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Hair on Your Tongue

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If you speak both German and Spanish, you may find yourself reaching for a German word instead of a Spanish one, and vice versa. This puzzling experience is so common among polyglots that linguists have a name for it. • The best writers create luscious, long sentences using the same principles that make for a musician’s melodious phrasing or a tightrope walker’s measured steps. • Want to say something is wild and crazy in Norwegian? You can use a slang phrase that translates as “That’s totally Texas!” • Plus happenstance, underwear euphemisms, pooh-pooh, scrappy, fret, gedunk, tartar sauce, antejentacular, the many ways to pronounce the word experiment, a fun word quiz, and lots more.

This episode first aired February 9, 2019. It was rebroadcast the weekend of October 22, 2023.

Norwegian Phrases

 Takk for sist is a Norwegian greeting that means “thanks for the last time,” which conveys the idea that the speaker is pleased to see the person again. Another Norwegian slang phrase translates literally as “to be in the middle of the butter’s eye,” meaning to be in the best possible spot. It alludes to a dab of butter that melts deliciously atop a popular rice pudding.

Euphemisms for Underwear

 Step-ins, pull-ons, and drawers are all euphemistic terms for underwear.

Pronunciation of “Experiment”

 Jane in Billings, Montana, says her daughter is a veterinary student who pronounces the word experiment as ecks-PEER-a-ment rather than ex-PARE-a-ment. By their early teens, children tend to get their language from peers, rather than their parents or books. The word experiment has about half a dozen different common pronunciations, and two major ones.

That’s Totally Texas

 Norwegians often indicate that something’s crazy or mixed up by using a slang term that translates as “That’s totally Texas!”

What About Happenstance?

 Jeff from Iron Mountain, Michigan, is curious about the word happenstance. It’s a combination of the words happen and circumstance, and means by chance or by accident. Happenstance has been around since the 1850s. It outlasted a couple of competing terms, happenchance and happenso, the latter a reduction of it so happens.

Australian Slang Puzzle

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has crafted a puzzle inspired by Australian slang. For example: New Yorkers know the meaning of a Bronx cheer, but they may not know what it means to wave one’s hand in the air in an Aussie salute. What does an Aussie salute signify?

All the Things Called “Tartar”

 Lael in Heartland, Iowa, wonders how tartar sauce got its name. The answer is a complicated etymological story that combines cream of tartar, which derives from the Latin tartarum, or a residue left on the inside of wine casks, and the story of the fierce 13th-century warriors known as the Tartars, also known as the Tatars, led by Genghis Khan. These rough-and-ready fighters were known for softening and marinating meat for eating by placing it under their saddles during a long ride, the result of which eventually inspired the German dish steak tartare, which in turn inspired the modern meat patty we call a hamburger.


 Antejentacular derives from Latin words that mean before breakfast. One might take, for example, an antejentacular walk before sitting down for the morning’s meal. Antejentacular comes from the Latin jejunus meaning fasting or barren. It’s related to the word jejune meaning empty or insipid, and jejunum, the part of the small intestine that anatomists discovered is usually empty at death.

The Idiom to Have Hair on Your Tongue

 Dennis in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, recalls that his Spanish-speaking mother used to speak frankly with him or rebuke him using the phrase “No tengo pelo en mi lengua,” meaning “I have no hair on my tongue.” The same idea appears in Italian, Welsh, Croatian, Serbian, and other languages. In French, the phrase that translates as “to have no hair on my tongue” means to not speak with a lisp. In Turkish it means “I’m tired of repeating myself.”

Is “Scrappy” a Positive or Negative Word?

 Marley in Indianapolis, Indiana, is arguing with her friends over whether the word scrappy is positive or negative. The answer depends on context.

In Praise of Long Sentences

 The gorgeous essay “In Praise of the Long and Complicated Sentence” by Joe Moran argues for the glories of spinning out long and beautiful sentences.

How Do You Keep Your Languages Straight When You Speak More Than One?

 Destiny from Huntington Beach, California, speaks German proficiently, plus some Spanish. She’s now learning Russian, but finds herself frustrated as she reaches instead for Spanish words for the same thing. This phenomenon is so common among polyglots that linguists have a term for it: faulty language selection. Sometimes physically embodying the mannerisms you use with a particular language can help you keep them straight.

To Fret Someone

 At our recent appearance in Dallas, Texas, a listener asked about the use of fret as a transitive verb, as in “Don’t fret that child.” This usage is particularly common in the American South, and comes from the old notion of fret meaning to eat. The listener brought her infant daughter Dayspring to the event, dayspring being an archaic word for dawn.

What’s the Origin of “Gedunk”?

 Tom in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders why he and his fellow buddies called the store on a ship the gedunk, also geedunk, and also applied the word to the sweets and other goodies they purchased there. As Paul Dickson notes in his book War Slang, some servicemembers believe the word derives from the sound of a snack landing with a thud in a vending machine. More likely, though, it was inpsired by the gedunk sundaes mentioned in a popular cartoon from the 1920s called Harold Teen.

Don’t That Jar Your Preserves?

 A listener reports that her Brooklyn-born mother used to exclaim, upon seeing something remarkable, “Don’t that jar your preserves?”

Origin of “Pooh-Pooh”

 An Alabama man wonders about the verb to pooh-pooh, meaning to disdain or disapprove. It has nothing to do with the similar-sounding word for excrement, but rather the noise one makes when being dismissive. It started as simply pooh in the 1500s, was reduplicated by the 1600s, and by the 1800s, it’s commonly used as a verb.

No Such Thing as Bad Weather, Just Bad Clothes

 In Norway, a popular bit of advice translates as “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” It’s sometimes given as “Det finst ikkje dårleg vêr, berre dårlege klede” and the idiom is also used in Finland.

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

Music Used in the Episode

ChunkyRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Drowning In The Sea Of LoveRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Pushin’ OffMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul
Two Headed FreapRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Showbiz SuitePlaceboBall Of EyesCBS
Trinity WayMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Soul
Summer SongRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Let’s Stay TogetherRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Don’t Knock my LoveRonnie FosterTwo Headed FreapBlue Note
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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