An ornithologist says there’s a growing movement to change the name of a pink-footed bird currently called the flesh-footed shearwater. The movement reflects a growing understanding that using flesh-colored for “pink” fails to acknowledge the full range of human skin color. Plus, is hooligan an anti-Irish slur? Some people might perceive it that way, but originally the word itself simply referred to the name of a particular gang in London. Finally, book recommendations to keep our minds and hearts full: Joan Didion essays and a novel by Affrilachian poet Crystal Wilkinson. Plus, cherry bumps, al fresco, en plein air, frivol, logy, pigeon-toed vs. duck-footed, hankering, unbolted, a socially distanced brain game, and who licked the red off of your candy?
This episode first aired July 25, 2020.
Cherry Bumps on a Swing
Jean in Thetford, Vermont, remembers using the term cherry bump to refer to that moment when part of a backyard swingset leaves the ground for a moment, then lands with a thump. Another term for it is cherry bomb, which can also be used for a variety of similarly jarring moments on a seesaw or tire swing.
Another Word for “Outdoors”?
Kathy in Jacksonville, North Carolina, likes to urge her kids to go outside and play, but is searching for a word or phrase that denotes “the out of doors” without referencing an edifice. Some possibilities: al fresco from Italian, for “in the fresh air,” or en plein air, French for “in the open air.”
You Look Like Someone Licked the Red Off Your Candy
Susan in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says that whenever she looked sad as a child, her grandmother would say she looked like somebody licked the red off her candy. This phrase goes back at least to the 1920s, and refers to licking the red coloring off of a candy cane or other hard, sugary sweet. The phrase was popularized in a 1966 song, “Who Licked the Red Off of Your Candy?” by country singer Little Jimmy Dickens.
People who are pigeon-toed walk with their toes pointed inward, also referred to as in-toe walking. Walking with toes pointed out is called out-toe walking, or walking duck-footed.
Social Distancing Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle this week is inspired by social distancing. The first and last letters of each one-word answer are the same, but they’re separated by six letters. For example, what eight-letter word, beginning and ending with the letter A, denotes a statement in which you defend something, such as an idea?
“Flesh-Colored” in the Names of Animals
George, an ornithologist, calls from Seattle, Washington, to discuss using of the term flesh-colored to describe something pinkish in color. The Century Dictionary, first published in 1889, defined flesh-color as “The normal color of the skin of a white person; pale carnation or pinkish; the color of the cheek of a healthy white child.” Although such a narrow definition is increasingly considered myopic and unacceptable, George says many bird field guides still describe pink feet as flesh-colored. However, there’s a growing movement among scientists to update such language, including the name of the bird officially known as flesh-footed shearwater.
If you need a word describe a really hot, sultry, sweltering day, you can always call say it’s swullocking. In parts of England, the dialectal verb swullock means “to broil with heat.”
The advice keep your dauber up or keep your dobber up is intended to encourage someone who’s feeling dejected or discouraged. It may come from the game of marbles, where a dobber is the largest marble in a game.
Hankering and Unbolted Cornmeal
Steven in Wilmington, North Carolina, is curious about the terms hankering and unbolted cornmeal. The noun hankering, meaning “a strong desire for something,” is related to the verb “to hang,” as in “hanging around” in hopes of obtaining something. Unbolted cornmeal is simply unsifted. The verb bolt or boult has long meant “to sift.” Shakespeare used the term metaphorically, describing someone as “ill-schooled in bolted language.”
What We’re Reading Now
What we’re reading: Crystal Wilkinson, a member of the Affrilachian Poets, is author of The Birds of Opulence, a quiet, lyrical novel about relationships between family members, and between humans and nature, about things said and unsaid with families, and the way friendships change over time. (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com) Joan Didion’s 1968 classic, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, offers keenly observed essays on such topics as Americans’ old-fashioned reverence for John Wayne and deciding to relocate from New York to California. (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com)
Origins of the Word “Hooligan”
Is the term hooligan an anti-Irish slur? Probably not, although it does come from the name of one of several British gangs operating in London in the late 1800s.
Frivol and Frivolous
The Latin word frivolous means “silly,” “empty,” or “trifling,” and is the source of the English adjective frivolous. A back-formation from frivolous, the lesser-known English verb frivol, means “to do something unimportant,” or “to waste time,” or “to squander.”
“Logy” Meaning and Origins
James is from southwest Michigan, which was heavily settled by the Dutch. He grew up using the adjective logy, meaning “lethargic,” and was surprised to learn that friends from elsewhere didn’t know the word. He wonders if he knows the word specifically because it’s part of his Dutch heritage. Logy is a little less common in the American South, but its use doesn’t fall strictly along Dutch settlement patterns. A great source for Dutch contributions to English is the book Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages by Nicoline van der Sijs. (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com)
Connie in San Antonio, Texas, has a funny story about a young granddaughter who misunderstood the meaning of the slang term buns, and later announced that she had itchy biscuits.
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Photo by SunGodServant. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|The Century Dictionary|
|The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com)|
|Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com)|
|Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages by Nicoline van der Sijs (Bookshop.org|Amazon.com)|
Music Used in the Episode
|Father Bird, Mother Bird||Khruangbin||Mordechai||Dead Oceans|
|One To Remember||Khruangbin||Mordechai||Dead Oceans|
|Coffee Cold||Galt Macdermot||Shapes of Rhythm||Kilmarnock|
|Connaissais de Face||Khruangbin||Mordechai||Dead Oceans|
|Over Easy||Booker T and The MGs||Over Easy 45||Stax|
|Bathtub||Galt Macdermot||Shapes of Rhythm||Kilmarnock|
|First Class||Khruangbin||Mordechai||Dead Oceans|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|
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