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Gleam in Your Eye

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A remarkable new documentary explores the world of amateur and professional mermaiding and the language bubbling up within it. Some mermaiding enthusiasts greet each other with a friendly “Shello!” Plus, an adoptee wonders what to call the biological parents he found later in life. Bio dad? Birth mother? Or something else? And: street names that make you laugh. Do you really want to take a drive on Yellowsnow Road? Also, saucered and blowed, Eri ancora nel mondo della luna, metathesis, in-group vs. out-group family dynamics, out at elbow, ask vs. aks, because vs. as, and versus v. vs., and lots more.

This episode first aired August 5, 2023.

Where the Streets Have Odd Names

 Sometimes people naming streets seem to have a little too much fun: In Casco, Maine, there’s a road called Uptha, as in Uptha Road. In Hemet, California, there’s a Haviture Way, and along Porters Lake, Nova Scotia, three connecting streets are named This Street, That Street, and The Other Street.

He May Have Been Your Father, Boy, but He Wasn’t Your Daddy

 Ben in Traverse City, Michigan, was adopted as a child and met his biological parents as an adult. He’s quite fond of them both, and refers to them as his bio mom and bio dad. Is there a better term for your biological parents vs. the ones who raised you? Other options include birth mom and birth dad. Anthropologists use the terms genitrix and genitor or mater and pater. When talking with very young adoptees, some people prefer specifying the biological mom as the tummy mummy.

Aks for Ask in Appalachia

 Linda in Blountville, Tennessee, wonders why many old-timers in her area pronounce the word ask to sound like aks with the S and K switched, sounding like the word “axe.” The pronunciation “axe” for ask has nothing to do with intelligence. In Old English, the verb meaning “to ask” was ascian. Later for centuries in both Old and Middle English two verbs for “ask,” ascian and acsian, existed side by side, the latter the result of what linguists call metathesis, or the swapping of nearby sounds. They evolved into the “ask” and “axe” pronunciations, and when inhabitants of the British Isles emigrated to the United States, they brought those pronunciations along with them. Thanks in part to the geographic isolation of Appalachia, the “axe” pronunciation persisted and still reflects the migration patterns of Scots and Irish settlers.

It’s A Lop Op Word Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski delivers a take-off quiz in which each clue references a word which, when the first letter is removed, leaves another word also suggested by the clue. In this case, the initial letters of the first clues will be either K or L. For example, what two words are suggested by the sentence Sir Pellinore hopped on his horse and rode off into the darkness?

Versus v. Vs.

 The word versus can be abbreviated any of several ways. In legal contexts in the United States, it’s usually abbreviated as v., as in Supreme Court decisions on Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade. In less formal situations, such as sports contests, it’s commonly abbreviated as vs., as in Mets vs. Giants. In British English, the period is often left off, as in Manchester United vs Leeds. For more formal writing, spell out the word as versus. The vice can be used to mean “in place of” or “replacing” if someone fills in for someone else.

Goodbye, Yellowsnow Road

 In Charlotte, North Carolina, there’s a Street Avenue. In Fairbanks, Alaska, there’s a Yellowsnow Road.

Sayings Meaning “Before You Were Born”

 Mary in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that her parents used to refer to the time before she was born as back when you were chasing flies in Egypt, the equivalent of when you were just a twinkle in your mama’s eyeor twinkle in your daddy’s eye. In The Front Room Boys the playwright Alez Buzo renders this idea as when you were a dirty look. In Australia, the same job is done by the phrase when you were still running up and down your father’s backbone. In Turkish, the expression Piyasada yoktun translates as “You weren’t in the market then,” means something similar. In Italian, there’s the poetic Eri ancora nel mondo della luna, which means “You were still in the world of the moon.”

“Because” vs. “As” When Talking About Consequences

 Scott, in Cincinnati, Ohio, notes in his work as a technical writer for a software company, that his colleagues use the word as instead of what he believes is the correct word, because. For example, in the sentenceYou must enter the customer’s name, before you enter their code, as it causes systems errors, he believes the better word is because, not as. Both are grammatically correct, however.

MerPeople and Their Mer Language

 The word mermaid shares a common linguistic ancestor with several salty words, including marine, maritime, marinate, and the Spanish word for “ocean,” mar. The Netflix documentary MerPeople, directed by Oscar recipient Cynthia Wade, is a remarkable look at the world of amateur and professional mermaiding and the language bubbling up within it. Mers, as they call themselves, wear ornate, heavy tails of latex, silicone, or fabric, and wriggling out of one is commonly referred to as de-tailing. And the people who help carry them to and from the water are known as wranglers. Mermaiding enthusiasts belong to local pods, such as the OB merpod in San Diego, California, and some of them even greet each other with Shello!

A Hot Needle and Burning Thread

 Margaret from Huntsville, Alabama, says her mother used to tell her to hurry up by saying to get something done with a burning needle and a hot thread. The more common expression is with a hot thread and a burning needle, meaning to do something “quickly” or in a “slapdash manner.” Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys used it that way in their 1952 recording of “A Red Hot Needle.” In parts of the Caribbean, hot needle burn thread alludes to something done in haste, as in That wedding got to be hot needle burning thread because the bride is already pregnant.

Take the BMW to Work: Bus, Metro, Walk

 Responding to our conversation about slang expressions for traveling by foot, a listener says that while growing up in Montreal, Canada, in the 1980s, she and her friends would refer to that mode of transportation as going by BMW, an acronym for “Bus, Metro, Walk.”

How Do You Know When You Can Make Fun of a Family Member?

 Rafaella in Wausau, Wisconsin wonders about unwritten rules of etiquette regarding when it is okay as something of an outsider to talk about certain subjects within a family. The rules depend in part on in-group and out-group dynamics within the group — the language that is shared and not shared, in-jokes, family coinages, and shared histories, as well as mutual understandings of status, hierarchy, and respect.

Saucered and Blowed and Ready to Sip

 If something is saucered and blowed, it’s completed. The expression derives from an old tradition of pouring a bit of boiling coffee or tea into a deep saucer, and blowing on the liquid to make it cool enough to drink.

Out at the Elbows

 While reading a translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (Bookshop|Amazon), a listener is puzzled by the sentence For the most part these omniscient gentlemen are out at elbow, and receive a salary of seventeen rubles a month. What does out at elbow mean? It means “ragged” or “in bad condition,” and refers to the image of a coat worn out at the elbows. Conversely, to be in at elbows means “to be well paid.”

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

Book Mentioned in the Episode

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

Astral TravelingPharoah SandersThembiMCA Impulse!
Frontier’s EdgeBudos BandFrontier’s EdgeDiamond West
ThembiPharoah SandersThembiMCA Impulse!
Moon RaysPharoah SandersMoon ChildTimeless Records
Devil Doesn’t DanceBudos BandFrontier’s EdgeDiamond West
AfricaPharoah SandersAfricaTimeless Records
Stopover BombayAlice ColtraneJourney In SatchidanandaImpulse!
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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