Glenn says:

    There are several varieties of fish called Tang: Sailfin Tang; Achilles Tang; Convict Tang. They are perfectly edible. But as they are reef fish, it is no longer customary to eat Tang. Still, it appears it continues rarely to be consumed.

    Food University: Hawaiian Fish

    This might be a stretch, since I’m not sure how commonly it was prepared and served in days past, but it certainly a possibility. Were your relatives in a coastal area where reef fish might be available?

    [edit: added the following]

    I located this book, Native Use of Fish in Hawaii (Titcomb; originally published in 1952; current copyright 1972, The University Press of Hawaii; p.137) which lists Paku’iku’i, the Hawaiian name for Achilles Tang as “Good to eat, always cooked, excellent broiled.”

    Paku’iku’i

    Page 105 says: “In a short time she returned holding a wooden dish filled with manini [Convict Tang] and lipoa.”

  16. Blithe Insurrection says:

    Tang: Tangerine (shortened) 

  17. hippogriff says:

    One detail regarding soup: Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is a petroleum product and does not contain nitroglycerine.  Nitroglycerine is either poured into a tube and set off by percussion or a blasting cap; or a much safer method is to absorb it in a mixture of potassium nitrate and sawdust, mold in a stick and call it dynamite.  (Alfred Nobel got very rich off that one.)  However, dynamite will sweat nitroglycerine in warm weather, making it rather unstable.  

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