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.