Some people proudly embrace the label cancer survivor, while others feel that’s not quite the right word. Is there a better term for someone who’s battled cancer? Writers and listeners share the best sentence they’ve read all day. Plus, koofers and goombahs, Alfred Hitchcock and MacGuffins, why we put food in jars but call it canning, and why ring the door with your elbow means BYOB. This episode first aired June 14, 2013.
Don’t bother showing up to a party unless you’re ringing the doorbell with your elbow. In other words, BYOB.
Brian from Edison, New Jersey, is pondering this linguistic mystery: The Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain Wawa has a goose as its logo. The Algonquin term for “goose” is wawa, and the French for “goose” is oie, pronounced “wah.” Is there a connection between the French and Native American terms? It’s probably just another example from a long list of linguistic coincidences resulting from the limited amount of vocal sounds we can make.
Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska invites us to play Categorical Allies, a game of two-word pairs where the last two letters of the first word lend themselves to the start of the second, and both words fit into one category. For example, what word might follow the name Job? Or the title A Christmas Carol?
Say you’ve been busy all semester throwing a Frisbee and drinking juice out of a funnel, and now it’s finals week. How are you going to study? Just get yourself a koofer! These old tests, which some universities keep around in their libraries, can be great guides in prepping for a current test. Virginia Tech alums claim the term originated there in the early 1940s. In any case, many universities now have koofers, and many are available online at koofers.com.
Why do we call it canning if we’re putting stuff in glass jars? The answer has to do with when the technique was discovered. The process of canning came about in the late 1700s, when thin glass jars were used. Factories soon switched to metal cans because they were durable and better for shipping. But after Mason jars came about in the mid-1800s, the process of preserving things at home kept the name canning.
Sam Anderson, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, tweets the best sentence he reads each day, like this from D.H. Lawrence describing the affection of Italians: “They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips.”
Should people living with cancer be referred to as cancer survivors? Mary from Delafield, Wisconsin, a breast cancer survivor herself, doesn’t like the term. Nor does Indiana University professor emerita Susan Gubar, who discusses this in an eloquent New York Times blog post. Many people living with cancer feel that the word survivor, which came into vogue in the early 90s, now seems inadequate. Some argue that having cancer shouldn’t be their most important identifying feature. Others suggest calling themselves contenders or grits. Have a better idea?
Kevin Whitebaum of Oberlin, Ohio, has a favorite sentence from P.D. James’s A Taste for Death: “The original tenants had been replaced by the transients of the city, the peripatetic young, sharing three to a room; unmarried mothers sharing social security; foreign students-a racial mix which, like some human kaleidoscope, was continually being shaken into new and brighter colours.”
A while back, we talked about ishpy, a popular word among Nordic immigrants meaning something that a child shouldn’t touch or put in their mouth. It turns out that lots of listeners with ancestors from Norway and Denmark know the term ishpy, along with ishie poo, ishta, and ish, all having to do with something disgusting or otherwise forbidden.
When is it okay to correct someone’s grammar? Grant offers two rules: Correct someone only if they’ve asked you to, or if they’re paying you to. Otherwise, telling someone they should’ve used I instead of me is just interrupt the conversation for no good reason.
Nick Greene, web editor for The Village Voice, tweeted, “Modern society’s greatest failing has been letting Application defeat Appetizer in the War For What Can Be Called an App.” There’s always antipasti.
Goombah, sometimes spelled goomba, is a term for Italian-Americans that’s sometimes used disparagingly. Physicians use the same word for the blobs on CT scans indicating a possible tumor, but this sense probably derives from the evil mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., known as goombas. The game was released in 1986, right about the same time that doctors picked up the term.
Here’s a great sentence by Phil Jackson, tweeted by writer Sam Anderson: “I was 6’6″ in high school … arms so long I could sit in the backseat of a car and open both front doors at the same time.”
A MacGuffin isn’t the name of a breakfast sandwich, but it could be — that is, if a movie involves characters trying to get that sandwich. The MacGuffin, also spelled McGuffin or maguffin, is any object in a film that drives the story forward, like the secret papers or the stolen necklace. Alfred Hitchcock made the MacGuffin famous, and explained it this way in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original.”
Judy Schwartz from Dallas, Texas, sent us the best sentence she read all day. It’s from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: “Clutter is the disease of American writing.” Have a sentence that stopped you in your tracks? Send it our way.
Photo by Steve Winton. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Plenty Nasty||Diplomats of Solid Sound||Plenty Nasty||Record Kicks|
|Come In My Kitchen||Diplomats of Solid Sound||Plenty Nasty||Record Kicks|
|The Funky Turkey||The Jive Turkeys||Bread & Butter||Colemine Records|
|Cookie Time||Diplomats of Solid Sound||Instrumental, Action, Soul||Prescription Records|
|Come On||Third Coast Kings||Third Coast Kings||Record Kicks|
|Cop It Proper||Third Coast Kings||Third Coast Kings||Record Kicks|
|The JT Strut||The Jive Turkeys||Bread & Butter||Colemine Records|
|Crush It||Third Coast Kings||Third Coast Kings||Record Kicks|
|Tonic Stride||Third Coast Kings||Third Coast Kings||Record Kicks|
|Roughneck||Third Coast Kings||Third Coast Kings||Record Kicks|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|