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Gilded Age

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In her sumptuous new memoir, Jamaican writer Safiya Sinclair describes her escape from a difficult childhood ruled by her tyrannical father. For Sinclair, poetry became a lifeline. Plus: that fizzy chocolate drink called an egg cream contains neither eggs nor cream — but why? And what do you call a cute dimple in someone’s chin? A listener calls it a chimple. Also, arrested sternutation, nonplussed, slatch, the Gruen effect, tinker, barnburner, up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, and how lakes are named.

This episode first aired March 23, 2024.

Technical Tick Tweak

 A professor who spent 25 years studying arthropods has some thoughts regarding our conversation about the phrase tight as a tick.

If a Chimple Is a Chin Dimple, Then a Bimple Is A…

 Karen in Charlotte, North Carolina, adores her son’s cleft chin. Her husband, who also has one, calls it a butt chin. Karen prefers chimple, a combination of chin and dimple. Did she coin it?

Up the Hill to Bedfordshire, Down the Hall to the Cannes?

 If you’re going up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, then you’re going up to bed.

What You Call it When You Sneeze in the Sun. GeSUNdheit!

 Is there a term for the need to sneeze when you step out into the sun? There are several, including the photic sneeze reflex, solar sneeze reflex, the Peroutka sneeze, and Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, also known as ACHOO. Because exposure to sudden, bright light can be sternutatory, or cause sneezing, this phenomenon is also called pepper on the sun. If you have a hard time sneezing, you have arrested sternuation, from Latin sternuere, meaning “to sneeze.” The Old English word for “sneeze” is fneora.

Bemused Over Nonplussed

 A listener in Park City, Utah, says she and her fellow ski enthusiasts are having heated debates about the word nonplussed. It originally meant “at a loss,” from Latin non plus, meaning “no more,” suggesting a situation in which one can go no further, as in an argument. Perhaps because of confusion with nonchalant, the expression nonplussedalso acquired the meaning of “not bothered.” Both meanings now exist side by side, and linguists regard nonplussed as a skunked word. In other words, its use has become so problematic and contentious that it’s best to choose a different word altogether.

A Puzzle for the -Ages

 People are forever saying that we live in one age or another, such as the Space Age or the Internet Age, which inspired Quiz Guy John Chaneski to create a Puzzle for the Ages. Imagine a world where people misunderstand words that end in -age, so someone needs to set them straight. For example, imagine someone going on and on about how we live in an age that’s untidy: “Everywhere you look there are clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, truly we live in this kind of age.” A more rational person then explains that the other misunderstood a word that ends in -age. What’s the word?

The Mystery Drink Known as the “Egg Cream”: No Egg, No Cream

 Carl in Sebastopol, California, was reminded of his childhood on New York’s Lower East Side while ready Harry Golden’s book For 2 Cents Plain (Amazon), the title referring to how customers ordered a plain glass of seltzer. For a little more, he could get the beverage with milk and chocolate syrup stirred into it. Why was that drink called an egg cream if it contained neither eggs nor cream?

More Secret Restaurant Codes That Ensure Great Service

 After our conversation about restaurant codes used to ensure efficient service, a chef in Charlotte, North Carolina, shares more examples from his experience in an upscale establishment.

Why Is a Tinker Named That?

 Katie in Everett, Washington, is curious about the expression If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers. What is a tinker? She heard this phrase on the television series The Gilded Age, in response to a character who is fretting about a hypothetical situation. The idea is that just because you talk about something, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen. For centuries, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, tinkers were itinerant metalworkers who traveled from town to town fixing pots and pans and other kitchen utensils. The origin of the word tinker is unclear. It may be an extension of the word tin, or it may have to do with the sound of metal striking metal. If you’re tinkering in your garage, then you’re working with your hands to figure out a problem. A longer version of this saying begins with If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride / If wishes were watches, I’d wear one by my side and the phrase is often rendered as a rhyming version: If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinker’s hands.

Why Exciting Events Are Barnburners

 Why is an exciting event called a barnburner? A real barn on fire can be a spectacular sight, with so many combustible materials inside. Metaphorically, then, a barnburner is a “humdinger” or a “doozy.” There’s also a political sense of barnburner, referring to certain politicians and activists. A radical wing of the Democratic Party in the 1930s and 1940s was known as the Barnburners, a spinoff of a faction called the Locofocos, a reference to a wooden match with a name that likely derives from loco suggesting “speed” and the Italian word for “fire,” fuoco.

Poetry as a Path Out of Domination

 Acclaimed Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair’s sumptuous memoir, How to Say Babylon (Bookshop|Amazon) tells the story of her struggle to break free from a rigid Rastafarian upbringing, and how her discovery of poetry, both memorizing it and writing it, became her way out.

A Chapter of Ifs

 Published in the mid-19th century, the poem “A Chapter of Ifs” elaborates at length on the phrase If ifs and ands were pots and pans. The gist is that one shouldn’t dwell upon things that may not come to pass.

When Does the Word “Lake” Come First or Last in Lake Names?

 How are lakes named? Does the proper name of a lake come first, as in Candlewood Lake, or does the word Lake precede the proper name, as in Lake Erie. It’s a question that’s long puzzled limnologists, the people who study lakes. The authors of an article in the journal Freshwater Biology titled “Lake Name or Name Lake? The etymology of lake nomenclature in the United States” found that most lakes use the format Name Lake, although larger lakes tend to be named with the Lake Name format.

Gruen Effect or Gruen Transfer, Either Way You’re Getting It at the Mall

 You know that feeling when you walk into a shopping mall and are so overwhelmed by all the distractions you lose track of what you came there for? That’s the Gruen Transfer or Gruen Effect, named for Victor Gruen, the architect who designed the first suburban open-air shopping center in the United States. Naming expert Nancy Friedman writes about this and other matters of onomastics and branding on her Substack, Fritinancy.

You Belong to the Blue Hen’s Chicken

 A Virginia listener says that often when she’d leave the house, her grandfather would tell her Remember you belong to the land of the blue hen’s chicken. What in the world did that mean? The feisty blue hen is the state bird of Delaware.

June, You Beautiful Slatch

 A slatch is a brief respite or interval when the rain lets up, as in We must wait for a slatch of fair weather.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

For 2 Cents Plain by Harry Golden (Amazon)
How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
New Found TruthsCatalystCatalystCobblestone
JabaliCatalystCatalystCobblestone
No WayBoogaloo Joe JonesNo Way!Prestige
A Country SongCatalystUnityMuse Records
SalaamCatalystCatalystCobblestone
If You Were MineBoogaloo Joe JonesNo Way!Prestige
Since I Lost My BabyKool and The GangKool and The GangDe-Lite Records
Breeze & SoulKool and The GangKool and The GangDe-Lite Records
Sea of TranquilityKool and The GangKool and The GangDe-Lite Records
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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