Some people work hard to lose their accent in order to fit in. Others may be homesick for the voices they grew up with and try to reclaim them. How can you regain your old accent? Also, a compelling book about scientific taxonomy shows how humans use language to try to divide up and impose order on the word. And Uff-dah!is an expressive word that means “Gee whiz!” or “Oy vey!” It’s also handy when lifting heavy objects. Plus, pigloos, pine shatters vs. pine needles, channel fever, a quiz about common bonds, idioms involving stinginess, nicknames, possible baths, verbing nouns, East Jesus and South Burlap, and affirmative semantics with negative morphosyntax.
This episode first aired March 12, 2022.
In Argentina, you might describe a stingy person as someone who has un cocodrilo en el bolsillo or “a crocodile in the pocket.” In France, such a person is said to have oursins, or “sea urchins” in that pocket. In various other languages, miserly persons have similarly dangerous things in their pockets. In Brazil, it’s a scorpion, and in Serbia, a snake. In English, one way to describe someone parsimonious is to say that they’d squeeze a nickel until Jefferson screamed. That’s the polite version, anyway.
Audrey in Fort Smith, Arkansas, is curious about the term East Jesus Nowhere meaning a nonexistent, faraway place. Other such fanciful place names include East Overshoe, South Burlap, West Burlap, West Hell, South Succotash, Ginny Gall, and Beluthahatchie.
Chris calls from Nassawadox, Virginia, to say that on their second date his girlfriend used the term pine shadows for what he calls pine needles. Particularly in Virginia, the terms pine shadows and pine shatters denote those long thin leaves that fall from pine trees. The word shatter applies to seed pods that fall out of their case, which is why the term shattered corn is used for corn that has fallen off from the ear.
Huge feral pigs are eating their way across northern Canada, and building themselves shelters in the snow. Researchers call these structures pigloos.
A Virginian who moved to Illinois is feeling nostalgic about her old Tidewater accent. What are some tips to help you regain the accent you grew up with? Some strategies for reclaiming one’s accent: Go back home for a visit, and save some linguistic memories by inviting friends and family to share stories and recording them. Spend time with the Dictionary of American Regional English, available online or through public libraries. Read old newspapers, either through your library or online at sites like Newspapers.com. Finally, seek out YouTube videos from the area where you grew up.
Following our earlier conversation about nicknames, listeners are still responding with stories about their own nicknames. Two of those show how nicknames sometimes arise from a single incident, then stick around for years. In one story, a girl spelled out the name Jennifer in all caps, but forgot the final downward stroke on the letter R. Thereafter, she was affectionately called Jennifep and later just Fep. In another, a girl made a connection between a friend named Wendy Larson and a word she learned while paging through an unabridged dictionary. The word is condylarth, which refers to an extinct ungulate animal. For decades thereafter, she referred to her friend Wendy Larson as Condy Larthon, or simply Cond. How did you get your nickname?
Jeremy calls from Charleston, South Carolina, to say that when he lived in southeast New Hampshire, he was puzzled by the use of a seemingly negative response to indicate something positive. For example, if he said I drive a red car and his listener also drove a red car, the listener would respond affirmatively with the phrase So don’t I meaning “I drive a red car, too.” This construction is primarily heard in New England. Linguist Jim Wood of Yale University has studied it extensively, and points out such constructions aren’t limited to the verbs do and don’t.For example, in New England, you might also hear statements such as Sure, it’s trendy but so aren’t most nightclubs, or Yes, the clerks should be treated with respect but so shouldn’t the customers. Many other phrases used more widely may at first sound negative but actually communicate something positive, such as Don’t you look pretty! or Wouldn’t you like to know! Want to know more? For more of Wood’s work on the topic, search online for the phrase affirmative semantics with negative morphosyntax.
For a fantastic read about the history of taxonomy and the ways we use language to try to divide up and impose order on the world, check out Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (Bookshop|Amazon) by science writer Carol Kaesuk Yoon. This graceful, engaging book explains the concept of umwelt (literally, “the world around” in German) which means “the environment as it’s perceived by various animals according to their sensory abilities and cognitive powers.” A honeybee with its compound eyes has a very different umwelt from that a dog, which understands so much of the world through smell. Recent advances in evolutionary and molecular biology demonstrate that the so-called “Father of Modern Taxonomy,” Carl Linnaeus, was limited by his own umwelt, and those discoveries now raise profound and surprising questions about the connections between and among various organisms.
If you need an expressive, multipurpose word means much the same as Wow! or Gee whiz! or Oy vey!, there’s always Uff-da! This exclamation, often used to express surprise or disgust or exasperation started out as Norwegian uff da, meaning the same thing. In the United States, this term is now heard primarily in areas of Norwegian settlement, particularly in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
In Brazil, if you want to talk about going someplace quickly and coming back in a flash, you can use the idiomatic Portuguese phrase ir num pé e voltar no outro, literally “to go on one foot and return on the other.”
Alan from Omaha, Nebraska, finds himself turning nouns into verbs, telling his daughter he’s glad she’s old enough to start to human and using jenga as a verb to refer to arranging items carefully, after the game Jenga, which involves removing blocks from a tower so that the whole thing doesn’t fall. A large percentage of everyday verbs in English come from nouns. Linguists call the process of turning nouns into verbs denominalization. An excellent source on this topic is The Prodigal Tongue (Bookshop|Amazon) by linguist Lynne Murphy. She points out two words that have made the round trip from noun to verb more than once: caterer comes from the verb to cater which comes from a noun cater, which is a person who cated, which comes from the verb to cate, meaning “to dress food.” The noun impact followed a similarly circuitous path.
Mary in Laramie, Wyoming, says her mother used to speak of taking a possible bath, meaning washing up using water from the sink instead of taking a bath or a shower. The idea is that you wash up as far as possible, then down as far as possible, and then you wash your possible or your possibles. The expression is fairly widespread, and was used by writers such as James Joyce in his novel Ulysses (Bookshop|Amazon) and Maya Angelou in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Bookshop|Amazon).
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Dictionary of American Regional English|
Music Used in the Episode
|Harlem River Drive||Bobbi Humphrey||Blacks And Blues||Blue Note|
|San Francisco Lights||Bobbi Humphrey||Satin Doll||Blue Note|
|Funky Pullett||Gene Harris and The Three Sounds||Live At The It Club||Blue Note|
|Make Your Own Temple||Cannonball Adderley||Walk Tall: The David Axelrod Years||Stateside|
|Up And At It||Cannonball Adderley||Walk Tall: The David Axelrod Years||Stateside|
|I’m Still Sad||Gene Harris||Live At The It Club||Blue Note|
|Smiling Faces Sometimes||Bobbi Humphrey||Dig This!||Blue Note|
|Hummin’||Cannonball Adderley||Walk Tall: The David Axelrod Years||Stateside|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|