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Cootie Shot

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Perfect sentences and slang that tickles your mind! A new book of writing advice says a good sentence “imposes a logic on the world’s weirdness” and pares away options for meaning, word by word. • Your musician friend may refer to his guitar as an ax, but this slang term was applied to other musical instruments before it was ever used for guitars. • We need a word for that puzzling moment when you’re wondering which recyclables go in which bin. Discomposted? Plus: tickle bump, dipsy doodle, dark as the inside of a goat, thickly settled, woodshedding, ish, a brain-teaser, and more.

This episode first aired December 8, 2018.

We What We Call Bumps in the Road

 Belly tickler, dipsy doodle, johnny-come-lately, duck and dip, how-do-you-do, tickle bump, yes-ma’am, thank-you-ma’am, kiss-me-quick, and (especially in Canada) cahot all mean “a bump in the road.” Particularly in southwest Pennsylvania, the term Yankee bump refers to ice or snow that’s intentionally packed to send sledders flying into the air.

Thickly Settled

 Marisa in Bellingham, Washington, was puzzled by a traffic sign in Massachusetts that read “Thickly Settled.” As far back as the 1830s, the term thickly settled was used in the Massachusetts legal code to refer to an area with a lot of structures, such as a business district or residences within 200 feet of each other, so the sign warns drivers that the road may be congested with related traffic.

As Dark as the Inside of A…

 Pam in Eureka, California, says that when her mother and grandmother would enter a particularly dark room, they’d remark that it was dark as the inside of a goat. Mark Twain used the phrase dark as the inside of a cow in his book Roughing It as well as The Innocents Abroad. Other versions: dark as the inside of a whale, cat, black cat, a sack, a horse, a magician’s hat, a coal scuttle, the Devil’s waistcoat pocket, and as the inside of a needle. Joyce Cary wrote about something being as dark as the inside of a cabinet minister, and Groucho Marx also had something to say about the inside of a dog.

Unusual Sports Team Names Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about unusual names for sports teams. For example, what minor-league baseball team has a name that appears to derive from the word for a large-scale weather event, but actually comes from the team’s proximity to a legendary rollercoaster?

Why Doesn’t “Retire” Mean “to Tire Again”?

 Karen from Santa Barbara, California, wonders about the verb to retire. Why doesn’t it mean to tire all over again? The Spanish word for retirement, jubilación, is cognate with the English word jubilation.

Step and Repeat

 A step-and-repeat is the sponsor-studded banner or wall that serves as a backdrop for photographs at event.

Maybe vs. Perhaps

 Is there a difference between the adverbs maybe and perhaps? They’re basically synonyms, but of the two, perhaps tends to appear in language of a slightly more formal language register. The affected language in an old Taster’s Choice coffee commercial makes effective use of this difference.

Cootie Shots and ’Uku Shots

 Elizabeth in Suffolk, Virginia, spent her early childhood in Hawaii, then moved to Indiana and found that kids had a different playground game that involved pretending to use a cootie shot to inoculate someone against imagined infection from cooties. In Indiana, they drew two circles on the back of someone’s hand then poked that hand with a finger, chanting “Circle circle dot dot, now you have your cootie shot.” In Hawaii, Elizabeth learned it as “Circle circle dot dot, now you have your ’uku shot.” The Hawaiian word ’uku means flea, and the word ukulele derives from Hawaiian words that mean jumping flea, a reference to the rapid motion of a musician’s fingers on the instrument’s strings.

Railroad Baking Slang

 In railroad workers’ slang, the expression to bake a cake means to build up steam in a locomotive by stoking a fire. Another term for a train’s fireman is bakehead.

Joe Moran on Writing Well

 Joe Moran’s essay on writing well suggests that his forthcoming book is a great read. It’s called First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life.

Pronouncing “Museum”

 Taryn in Washington, D.C., wants to know the proper way to pronounce the word museum.

Guitars as Axes and Woodshedding

 Johanna in Munising, Michigan, has a funny story about a childhood misunderstanding. Guitarists sometimes refer to their instrument as an ax. But at least as early as the 1940s, the slang term ax referred to other instruments, including trombones and saxophones. The name probably derives from the slang term woodshedding, which goes back to the 1920s and suggests the idea of going out to the woodshed to practice in solitude. Other terms for playing an instrument include chopping and shredding.

That Moment of Recycling Indecision

 David in Portland, Oregon, wants a word for that moment of puzzlement when you’re trying to figure out which bin to use for tossing your recyclables. Discomposted, maybe?

Ish and Ishy

 Ed in Florence, South Carolina, remembers that when he was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, the locals used a couple of words he’d never heard. They’d use “Ish!” as an interjection to express disgust and ishy, which describes something disgusting or revolting. These terms are heard primarily in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and most likely come from the language of Swedish and Norwegian settlers in the region.

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

Photo by Francesco Carrani. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Roughing It
The Innocents Abroad
First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life.

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Tyme CubeTim WeisbergHurtwood EdgeA&M Records
Tidal StreamPiero UmillianiIl CorpoSound Work Shop
Blue BossaJoe HendersonPage OneBlue Note
The SlideLeon SpencerSneak Preview!Prestige
Tibetan SilverTim WeisbergHurtwood EdgeA&M Records
In The EndPiero UmillianiIl CorpoSound Work Shop
The SidewinderLee MorganThe SidewinderBlue Note
Sneak Preview!Leon SpencerSneak Preview!Prestige
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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