The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who’s on your guest list and why? Plus, anchors aweigh! The slang of sailors includes the kind of BOSS you’d better dodge, a barn you sail into, and the difference between the Baja ha-ha and the Baja bash. All that, and a brain game about body parts, conked out and zonked out, synonyms for synonym, ferhunsed, chronopaguous, nemophilist, sea-kindly, smithereens, standing on my own two pins, and more.
This episode first aired June 1, 2019.
Sailing Slang and Jargon
After hanging out with San Diego sailing enthusiasts, Martha picked up several bits of slang and jargon. Catenary describes the desirable curve of an anchor chain, from Latin catena, meaning “chain.” A chain that is not pulled up correctly runs the risk of forming castles, irregular piles of links that require untangling or descastling. The route along the coast of Baja California going south from San Diego is usually pleasant and known as the Baja ha-ha (which is also the name of a well-known regatta), but traveling in the opposite direction, from the tip of the peninsula, can be grueling and is known as the Baja bash. One must always be on the lookout for a BOSS, or “big old steel ship,” and sailors approaching their home port like to say they’re nearing the barn.
“Zonked,” Meaning Exhausted
Calley from Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the word zonked, meaning “exhausted.” Like the word conk, as in conked out, meaning “fast asleep,” zonk originally had to do with a blow to the head.
Synonyms for “Synonym”
Is there a synonym for the word synonym? Yes, there are two: polyonym and poecilonym, but they’re rarely seen except in collections of unusual words.
Goonus, That Lovable Pudge
sBetsy in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says her family refers to the lovable pudge on babies as goonus. It’s a fond term that can also refer to such things as the swinging belly fat on a cat. Does anyone else say goonus or is it a family word?
Nemophila maculata, or Fivespot, Etymology
The California superbloom included Nemophila maculata, a white blossom with a dab of purple at the end of each of five petals. It’s also called fivespot. The maculata in the scientific name derives from Latin macula, meaning “spot,” as in immaculate, meaning “spotless.” The Nemophila comes from Greek words meaning “forest-loving.” A nemophilist is someone fond of forests.
Mixed-Up Body Part Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s brain teaser involves mixed-up body parts. For example, suppose he says, “Listen you, stop bothering me or I’m going to give you a toe sandwich!” What part of one’s anatomy did he really mean?
Go Out vs. Go In to the Water
Maira lives in Puerto Rico and speaks English as a second language. When friends visiting from Minnesota join her at the beach and are ready to swim out into the surf, they say I’m ready to go out. When they’re ready to go back onto the shore, they say I’m ready to go in. But Maira says just the opposite: I’m ready to go in when she’s about to go swimming, and I’m ready to go out when she stop swimming. Why the difference?
Markov Chains and Your Phone’s Autosuggested Text
Grant responds to a voicemail from Doug in Louisville, Kentucky, who asks whether our phone’s autocomplete function will affect the way we talk and write. The answer is yes, partly because of Markov chains, or models describing a sequence of possible events.
Fahunst, Ferhunsed, Fehoonsed
Judy from Binghamton, New York, remembers her aunt in Redding, Pennsylvania, using the term ferhunsed to mean “confused.” Sometimes spelled fahunst or ferhoonsed, it means “teased” or “mixed up,” and derives from German verhunzen, meaning to “spoil” or “botch” or “bungle.”
David in Austin, Texas, wonders if smithereens, meaning “bits” or “fragments,” as in explode into smithereens, refers to little bits of metal left over from blacksmithing. Actually, the origin of smithereen is uncertain, although it may come from Irish English or Irish Gaelic, but no one’s really sure. It may be related to smithers which also means “small pieces.” A similar-sounding word, shivereens, comes from shiver, meaning “splinter” or “fragment.”
If You Could Invite Any Two Authors, Living or Dead, for Dinner
Suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who’s on your guest list and why? Deciding that question may say a lot about you. Martha’s choices: Sappho and Toni Morrison. Grant’s: Akhenaten and Ben Franklin.
Standing On Your Own Two Pins
The phrase standing on my own two pins goes back to the 1940s and means “standing on my own two legs.”
Infixing and Tmesis
Scott in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders if the words nother as in a whole nother and abso-bloomin-lutely are real words. Yes, they are! The construction a whole nother is an example of what linguists call tmesis, which involves the insertion of a lexical element that doesn’t make a whole new word. In-fixing, which is quite similar, and might be considered a form of tmesis, involves inserting a lexical element into a word or compound to make a new word. James McMillian’s article in American Speech, “Infixing and Interposing in English,” offers lots of examples.
Does “Eventful” Have a Negative Connotation?
Joanna from Dallas, Texas, says English is not her first language, and she’s trying to understand the nuances of the words event and eventful. She wonders if the word eventful carries a less positive connotation than the word event. It depends on context, although eventful often has negative associations. You wouldn’t want your surgery, for example, to be an eventful one.
Chronophagous is a rare word that means “time-consuming.” WOMBAT is an acronym that stands for Waste of Money, Brains, and Time.
Photo by chipmunk_1. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Mode for D.D.||The Awakening||Mirage||Black Jazz|
|Slinky||The Awakening||Mirage||Black Jazz|
|Easy Rhythm||Piero Umiliani||To-Day’s Sound||Luito Records|
|A Day In The Life||Grant Green||Green Is Beautiful||Blue Note|
|Mirage||The Awakening||Mirage||Black Jazz|
|Lady Magnolia||Piero Umiliani||Lady Magnolia||Easy Tempo|
|March||The Awakening||Mirage||Black Jazz|
|Put On Your High Heels Sneakers||Grant Green||Iron City!||Cobblestone|
|Railroad||Piero Umiliani||To-Day’s Sound||Luito Records|
|Mash Theme||Ahmad Jamal||Digital Works||Atlantic|
|Black Talk||Charles Earland||Black Talk!||Prestige|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|