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Gangbusters

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Sensuous words and terms of endearment. Think of a beautiful word. Now, is it simply the word’s sound that makes it beautiful? Or does its appeal also depend on meaning? Also, pet names for lovers around the world: You might call your beloved “honey,” or “babe,” or “boo.” But in Swedish, your loved one is a “sweet nose,” and in Persian, you can just say you hope a mouse eats them. Finally, in certain parts of the U.S., going out to see a stripper may not mean what you think it means. Plus, clutch, dank, “girled up,” “gorilla warfare,” “dead ringer,” “spitten image,” butter beans vs. lima beans, and “the whole shebang.” This episode first aired May 27, 2016.

International Terms of Endearment

  “May a mouse eat you,” or in Persian, moosh bokharadet, is a term of endearment suggesting the recipient is small and cute. Another picturesque hypocorism: French mon petit chou, “sweetheart,” but literally, “my little cabbage.”

Going Gangbusters

  To go gangbusters is to “perform well and vigorously” or “act with energy and speed,” as in an economy going gangbusters. The term recalls the swift aggression of 1930’s police forces decisively breaking up criminal gangs. The old-time radio show Gangbusters, known for its noisy opening sequence, complete with sirens and the rattle of tommy guns, helped popularize the term.

Sötnos

  Sötnos, with an umlaut over that first o, is a Swedish term of endearment. Literally, it means “sweet nose.”

Clutch and Dank

  A listener in Billings, Montana, wonders about two of her boyfriend’s favorite slang terms: clutch and dank. Clutch most likely derives from the world of sports, where a clutch play requires peak performance from an athlete, giving rise to clutch meaning “great.” Dank, on the other hand, is used among cannabis aficionados to describe the smell of good marijuana, and was popularized by Manny the Hippie’s appearances on David Letterman’s show.

Hidden Words Quiz

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski is on the hunt for four-letter words hidden inside related words. For example, find the related four letter word hidden in the last word of this sentence: A union member might find him despicable.

Fitting Salutations

  When writing a business letter, what’s a modern salutation that doesn’t sound as stuffy as “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam”? “To Whom It May Concern,” perhaps? The answer depends on the context and the intended audience.

Gorilla Warfare

  A Boardman, Ohio, was confused as a child after reading about “guerrilla warfare” and wondering what those big, hairy primates could possibly be fighting about.

Mining Strippers

  In mining country, a stripper is an huge piece of machinery churns up the soil in search of coal veins. This caused no end of hilarity one Christmas Day for a Terre Haute, Indiana, family when a new in-law was scandalized by the thought that all the menfolk were enthusiastically heading out to see a new stripper.

All Girled Up

  More than a century ago, the Springfield Republican newspaper in Massachusetts proposed a new word for that twitterpated time in an adolescent’s life when one discovers the joys of flirtation: being all girled up. The Republican is also the publication containing the first known instance of someone suggesting the term Ms. as an honorific.

Schadenfreude

  Schadenfreude, from German for “damage-joy,” means “delight in the misfortune of others.”

Drought Humor

  How dry is it? In the middle of a drought, you might answer that question is “So dry the trees are bribing the dogs.”

Beautiful Words

  What makes a word beautiful? Is it merely how it sounds? Or does a word’s meaning affect its aesthetic effect? Max Beerbohm had some helpful thoughts about gondola, scrofula, and other words in his essay “The Naming of Streets.” Several years ago, Grant wrote a column on this topic for The New York Times.

The Whole Shebang

  The origin of “the whole shebang,” meaning “the whole thing,” is somewhat mysterious. It may derive from an Irish word, shabeen, which meant “a disreputable drinking establishment,” then expanded to denote other kinds of structures, including “an encampment.” The phrase “the whole shebang” was popularized during the U.S. Civil War.

Dead Ringers and Spitten Images

  Two familiar terms that have inspired lots of bogus etymologies are “dead ringer” and “spitting image.” “Dead ringer” probably comes from horse racing, where a ringer is a horse that may look like other horses in a race but is actually from a higher class of competitors, and therefore a sure bet. The dead in this sense suggests the idea of “exact” or “without a doubt,” also found in such phrases as “dead certain.” As for the term variously spelled “spitting image” or “spittin’ image” or “spit and image,” Yale University linguist Larry Horn has argued convincingly that the original form is actually “spitten image,” likening a father-son resemblance to an exact copy spat out from the original.

I’ve Got Your Back

  If you want to reassure someone, you might say “I’ve got your back.” In Persian, however, to indicate the same thing, you’d say the equivalent of “I have your air,” which is havato daram.

Butter Beans

  What’s the difference between butter beans, lima beans, and wax beans? The answer depends on where you live and what dialect you speak.

Mouse Bears

  Oh, those romantic Germans! Among their many terms of endearment is the one that translates as “mouse bear.”

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

Photo by barclakj. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Water No Get EnemyFela KutiExpensive ShitEditions Makossa
Everything ScatterFela KutiEverything ScatterPolydor
Musicawi SiltThe DaktarisSoul ExplosionDesco
LoverFela KutiFela Fela FelaHis Master’s Voice
ZombieFela KutiZombieCreole Records
LadyFela KutiShakaraEMI
Viva NigeriaFela KutiFela Fela FelaHis Master’s Voice
Don’t Ever Leave MeJ.C. DavisA New Day!Cali-Tex
Expensive ShitFela KutiExpensive ShitEditions Makossa
He Miss RoadFela KutiExpensive ShitEMI
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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1 comment
  • On the question of salutations, based on the ancient Roman salutation of “Lectori Salutem”, I often use “Greetings to the Reader,” or, in some cases, simply, “Greetings,”. The upside is that it’s gender-neutral and (I hope) inoffensive. The downside, if the reader is old enough, is that “Greetings,” was once the salutation on a letter informing the recipient that he’d been drafted into military service. Since we are decades past the last draft, this is possibly less jarring than it once was.

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