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Cabin Fever

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The adjectives canine and feline refer to dogs and cats. But how does English address other groups of animals? Plus, cabin fever has been around much longer than the current pandemic. That restless, antsy, stir-crazy feeling goes back to the days when you could find yourself literally cooped up all winter in a cabin on the wild frontier. And, in Hungarian, there’s a whole genre of silly jokes that involve a character called the aggressive piglet, with a punchline screamed in your most obnoxious voice. What did the aggressive piglet say when he fell into a well? Listen in for that answer, a brain teaser about names hidden inside phrases, and questions and answers about apple box, lie bump, possum vs. opossum, flat as a flitter vs. flat as a flivver, vespertilian, asinine, how to pronounce tinnitus, and more.

This episode first aired April 18, 2020.

Apple Box and Other Movie-Making Terms

 Apple box, full apple, half apple, and pancake are all moviemaking terms that refer to height gradations of boxes used for actors to stand on to appear taller. These bits of Hollywood jargon and much more are compiled in Richard Kroon’s A/V a to Z: An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms.

Tongue Lie Bumps

 Ash from Arlington, Texas, says her great-aunt would refer to a red bump on one’s tongue as a lie bump. This expression is widespread enough to be used in medical textbooks, although papillitis is the official term, papillae being the anatomical name for “tastebuds.”

Bovine, Pavonine, and Other Animal Adjectives

 Lisa calls from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, to ask about adjectives involving various kinds of animals. She knows that pavonine describes something having to do with peacocks, bovine involves cows, anserine refers to geese, and lupine has to do with wolves. But there are many more such collateral adjectives, such as hippotigrine, which describes something involving zebras, from Greek hippos, meaning “horse.” In Greek, the word struthos means “sparrow” and struthos ho megas means “the big sparrow,” the name the Greeks applied to ostriches, and the source of English struthonian, meaning “having to do with ostriches.” Vespertilian refers to bats, from the Latin vesper, meaning “evening” or “evening star,” the source also of vespers, an evening prayer service. In general, these kind of words are known as collateral adjectives.

More About “Sisu”

 After our conversation about sisu, the distinctively Finnish term for “intestinal fortitude,” a listener of Finnish heritage from northern Wisconsin emails to illustrate the Finns’ understanding the word. Sisu, he says, requires more than just endurance; it requires overcoming strong external resistance to your effort.

Proper Names in Phrases Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle requires finding proper names hidden inside phrases. For example, find the masculine moniker is camouflaged within this phrase: the pool I’ve recently drained.

Flat as a Flivver

 Kathy from Jamestown, North Dakota, has long used the phrase flat as a flivver to describe something flat. The term flivver dates back to the early 1900s; it originally referred to something that failed, such as a business or theatrical show. Flivver also came to refer to a junky automobile. The phrase flat as a fritter describes something as flat as a pancake, fritter deriving from an old word that means “to fry.” Flat as a flitter appears to be a variant.

Aggressive Piglet Jokes

 In Hungarian, there’s a whole genre of silly jokes that have to do with an agresszív kismalac, or “aggressive piglet.” Each joke ends with an absurd punchline shouted obnoxiously. There are collections of these jokes online, as well as brief aggressive piglet animated cartoons that don’t require much translation. These absurd jokes are reminiscent of German Antiwitze, or “anti-jokes,” which we’ve discussed before.

When the Term “Cabin Fever” First Became Popular

 The title of the 1918 novel Cabin Fever, by B.M. Bower, references the term then widely used in the American West to denote the restless feeling of being cooped up too long in a cabin all winter. A synonym for cabin fever is shanty fever. On the other hand, the terms hill nutty and bushy refer to being out in the wilderness for long periods of isolation. As we’ve previously discussed, stir-crazy derives from stir, an old word that means “prison.”

The Best Pronunciation of “Tinnitus”

 Kay in Sparks, Nevada, wonders how to pronounce the term for the ringing in one’s ears known as tinnitus. Some people rhyme it with arthritis, while others stress the first syllable instead. Either is acceptable. Tinnitus derives from Latin tinnire, “to ring,” the source also of tinnabulation, or “ringing.”

Another Aggressive Piglet Joke

 One of many Hungarian jokes featuring an aggressive piglet ends with the porker’s nonsensical response to being stopped by a police officer.

Do Americans Need Briticisms Americanized in Books?

 On our Facebook group, listeners are debating the pros and cons of adapting the British Harry Potter series for American audiences. Is it really necessary to change distinctly British terms like kippers, jumpers, and trainers to dessert, to kippers, sweaters, and sneakers — especially since young readers also have to make sense of unfamiliar, invented terms like Quidditch and golden snitch? The series has been translated from English into more than 80 languages, including Yiddish.

What Do You Want, an Egg in Your Beer?

 As early as World War II, the retorts How about an egg in your beer? and What do you want, egg in your beer? have served as sarcastic retorts to people who complain about even the smallest of difficulties or hardships.

Ever Heard of “Hoomlabbas”?

 Brian in Harvest, Alabama, says his grandfather used to offer him a meat-filled biscuit he called hoomlabbas, supposedly eaten by cowboys in the Old West. Did his grandpa make up the word?

Dead on Foot

 C.A. from Indianapolis says that when his mother was exhausted from a long day of work, she’d describe herself as dead on foot.

Possum vs. Opposum

 Danielle from Wells, Vermont, wonders if there’s a difference between a possum and an opossum. Scientifically speaking, they’re two different animals. The word opossum comes from a similar-sounding Algonquian term that translates as “the white animal.” It’s easy to leave off that initial, unstressed O in opossum, which often happened quite early in the word’s borrowing into English. So either opossum or possum is correct for the North American animal, although possum is probably more widespread. Western explorers later brought the term possum to Australia, and applied it to a different marsupial there.

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

Photo by Timo Newton-Syms. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

A/V A to Z: An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Media, Entertainment and Other Audiovisual Terms by Richard Kroon
Cabin Fever by B.M. Bower

Music Used in the Episode

Sing A Simple SongWhite BlindsSing A Simple Song 45F Spot
Sing A Simple SongWhite BlindsSing A Simple Song 45F Spot
Pushin’ OffMagic in ThreesMagic in ThreesGED Soul
IB Struttin’Sure Fire Soul EnsembleSure Fire Soul EnsembleColemine Records
Klapp BackWhite BlindsSing A Simple Song 45F Spot
Trinity WayMagic in ThreesMagic in ThreesGED Soul
Your LoveMonk MontgomeryA Place In The Sun 45Chisa Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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