When somebody sneezes, we say bless you or gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something — or are they? Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit fanciers, a quiz about animal noises, and where to find a purple squirrel. And what’s so humbling about winning an award? Some people think the phrase “I’m honored” is preferable to “I’m humbled.”
This episode first aired February 9, 2013.
What Do You Say When Someone Coughs?
When somebody sneezes, you say “bless you” or “gesundheit,” but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say “excuse me.” A commenter on Paul Davidson’s blog sets a good rule of thumb: Bless anything that looks like it hurt.
Sounding Like the People Around You
A listener from Fairfield, Connecticut, wonders why she changes her accent and diction when family members from the Middle East are in town. Truth it, everyone does this. It’s a matter of imitating those around us in order to make ourselves feel part of a group. After all, the human response to someone who sounds like us is to like them more.
Is a purple squirrel a) a diving board trick, b) a cocktail, or c) a rare job candidate with all the right qualifications? The answer is c. There have, however, been reports of purple squirrels of the sciurine variety.
Is hiya a legitimate way to say hello? Sure. The Dictionary of American Regional English has citations for this greeting going back to 1914, but it’s heard both in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Animal Sounds Game
Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has quiz based on animal sounds. What sort of wild party would a sheep throw? What five-masted ship do golden retrievers sail on? Tip: For this game, animal sounds are just as important as advanced vocabularies.
Why to Award Recipients Say They’re Humbled?
This awards season, many winners will say, “I’m humbled by this honor.” Ann from Burlington, Vermont, wonders: Shouldn’t they feel honored rather than humbled? What’s so humbling about winning awards? Grant argues that saying “I’m humbled” is truly a mark of humility because of the better and greater people who made your award possible. Martha would rather hear them just say “I’m honored” or “I’m grateful.”
What’s the best time to schedule a dentist appointment? Why, tooth-hurty, of course!
If you’ve had enough to eat, you might say you’ve had gracious plenty. This expression goes back to the early 1800s, and serves the same purpose as saying you’re sufficiently suffonsified or you’ve had an elegant sufficiency.
A San Diego listener of Mexican descent says a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film has her wondering about the term Mexican standoff. Is it just a duel? A three-way duel, complete with guns? The end of a 1-1 doubleheader in baseball? Over time, it’s had all of these definitions. But the term appears to derive from a derogatory use of Mexican to describe something inferior or undesirable.
Beware of linguistic false friends, also known as false cognates. You wouldn’t want to say you’re feeling embarazada in Spanish, unless you want to say you’re pregnant. And don’t order the tuna in Spain unless you want to hear a musical group made up of college kids. A kind of false friend exists within English as well: noisome doesn’t mean “noisy,” it means “icky,” and bombastic doesn’t mean “booming,” it means “fluffy” or “ostentatious,” deriving from bombast, a kind of cotton padding.
In Zen Buddhism, the term all one refers to a state of enlightenment that’s the opposite of isolated and alone. The word alone, however, comes from the idea of “all on one’s own.” The word alone also gives us lone, lonely and lonesome, through a process called misdivision.
Is the expression right on! just an outdated relic of hippie talk, or is it making a comeback? The Journal of American Folklore traces it back to at least 1911, but it gained traction among African-Americans and hippies in the ’60s and ’70s, and now exists as a fairly common term of affirmation.
Names for Big Mosquitos
In an earlier episode, we talked about those huge insects known as gallon-nippers.We heard from Dell Suggs in Tallahassee, Florida, who says he knows them simply as gallinippers. This term for a really large mosquito goes back to the early 1700s, and plenty of variations, like granny-nipper, have been tossed about. What do you call those mosquitoes the size of a racquetball where you live?
Southpaw vs. Northpaw
Left-handers are called southpaws, but righties aren’t commonly known as northpaws. That’s because being right-handed is the default, and the more colorful terms are applied to the exception, not the rule, such as the Australian term for a southpaw, mollydooker. The word northpaw has found its way into some dictionaries, but it’s not common.
“Crayon” Said Like “Crown”
Do you pronounce crayon like crcrayonown? This common variation tends to be a Midlands pronunciation. Americans may pronounce this word several ways, as this dialect map shows.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Dictionary of American Regional English|
|Just My Type|
|Word-Book of Virginia Folk-Speech|