What do pigs have to do with piggyback rides? We get a lesson from a listener in the fine art of speaking gibberish. What’s the correct way to pronounce pecan? The French have the Academie Française, but what authority do we have for the English language? Also, what you should do when someone yells, “Hold ’er Newt! She’s headed for the barn!”

This episode first aired January 27, 2012.

Download the MP3.

 Unusual Words
Martha and Grant share some favorite unusual words. Omphaloskepsis is a fancy term for “navel-gazing,” from the Greek omphalos, meaning “navel.” Mumbleteenth is a handy substitute when a number is too embarrassing to mention, as in, “Socrates the omphaloskeptic questioned himself for the mumbleteenth time.”

 Double Talk
Double-talk, or doublespeak, is a form of gibberish that involves adding ib or other syllables to existing words. This sort of wordplay has been used among criminals using double-talk to communicate on the sly.

 Pecan Pronunciation
You say puh-KAHN, I say PEE-can. Just how do you pronounce the name of the nut called a pecan? Turns out, there are several correct pronunciations.

 Window Shopping
Window-shopping became popular pastime along New York’s 5th Avenue back in the days when stores closed at 5 p.m. Passersby would stroll past, gazing at the window displays without intending to purchase anything. The French term for “window shopping,” lecher les vitrines, literally translates as “window-licking.”

 Plangent
The word plangent, which means “loud” and sometimes has a melancholy ring to it, is an apt descriptor for movie soundtracks.

 Word Reversals Game
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski revives a classic game of word reversals called Get Back. What palindromic advice would you give to someone who ought to stay away from baked goods? How about snub buns? If, on the other hand, you’ve highlighted the pastries, then you’ve stressed desserts.

 Silly Changed Meaning
The word silly didn’t always have its modern meaning. In the 1400s, silly meant happy or blessed. Eventually, “silly” came to mean weak or in need of protection. Other seemingly simple words have shifted meanings as the English language developed: the term girl used to denote either a boy or a girl, and the word nice at one time meant ignorant.

 Who Decides What’s Good English?
Is there an English language authority like the Real Academia Española or the Academie Française? Dictionaries often have usage panels made up of expert linguists, but English is widely agreed to be a constantly shifting language. Even in France and Spain, the common vernacular often doesn’t follow that of the authorities.

 Burgeroids
How do double rainbows form? Scientists at University of California San Diego have explained that extra-large droplets, known as burgeroids because of their burger-like shape, have the effect of creating a double rainbow. Burgeroids, all the way!

 Bummer Origins
The word bummer originates from the German bummler, meaning “loafer,” as in a lazy person. In English, the word bum had a similar meaning, and by the late 1960s, phrases like bum deal or bum rap lent themselves to the elongated bummer, referring to something that’s disheartening or disappointing.

 Sleeping Pallet; Me vs. I Rule
Many in the South know a pallet to be a stack of blankets or a makeshift bed. The classic blues song “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” gives a perfect illustration.

The “I vs. me” grammatical rule isn’t hard to remember. Just leave the other person out of the sentence. You wouldn’t say “me am going to a movie” or “Dad took I to a movie.”

 Empathic vs. Empathetic
What’s the difference between empathic and empathetic? Empathic is the older word, meaning that one has empathy for another, but the two are near-perfect synonyms, and thus interchangeable.

 FOMO
Do you suffer from FOMO? That’s an acronym fueled by Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites. It stands for “fear of missing out.”

 Piggyback
What does a piggyback ride have to do with pigs? Not much. In the 16th century, the word was pickaback, meaning to pitch or throw on one’s back. It’s had dozens of spellings over the past few centuries, but perhaps the word piggy has contributed to its popularity among children.

 Cray
You know how it is when you encounter a word and then suddenly you start noticing it everywhere? One that’s seemed to pop up is cray, or cray-cray, a slang variant of crazy.

 Hold ’Er Newt
Hold ’er, Newt! This primarily Southern idiom means either “Hold on tight!” or “Giddy-up!” It apparently derives from the idea of a high-spirited horse. Variants of this expression sometimes add “she’s headed for the rhubarb” or “she’s headed for the barn!”

 Chekhov Quote
Some classic advice for writers from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Photo by Chad Miller. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Gee-Gee Calvin Keys Shawn Neeq Black Jazz
Also Sprach Zarathustra Deodato Prelude CTI
Faut Ramasser Les Bananes Le Grand Orchestre d’Alain Goraguer Faut Ramasser Les Bananes 45rpm Disques Temey
Strange Games & Things Love Unlimited Orchestra The Funk Essentials 12″ Collection and More Island Records
September 13 Deodato Prelude CTI
Mellow Music 9th Creation Mellow Music 45rpm Track Records
I Hate I Walked Away Syl Johnson Back For A Taste Of Your Love Hi Records
Ringo Rock The Soul Vendors Studio One Scorcher Soul Jazz Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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26 Responses

  1. EmmettRedd says:

    She might end up “off in the weeds” if you don”t “Hold “er Newt!” Might weeds and rhubarb be interchangeable in the added expression?

    Emmett

  2. Abby says:

    Shun buns is not a pallindrome.  I can only presume that you meant “snub buns.”

  3. Abby says:

    oops…palindrome

  4. EmmettRedd said:

    She might end up “off in the weeds” if you don”t “Hold “er Newt!” Might weeds and rhubarb be interchangeable in the added expression?

    Emmett

    I’d heard “Hold ‘er Newt! She’s headed for the barn,” all my life (73 years).  I was surprised that my husband, four years older than I and brought up in the same part of Alabama, claimed never to have heard it.  Martha and Grant's comments about World War I probably explain why; my father and his brother who lived next door to us were both in WWI and my husband’s father was a few years younger and was not.  We did not have rhubarb on our farm, so I never heard that version.  Our family farmed with mules or horses until after World War II, so it was quite a common expression, applied to all sorts of situations.

  5. Ron Draney says:

    Ruby Jo Faust said:

    I”d heard “Hold “er Newt! She”s headed for the barn,” all my life (73 years).

    I think I first ran across it in an old (1951?) book of tips for home movie-makers, as a caption to a picture of someone made to appear staggering drunk (the tip was to shoot from close to ground level to exaggerate the effect of unsteadiness).

    A later folk expression that”s just as evocative is “Shut “er down, Scotty, she”s suckin” mud!”

  6. natatorium says:

    Re: Bummer – Its surge in popularity in the late 60's/early 70's is due in large part to Hippies and Heads everywhere using the term to describe everything from bad drug trips, to lousy rock concerts, to unfulfilling (any) form of employment. Great popularizers were Cheech & Chong. To me, the quintessential expression of the term is Tommy Chong's laid-back (half-“baked”) way of declaring, “Bummer, man.” Something that was especially unpleasant: the draft; closed-toed shoes; Altamont, was a considered a “total bummer.”

  7. telemath says:

    Ron Draney said:

    Ruby Jo Faust said:

    I”d heard “Hold “er Newt! She”s headed for the barn,” all my life (73 years).

    I think I first ran across it in an old (1951?) book of tips for home movie-makers, as a caption to a picture of someone made to appear staggering drunk (the tip was to shoot from close to ground level to exaggerate the effect of unsteadiness).

    A later folk expression that”s just as evocative is “Shut “er down, Scotty, she”s suckin” mud!”

    I heard “Shut 'er don, Scotty, she's suckin' mud!” a long time ago.  Love that one.  Another favorite of mine was uttered by a family friend when we came to a very rough patch of road: “Hang on to yer corset, Ma!  We're goin'!”

  8. Ron Draney says:

    When the caller asked about piggyback, there was a brief mention that pigs don”t carry each other like that. While that”s true in my experience, there areanimals that transport their young that way. In particular, years ago I saw a giant anteater carrying her pup (cub? calf?) draped across her shoulders as she walked about the enclosure.

    As for how the word “pick-a-back” can become “piggyback” over time, you could have mentioned the similarity to kitty-corner, a term your caller is probably familiar with. But he may not know that it was once “cater-corner”, and before that “quatre-corner”. No cats involved.

  9. Ron Draney says:

    Another point that occurred to me as I listened to the show. There may not be a land of “silly” as Martha wondered, but there are the “Scilly Islands” off the tip of Cornwall in the UK. A very short-lived 1991 sitcom called “Princesses” included in its cast Twiggy as an actual “Princess of Scilly”.

  10. telemath says:

    Re: Double Speak

    A friend of mine and his wife speak “op-speak”.  It sounds identical to the description of double speak, except that they insert “op” in each syllable, instead of “ib”.  I hear it most frequently when he addresses his wife as “hoponopey.”  Once he explained the rules to me, I challenged him to say “papadopoulos” in op-speak.

     

    My parents used to speak pig-latin around us kids to keep secrets from us.  I cracked the code at age 8, but I wasn’t clever enough to keep it a secret.

  11. pharmaflam says:

    Ruby Jo Faust said:

    I’d heard “Hold ‘er Newt! She’s headed for the barn,” all my life (73 years)… 

     

    Also heard this folk expression as far north as Toronto, Canada in the 1960’s.  A neighbour boy (brought up on a farm in central Ontario) used to say to me as we rode our bikes (totally cray-cray-like): “… hang on to ‘er Newt, we’re headed for the rhubarb!”  As a young boy I had never heard the moniker and so, always wondered what part of a woman’s body was called a “newt”. 

  12. Ron Draney says:

    Also on the subject of Pig Latin:

    In the film Gold Diggers of 1933, Ginger Rogers sings one verse of “We’re in the Money” in Pig Latin.

    It seems Busby Berkeley had never encountered Pig Latin before and she had to explain this strange gibberish to him.

  13. Maria B says:

    pharmaflam said:

    Ruby Jo Faust said:

    I’d heard “Hold ‘er Newt! She’s headed for the barn,” all my life (73 years)… 

     

    Also heard this folk expression as far north as Toronto, Canada in the 1960’s.  A neighbour boy (brought up on a farm in central Ontario) used to say to me as we rode our bikes (totally cray-cray-like): “… hang on to ‘er Newt, we’re headed for the rhubarb!”  As a young boy I had never heard the moniker and so, always wondered what part of a woman’s body was called a “newt”. 

    I just listened to the podcast and was amazed to hear this quote. My parents are both from Iowa, and my mother’s family always said “Hold ‘er Newton!” (of course, I never really realized there was a name involved, I always thought of it more like “holder nootin”!) I remember in particular my grandfather using this expression to mean “hold on just a minute” when things were about to get out of control. Grandpa was too young for WWI and had a family so stayed home to farm during WWII, but I suppose this was out there in popular culture. Grandpa also was of the generation who had horses as a young man but saw the passing of “horse culture” in farming, so I can see where it might come from handling horses who are about to get a little out of control. I wonder whether anyone else had the “Newton” variation in their family?

  14. telemath says:

    Ron Draney said:

    Also on the subject of Pig Latin:

    In the film Gold Diggers of 1933, Ginger Rogers sings one verse of “We’re in the Money” in Pig Latin.

    It seems Busby Berkeley had never encountered Pig Latin before and she had to explain this strange gibberish to him.

    Piglatin has small cameos throughout movies and TV.  The most common is “ixnay on the…”:

     

    “Ixnay on the otten-ray” – Young Frankenstein

    “Ixnay on the wishing for more wishes” – Aladdin

    “Ixnay on the upid-stay” – The Lion King

  15. Jazyk says:

    Silly meaning blessed is a cognate of German selig and Dutch zalig, both meaning blessed.

  16. PatR says:

    telemath said:

    Re: Double Speak

    A friend of mine and his wife speak “op-speak”.  It sounds identical to the description of double speak, except that they insert “op” in each syllable, instead of “ib”.  I hear it most frequently when he addresses his wife as “hoponopey.”  Once he explained the rules to me, I challenged him to say “papadopoulos” in op-speak.

    I was never good at it, but I remember both Pig Latin and “ob-talk”–same rules as “op-speak.”

  17. mefikmz says:

    The sitcom Happy Endings just had a whole scene with two sisters using “double speak”, in their case using “iggity” as the insert. It was pretty hilarious.

  18. camelsamba says:

    I’ll need to re-listen to the episode to see how “pecan” is handled, but this brings to mind a story we recently listened to while on vacation. (I believe it was The Search for Belle Prater but am not certain.) One of the characters states that a PEE-can is what you keep under the bed. Made me laugh, because I’ve always been in the puh-KAHN camp myself!

  19. Dick says:

    Grant Barrett said

     What palindromic advice would you give to someone who ought to stay away from baked goods? How about shun buns? 

    I might say, “snub buns.”

  20. Oops! I’ll fix the text.

  21. hippogriff says:

    Ron Draney: There is no term for a young great anteater (which prefers termites), but another ant eating endentate, the armadillo, has pups, so maybe that will work.

    P’kahn is the state tree of Texas, but the state nut is the governor. A pea can is a cylindrical metal container for monocote legumes.

    Bullnettle seeds can substitute for the pecans. Use kitchen tongs to pick the pods as soon as the part between the lobes turns white. Put them in nesting cans in the sun until they pop (without the enclosure, they will pop several feet and never be found). Shell with a pocket knife and use a pecan recipe for the pie. They taste between a peanut and sunflower seed. The disadvantage is they take a long time shelling to get enough for a pie.

    The guide’s false etymology sounded disgustingly like the treatment of “second class” citizens under Jim Crow and I would have pointed it out had I been there.

  22. EmmettRedd says:

    hippogriff said

    … A pea can is a cylindrical metal container for monocote legumes….

    According to this wiki (and my experience), peas (and most legumes) are dicot.

    Emmett

  23. EmmettRedd says:

    EmmettRedd said

    She might end up “off in the weeds” if you don”t “Hold “er Newt!” Might weeds and rhubarb be interchangeable in the added expression?

    Emmett

    After watching an encore episode of History Detectives last night, I was reminded of my brother’s expression of being or running “off in the toolies”. The famous Modoc, Toby Riddle, weaved baskets from tule reeds (from Tule Lake?). The picture of them were pretty thick and they hid the water’s edge. Obviously, if one were “off in the tules”, it would be muddy ground and significantly entangling.

    Where he might have picked it up is only open to speculation (he died in a tractor rollover). But, he was a “gear head” which might have been his only contact with California (I do not think he ever traveled further west than Kansas or Oklahoma).

    Does anyone know an origin? The phrase gets 74,100 hits on Google [added in edit: Google only counts about 20 when I select the second page].

    Emmett

  24. Ron Draney says:

    My guess is that “the toolies” comes from the ancient Greek “Thule”, a mythical land said to be in the farthest northern reaches, more remote than any other place.

  25. polyorchid says:

    There is a single open quotation mark instead of an apostrophe in ” ‘Hold ‘er Newt! She’s headed for the barn!’ ”

    Word curls up the apostrophes the wrong way when they come at the beginnings of words, but Word is assuming they are meant as single quotation marks. So this is an error.

  26. polyorchid, it’s a function of the open-source editor that WordPress uses and quite an annoyance. I’ll manually put the curvy quote in there but I know there are lots of other places like this on the site. I change them when I see them.

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