You walk into a used bookstore, or pull down an old volume at the library, and there it is: The smell of old books. If you detect notes of vanilla in that intoxicating scent, there’s a reason. Also, why some people think the word awesome is overused, why Comic Sans is a font almost universally reviled, and the origin of the phrase around Robin Hood’s barn. Plus, chuck it vs. chunk it, sharing out, the dummy it, intellectual jokes, and the answers some parents give when a kid asks one too many questions. As in, “Daddy, what’s that?” “Why, it’s a wiggly-woggler for grinding smoke!”
This episode first aired September 28, 2013.
Nothing like that old-book smell. And if you open up an old volume and think you detect notes of vanilla, there’s a good reason. That intoxicating scent is the result of lignin, a chemical compound in plants used for making paper. It has a molecular structure similar to that of vanilla.
“Grandpa, what’s that?” A caller says that when she asked her grandfather one too many questions, he’d give her the fanciful answer, “That’s a dingbat off of a wiffem dilly that you grind smoke with.” It’s one of several things parents say to deflect questions from inquisitive children. Similar phrases include a wigwam for a water-windmill for grinding smoke, a weegee for grinding smoke, and a wiggly-woggler for grinding smoke.
Is there a word for a word that doesn’t fit its own definition? For example, verb is a noun, and monosyllabic is polysyllabic. Come to think of it, why is it so hard to remember how to spell mnemonic?
A truck driver in Tucson, Arizona, has a dispute with her boyfriend: If you toss something out, do you chuck it or chunk it?
“Is it solipsistic in here or is it just me?” That’s one answer to the question: “What’s the most intellectual joke you know?”
Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a quiz with punning clues from some of the nation’s top crossword-puzzle constructors.
Do the verb phrases share out and explain out have a special, nuanced meaning in the worlds of business and education? Or are they jargon to be avoided?
A Vermont caller feels the word awesome is overused to the point of being almost meaningless. There’s a term for that. It’s called semantic weakening.
Listener Jennifer Bragg writes: “In our home, we call an extra-strong coffee confesso. One cup and you can’t stop talking.”
A caller originally from South Florida grew up calling the screened-in patio area behind her house a lanai, but now that she lives in Indianapolis, she hears this structure called breezeway. The word lanai originated in Hawaii, and may have been popularized in Florida by real estate developers.
The origin of the phrase in the offing is nautical. The offing is the part of the ocean that one can see from shore, so if something’s in the offing, it’s not that far away.
In parts of the American South, a can of creasies is a can of watercress salad, also known as salad greens.
A Quebec listener asks: In the phrases it’s a girl, or it’s raining, what exactly is the it here? It’s called the weather it or the dummy it, and it serves a placeholder inserted to make the sentence function grammatically.
Polyglots sometimes experience faulty language selection, accidentally reaching for words from a language different from the one they’re speaking. Listener Phoebe Liu of Seattle grew up speaking Chinese, then learned English, and studied Japanese in college. She says that physically embodying stereotypical speakers of each language when speaking helps her keep the languages straight.
If you say they went all the way around Robin’s barn, it means they took a long, circuitous route. A San Antonio, Texas, listener wants to know: Who is Robin and why did he build his barn in such an inconvenient place? It’s probably a reference to Robin Hood, the legendary character who kept the riches he stole in Sherwood Forest — a very big “barn” indeed.
Photo by Tom Maisey. Used under a Creative Commons license.