This week on A Way with Words: Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. • Some restaurants now advertise that they sell “clean” sandwiches. But that doesn’t mean they’re condiment-free or the lettuce got an extra rinse. In the food industry, the word “clean” is taking on a whole new meaning. • A Marine veteran wonders about a phrase he heard often while serving in Vietnam: give me a huss, meaning “give me a hand.” • Surprising idioms used in Greece. For example, what does a Greek person mean if he tells you “I ate a door”?
This episode first aired April 1, 2017. It was rebroadcast the weekends of October 2, 2017, and May 6, 2019.
In English, the expression keep your eyes peeled means “pay close attention” or “be on the lookout.” In modern Greek, the equivalent is ta matia sou dekatessera, literally, “your eyes fourteen.” In Greece today, if you’ve been rejected you might say so with a phrase that translates as “I ate a door.” If you’ve been looking for someone for a very long time, you might say efaga ton kosmo na se vro, the equivalent of “I ate the world to find you.”
A listener in New York City asks: Why do we say yesterday but not yesterweek?
Ignorance Gone to Seed
The phrase ignorance gone to seed invokes an agricultural metaphor. Picture a field that is so far gone it’s no longer flowering and is now beyond the point of further cultivation.
Pretend to be a Duck, in Greek
If someone feigns ignorance, a Greek might describe him with an expression that translates as “he pretends to be a duck.”
Mare in Nightmare
Unless you’re having a bad dream about equine creatures, a nightmare doesn’t have anything to do with horses. The mare in nightmare comes from an old word that means “goblin.”
It Doesn’t Exist, a Greek Phrase
In modern Greek, if you want to say something is “fantastic,” “out of this world,” or otherwise “terrific,” you can say den iparchei!, which literally means “It doesn’t exist!”
Two-Word Rhyme Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s challenge requires removing an initial letter from one word to form a two-word rhyme. For example, what two rhyming words are suggested by the clue “I’d like to try that ice cream, but you didn’t give me enough”?
Huss in Military Slang
A Marine Corps veteran in Omaha, Nebraska, is puzzled by a phrase he often heard during his service in Vietnam: give me a huss, meaning “give me a hand” or “help me.” One strong theory for its origin involves a type of helicopter known as the Huss, described in the book Marines and Helicopters 1962-1973 by William Fails.
Belligerent Doesn’t Mean Drunk
Some people, particularly younger folks, are adamant that the term belligerent means “drunk.” It’s a misanalysis of the word, perhaps associating being intoxicated with being ready to fight. Instead, belligerent derives from the Latin word bellum, meaning “war,” also found in bellicose, and the term applied to that period before a war, particularly the U.S. Civil war, antebellum.
Kimble, A Masterful Walk
A woman in Carmel, Indiana, wonders about the use of the verb kimble to mean a certain kind of “strutting.” Kimbling is that proud, confident way of walking you might associate with Barack Obama or Denzel Washington. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has brief entries for the word, but its origin is unclear.
Second-acting, the once-common practice of sneaking in to see the second act of a Broadway show for free by mixing in with paying patrons outside at intermission, largely ended as theaters began tightening their security and fewer people step outside for a cigarette.
Attorney General Plural
What is the plural of attorney general? Attorneys general or attorney generals?
Clean Food Buzzword
The word clean, as in clean food, has taken on a whole new life as a buzzword describing food free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, or added color. A restaurant chain now boasts clean sandwiches, and the topic is now covered by the magazine Clean Eating.
Scobolotch is a term used in Wisconsin for the mayfly that may derived from a Native American language. Variants include scobblotcher and skoplotch. This short-lived insect goes by many other names, including Green Bay fly and Canadian soldier.
Flet and Dray
The words flet and dray (or drey,) refer to types of squirrel’s nests.
Why Don’t We Pronounce the B in “Subtle”?
Why don’t we pronounce the letter b in the word subtle? The word derives ultimately from Latin subtilis, meaning “fine, delicate,” and was adopted into Middle English from Old French as sotil. The b was later added back in so that the spelling reflected the word’s original Latin roots but the pronunciation continued to lack the b sound.
Names for the Mayfly
The mayfly, that insect whose time is up in a mere 24 hours or so, goes by many other names, including bay fly, cisco fly, drake fly, dun, eel fly, fish fly, flying clipper, green fly, July fly, June bug, June fly, and more.
Spondulix, also spelled spondulicks and spondolux, is a slang term for money. Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn, although it had been around for a while before that. The word may derive from the Greek word spondylos, meaning “vertebra” or “spine,” suggesting the similarity between a column of those round bones and of a stack of coins.
More Wool than a Lamb
The Spanish phrase tiene mas lana que un borrego means someone is quite wealthy. Literally, the phrase means “he has more wool than a lamb.”
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Photo by Luke Jones. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Addis Black Widow||Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics||Inspiration Information||Strut|
|Cha Cha||Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics||Inspiration Information||Strut|
|The Moil||Galactic||Ruckus||Sanctuary Records|
|Open Soul||Tomorrow’s People||Open Soul||Stage Productions|
|Blue Nile||Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics||Inspiration Information||Strut|
|Live From The Tigre Lounge||Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics||Inspiration Information 3||Strut|
|Dewel||Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics||Inspiration Information||Strut|
|Mulatu||Mulatu Astatke||Mulatu of Ethiopia||Worthy Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|
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