When a teenager went a week without talking as part of a school project, he noticed a surprising side effect: Instead of rehearsing a response to what other people were saying to him, he was focused on listening — and feeling smarter as a result. Plus, a flight attendant is irritated by a certain term she has to use frequently with passengers. Might there be a better word than de-plane? And how do you pronounce the name of the Show-Me State? The answers you’ll hear are as variable as Midwest weather. Also, cryptic crossword puzzle clues, jabroni, Chatham House rule, railroad slang, dress the bed, nuces relinquere, You can give them books and give them books, but they just chew the covers right off, and lots more.
This episode first aired July 9, 2022.
Members of our Facebook group are inventing funny names for Greek gods by mispronouncing familiar words with the accent on the wrong syllable, such as Episodes /eh-PIH-suh-deez/, god of continuing stories, and Lemonades /leh-moe-NAH-deez/, god of cool refreshment. There’s also Particles /PAR-tih-kleez/, god of little bits that get missed by the vacuum; Ankles /ANE-kleez/, god of podiatry; and Obstacles /AHB-stuh-kleez/, god of impediments. This game is a lot like Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle in which he and his imaginary friend Sophocles introduced us to other imaginary Greeks with similarly mispronounced names. For example, their friend who specializes in studying squid, octopi, and cuttlefish is named… Tentacles /TEN-tuh-kleez/.
A flight attendant from Concord, North Carolina, is irritated by a word she must use often in her work: deplane, meaning “to leave an aircraft.” She knows this verb is effective and efficient, but she says that to her it seems inelegant, noting that in the UK the word deboard is used instead. Deplane probably derives from detrain, which in turn probably derives from debark, literally “to get off of a boat.” Inelegant or not, the verbs detruck, debike, and debus are also used in military contexts.
Jonas, a high-school English teacher from Chatham, Virginia, is curious about the word jabroni (also spelled jabroney, jabronie, and jabrony), meaning a “chump” or “palooka.” It may come from a Milanese dialect word, jamboni — literally, “ham,” and more generally a derogatory term for a “naive person,” “knucklehead,” or “thug.” Jabroni has been adopted into the world of professional wrestling, where, like the word jobber, it refers to a wrestler who’s scripted to lose a match. We also talked about jabroni on the show another time.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a test of wits that cruciverbalists will love, especially if they’re into cryptic crosswords, those punny, perplexing clues. The classic example is the clue “First place,” which isn’t so vexing if you think about it in biblical terms.
Jules in Washington, D.C., is puzzled when a speaker at a meeting says the gathering will be covered by Chatham House Rules. Correctly said there’s just one Chatham House Rule, and it’s named after Chatham House, a think tank and research institute in London, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. In order to encourage frank, creative conversation, Chatham House adopted a rule under which participants in a meeting are free to use information received there, but the identity of the speaker and their organizational affiliation must remain confidential.
More fanciful Greek god names proposed by our listeners: Vehicles, the god of getting there faster; Chronicles, god of boring old stories; and LEDes, god of lamps that don’t consume much energy.
How do you pronounce Missouri? Is it /miz-URR-ee/ or /miz-URR-uh/? There are actually four distinct pronunciations of this word. Linguist Donald Lance of the University of Missouri-Columbia studied the history of this name extensively and found that the pronunciation has always been a matter of some dispute. It’s not just the name of the Show-Me State, though. Many other words usually pronounced with an EE sound at the end have variant pronunciations with a schwa sound at the end, including Cincinnati, Hawaii, Miami, Corpus Christi, Mississippi, spaghetti, macaroni, ravioli, gladioli, and prairie. We previously discussed the pronunciation of Missouri here.
Tim from Kalamazoo, Michigan, reports his dad used to say You can give them books and give them books, but they just chew the covers right off. He’d use this expression when he felt someone wasn’t following instructions or failing to understand an explanation. This saying is usually applied to people failing to appreciate what they’ve been given. Variations include: You send them to school, you buy them, the books, and what do they do? They eat the books and I buy books and books and all you do is chew the covers. In 1949, a newspaper columnist joked: The folks keep sending me to school, but all I do is eat the covers off the books. Bookworm, you know. The expression has been around for decades, and might be as simple as a reference to an infant chewing the cover of a board book to relieve sore gums. Another possibility is that this notion originated in the wacky craze of competitive eating during the 1930s and 1940s, where college students showed off by eating live goldfish, worms, the leather covers off of baseballs, and yes, magazine covers.
After our conversation about monastic sign language, Cameron Brick, a social psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, emailed to share his own stories about nonverbal communication and the power of silence.
Zack, a railroad conductor in Omaha, Nebraska, wonders about a bit of jargon from his profession: tie up, meaning to “clock out,” or “leave work,” as in What time did you guys tie up yesterday? This usage is referenced in The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, and appears to have been borrowed from the language of shipping by boat.
In ancient Rome, kids played games with nuts — specifically walnuts. In a Latin poem from that era, “Nux,” a walnut tree describes some of those games. Nux is Latin for “nut,” the source also of nucleus, or “kernel of a nut” and eventually the core of other things. The plural nuces appears in the Latin phrase nuces relinquere, literally “to give up nuts,” which, used in a metaphorical sense, means “to leave childhood” — in other words, to put away one’s toys.
Janet calls from Aiken, South Carolina, to say that her father used to ask Have you dressed your bed? meaning “Have you made your bed?” The word dress likely derives from Latin dirigere, meaning “to straighten” or “to guide,” the source of the English noun and verb address. Today dress has several meanings involving the idea of “arranging,” “preparing,” or “setting up,” found in such phrases as dress oneself, dress a salad, dress troops. In the past, the verb to dress was also used with reference to cultivating land or plants and even repairing a clock. In parts of the eastern United States, the phrase dress the table means “set the table,” and dress the bed fits into that traditional use of dress, both in parts of the U.S. as well as parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, the term dress clothes is sometimes used to mean “bedsheets.”
Eileen from Chesapeake, Virginia, recalls her mother’s response whenever someone in their family burped: Excuse the pigs, the hogs went out for a walk. It’s a mild reprimand (or apology, if the speaker is the one who burped), and there are many variations, including Excuse the pig, the hog’s out walking and Excuse the pig, the hog’s around the corner, as well as Excuse the pig, but the hog’s still around. Other versions include Pardon a pig — a hog would know better and another from the United Kingdom: Pardon, Mrs. Arden, there’s a pig in your garden. If you’re out in public, and your companion lets out a belch, you can say Excuse my pig — he’s a friend. One jocular way to acknowledge one’s own burp is to announce Greetings from the interior! or say I don’t remember eating that.
Music Used in the Episode
|The Signs, Part One||The Signs||David Axelrod||Now-Again|
|Sunday Gardena Blvd||Mark’s Keyboard Repair||Money Mark||Mo-Wax|
|Warning Talk Part Three||David Axelrod||The Signs||Now-Again|
|Pinto’s New Car||Mark’s Keyboard Repair||Money Mark||Mo-Wax|
|Pula Yet||Letta Mbulu||The Signs||Now-Again|
|The Other Side||Step Down||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Colemine Records|