Of all the letters in the alphabet, which two or three are your favorites? If your short list includes one or more of your initials, that’s no accident. Psychological research shows we’re drawn to the letters in our name. • If you doubt that people have always used coarse language, just check out the graffiti on the walls of ancient Pompeii. Cursing’s as old as humanity itself! • Just because a sound you utter isn’t in the dictionary doesn’t mean it has no linguistic function. • Also: verklempt, opaque vs. translucent, chorking, bruschetta, mothery vinegar, and a goose walked over your grave.

This episode first aired October 28, 2017.

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 Name-Letter Effect
Psychological research shows that when it comes to letters of the alphabet, people tend to like their own initials, perhaps because of a sense of ownership. This phenomenon is called the name-letter effect.

 Verklempt
A listener in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, wonders about the origin of the word verklempt, which describes someone all seized up with emotion. This Yiddish term, also spelled farklempt, enjoyed a surge in popularity during the 1990s when it was used by Mike Myers playing talk show host Linda Richman on TV’s Saturday Night Live.

 Nullifidian
A nullifidian is someone who subscribes to no particular faith or religion.

 Opaque vs. Translucent
A girl in Omaha, Nebraska, has a dispute with her father about the meaning of the words opaque and translucent. Opaque describes something that blocks light completely. Something translucent lets some light pass through.

 Chork
The verb to chork means to make the noise your feet make if your shoes are full of water.

 Double Stuff Word Puzzle
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a double stuff puzzle in which each answer consists of two rhyming words with two syllables each. For example, what would you call food provided by God for your grandmother?

 Bruschetta Pronunciation
Bruschetta is the Italian bread soaked with olive oil and topped with savory ingredients. But how do you pronounce it? With a k sound or a sh sound? Although there are two widespread pronunciations, because it’s not fully anglicized, bruschetta is best pronounced as broo-SKETT-ah.

 Non-Word Utterances Also Have Meaning
A Pasadena, California, man says some of his relatives make a noise that sounds like unh-Unh, and it’s clear to everyone in the family that it means “Well, what did you expect?” A lexical utterance like that does have meaning, even if it’s not in the dictionary.

 Spelling Sacrilegious
The word sacrilegious, describing something that violates the sacred, is tricky to spell. It’s easy to assume that it contains the word religious, but it doesn’t. Sacrilegious derives from sacrilegus, a Latin word that means a stealer of sacred things.

 Why Do We Call Psychiatrists and Psychologists Shrinks?
Why are psychiatrists and psychologists called shrinks? It’s a jocular reference to the ritual practice in certain tribal societies of literally shrinking the heads of one’s vanquished enemies. The term shrink was adopted as a joking reference to psychotherapists in the 1960s.

 A Child’s Sophisticated Misunderstanding
Martha shares a letter from a San Antonio, Texas, listener about a child’s misunderstanding of the word sophisticated.

 How Old are Cursing and Obscene Language?
How far back does cursing go? People have been using coarse language for thousands of years. Just check out the filthy graffiti on the walls of Pompeii. Although cursing has changed over time, the F-word and its ilk have been around for hundreds of years.

 Vinegar Mother
A woman in Cheyenne, Wyoming, says her mom used to refer to the cloudy scum that sometimes forms atop vinegar as mother. The term has been around at least 500 years, and can refer to the scum on the top or sediment on the bottom. It’s also used as a verb, and a liquid with that kind of surface can be described with the adjective mothery. A similar cloudy substance that forms atop old wine is called a wineflower.

 Author Michael Sims
An observation about life and language from author Michael Sims: Every encounter with another human being is like being able to read half a page from the middle of a novel, isn’t it? And then someone grabs the book away.

 Something Walked Over Your Grave
A Temecula, California, man recalls that whenever he feels a chill, he says, “I guess someone walked on my grave.” If someone else feels a chill, he’ll say, “Did someone walk on your grave?” Then one day he shivered, and before he could get the words out, a friend asked, “Did a goose walk on your grave?” Which came first, the person or the goose? A similar expression may be used during a lull in a conversation. The earliest known reference to someone walking over one’s final resting place is in the writing of Jonathan Swift.

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

Photo by Stefan Muth. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Tiger Trot Leroi Conroy Tiger Trot 45 Colemine Records
Supermoon Ikebe Shakedown The Way Home Colemine Records
Enter Leroi Conroy Tiger Trot 45 Colemine Records
Moon Cabbage Polyrythmics Libra Stripes KEPT
Ain’t It A Groove Dave Hamilton Ain’t It A Groove 45 Remined
Can You Dig It Dave Hamilton Ain’t It A Groove 45 Remined
Chingador Polyrhythmics Libra Stripes KEPT
Volcano Vapes Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Out On The Coast Colemine Records