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Copacetic

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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.

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 Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
T.S.S. GrooveThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
You Can RunThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
OpeningThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
911 BeatTimeless Timmy35th and AdamsUnreleased
Less Talk More DoThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
Tom vs. GaltTimeless Timmy35th and AdamsUnreleased
AstraThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
Time Is A GunThe Soul SurfersSoul Rock!Ubiquity
Volcano VapesOut On The CoastOut On The CoastColemine Records

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