This week, it’s backhanded phrases, those snarky remarks that come sugar-coated in politeness, like “How nice for you,” “Oh, interesting!,” and the mother of all thinly veiled criticism, “Bless her heart.” Also this week, free reign vs. free rein, the origin of the one-finger salute, and what it means if a Frenchman has “big ankles.” And Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings stops by to try his hand at a slang quiz. This episode first aired October 31, 2009.
You’ve been on the receiving end of backhanded phrases, and admit it, you’ve used them, too. A discussion on Ask MetaFilter prompts Grant and Martha to talk about the ways people use sugar-coated snark. By the way, if you want a fancy word for veiled criticisms like “bless her heart” and “let me know how that works out,” it’s charientism, from a Greek word that means “the expression of an unpleasant thing in an agreeable manner.”
What do English bowmen, the French, and lopped-off digits have to do with the classic middle-finger insult? Absolutely nothing. A San Diego truck driver wonders about the true origin of the one-finger salute. There’s a great debunking of the English archers story here.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski says he’s been visiting some “niche” high schools, all of which have the word “High” in them, maybe in reverse of a standard phrase. How about this one: “The school where they study phantoms, ghosts, and apparitions.” That would be Spirits High.
A caller who grew up in Australia has a question about wedding-invitation etiquette in the U.S. She wonders: Shouldn’t an invitation refer to a daughter’s “marriage with” the groom rather than a “marriage to” him?
It’s “Slang for $500.” All-time Jeopardy! Champion Ken Jennings tackles his next logical challenge, the A Way with Words slang quiz. Ken puzzles over the meaning of brummagem and pluck of a pig, and tries to guess an usual meaning for the term daylight. More about Ken at his website, www.ken-jennings.com.
In many neighborhoods, the night before Halloween is the night when pranksters run around wreaking all kinds of mischief–toilet-papering houses, spraying windows with shaving cream, ringing doorbells and then running away. A Connecticut woman remembers calling that night Goosey Night, and is surprised when friends call it Mischief Night. In fact, that prankfest goes by lots of other names, including Corn Night, Picket Night, and Devil Night.
Photo by Graham Hellewell. Used under a Creative Commons license.