A caller wonders if she’s being hypersensitive about the way her boss addresses her in emails. Can the use of an employee’s first name ever reflect a power differential? And: a community choir director wants a term for “the act of gathering to sing for the pure joy of it, without ever preparing for a performance.” For her, the word rehearsal doesn’t really fit. Plus, what’s so funny about bananas, anyway? Why do we say That’s bananas!? Also glacial erratic, a Swahili riddle, defenestration, overmorrow, funny names for Greek gods, enchantment, accent, etui, a puzzle about similes, Kirchenfenster, Följa John, Mal comune mezzo gaudio, and El que no llora, no mama.
This episode first aired September 10, 2022.
A listener in Cairns, Queensland, Australia shared this brain teaser: 11 was 1 racehorse/ 22 was 1 2 / 1111 race / 22112. It may look mystifying, but when you sound it out correctly, it makes perfect sense. The Ha Ha Bonk Book (Bookshop|Amazon) is full of cute puzzlers like that.
A.J. Jacobs’ book The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life (Amazon|Bookshop) includes this brain teaser translated from Swahili: I am a house without a door.
Carlos in Miami, Florida, is fond of the Spanish proverb El que no llora, no mama, which might be translated as “The baby who doesn’t cry doesn’t get any milk,” or literally, “The one who doesn’t cry, doesn’t suckle.” Its sense is similar to the English The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Another Spanish dicho regarding the idea of failing to speak up for oneself is no decir esta boca es mía, or literally, “To not say that this mouth is mine.”
Listeners continue to invent names of Greek gods by pronouncing familiar words with the accent on the wrong syllable. There’s Mediocrities, god of “things that are just pretty much okay”; Lotteries, “the god of random numbers”; and that not-so-well-known “muse of lung sounds,” Stethoscopes.
This week’s head-scratcher from Quiz Guy John Chaneski is like a puzzle about similes. In fact, it is a puzzle about similes. For example, say you’re looking for a word to complete the phrase dead as a. You might choose the name of a bird, or you might mention something from the hardware store.
Merriwether from Santa Fe, New Mexico, works in the television industry, shopping for props in a variety of retail stores. In the last year, she’s noticed more and more workers greeting her as she enters not just with the word Welcome!, but with the expression Welcome in! Is this a post-lockdown trend? A nationwide one? Is it a form of corporate jargon dictated by businesses?
A South Carolina teen calls to ask why the English language has a word meaning “to throw someone out of a window,” but no word for “the day after tomorrow.” The word defenestrate, from Latin fenestra, “window,” was coined in the 17th century specifically to refer to the so-called Defenestration of Prague in May 1618, when Catholic officials and a secretary were tossed out the window of the castle there, sparking the Thirty Years’ War. Latin fenestra is also the source of the French word for “window,” fenêtre, and German Kirchenfenster, literally “church window,” used to denote what English-speaking wine lovers call the long, spindly legs of a glass of wine. English does have a word for “the day after tomorrow,” although it’s rarely used. It’s overmorrow.
The director of Common Voices Chorus, a women’s choir in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, seeks a word to denote what her group does when they get together to sing simply for the joy of singing and community-building, rather than working toward the goal of performing for an audience in the future. It’s not exactly a rehearsal, so what should they call it? Some words in English have melodious roots in ancient languages that aren’t obvious, but don’t quite fit the bill either. Symphony comes from Greek words that mean “voices together” and Latin cantare, “to sing,” gave rise to English enchantment, and accent, which refers to “song added to speech.”
In the United States, the boxlike contraption that carries passengers between floors in a building is called an elevator. In Britain, it’s called a lift. Clearly, folks in those two countries are just raised differently.
The Rockefeller State Park Preserve near Pleasantville, New York, features a fine example of a glacial erratic, a giant rock left behind thousands of years ago by a glacier as it moved. In this case, the word erratic functions as a noun. Both the noun erratic and its adjectival form meaning “haphazard” or “inconsistent” derive from Latin errare, “to wander,” the source also of error and knight errant, the term for “a medieval knight who travels about seeking chivalrous adventures.”
With its unusual combination of letters, the word etui is a favorite of crossword-puzzle constructors. Etui means “a small case” and often refers to containers for carrying small instruments such as sewing needles and pins. This word was adapted from French étui,meaning “case” or “box,” which derives from an older word meaning “to shut up” or “imprison.” In the 17th century, the word was often spelled etwee, with a plural form of etweese. A version of this word was later transferred to a small instrument sometimes kept in such a container, tweezers.
Anthony in Tallahassee, Florida, shares a favorite Italian saying, Mal comune mezzo gaudio, similar in meaning to the English proverb Troubles shared are trouble halved. The mezzo means “half,” as in mezzo soprano, and the gaudio, or “joy,” is from Latin gaudium, a form of which appears in the medieval drinking song Gaudeamus Igitur, the beginning of which translates as “Let us live, then, and be glad.” This idea of sharing burdens in common is reflected in an ancient Roman proverb as well that translates as “A common shipwreck is a comfort to all.”
Say you’re on a long road trip. Do you have a term for another driver who happens to be traveling the same direction and sets the pace for your car mile after mile? In an earlier episode, a Rhode Island listener left us wondering why her Swedish friend refers to such a driver as a Follow John. A listener in Malmö, Sweden, has since stepped in with an explanation. In that country, children play a game similar to “Simon Says” called Följa John, or “Follow John.” That helpful Swedish listener, by the way, is Karin Tidbeck, author of The Memory Theater (Bookshop|Amazon), which appears on the New York Times list of best science fiction and fantasy books of 2021.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|The Ha Ha Bonk Book (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life by A.J. Jacobs (Amazon|Bookshop)|
|The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck (Bookshop|Amazon)|
Music Used in the Episode
|Windows||Jack Wilkins||Windows||Mainstream Records|
|Onyeabor 80||The Kitchen II Allstars||Onyeabor 80 45||All-Town Sound|
|Inside Straight||Cannonball Adderley||Inside Straight||Fantasy|
|Red Clay||Jack Wilkins||Windows||Mainstream Records|
|Zaire||Mitchum Yacoub||Zaire Single||All-Town Sound|
|Saudade||Cannonball Adderley||Inside Straight||Fantasy|
|The Skipper||The Greyboy Allstars||Como De Allstars||Knowledge Room Recordings|
|Afro-Strut||The Nite-Liters||Afro-Strut||RCA Victor|
|The Other Side||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Step Down||Colemine Records|