Get out your umbrellas — it’s raining pitchforks and … bullfrogs? This week, it’s odd expressions that mean “a heavy downpour.” Also, holistic vs. wholistic, recurrence vs. reoccurrence, flash drive vs. thumb drive, whether it’s good or bad to be jacked up, stomach Steinways and bunheads, and the origin of listless. And not to mince words, but what does the expression “not to mince words” really mean?
This episode first aired May 26, 2012. Listen here:
In what profession would you deal with clams, footballs, hairpins, and axes? They’re all slang terms used by classical musicians.
What’s the origin of the term listless? Does it mean you can’t find the piece of paper with the groceries you need? No. Listless shares a root with the English word lust. In its most literal sense, listless means “without lust,” or “lacking want or desire.”
Is being jacked up a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. To jack up means “to raise up,” as with a car on a lift. But jack up also has a negative meaning, perhaps deriving from hijack or blackjack, suggesting that something’s been hurt or cheated.
Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has some answers to classic songs in this week’s puzzle about song titles in question form. For example, the answer “Because they’re too dumb to stay out of it” answers the musical question from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
What do we mean by the expression not to mince words? The New York Times’ Paul Krugman often uses this idiom meaning “to be straightforward and blunt.” The verb mince means “to make small,” and is a linguistic relative of such words as diminish, miniature, and minute. Mincing is what you do when you’re cutting onions into small pieces or diminishing the force of your speech by using euphemisms.
In an earlier episode, we discussed various meanings for the term stove up. One meaning of stove up is “to be in pain from work or exercise to the point where it’s hard to move.” Similarly, lots of athletes will get stoved fingers from getting them jammed with volleyballs or baseballs.
Do you store files on a flash drive, a thumb drive, a USB stick — or perhaps on a monkey? What do you call the little device that holds flash memory and goes into the USB drive of a computer. Some come in wild forms, like sushi or animals.
Did you ever take lessons to play the stomach Steinway? You know, the accordion? That’s another bit of musicians’ slang sent in by a listener, along with the term bunhead, which means “a ballet dancer.”
Which is the better term, recurrence or reoccurrence? A look at the corpus of American literature confirms that recurrence is far and away the more commonly used word denoting “something that occurs more than once.”
An old book of Virginia folk sayings contains such gems as “It’s as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth,” and “He can’t spell A-B-L-E.”
Is crick a Southern term? Surprisingly, crick, as in creek, is mostly used in New England and the Great Lakes region. You’ll find people smoking boges, or boags. Both words for “cigarette,” apparently derive from the verb “to bogart,” discussed in an earlier episode.
What do you call a fierce rainfall? There are lots of vivid terms in this country besides it’s raining cats and dogs. Some Americans say “It’s raining pitchforks and hoe handles,” or “raining pitchforks and bullfrogs.” Or they might call a heavy rain a toadstrangler, a ditchworker, or stumpwasher. In other countries, this kind of cacophonous rain is denoted by lots of picturesque phrases involving imaginary falling things, including chair legs, female trolls, ropes, jugs — and even husbands.
If something pertains to a whole system or body, is it holistic or wholistic? Despite that tempting “w,” holistic is the correct term. It’s an example of folk etymology, the result of looking at the word whole and assuming that wholistic is the proper correlative.
If something’s soft and fuzzy, why not call it suvvy? Grant collected that bit of slang and more during a recent appearance in Potsdam, NY.
Everyone knows New Yorkers and Angelenos, but what do you call someone from Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Demonyms, or the names for people from a given place, can get pretty complicated, but there are seven rules as drawn by George Stewart, and Paul Dickson’s book Labels for Locals has lots of other answers.
A Chinese proverb says, “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who does not remains a fool forever.”
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