Proverbs pack great truths into a few well-chosen words, no matter which language you speak. Check out this one from Belize: “Don’t call the alligator a big-mouth till you have crossed the river.” And this truism from Zanzibar: “When two elephants tussle, it’s the grass that suffers.” Martha and Grant discuss a new paremiography — a collection of proverbs — from around the world.
This episode originally aired October 4, 2008.
Download the MP3 here (23.5 MB).
A woman from Cape Cod is looking for a polite word that means the current wife of my ex-husband. She’s thinking about cur-wife, but somehow that doesn’t quite work. Neither does the phrase “that poor woman.” The hosts try to help her come up with other possibilities.
“It’s raining, it’s pouring.” But what exactly is the “it” that’s doing all that raining and pouring? This question from a caller prompts Grant to explain what linguists mean when they talk about the weather it. Hint: It depends on what the meaning of “it” is.
Your eyetooth is located directly beneath your eye. But is that why they’re called eyeteeth? A Boston caller would give her eyeteeth to know. Okay, not really, but she did want an answer to this question.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski invites Grant and Martha to busta rhyme with a word puzzle called Rhyme Groups.
You’ve seen people indicate emphasis by putting a period after each of several words, and capitalizing the first letter of each word. A Michigan listener wonders how this stylistic trick arose. Her question was prompted by this description of French model-turned-presidential-spouse Carla Bruni: “She’s got a cashmere voice and a killer body. Plays decent guitar and writes her own lyrics. Can hold her own with queens and statesmen. She. Must. Be. Stopped.” Jealous much?
Do you want to get down? Ask that in parts of Louisiana, and people know you’re not inquiring whether they care to dance, you’re asking if they want to get out of a car. A former Louisianan who grew up using the expression that way wonders if it’s French-inspired. The hosts proceed to use the phrase “get down” so much they end up with a dreadful K.C. and the Sunshine Band earworm.
Which is correct for describing a close family resemblance: spittin’ image or spit and image? Grant and Martha discuss the possible origins of these expressions, including a recent hypothesis that’s sure to surprise.
If you’ve used the word sickly too many times in a paragraph and need a synonym, there’s always dauncy, also spelled donsie and dauncy. Grant explains the origin of this queasy-sounding word.
A Navy man stationed in Hawaii phones to settle a dispute over the difference between acronyms and initialisms. Here’s hoping he didn’t go AWOL to make the call.
Is English is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket? A Wisconsin grandmother thinks so, particularly because of all the ums and you knows she hears in everyday speech. The hosts discuss these so-called disfluencies, including how to avoid them and how to keep other people’s disfluencies from grating on your nerves.
We leave you with a couple other proverbs translated into English. They’re from David Crystal’s paremiography, As They Say in Zanzibar:
Proverbs are like butterflies; some are caught and some fly away. (Germany)
Teachers open the door; you enter by yourself. (China)