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All That and a Bag of Chips

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We tend to take the index of a book for granted, but centuries ago, these helpful lists were viewed with suspicion. Some even worried that indexes would harm reading comprehension! A witty new book tells the story. Plus, the Latin term bona fides was adopted into English to mean “good faith” or “authentic credentials.” But there’s more than one way to pronounce it. And: say you’re off at summer camp, and there’s a container in the dining hall labeled ort bucket. What will you find if you look inside? Also: crisp, with one foot in the milk bucket, a brain teaser about nicknames, French gestures, Dutchman, million-dollar family, dungarees, scared water, and nuking food.

This episode first aired June 25, 2022.

Ways of Answering the Phone

 Do you answer the phone with a word or phrase that’s a little out of the ordinary? Readers of our email newsletter had some surprising answers to that question. One says that just for fun, he likes to answer with a cheery Front desk! A reader in Ithaca, New York, reports her grandfather used to pick up a ringing phone and say Commence! And a Salisbury, North Carolina, woman was known for picking up the phone and saying All right!

Pronouncing “Bona Fides”

 Marianne from Valdosta, Georgia, is stumped about how to pronounce the term bona fides. It means “authentic credentials,” as in literary bona fides, and comes from Latin bona fides, literally “good faith.” In the United States, it’s usually pronounced BOHN-uh FYE-deez and BOHN-uh-fydz. However, if at all possible, it’s best to avoid it altogether; as a Latin term adopted whole into English, chances are it will rub someone the wrong way.

A Millionaire’s Family

 In another episode, we discussed pigeon pair, or “a daughter and son,” an allusion to the old belief that pigeons and doves always have two chicks, one of each sex. A millionaire’s family or a million-dollar family is “a family with one daughter and one son,” supposedly an ideal combination of offspring.

Crisp to Mean Cranky

 Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, reports that his parents used to use the word crisp to mean “tired” or “cranky.” This usage seems to have originated on U.S, college campuses in the 1970s.

Eat with Your Toe in the Fire

 A couple of Southernisms you can use to praise the cook: I could eat this with my toe in the fire and I could eat this with one foot in the milk bucket.

Fan Club Monikers Brain Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski is a fan of fan names — those nicknames given to devotees of a particular show or performer — so much so that he’s collected a whole puzzleful of them. Justin Bieber fans, for example, are known as Beliebers, so what do you call dedicated fans of Taylor Swift? Here’s a clue: It sounds as if they might be fans of funny adverbs,Tom said vocally.

French Gestures — and Not The One You’re Thinking

 Carolyn in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been teaching her grandchildren some conventional French gestures to tease their grandfather. She’s using the book Beaux Gestes: A Guide to French Body Talk (Bookshop|Amazon) by renowned French scholar Laurence Wylie, with photographs by Rick Stafford. For example, pointing to one’s eye, or even using a finger to pull down one’s lower eyelid, and saying Mon oeil! expresses doubt or refusal to acknowledge what’s been said.

Ort Buckets

 Our conversation about orts, that term well-known to cruciverbalists for “random bits of leftover food,” prompts listeners to share memories of ort buckets in the dining hall at summer camps, and instructions to keep them as free as possible of food waste.

Dutchman, a Perfect Patch on an Imperfection

 Working for a furniture maker in New England, Steven and his co-workers used the word Dutchman to denote a high-quality patch to disguise an imperfection in the wood. In an article in the Journal of American Speech, historian Archie Green notes that many similar terms have arisen amid a mingling of immigrants in the labor force. Dutchman in this sense, for example, may reflect the superb craftsmanship of German woodworkers, the German Deutsch or “German,” often being adapted into English as Dutch.

Dungarees: From a Hill in Mumbai to Your Closet

 The word dungarees is a relic of the British colonial presence in India. Dungri was the name applied to a durable cotton cloth exported from India to England in the 1600s, and used to make sails and tents. Dungaree comes from the Marathi term Ḍoṅgarī Killā, or “Hill Fort,” the name of a fortification and port near Mumbai, where the cloth was originally traded. By the middle of the 19th century, this material was also used for sturdy work trousers called dungarees. Jeans were originally made of jean, a fabric from Genoa, Italy, and denim comes from French serge de Nîmes, or “serge from Nîmes,” a town in southern France, which produced it.

Scared Water

 In parts of Appalachia, really weak coffee is sometimes referred to as scared water.

Index, A History of The

 The wittily named Index, A History of The by Dennis Duncan (Bookshop|Amazon) is a comprehensive and engaging history of that part of books most of us take for granted.

We’ve Been “Nuking” Food for More Than 40 Years

 Why do we say we are going to nuke some food when we’re simply heating it in the microwave? The earliest recorded instance of nuking food in this way comes from a 1982 article in the University of North Carolina student newspaper. It’s an example of semantic bleaching, where a word associated with something terrible and destructive — to nuke as in “deploy a nuclear bomb” — is now applied to an activity that’s far more benign. Microwave radiation (which is just radio waves) is nothing like nuclear radiation!

Brazilian Words for Misers

 Our list of words for stingy people just grew longer, thanks to a contribution from Rick in San Antonio, Texas: When he lived in Brazil, he learned the expression mão-de-vaca, literally “hand of a cow” and pão-duro, literally “hard bread.” The former reflects the idea that someone who has a cow’s hand is literally “tight-fisted,” and the latter may suggest someone so miserly they hoard their bread, taking tiny nibbles at it for so long that it gets rock-hard.

Career Ascension or Career Advancement?

 Brandon from Lewes, Delaware, is eager to move up the career ladder, and has been telling people he seeks a path to ascension within a company. Is ascension the right word to use in this case? A better choice would be advancement. Generally Ascension refers to the biblical story of the ascent of Christ into Heaven. Ascension was adapted into English from Latin ascensio, meaning “a going up.” The word ascent came later, formed by analogy with descent, which came into English via Old French descente, meaning “genealogical lineage,” derived from Latin descendere “to go down.”

If You’re the Real Deal, You’re All That and a Bag of Chips

 Why do we describe someone or something very special as all that and a bag of chips? It’s an intensifier of the expression all that and appears to have been popularized by a 1991 newspaper story about new slang, playing off the earlier “all that.”

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Beaux Gestes: A Guide to French Body Talk by Laurence Wylie, with photographs by Rick Stafford (Bookshop|Amazon)
Index, A History of The by Dennis Duncan (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
August 10KhruangbinCon Todo El MundoNight Time Stories
Sweetie-PieStone AllianceStone AllianceNow-Again Records
Pluto’s LamentThe OlympiansThe OlympiansDaptone
What’s Happening!! ThemeSilver Streak / What’s Happening!! Theme 45Henry ManciniRCA
The Last FoolOrgoneCali FeverUbiquity
Chum CityWRDThe HitColor Red
Peter Gunn ThemeHenry ManciniThe Music From Peter GunnRCA
Small TimeOrgoneBacanoKillion Floor Sound
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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