This past weekend we aired one of our most popular episodes from last year, in which we talked about sailing close to the wind, the language of Downton Abbey, the color orange, busman’s holiday, the pronunciation of forte and more. Check it out.

Quick Answers

A few highlights of some off-air questions we’ve answered lately:

• Angela is writing a short story about a nudist and wants to know if there is a term nudists have for non-nudists. Textile was one we found in a list of nudist slang. But she wants something better. Can you help?

• What’s the difference between nonetheless and nevertheless? There’s no appreciable difference between the two, according to all the sources we checked. However, looking at large corpora (big masses of data used by linguists to learn things about how we use language), nonetheless is slightly less formal (but not slangy or uncouth) and nevertheless is more formal, mostly because it’s far more likely to appear in legal documents.

• By the way, this is a freely available corpus we mentioned on the show recently. It’s a bit complicated but read the help and you’ll be learning in no time.

• What are the origins of besties, as in “best friends”? We know it’s component parts: best plus -ie(s), a classic diminutive or hypocoristic suffix, which means it’s used to form pet names and nicknames. Iona and Peter Opie, the great children’s folklorists, remark that among schoolchildren “the addition of ‘ies’ is so common it is sometimes added where not absolutely necessary.” They also report a school chant from the UK:

Easties are beasties,

Northies are horsies,

Westies are besties.

If we’re reading the context right, this example shows bestie is more than 100 years old.

Steve wants to know, “What’s the origin of to eat crow?” Does it really come from the War of 1812?

Probably not. The tall tale appears out of thin air many years after the event. Here’s another version of that just-so story which attributes the events to the American Civil War.

But the anecdote we like best about the origin of eat crow — also probably apocryphal — is this one, which the source linked above says dates to about 1859:

[It] concerns a thrifty boarding-house-keeper on the Hudson and an indigent patron. Whenever the latter remonstrated at the food he was told he was “too partikler.” “I kin eat anything,” asserted the autocrat of the table, with a proud consciousness of superiority; “I kin eat crow.” The constant repetition of these words wearied the boarder. Finally he resolved to test the old man. Taking his gun with him, he succeeded in bagging a fine, fat old crow. By dint of soft words and filthy lucre he induced the cook to prepare that crow for the table. The cook was a Scotchwoman, and used snuff. He borrowed all she had, and sprinkled it liberally over the crow, gave it an extra turn, and brought it before the host, saying, as he set it down, “Now, my dear sir, you have said a thousand times, if you have said it once, that you can eat crow; here is one very carefully cooked.” The old man turned pale for a moment, but, bracing himself against the back of his chair, and with, “I kin eat crow,” he began cutting a good mouthful. He swallowed it, and, preparing for a second onslaught, looked his boarder straight in the eye, and ejaculated, “I’ve eat crow,” and took a second portion. He lifted his hands mechanically, as if for a third attack, but dropped them quickly over the region of his stomach, and, rising hurriedly and unsteadily, retreated for the door, muttering, as he went, “but dang me if I hanker arter it.”

In researching that story, we also turned up these ditties from the election of 1872, when Horace Greeley was running for president. The one that caught our eye uses the older, formerly common eat boiled crow:

There is a dish no cook-book names.

And which no patriot cares to know.

Which none but starving men will taste,

A noisome victual called boiled crow.

Horace Greeley, running as both a Democrat and Liberal Republican, died after the presidential common vote and before the electoral vote. One wonders what he had for his last meal.

Noisome, by the way, means foul-smelling, offensive, or noxious, not noisy.

Behind the Scenes

Attention, Virginia listeners! Martha will give the keynote speech at the Women’s Leadership Conference at Ferrum College on March 15 at 11 a.m. The conference is free and open to the public, but you must register by March 5.

She’ll also sign copies of her books after her speech and she looks forward to meeting listeners of Virginia’s Radio IQ Network.

Peace and love,

Martha and Grant

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