Funny cat videos and cute online photos inspire equally adorable slang terms we use to talk about them. • Also, when a salamander is not a salamander, the story of an Italian term for a dish towel used halfway across the world, Bozo buttons, betsubara, both vs. bolth, straight vs. shtraight, mlem, hoosegow, sticky bottle and magic spanner, caster sugar, a word game, and more.
This episode first aired May 12, 2018.
Michael in San Diego, California, plays a game with his three-year-daughter that involves spotting small round property markers in the sidewalk, which he calls bozo buttons. His mother played the same game as a youngster, but calls those metal discs monkey buttons. It’s possible there’s a connection with the Bozo button from the old Bozo the Clown TV show from the 1960s. Losing contestants on that show received a button with a picture of the clown on it, and the term Bozo button came to mean the prize you get when you think you deserve an award but no one else agrees.
Betsubara, Your Dessert Stomach
You know how you can feel full after a meal, but then dessert arrives and you suddenly find a little more room? The Japanese have a term for this: betsubara, which literally means other stomach. In English, people often call it their dessert stomach.
Jan in Ketchikan, Alaska, says when she worked in a hospital in Maine, co-workers described a patient with a low pain threshold or otherwise reluctant to move about as spleeny. New Englanders in particular use the term spleeny to mean fussy, hypochondriacal, or malingering. The blood-filtering organ called the spleen takes its name from a similar-sounding word in ancient Greek. The phrase to vent your spleen means to express anger.
Mappine Means Dish Towel
A listener notes that among the many Italian-Americans in Rome, New York, the term mappine is commonly used for dish towel. In some some dialects of Italy, particularly the Piedmont and Neapolitan regions, the word mappina means cloth or towel or rag. In the mouths of Italian-Americans, that final syllable was dropped, a linguistic process known as lenition, and handed down through generations, resulting in variable spellings such as mopeen. Mappine also extends metaphorically to someone who is filthy or disreputable or spineless. Another term used by many Italian-Americans is gagootz, from the Italian word for a type of squash, which applies to someone acting goofy.
In an earlier episode, we talked about plogging and trashercize, those workouts that involve picking up trash while jogging or walking. Jeannie from Port Wing, Wisconsin, wrote to share another fitness gimmick, the bean diet. Just open a bag of dried beans, toss them into the air, and then squat or bend over to pick them all up.
Boop a Snoot! Cute Animal Language
Funny cat videos and squee-worthy photos on sites like Cute Overload have inspired equally adorable slang terms. When a cat leaves its tongue out, that’s a blep. A boop is a gentle tap on a critter’s nose, so if a friendly pup is nearby, you can reach out and boop a snoot. Mlem is a cats’ gentle licking of its whiskers. Tocks, short for buttocks, is a fuzzy behind that makes you say Anh!, and those squishy pink pads on a paw are fondly referred to as toe beans. Many more affectionately silly terms are in Cute Overload’s glossary, and are also found in the Dogspotting group on Facebook and the @weratedogs Twitter feed. Linguist Gretchen McCullouch, co-host of the Lingthusiasm podcast, has described still more cute internet language involving animals, such as doggo for dog.
Award Show Brain Teaser
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s brain teaser this week is inspired by the Grammys, Emmys, and other awards shows. For example, if the nominees Double Bubble, Juicy Fruit, Dentyne, Trident, and Orbit, what coveted honor are they competing for?
When A Salamander is a Heater
Jason in San Antonio, Texas, is curious why the term salamander is applied to small heater on a construction site. In ancient lore, the mythical beast called a salamander was impervious to fire. Later salamander was applied to various heating instruments, from an 18th century browning iron to modern pizza broilers. Salamander has also been applied metaphorically to the seeming invincibility of brave soldiers, fire-eating jugglers, and women who stay chaste despite temptation.
Both vs. Bolth Pronunciation
Benjamin in Seattle, Washington, was surprised when someone pointed out his nonstandard pronunciation of the word both as bolth. About 10 percent of respondents to our online survey said they pronounce the word both with an L sound in it.
Martha shares a poem by Mexican-American poet Sandra Cisneros, “Peaches—Six in a Tin Bowl, Sarajevo.” It’s from My Wicked, Wicked Ways. (The poem is copyright 1987 by Sandra Cisneros. By special arrangement with Third Woman Press. Published by Vintage Books in paperback and ebook, in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Service. All rights reserved.)
Eben, a chef in Lummi Bay, Washington, who blogs about food at UrbanMonique, is curious about the term caster sugar, which denotes sugar less fine than powdered sugar, but less coarse than the regular table variety. The name caster sugar derives from the fact that it’s typically sprinkled, or cast, from a small container with holes that accommodate the size of the grains. It’s also called baker’s sugar or castor sugar, although spelling it like the foul-tasting castor oil is merely a coincidence.
More Bicycling Slang
Our conversation about gram weenies, those ultralight backpackers who go to extremes to shave off every last bit of excess weight in their gear, prompts a bicyclist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to share some cycling slang about ways to find a competitive edge. A weight weenie is a cyclist concerned about ensuring that their wheels and other bike components are the lightest weight possible. Another term, sticky bottle, refers to the way that during a race, a support team pulling up alongside a biker to hand off a water bottle will hang onto the bottle slightly longer than needed, allowing the biker to briefly hitch a ride. The expression magic spanner involves a similarly shady strategy — handing the biker a wrench from the support car, but holding on a little longer than necessary, helping to pull the biker along for a few seconds.
Pronouncing Street as Shtreet and Straight as Shtraight
Paul in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, has noticed that some people pronounce street as shtreet and straight as shtraight. Why do some people use that SH sound?
Ladies Who Lunch Mondegreen
Sandee from New York City thought that she was the only person who had misunderstood a line from the song “Ladies Who Lunch” from the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, memorably performed on Broadway by Elaine Stritch. Years later, however, she learned that Stritch had had the same misunderstanding. Such an instance of words misheard is known as a mondegreen.
Juzgado > Hoosegow
The word hoosegow means jail, and derives from the Spanish word for tribunal, juzgado. In some dialects of Spanish, the D sound is not pronounced.
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Photo by Torbakhopper. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Use Your Mother||James Brown||Ain’t It Funky||King Records|
|Give It Up Or Turn It Loose||James Brown||Ain’t It Funky||King Records|
|After You Done It||James Brown||Ain’t It Funky||King Records|
|Fat Mama||Herbie Hancock||Fat Albert Rotunda||Warner Brothers|
|Soul Pride||James Brown||The Popcorn||King Records|
|Watermelon Man||Herbie Hancock||Head Hunters||CBS|
|Who Knows||Beau Dollar||Who Knows 45rpm||King Records|
|Funk Bomb||Pee Wee Ellis||Funk Bomb 45rpm||King Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|