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Big Dog

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If you’re ever near a sundial, step closer and look for a message. Many sundials bear haunting, poetic inscriptions about the brevity of life. Plus, language development in toddlers: why and how little ones pick up the exclamation Uh-oh! And a new Japanese term for making the most of your time in the modern age: The Japanese word taipa comes from English and means “time performance.” Also, a punny puzzle about married names, quidnunc, peart, It takes a big dog to weigh a ton, Chamber of Commerce weather, the superstition of saying bread and butter when walking around objects, micturate, piss vs. pee, ordering a hamburger all the way deluxe, why the S in island is silent, and more.

This episode first aired February 25, 2023.

Taipa: Time Performance

 The Japanese neologism taipa refers to the level of satisfaction gained compared with the time spent. You might increase taipa, for example, by listening to an audiobook at twice the normal speed. Taipa derives from the Japanese words taimu pafōmansu, which are adapted from the English words time performance.

It Takes a Big Dog to Weigh a Ton

 An Iowa listener says her father was known for being laconic. When the family tried to draw him out by asking his opinion, he’d often respond with the observation Well, I think it takes a big dog to weigh a ton, suggesting something along the lines of “I don’t know. This sounds like a real problem for you.” There are many different variants of this expression, varying according to the large thing — such as a big woman, a big man, a big hog, a big steer — and the weight, such as a thousand pounds, five hundred pounds, a hundred pounds, and fifty pounds. Sometimes the word big itself is also modified as pretty big or mighty big.

Dalalæða, Icelandic Ground Fog

 The lovely Icelandic word for “ground fog,” dalalæða, comes from dalur, meaning “valley” and læða which is variously translated as “sneak up” or “female cat.”

Chamber of Commerce Weather

 When weather forecasters predict a Chamber of Commerce day, they anticipate sunny, pleasant weather that’s postcard-perfect, and a great advertisement for life in that location.

Ella Vader Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski cordially invites you to a wedding puzzle. For example, if Ella Fitzgerald married Darth Vader, the punny result would be either a kind of shoe or something that might convey you to the top floor of a building. Get it?

When Does “Uh-Oh!” Enter a Child’s Vocabulary?

 Susan from Seattle, Washington, has observed her toddler granddaughter starting to exclaim Uh-oh! when something goes amiss. Is that something she picked up from adults, or do adults pick it up from children? By 18 months, children have already developed a repertoire of two-word expressions, and they acquire uh-oh at a time when they’re starting to learn about values between yes and no, and nuances of meaning. They begin to learn, for example, that uh-oh can express dismay but not worry. The interjection uh-oh! is what linguists call a discourse marker, a small utterance that, in this case, changes what we expect to hear.


 There are lots of words for people who engage in gossip. Another is quidnunc, from the Latin words quid, “what,” and nunc, “now.” A quidnunc is always asking “What now?”

Gimme a Burger and Make it All the Way Deluxe

 Kelly in Norfolk, Virginia, wonders if her hometown is the only place where people specify that they want their burger all the way deluxe, meaning “with all the condiments and toppings.” Other ways to ask for something loaded with those ingredients include ordering it with the works, or with everything on it, or loaded, or supreme, or all dressed.

Why Does “Island” Have a Silent “S”? Because Scholars Couldn’t Stop Themselves

 A middle-schooler in Waukesha, Wisconsin, wonders why the word island contains the letter S, and why is it pronounced with a long I and no S sound? In Old English, this word for dry land surrounded by water was igland, coming from words that mean “water” or “watery land.” In Middle English, it was spelled iland or yland. Later, English scholars mistakenly assumed that the word came not from its Germanic source, but from French isle, or “island.” They began spelling the English word as isle-land, and by the 17th century island. The French word was previously spelled ile, but scholars suspected it derived from the Latin word for “island,” insula, and added the letter S to make it look more like Latin. The S was later dropped, although its former presence is reflected in the circumflex in the modern French word, île. For an entertaining and helpful history of such spelling irregularities, check out Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme―And Other Oddities of the English Language (Bookshop|Amazon) by linguist Arika Okrent.

All Is as a Shadow: A Collection of Sayings on Sundials

 In the acclaimed podcast S-town, journalist Brian Reed notes that sundials often bear haunting inscriptions about the brevity of life and the passage of time. Some 1,682 of them are collected in The Book of Sun-Dials, originally published in 1872 by children’s book writer Margaret Scott Gatty and expanded in a later edition by Horatia K.F. (Gatty) Eden and Eleanor Lloyd. Among those included in this handsome volume are the Latin inscription Fugit hora, ora, which translates as “The hour flies, pray,” and Omnia velut umbra, “All is as a shadow.”

Why Did “Piss” Become a Crass-Sounding Word?

 The noun piss, meaning “urine” and the verb piss, “to urinate,” may sound more crass than pee. But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, piss appears in the book of Isaiah and pisseth appears in the book of Samuel. This usage is typical of a time when words involving bodily functions carried little or no stigma. As social classes began dividing, the word piss came to be considered vulgar. Less offensive synonyms include wee and micturate.

Feelin’ Right Peert Today

 Michael in Aurora, Kentucky, wonders about the word peert, meaning “in good health” or “chipper,” as in Yesterday I felt kindly puny, but today I feel right peert. Heard primarily in the American South, peert, also spelled peart, derives from English pert, “lively” or “jaunty.” Good news might pearten up someone’s mood, and in Appalachia, peartening juice means “homemade whiskey.”

Bread and Butter, Come to Supper

 Samantha, a Latin teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, is curious about why some people say bread and butter after two people walking together pass by on either side of an object in their path or try to avoid being split. (An example occurs in a 1960 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” starring William Shatner.) This practice derives from an old belief that evil spirits or the Devil himself could take various forms and come between people physically, causing the two to quarrel later or have bad luck. Phrases such as bread and butter, milk and cheese, or bread and butter, come to supper, supposedly can be invoked to preserve that togetherness. As early as the 4th century C.E., St. Augustine of Hippo alludes to this superstition in his De Doctrina Christiana (Bookshop|Amazon). Among Black speakers of American English, a similar idea is reflected in the admonition don’t split the pole.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don’t Rhyme―And Other Oddities of the English Language by Arika Okrent (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Book of Sun-Dials by Margaret Scott Gatty
De Doctrina Christiana by St. Augustine of Hippo (Bookshop|Amazon).

Music Used in the Episode

Rebirth Of SlickDigable PlanetsReachin’Elektra
Time’s UpO.C.Word… LifeWild Pitch Records
TojoKokorokoCould We Be MoreBrownswood Recordings
A Little SoulPete RockPeteStrumentalsBBE
Do You Believe?The BeatnutsStone CrazyRelativity
Ewa InuKokorokoCould We Be MoreBrownswood Recordings
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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