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Electric Soup 

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When an international team of scientists traveled to a research station in Antarctica for six months, the language they all shared was English. After six months together, their accents changed ever so slightly — a miniature version of how language evolves over time. Plus, the esoteric lingo from another rarefied environment: the world of contemporary art. And where in the world would you find a stravenue? It’s a mix of avenue and street. Also, dingle day, booty, clambake, a quiz with answers that form a conga line of syllables, going to the salt mines, like death eating a cracker, daffodil vs. jonquil, helpful new books about language, I go to the foot of the stairs, and #30#.

This episode first aired April 20, 2024.

Have a Dingle Day!

 After an international team of scientists and staffers spent six months at a research station in Antarctica, their accents changed ever so slightly, according to an acoustic analysis by German researchers. The slang terms they shared include dingle, which described “clear weather,” as in a dingle day, and electric soup, meaning “fortified wine.”

Pirate Booty vs. Body Booty

 Is the booty as in shake your booty related to a pirate’s booty? The booty that means “derriere” is an alteration of botty, which is itself an alteration of bottom. The booty that means “loot” or “plunder” derives from an Old Germanic word. It was likely influenced by Old English bót, meaning “advantage” or “a little more” and the source also of the expression to boot, meaning “additionally” or “to the good.”

Clam, a Musical Mistake

 Ian in Jacksonville, Florida, wonders about why musicians use the word clam to mean “a mistake” or “an egregious musical error,” as in There are a lot of clams in there or We need to practice where the clams are regarding a musical passage that needs work. Occasionally, it’s used as a verb, as in You clammed. In the 1950s, the term clambake meant a jam with bad vibes. In the 1930s, a clambake was actually a good jam session, but the term went from a positive sense to a negative one, a process that linguists refer to pejoration. It’s possible that the term became skunked, which describes a term so widely used by the general public that the cool people came to disdain it. Robert S. Gold’s A Jazz Lexicon (Amazon) is a helpful resource for the language of jazz.

Seeing Through The Eyes of Artists and Art Fiends

 Journalist Bianca Bosker infiltrated the world of contemporary art and wrote about it in her book Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey Among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See (Bookshop|Amazon), often with hilarious results. She describes the lexicon of art curators, whose language is peppered with such words as indexicality, iconicity, and durational, and observes,”Art devotees spoke like they were trapped in dictionaries and being forced to chew their way out.”

Word Game with John Cha-Cha Chaneski

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has crafted a quiz involving a polysyllabic word followed by another word that repeats the last of those syllables twice. For example, suppose the clue is: “When playing a simple game with a toddler, it’s a real faux pas to forget to reveal your face again.” What’s a five-syllable term for that kind of mistake?

Off to the Salt Mines

 Mary Lou is a former newspaper reporter in Memphis, Tennessee. One of her editors used to say he was off to the salt mines, meaning he was headed to do some challenging work. That expression is a reference to the grim practice of sending prisoners off to work in literal salt mines in Siberia. Through the linguistic process known as amelioration, that expression lost its original, extremely negative sense over time. Mary Lou is also curious about the old practice of adding #30# at the bottom of a story to indicate its end. There are many proposed explanations for this, going back to the 19th century. The most likely explanation connects this notation to a code outlined in 1864 in Orrin Wood’s Plan of Telegraphic Instruction, where the number 30 was the telegraphic code meaning finis, meaning “end” or “conclusion.” It had no particular meaning, it was just the next number in sequence when one was needed for an idea.

A Smoko, Drongo?

 Smoko is slang for “a cigarette break.” It’s used in Australia and also at a British research station in Antarctica.

Daffodil vs. Jonquil

 What’s the difference between a daffodil and a jonquil? Strictly speaking, daffodil is a general term, and jonquils are a specific type of daffodil, called Narcissus jonquilla. Both belong to the botanical genus Narcissus, and most people use the two terms interchangeably. Jonquil is more common in the American South, and occasionally they’re called Johnny-quills.

Why Are Insulated Drink Sleeves Called “Koozies”?

 Why is an insulated sleeve for a beverage called a koozie, often spelled koozy, coozy, coozie, and other ways? Any relation to a tea cozy used to keep a teapot warm? In Australia, a coozie is often called a stubby holder, a stubby or stubbie being “a short bottle of beer.” The coozie was originally patented with the trade name Koozie.

Strutting Down the Stravenue

 Stravenue is a portmanteau of street and avenue, and is used in Tucson, Arizona, to refer to a diagonal road between east-west streets and north-south avenues. Similarly, a stroad is a combination of street and road.

Fine Distinctions and Usage Guide Books

 What’s the difference between ethics and morality? Between a proverb and an adage? Eli Burnstein’s Dictionary of Fine Distinctions: Nuances, Niceties and Subtle Shades of Meaning ​​(Bookshop|Amazon) helps readers distinguish between such things. Linguist Anne Curzan’s Says Who?: A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words (Bookshop|Amazon) is a helpful, highly readable summary for anyone who wants to understand how linguists think about language.

I Go to the Foot of the Stairs

 Mike in Glasgow, Kentucky, wonders about a catchphrase used in British comedies: I go to the foot of the stairs. The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases (Amazon) compiled by Anna Farkas and several books by catchphrase collector Nigel Rees both point to a comedy radio series that ran from 1939-1949 called It’s That Man Again. The phrase suggests that the speaker has been taken by surprise and must retire from polite company for one purpose or another.

Liketa, Likedta, Liked To

 The liked to in statements such as It started raining yesterday and liked to never stop is directly related to the word likely. The terms liked to and likedta used in this way reflect a British dialectal term that found its way into the speech of many people in the American South.

Like Death Eating a Nab

 The expression you look like death eating on a Nab means “you look terrible.” It’s a humorous elaboration of the idea of death, which refers to death consuming a dry, salty, peanut-butter-filled snack made by the Nabisco company. The more common phrase is you look like death eating a cracker. Variations include like death on toast and the simile Ralph Ellison used in Invisible Man (Bookshop|Amazon), like death eating a sandwich.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

A Jazz Lexicon by Robert S. Gold (Amazon)
Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey Among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See by Bianca Bosker (Bookshop|Amazon)
Dictionary of Fine Distinctions: Nuances, Niceties and Subtle Shades of Meaning by Eli Burnstein ​​(Bookshop|Amazon)
Says Who?: A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words by Anne Curzan (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases by Anna Farkas (Amazon)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Kalimba StoryEarth, Wind, & FireOpen Our EyesColumbia
VibrafingerGary BurtonGood VibesAtlantic
A Nivel De…Joao BoscoComissão De FrenteAriola
Little SunflowerManny Oquendo Y Su Conjunto LibreRitmo Sonido EstiloMontuno Records
Las Vegas TengoGary BurtonGood VibesAtlantic
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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