Creative communication in a noisy world! Writing a clever 140-character tweet isn’t easy. But you know what’s even more impressive? Working all 26 letters of the alphabet into just one sentence! The term for that type of sentence is pangram. Naturally, there’s a whole Twitter feed featuring accidental pangrams from all over. And: More people are giving themselves coffee names to avoid confusion when ordering that cup to go. After all, what barista is going to misspell Elvis? And what’s the difference between a purse, a handbag, and a pocketbook? Martha and Grant root around for an answer. Plus: center vs. centre, capital vs. lowercase letters, the origin of sommelier, and an alternative to showering when travelling in an RV.
This episode first aired November 7, 2014.
The disgruntled consumer who tweeted “My ‘prize’ in my Cracker Jack box…whoever does quality control needs to get fired” accidentally did something miraculous. This message includes all 26 letters of the alphabet, making it a pangram. The twitter feed @PangramTweets shares random pangrams from around the internet.
Origin of Sommelier
A wine expert with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a minor in French wonders about the origin of the term sommelier. It shares a root with sumpter, meaning “pack animal.” Sommelier used to refer generally to the person in charge of the provisions carried by a pack animal, and later came to specify the person who oversees the provisions in a wine cellar.
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” writes Rebecca Solnit in The Faraway Nearby. As Solnit observes, it’s true that a book is just an inert object on a shelf that takes on a new life when opened: “A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.”
Many people pronounce the word groceries as if it were spelled “grosheries.” The more common pronunciation, though, is the sibilant GROSS-er-reez.
Adages from Memory Quiz
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a pretty good memory for adages and proverbs, but it’s not perfect. Here, he gives us some classic lines where the last word is off— like, for example, “a clear conscience is a soft willow.”
Webster’s Campaign for American Orthography
There’s no difference in meaning between center and centre, but there is an interesting story behind the change in spelling. In the early 19th century, independence-minded lexicographer Noah Webster campaigned for a new American orthography. While his countrymen rejected the British spellings of centre, theatre, and defence, they rejected Webster’s attempts to replace soup with “soop” and women with “wimmen.”
We’ve talked before about that stuff that builds up in your eyes after a night’s sleep, and listeners keep chiming in with more, including googlies, eye-winkers, and from a listener who grew up in the Philippines, morning stars.
Georgia Baths and Marine Showers
A Florida Gators football fan grew up travelling to road games in an RV. When it came time to wash up, her family members would take “Georgia baths,” meaning they’d wash their important parts in the RV sink. Beats the alternative Marine shower, where no water is necessary—just a ton of perfume or cologne to douse yourself with.
Writing that Evokes Home
Is there a writer who best evokes the sense of being from the place that you call home? For Martha, Jesse Stuart’s writing about W-hollow in Kentucky perfectly captures that part of the Bluegrass State, while Grant notes that the 1982 book Blue Highways nails what it’s like to be a Missourian.
History of Capital and Lowercase
There’s a reason why we have both capital and lowercase letters. As the alphabet went from the Phoenicians to the Greeks to the Romans, letters took on new sounds, and the need to write quickly brought about the introduction of lowercase versions. David Sacks does a great job of tracing the history of majuscules and minuscules in his book Letter Perfect.
An election official in Arcata, California, wonders how the “/” symbol should be pronounced on ballots for the visually impaired. The symbol is becoming more and more popular as a kind of conjunction. In the U.K., they call it a stroke, or virgule, but in the United States, slash is the most common term. As University of Michigan English professor Anne Curzan has pointed out, millennials have even taken to spelling out the entire word slash in texts.
Etymology of Verb Reef
To reef something, means to “tug hard” or “push vigorously,” as you might with a window that’s stuck. It comes from the sailing term reef, which refers to an action used to make a sail smaller.
Photo by Julie, Dave & Family. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit|
|Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon|
|Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z by David Sacks|
|Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours: How to Feel Good About Canadian English by Joe Clark|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Whistle Song||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|Soul Sista||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|The Old Spot||Clutchy Hopkins Meets Lord Kenjamin||Music Is My Medicine||Ubiquity|
|Stop This Game||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|Treasure||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|WWIII (And How To Avoid It)||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|Riff Raff Rollin||Clutchy Hopkins Meets Lord Kenjamin||Music Is My Medicine||Ubiquity|
|Detox||New Mastersounds||Therapy||One Note Records|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|