A pint-sized mad scientist, a green-haired girl with a contagious sense of wonder, and a 10-year-old detective. They’re all characters in the books on Grant’s latest list of recommended books for children. Also, what’s the word for a female octopus? How about a male kangaroo? A colorful book for younger kids has those answers and more. And the debate over “on accident” versus “by accident”: Which one you use probably depends on how old you are. Plus, if you hop on a merry-go-round, are you moving clockwise or counterclockwise? The answer depends on which side of the pond you’re on..
This episode first aired June 21, 2013.
Tuna may be the chicken of the sea, but octopi, lobsters and crabs are the hens. That is, the females of each those species is called a hen. Aaron Zenz’s lovely book for children I Love Ewe: An Ode to Animal Moms offers a little lesson about female names in the animal kingdom. He does the same for the males of the species in Hug a Bull: An Ode to Animal Dads.
Holy wha, a Yooper corruption of wow, is specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Evidently, it comes in handy when spotting a bear.
An adult male cat is called a tom. What’s the female called? A queen.
Martha Geiger of Sacramento, California, says her French teacher told her that the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round is that one goes clockwise and the other counterclockwise. True? Actually, there’s really no difference between the names, although in England and much of Europe, these rides usually go clockwise; in the U.S., it’s the opposite. And to some Americans, a merry-go-round is simply that spinning playground fixture for kids.
Alex Zobler from Stamford, Connecticut, sent along this joke: Knock knock. Who’s there? To. To who? You see where this one’s going, right?
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski phones in a game of homophones. For example, what two-word phrase could either be described as a redundant way to name a common crop, or a seasonal attraction at state fairs?
Lauren from La Crescenta, California, says her 98-year-old grandfather uses a rather obscure saying. As a kid, if Lauren or her sister won a meaningless contest, he’d award them an imaginary prize he called the crocheted gidote. Or maybe that’s gadoty, or gadote, guhdody, or gadodie — we’ve never seen the term before. Similar phrases include You win the crocheted teapot and You win the crocheted bicycle, all suggesting winning a prize that’s as useless as, say, a chocolate teapot.
A high-school English teacher asks which is correct: It happened on accident, or It happened by accident? A survey by linguist Leslie Barratt at Indiana State University indicates that most people born after 1990 use on accident, and weren’t even aware that by accident was proper, while those born before 1970 almost always say by accident.
An adult male opossum is called a jack, while the female’s called a jill. A baby opossum is simply known as cute.
A Dallas listener says that if someone’s moving especially slowly, his co-worker exclaims It’s like dead lice dripping off you! This phrase, found in Southern and African-American literature from the early 20th century, probably reflects the idea that the person is moving so slowly that they’re already dead and any lice on them have starved to death.
As composer and writer H.I. Phillips has observed, Oratory is the art of making deep noises from the chest sound like important messages from the brain.
Grant offers of a list of children’s books he’s been enjoying with his six-year-old son: Yotsuba&!, the energetic, curious Manga character; Pippi Longstocking; Calvin and Hobbes; the mad scientist Franny K. Stein; and the venerable Encyclopedia Brown.
Why are distances at sea measured in knots? In the 1500s, sailors would drop a chip log off the side of the boat and let out the rope for about thirty seconds, counting how many knots on the rope went out. Eventually, one knot came to mean one nautical mile per hour. Incidentally, this same log gave us logbook, weblog, and ultimately, blog.
A female sheep is an ewe, a goat is a nanny, but what’s a female kangaroo? A flyer.
The word chow, as in chow hall or chow down, goes back to the British presence in Chinese ports during the 1700s. Chow chow was a pidgin term referring to a mixed dish of various foods, namely whatever was on hand. The joke was that it often contained dog, which is the same joke behind our encased sausage scraps known as hot dogs.
Why do we measure the sea in knots? Why, to keep the ocean tide!
Although a few sticklers cling to the traditional pronunciation of short-lived with a long i, the vast majority of Americans now pronounce short-lived with a short i. Long live the latter, we say.
Does and bucks are female and male deer, respectively. But what do you call female and male gerbils. Why, they’re does and bucks, too.
Photo by Rob Pongsajapan. Used under a Creative Commons license.