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In Japan, if you want to order a corndog, you ask for an Amerikan doggu (アメリカンドッグ). These types of coinages are called wasei-eigo, or “Japanese-made English,” and there are lots of them. Plus, there’s an atmospheric optical phenomenon that looks somewhat like the aurora borealis, but has a much friendlier name. Scientists refer to these ribbons of color as … Steve. And: need a synonym for the word “conspicuous”? There’s always kenspeckle. Also, nitnoy, faire la grasse matinée, sunday-to-meeting, sana, sana, colita de rana, a codebreaker who solves a years-long mystery, a brain teaser about action-packed metaphors, ghostie, gander’s arch, fluffle, and more.

This episode first aired the weekend of February 24, 2024.

Have a Fat Morning

 A French idiom that means “to sleep in” or “lie around lazily in bed after waking” is faire la grasse matinée, literally to “make the fat morning.” If you fall in love easily, you’re said to have un coeur d’artichaut, or “an artichoke heart.” That metaphor stems from the longer saying un coeur d’artichaut, une feuille pour tout le monde, meaning “an artichoke heart, a leaf for everyone.”

Nitnoy, a Little Thing

 Tricia in Cross Oaks, Texas, says that when she was a child, a family friend fondly called her a nitnoy, meaning “a small person.” U.S. soldiers picked this term in Thailand, where nit noi (นิดหน่อย) means “a little bit.”

Steve in the Sky With Emissions

 There’s an atmospheric phenomenon that resembles the Northern Lights, and it’s called STEVE. That’s because citizen scientists used that name among themselves when discussing these glowing ribbons of color in the sky. They settled on that name because of a moment in the animated film Over the Hedge where the characters confront something intimidating and decide to refer to it as Steve to make it less frightening. Professional scientists liked the idea, and even created a backronym for it: Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement .

Sunday-Go-to-Meeting Clothes

 Daniel in Gainesville, Florida, shares a funny story about people who misunderstood a party invitation that called for Sunday-to-meeting clothes. In this case, the meeting isn’t just any meeting. It’s an old word for “church service,” so if you’re wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, you’re wearing your Sunday best.

Not Taking Metaphors Literally Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been puzzling over metaphors that involve an action performed on a noun. For example, say he’s writing an essay and suddenly gets some new ideas that inspire him. It’s not literally that he was traveling in a car that was suddenly reoriented 90 degrees and is now traveling on a new street. But what, metaphorically, would you say John did?

Wasei-Eigo, Japan-Made English

 Leo, a scientIst in Tucson, Arizona, used to live in Japan, where he often heard Japanese speakers using English that wasn’t quite correct. For example, one Japanese friend described someone “full of worry” as scareful. Another used paper driver to refer to “a person who has a driver’s license but doesn’t drive.” Wasei-eigo is “Japanese-made English,” in which hai bijon (ハイビジョン) literally “high vision” can mean “modern,” and amerikan doggu (アメリカンドッグ) means “corn dog.” English and Japanese have long borrowed from each other. The English word skosh, for example, comes from Japanese sukoshi (少し), a “little bit.”

Kenspeckle

 In Scotland and Northern England, something that’s kenspeckle is “conspicuous.” This word likely comes from Scandinavian languages and is related to English ken, meaning “range of knowledge.” And it’s not just ken — this family of words includes Spanish conocer, meaning “to know” and reconnoiter, meaning “to gain information.”

Sana, Sana, Colita De Rana

 Leonor from Dallas, Texas, says that when she was a child, her Spanish-speaking mother and grandmother used to her after a bump or scrape with Sana, sana, colita de rana, Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana, literally, “Heal, heal, little frog’s tail. If you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow.” Somehow this always helped distract her from any minor pain. There are many versions of this saying throughout Latin America. Another ends with Dame un besito para hoy y mañana, or “Give me a kiss for today and tomorrow.” Around the world, similarly soothing phrases are often accompanied with a bit of touch or gentle massage, which works at least as well as the words themselves.

Nobody Knows Why Marijuana is “Pot”

 Why is marijuana called pot ? Lexicographer David Maurer, an expert on underworld slang, once posited that pot is shortened from potiguaya, a term that, it turns out, isn’t Spanish. He later surmised that pot comes from potación de guaya, meaning “drink of grief,” but that proposed etymology also proved wrong. It’s been suggested that pot references the pot in which marijuana is grown, or pod, specifically the plant’s seed pod, but the truth is no one really knows why weed is also called pot. Ernest Able’s 1982 book, A Marihuana Dictionary: Words, Terms, Events, and Persons Relating to Cannabis (Bookshop|Amazon) has a comprehensive discussion of these terms.

The Mystery 19th-Century Code Found in a Dress

 When an archaeological curator discovered pages of strange code in a secret pocket inside a vintage dress, it set off a years-long search to decipher the seemingly unrelated lists of words. The mystery was solved in 2018, when a researcher at the University of Manitoba named Wayne Chan discovered that the words were part of a sophisticated 19th-century code used by the Army Signal Corps to transmit weather information via telegraph. Chan wrote a research article about his find, and tells the whole fascinating story in a 17-minute video in graphic-novel form.

Invisible Man or Ghost Runner?

 Sue from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, wants help regarding a dispute with her husband about terms they use in a pickup sport like softball and you don’t have enough players to field a full-size team. If you get onto second base but then have to go back to take the next turn at bat, you say ghost runner on second or ghostie on second to indicate that there’s unseen runner on that base that’ll precede you if you manage to get on base again. Her husband, who’s from a different part of Pennsylvania, always called that imaginary placeholder an invisible man. Which is it? In The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Bookshop|Amazon) by Paul Dickson includes ghost runner, invisible man, and imaginary runner .

Flatter than a Gander’s Arch

 Jim in Sacramento, California, was reading The Good Detective (Bookshop|Amazon) by John McMahon, when he came across a description of the Georgia countryside as flatter than a gander’s arch. Just how flat was it, and what’s a gander’s arch?

Who Coined the Word “Fluffle” to Refer to a Group of Rabbits?

 Van from Washington, D.C., is curious about the word fluffle, which supposedly denotes “a group of bunnies.” A friend of hers claimed to have coined this collective noun for lagomorphs along with friends at the University of Alberta in Canada some 10 to 15 years ago and inserted it into Wikipedia on a lark. Could that be true? Linguist Ben Zimmer researched this question, and reported his findings to the listserv of the American Dialect Society. Fluffle indeed appears to have been added to the online encyclopedia in July 2007, where it was defined as “a group of rabbits or hares is called a fluffle in parts of Northern Canada.” So it’s possible that her friend’s story is true. At this point, at least, there’s no evidence to the contrary.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

A Marihuana Dictionary: Words, Terms, Events, and Persons Relating to Cannabis by Ernest Able (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Good Detective by >John McMahon (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
CollapseSpacehall Sound MachineCollapse singleEchoblast Records
April in ParisLuiz Bonfá, Fafá LemosBonfafaOdeon
El RenegonLos DestellosLos DestellosOdeon del Peru
Na PavunaLuiz Bonfá, Fafá LemosBonfafaOdeon
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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