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Bronx Cheer

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What’s the best thing to say to someone who is grieving? Choosing the right words is far less important than just showing up. Also, a family from Russia shares their recipe for something they call hot tamales, that are very un-Mexican. And: if someone’s trying to be philosophical about a situation, they might say sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. Plus, horsengoggling, a fragrant 16th-century simile, might as well, can’t dance, a puzzle about cryptic crosswords, Trevlac, Québécois French, Pearl at the picnic, avoir l’air d’une vache qui regarde passer un train, a messy pangram, the big bird, and how to pronounce labret.

This episode first aired March 9, 2024.


 Need a way to select someone from a group to be a recipient of something? Horsengoggle it! Kids have been horsengoggling for a long time, and sometimes children start out this counting game in German, with Einz, Zwei, Drei, Horsengoggle! No one knows the origin of Horsengoogle, although it just may be a playful example of pseudo-German.

Might as Well, Can’t Dance

 Byron in Florence, South Carolina, is curious about his grandmother’s expression might as well, can’t dance, which she used when someone suggested an activity. This saying, as well as longer versions, are rooted in the idea of weather-dependent farm work, such as can’t dance, never could sing, and it’s too wet to plow, and can’t dance, it’s too wet to plow, too dry to stack hay, too windy to pick rocks — and anyway, Granny’s got the motorcycle.

Kindlings, Another Nieces and Nephews Collective Word

 After our discussion about nieflings and niblings and other collective nouns for “nieces and nephews,” an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, listener offers kindlings, suggesting new beginnings and warmth.

Very Non-Mexican Tamales

 Joan in Valley, Nebraska, says her family of Russian immigrants make cabbage rolls they call hot tamales, which are filled with hamburger, bacon, and rice and baked in tomato juice. This recipe doesn’t come from Latin America, so why are they called tamales ? In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the name tamales refers to a still another dish.

Thy Breath Is Also Like Baseball, and Chevrolet

 Robert Greene’s pastoral romance Menaphon (Bookshop|Amazon), written in 1589, includes this memorable simile: “Thy breath is like the steeme of apple pies.”

We Went Down, Down, To The Cryptic Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a version of cryptic crosswords: double-definition clues for four-letter words. For example, what might the answer be if a punny crossword clue is “Sad feathers”?

Cowing Around in the Morning, Québec-Style

 Louis in Reno, Nevada, grew up in Montreal, Canada, speaking Québécois French. His father was fond of saying j’aime vacher le matin, puis je prends mon temps, meaning “I like to loaf and take my time in the morning.” Vacher comes from French vache, “cow,” and the verb vacher has to do with the idea of cows being seen as idle or lazy. A similar expression used in France is avoir l’air d’une vache qui regarde passer un train, literally, “to look like a cow gazing at a passing train.” A different animal is represented in another phrase along these lines in Québécois French: chienner, or metaphorically, “to be lazy like a dog.” For more about Québécois, check out the Dictionnaire Québécois D’aujourd’hui (Amazon)

Cheesy Pangram

 Our discussion about pangrams inspired this one from a listener: Quickly vacuuming six juicy blobs of cheese whiz is definitely a very messy proposition. Indeed.

Pearl at the Picnic

 If someone says they feel like Pearl at the picnic, they’re content. Vicki Burton named her North Carolina-based band Pearl at the Picnic in honor of her mother’s fondness for the expression.

What’s the Correct Pronunciation of “Labret”?

 A tattoo artist in Wilmington, North Carolina, is debating the correct pronunciation of labret, a piercing just below the lip. The best choice is to put the stress on the first syllable, which should make it have assonance more or less with tablet.

Until a Week of Thursdays

 In English, to wait until the cows come home, means you’ll wait a long time. In French, it’s attendre la semaine des quatre jeudis, literally, to “wait for a week of Thursdays.”

Waffle House Plate Code

 Following our conversation about the secret cup code of the old Harvey House restaurant chain, a listener in Minneapolis, Minnesota, shares a far more complicated and efficient restaurant code, the elaborate plate marking system used at Waffle House restaurants, explained in a fascinating training video.

How Best to Communicate Shared Grief

 What should you say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one? When a person is experiencing a loss like that, it matters less what you say and more that you show up in the first place. Non-verbal communication of your sympathy can be far more powerful than trying to choose the right words.

You Might Say Trevlac Is a Backward Town

 Trevlac, Indiana is named after a family called Calvert. Since there was already a stop on the same rail line called Calvert, they simply spelled their name backwards.

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You

 Sarah in Fleming Island, Florida, is curious about the saying sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you, which suggests “it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” or “eat or be eaten,” or more gently, “you win some, you lose some.” Garson O’Toole, who digs into the provenance of quotations at Quote Investigator has traced versions of this saying back to an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1870 essay, “Farming.” Since prehistoric times, the bear has been regarded as a fearsome predator, and today the term bear is often applied to anything that presents enormous difficulty. Another version of this saying is sometimes you hunt the bear, sometimes the bear hunts you.

Raspberry, the Bird, the Bronx Cheer, that Unsubtle Noise of Disapproval

 That sputtering noise when someone sticks out their tongue, puts their lips together, and blows is called a raspberry. No one knows the origin of this slang term, although it may have to do with that pileup of consonants colliding in the middle of the word raspberry. It’s been suggested that it’s a shortening of rhyming slang term raspberry tart, which rhymes with “fart,” but experts in Cockney rhyming slang are skeptical. It might have started among theatergoers noisily expressing their disapproval that way. Another term for that is the bird, or the big bird, or just bird, possibly a reference to the sound a duck makes. This sound is part of what’s known as the Bronx cheer.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Menaphon by Robert Greene (Bookshop|Amazon)
Dictionnaire Québécois D’aujourd’hui edited by Jean-Claude Boulanger and Alain Rey (Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Rap It TogetherDetroit Sex MachinesThe Funky Crawl 45Truth & Soul
African SongYusef LateefThe Gentle GiantAtlantic
Ain’t It The TruthCatalystCatalystCobblestone
Jungle PlumYusef LateefThe Gentle GiantAtlantic
Queen Of The NightYusef LateefThe Gentle GiantAtlantic
Monday MondayChico Hamilton The Further Adventures Of El ChicoImpulse!
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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