Brand names, children’s games, and the etiquette of phone conversations. Those clever plastic PEZ dispensers come in all shapes and sizes—but where did the word PEZ come from? The popular candy’s name is the product of wordplay involving the German word for “peppermint.” Also, the story behind that sing-songy playground taunt: “Neener, neener, NEEEEEEEEEEner!” Listen closely, and you’ll hear the same melody as other familiar children’s songs. Finally, the process of ending a phone conversation is much more complex than you might think. Linguists call this verbal choreography “leave-taking.” It’s less about the literal meaning of the words and more about finding a way to agree it’s time to hang up. Also, hold ‘er Newt, copacetic, drupelet, pluggers, pantywaist, this little piggy, and the word with the bark on it.

This episode first aired February 27, 2016.

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 Pez Name Origins
When an Austrian candy maker needed a name for his new line of mints, he took the first, middle, and last letters of the German word pfefferminz, or “peppermint,” to form the brand name PEZ. He later marketed the candies as an alternative for smokers and packaged them plastic dispensers in the shape of cigarette lighters. The candy proved so popular that now PEZ dispensers come in all shapes and sizes.

 Hold ‘er Newt!
A Georgia caller says when her grandfather had to make a sudden stop while driving, he’d yell “hold ‘er Newt, she smells alfalfa!” This phrase and variations like “hold ‘er Newt, she’s a-headin’ for the pea patch!” and “hold ‘er Newt, she’s headin’ for the barn!” allude to controlling a horse that’s starting to bolt for a favorite destination. The name Newt has long been a synonym for “dolt” or “bumpkin.”

 Lord Byron on Language
Lord Byron continues to make readers think with these words about language: “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew, upon a thought, produces that which make thousands, perhaps millions, think.”

 Neener neener neener
Why does the playground taunt neener, neener, neener have a familiar singsongy melody?

 Theory of Pizza
Jeffrey Salzberg, a theater lighting designer and college instructor from Essex Junction, Vermont, says that when explaining to students the need to be prepared for any and all possibilities, he invokes Salzberg’s Theory of Pizza: “It is better to have pizza you don’t want than to want pizza you don’t have.”

 Add a Letter to Movie Titles Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s latest puzzle involves changing a movie plot by adding a single letter to the original title. For example, the movie in which Melissa McCarthy plays a deskbound CIA analyst becomes a story about the same character who has now become very old but still lively and energetic.

 Copacetic
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Although there are many proposed etymologies for the word copacetic, the truth is no one knows the origin of this word meaning “fine” or “extremely satisfactory.”

 Drupe and Drupelet
A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a pit, such as a cherry or peach. A drupelet is a smaller version, such as the little seeded parts that make up a raspberry or blackberry. It was the similarity of druplets to a smartphone’s keyboard that helped professional namers come up with the now-familiar smartphone name, Blackberry.

 That’s a Great Question
A caller from University Park, Maryland, wonders what’s really going on when someone says ”
“That’s a great question.” As it turns out, that is a great question.

 Little Piggy Rhyme Variations
This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had corned beef and cabbage, this little piggy had none. At least, that’s the way a caller from Sebastian, Florida, remembers the children’s rhyme. Most people remember the fourth little piggy eating roast beef. Did you say it a different way? Tell us about it.

 Kwannon and Canon
The Japanese developers of an early camera named it Kwannon, in honor of the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Later, the company changed the name to Canon.

 That’s the Word with the Bark on It
A Zionsville, Indiana, man recalls that when his mother issued a warning to her kids, she would add for emphasis: “And that’s the word with the bark on it.” The bark in this case refers to rough-hewn wood that still has bark on it—in other words, it’s the pure, unadorned material.

 How We Finish Conversations
A customer-service representative from Seattle, Washington, is curious about the phrases people use as a part of leave-taking when they’re finishing a telephone conversation. Linguists who conduct discourse analysis on such conversations say these exchanges are less about the statements’ literal meaning and more about ways of coming to a mutual agreement that it’s time to hang up. Incidentally, physicians whose patients ask the most important questions or disclose key information just as the doctor is leaving refer to this as doorknobbing or getting doorknobbed.

 Sharp Company Name
Tokuji Hayakawa was an early-20th-century entrepreneur whose inventions included a mechanical pencil he called the Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil, and later renamed the Ever-Sharp Pencil. Over time his company branched into other types of inventions, and its name was eventually shortened to Sharp.

 Meteor, Meteoroid, Meteorite
A rock or particle of debris out in space is called a meteoroid. If it enters the earth’s atmosphere, it’s a called meteor. So why is it called a meteorite when it falls to earth?

 Pantywaist
If someone’s called a pantywaist, they’re being disparaged as weak or timid. The term refers to a baby garment popular in the early 20th century that snapped at the waist. Some people misunderstand the term as pantywaste, but that’s what linguists jokingly call an eggcorn.

 Plugger Australianism
A pair of Australian men interrupted their night of partying to foil a robbery, and captured much of it on video. They went on to give a hilarious interview about it all, in which one mentioned that he “tripped over a sign and busted my plugger.” The word plugger is an Aussie name for the type of rubber footwear also known as a flip-flop.

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

Photo by Charles Kremenak. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
T.S.S. Groove The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
You Can Run The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
Opening The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
911 Beat Timeless Timmy 35th and Adams Unreleased
Less Talk More Do The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
Tom vs. Galt Timeless Timmy 35th and Adams Unreleased
Astra The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
Time Is A Gun The Soul Surfers Soul Rock! Ubiquity
Volcano Vapes Out On The Coast Out On The Coast Colemine Records

4 Responses

  1. EmmettRedd says:

    Grant Barrett said

    “hold ‘er Newt, she’s headin’ for the barn!” allude to controlling a horse that’s starting to bolt for a favorite destination.

    A horse who is hard to steer away from the barn is known as “barn sour”. Growing up, our first horse was terribly so. It was hard to get her more than a couple of hundred yards away from the barn into the pasture. But, once you turned her around, it was one fast and fun run back to the barn. 🙂

  2. Heimhenge says:

    Grant Barrett said: This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had corned beef and cabbage, this little piggy had none. At least, that’s the way a caller from Sebastian, Florida, remembers the children’s rhyme. Most people remember the fourth little piggy eating roast beef. Did you say it a different way? Tell us about it.

    Damn, this was a long time ago, but in the Midwest (in the 50s) I learned the rhyme as:

    This little piggy went to market
    This little piggy stayed home
    This little piggy had roast beef
    This little piggy had none
    And this little piggy cried “wee wee wee wee” all the way home.

    This sequence started with the big toe. Each toe in turn was held between two fingers and shaken back and forth as the rhyme was recited. This was most often done by a mother to her young children when cuddling. At least that was the ritual in Wisconsin.

  3. EmmettRedd says:

    Concerning piggy toes, page 420 of this book has ‘meat’ and ‘a bit of bread and butter’ substituting for ‘beef’.

  4. deaconB says:

    This little piggy went to market
    This little piggy stayed home
    This little piggy had roast beef
    This little piggy had none
    And this little piggy cried “wee wee wee wee” all the way home.

    That’s the version Whitman published in “Little Golden Books” and consequently would be considered “right” by most people.

    Whitman also won out ever the Bible when it came to the story of Noah and the ark.  Most people think there were two of every species.