How did the word gay go from meaning lighthearted to homosexual? Also, why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? Plus, imeldific, gone pecan, random Scrabble words, and the difference between borrow and lend. And the etiquette of striking up conversations with strangers in English pubs: Whatever you do, don’t introduce yourself or try to shake hands.
This episode first aired October 6, 2012.
When you’re playing Scrabble or Words with Friends, do you ever try random letters and hope they stick? One listener managed to play the word haverel that way. It’s an old term from Scotland and Northern England meaning “someone who talks foolishly or senselessly.”
Why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? The earliest schools, called scolae grammaticales, were connected to monasteries. They were meant for teaching Latin grammar. The term declined in popularity during the 1960s.
Borrow vs. Lend vs. Loan
What’s the difference between borrow and lend, or between borrow and loan? The real difference between these verbs is which direction the thing is traveling. Something similar happens with teach vs. learn and bring vs. take.
Fill-in-the-Blank Word Puzzle
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called “I Don’t Think So, M-W.” The name is a nod to Merriam-Webster’s word of the day email, which often uses puzzling example sentences, like this one: “Lying in my tent that night, I could hear the campfire crackling and the crickets __________ and none of the city sounds I was accustomed to.” Good luck filling in that blank.
Does Please Make a Request Optional?
If a command begins or ends with the word please, does that make the order optional? The hosts agree that generally it’s polite to honor such a request, despite the phrasing.
Changing Meanings of Gay
How did the word gay come to mean both “lighthearted” and “homosexual”? In the late 1800s, the term gaycat was used in hobo culture to refer to an inexperienced hobo who might take on an older mentor for help, often another male. Over time, there was a convergence between gay as slang for “homosexual” and “gay” from the French term for “happy.”
Paronomasia’s just another word for pun, and Martha can’t resist offering an example.
What is a road warrior? Besides being a term for someone who travels a lot or commutes a long distance, it’s also used by some to refer to military personnel who are retired on active duty, also known as R.O.A.D.
Riddle from 1835
Grant pops a riddle from an 1835 collection titled The Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, and Conundrums by Peter Puzzlewell.
How British and American First Meetings Differ
Step into a traditional English pub, it’ll be a while before everyone knows your name. A long while, in fact. The rules of conversational engagement are different in the UK from what you’d find in a place like Cheers. Kate Fox’s Passport to the Pub: The Tourist’s Guide to Pub Etiquette spells out many of the customs. For example, at English pubs, it’s better not to go for a handshake. Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK, addresses these differences in her blog Separated By a Common Language.
Gone Pecan, A Southern Saying
If someone’s gone pecan, they’re doomed, defeated, and down on their luck. This idiom, common in New Orleans, probably caught on because of its rhyme.
Here’s a slang word for being drunk you might not have heard of: high lonesome.
When someone talks about Hollywood or Wall Street, they’re probably not talking about a California city or a Manhattan street. It’s an example of what rhetoricians call metonymy. Metonyms like the White House or Downing Street are often used as substitutes for a group of people or an industry.
More Cabbie Slang
What is a bingo? If you’re a taxi driver, a bingo is someone you don’t pick up because your cab is already occupied. Another bit of cabbie slang is bunco. That’s when they are called to a specific address but no passenger shows up.
Town Names Ending in -ham
Why do some town names end in ham? Effingham, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; Gotham City, U.S.A. They all derive from the Old English ham meaning “home” or “homestead.”
Photo by David Pettersson. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|A Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, and Conundrums by Peter Puzzlewell|
|Passport to the Pub: The Tourist’s Guide to Pub Etiquette by Kate Fox|
|419||The Funk Ark||High Noon||ESL Music|
|Nyx||Karl Hector and The Malcouns||Sahara Swing||Now Again|
|Hellbound||Yusef Lateef||The Doctor Is In …And Out||Atlantic|
|Green Tree, Yellow Sky||The Funk Ark||High Noon||ESL Music|
|Followed Path||Karl Hector and The Malcouns||Sahara Swing||Now Again|
|El Rancho Motel||The Funk Ark||High Noon||ESL Music|
|Spindrift||Tom Scott and The LA Express||Tom Scott and The LA Express||Ode Records|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|