Surf’s up! When surfers describe the waves as going gangbusters, it’s a great time out on the water. But why that word? Plus, a thesaurus of flavors serves up delicious writing about the taste of foods and spices. And speaking of flavors, the history of vanilla is anything but bland. When the vanilla flavor was introduced to 16th-century Europeans, it was considered a rare delicacy. So why does the expression plain vanilla mean unexceptional today? Also, funny street names, hoorah’s nest, mooch, a quiz chock-full of assonance, traffic-light sundae, lawn jobs, sleigh riding vs. sledding, burn my clothes!, copperosity, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, and more.
This episode first aired September 9, 2023.
After our conversation about funny street names, listeners chime in with more: In Tallahassee, Florida, there’s a Frankie Lane and a Lois Lane; in Batesville, Arkansas, you can meet up at the intersection of Gwinn and Barrett; Boulder Creek, California, boasts an Either Way; and in Lavalette, New Jersey, there’s a Goa Way.
Martin, who lives in San Diego, California, shares some of his favorite surfing slang, including A-frame, boosting, and gnar. He’s curious about the use of gangbusters in filmmaker Bruce Brown’s surfing classic The Endless Summer 2 to describe huge waves. The word gangbusters appears to have originated in the slang of the 1920s, referring to the action of police busting up criminal gangs, a typically noisy affair.
If you eat ice cream too quickly, the painful result is called an ice-cream headache, a cold headache, or brain freeze. But if you’d feel better using the medical term for it, it’s another mouthful: sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.
A trip to the zoo where he saw the Madagascar lemur called an aye-aye gave Quiz Guy John Chaneski an aye-dea for a puzzle about pairs of words or syllables that each have a long I sound. What two-word phrase denotes what’s often found between two things that aren’t all that different from each other?
Kendall from Boone, North Carolina, says that particularly after Kendall had a challenging day, her mother would gently ask How’s your copperosity? meaning “How are you doing?” Copperosity is a playful variation of corporosity. Corporosity refers to one’s body, an expanded version of corpus, the Latin word corpus, or “body,” and an etymological relative of corpulent.
Why is vanilla associated with blandness? When this flavor was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it was considered a delicacy. Thomas Jefferson came upon it during a stay in France and helped popularize it in the United States. Increasingly, vanilla ice cream became commonly used as a base for other flavors and ingredients. By the late 19th century, the term plain vanilla was in use to describe something relatively unadorned.
The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook (Bookshop|Amazon) by Niki Segnit features delicious writing about combinations of foods and spices to inspire culinary creativity.
Long before Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie (Bookshop|Amazon), she worked as a journalist, chronicling life in the Ozarks. In one of her early writings, Wilder refers to what she calls “the famous question”: How old is Anne? A footnote in the text indicates that the question, How old is Anne? simply means “Who knows?” It turns out there’s a funny story behind that rhetorical question. It referred to a math puzzle published in a 1903 newspaper, which caused no end of consternation and controversy all over the United States.
Zooming down a snow-covered hill on a wooden structure with runners goes by many names across North America including sledding, sliding, sleighing, coasting, and tobogganing. In parts of the United States, it’s also called sleigh riding, and no horses need be involved.
After our conversation about cutting donuts, spinning cookies, and other terms for gunning a car’s engine to make the vehicle spin in a circle, preferably on a gravel surface, a Chicago listener points out that in his hometown, this practice is often called doing lawn jobs.
In the U.S. the verb mooch means “to get something without paying for it.” In the UK, mooch means “window shopping.” Linguist Lynne Murphy writes about this and other differences in her helpful blog, Separated by a Common Language.
Beth from Charlotte, North Carolina, says that if Beth’s hair looked messy, her grandmother would gently chide her with the phrase Your hair looks like a hoo-hoo bird in a haw-haw tree! The name hoo-hoo bird refers to an odd mythical animal, but the more common expression for describing something messy is like a hoorah’s nest or a hurrah’s nest.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilders (Bookshop|Amazon)|
Music Used in the Episode
|Make Your Own Temple||Cannonball Adderley||Soul Of The Bible||Capitol Records|
|Shine It||Medeski, Martin, Wood||End Of The World Party (Just In Case)||Blue Note|
|Ode To Ethiopia||The John Betsch Society||Earth Blossom||Strata-East|
|Kong||Glass Beams||Mirage||Research Records|
|Fried Soul||Devon Lamarr Organ Trio||Cold As Weiss 45||Colemine Records|
|Haggis Express||The Haggis Horns||Stand Up For Love||Haggis Records|
|Darling Doria||The John Betsch Society||Earth Blossom||Strata-East|
|Gravy Train||Lettuce||Unify||Round Hill Records|
|Good Luck With That||Wolcott Curran Collective||Good Luck With That 45 Soundview||Analog Recorders|
|The Other Side||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Step Down||Colemine Records|