According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it’s important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on your own and teach yourself. Also: Spanish idioms involving food, a conversation about the difference between compassion and sympathy, recursive acronyms, bear-caught, leaverites, jonesing, mon oeil, Jane Austen’s pins, high-water pants, and save your breath to cool your soup.

This episode first aired April 7, 2018.

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 Spanish Idioms
In English, if someone’s terrified, we might say they are shaking like a leaf. In Spanish, the phrase is temblar como un flan, or to tremble like a flan, the dessert dish. The Spanish phrase darle la vuelta a la tortilla literally means to flip the tortilla, but metaphorically it means to turn the tide, as in an athletic contest where the losing team finds a way to start winning.

 Mac and Macaroni and Cheese
Is the word mac actually an acronym for macaroni and cheese? No, just a shortening of the full three-word-term. If it mac were an acronym, however, it would be a recursive acronym, or one that refers to itself.

 Leaverite
A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls that when she was a youngster, she’d pester her mother by asking the name of lots and lots of rocks on the ground. Her mother eventually began referring to those specimens as leaverites — as in “leave ’er right there.” The term is popular among geology enthusiasts.

 Save Your Breath to Cool Your Soup, Broth, Porridge, etc.
“Save your breath to cool your soup” is centuries old, including variants with porridge, pottage, broth, and other things. In all those cases, it’s a wry way to tell someone to be less long-winded.

 Pronouncing “Exactly”
A San Diego, California, man is having a dispute with his wife, who is a linguist. How exactly do you pronounce the word exactly?

 Police Sound Word Puzzle
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle inspired rhyming terms with the eee-aww, eee-aww, eee-aww sounds of police sirens. For example, what sound does a donkey make?

  Age of the Turkey
The Spanish phrase estar en la edad del pavo literally translates as “to be in the age of the turkey” — to be at an awkward age. Comer pavo, literally “to eat turkey,” means to sit alone at a dance because no one has asked you to join them. The Spanish word pavo comes from Latin word pavo, which means peacock, and is the source of the English word pavonine, which means resembling a peacock or having coloration similar to a peacock’s.

 Bear-Caught
An Omaha, Nebraska, man asks about the origin of the term bear-caught, which applies to someone with sunstroke or heat exhaustion. The point of popularization for this expression appears to be a 1965 book by Donn Pearce and its subsequent movie, both titled Cool Hand Luke.

 My Eye, Mon Oeil
In many cultures, tugging at one’s lower eyelid is an expression of skepticism, as if to indicate that the person is being watchful and alert and won’t be taken in. In the United States, the gesture may be accompanied by a phrase like “Do you see the green of my eye?” In France, it’s accompanied by mon oeil, meaning “my eye,” and in Japan, this action is referred to as akanbe or red eye.

 Faith in the Writing Process
In a 1994 interview in the Paris Review, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe offered some great advice about having faith in your process as a writer based on his own experiences as an undergraduate.

 Jonesing
To be jonesing for something means to be craving it. The phrase arose in 1960’s drug culture, but beyond that, there are competing stories about its origin.

 Pinning Manuscripts Together
The cut-and-paste feature in word-processing programs makes it easy to rearrange text. But in the past, some writers literally cut and pinned their copy. At the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, you can see the pins Jane Austenused to fasten together parts of pages from her unfinished novel, The Watsons.

 Graduate School vs. Graduate From School
A listener in Fargo, North Dakota, ask which is correct: graduated from high school or graduated high school? Increasingly, the former is falling by the wayside.

 Suoods Upside Down
A member of our Facebook group posted a photo of a box that left him completely puzzled until he realized that if you look at the word spoons upside down, it spells suoods.

 Wearing Your Pants Too High
A Lakeland, Florida, woman wonders about the use of the term floodin’ or flooding to describe someone wearing pants that are too short, as in, “He’s floodin.'” There are many terms for such ill-fitting pants, including flash-flooders, flood pants, floods, high waders, and high waters, all based on the image of keeping one’s pants above the ankles in order to avoid getting them wet in a flood.

 Dar a Luz
In English, women give birth, in Spanish, they dar a luz or dar a la luz, which can be translated as, “bring to light” or “shed light on,” although the literal translation would be “give to (the) light.” Another luminous word, alumbrando, is applied to a woman who is giving birth.

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

Photo by anokarina. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Who’s Gonna Take The Weight Melvin Sparks Spark Plug Prestige
Speak Low Melvin Sparks Sparkling Muse Records
Little Walter Rides Again Medeski, Martin, and Wood Out Louder Indirecto Records
Letha Charles Earland Black Drops Prestige
Speedball Charles Earland III Prestige
Miles Behind Medeski, Martin, and Wood Out Louder Indirecto Records
Thank You Melvin Sparks Sparks! Prestige
Ain’t It Funky Now Grant Green Green Is Beautiful Blue Note
Texas Twister Melvin Sparks Texas Twister Eastbound Records
Volcano Vapes Sure Fire Soul Ensemble Out On The Coast Colemine Records