The names of professional sports teams often have surprising histories — like the baseball team name inspired by, of all things, trolley-car accidents. Plus, some questions to debate at your next barbecue: Is a hot dog a sandwich if it’s in a bun? And when exactly does dusk or dawn begin? Dictionary editors wrestle with such questions all the time, and it turns out that writing a definition is a lot harder than you think. Finally, a new word for your John Hancock: When you use your finger to sign an iPad, what do you call that electronic scribble? Plus, “hang a Roscoe,” “Peck’s Bad Boy,” “coming down the pike,” sozzling, stroppy, and umbers. This episode first aired May 13, 2016.
A caller from Los Angeles, California, wonders why we say “hang a Roscoe” for “turn right” when giving directions. This phrase, as well as “hang a Louie,” meaning “turn left,” go back at least as far as the 1960’s. These expressions are much like the military practice of using proper names for directional phrases in order to maintain clarity. Some people substitute the word bang for hang, as in “bang a Uey” (or U-ee) for “make a U-turn.”
The phrase “coming down the pike” refers to something approaching or otherwise in the works. The original idea had to do with literally coming down a turnpike.
In the late 19th century, Wisconsin newspaperman George Wilbur Peck wrote a series of columns about a fictional boy who was the personification of mischief. The popular character inspired stage and movie adaptations, and the term “Peck’s Bad Boy” came to refer to someone similarly incorrigible.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski tees up a trivia quiz about how sports teams got their names. For example, are the Cleveland Browns so named because one of their founders was named Paul Brown, or because of the orange-brown clay on the banks of the Cuyahoga River?
A listener in Bayfield, Wisconsin, says her grandmother used to tell her to “go sozzle in the bathtub.” John Russell Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms defines the verb to sozzle this way: “to loll; to lounge; to go lazily or sluttishly about the house.”
A professional shoemaker in Columbiana, Ohio, wonders why the words cobbler and cobble have negative connotations, given that shoemaking is a highly skilled trade. The notion of cobbling something together in a haphazard or half-hearted way goes back to the days when a cobbler’s task was more focused on mending shoes, rather than making them. But Grant quotes a passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which such a tradesman articulates the nobility of his profession: “I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon neat’s leather have gone upon my handiwork.”
If you simply read each letter aloud, you can see why O.U.Q.T.! U.R.A.B.U.T.! can be interpreted to mean “Oh, you cutie! You are a beauty!” A statement expressed that way with letters, numerals, or drawings is called a rebus, or, if it’s solely expressed with letters and numerals, a grammagram. Great examples include the F.U.N.E.X.? (“Have you any eggs?”) gag by the British comedy duo The Two Ronnies, and William Steig’s book CDC?
A door divided across the middle so that the bottom half stays closed while the top half opens is known as a Dutch door, a stable door, or a half-door. Some people informally call it a Mr. Ed door, named after a TV series popular in the 1960’s about a talking horse named Mr. Ed who frequently stood behind such a door.
Is a hot dog a sandwich if it’s in a bun? Why or why not? Is a burrito a sandwich? (A Massachusetts judge actually ruled on that question in 2006.) What about a veggie wrap? These kinds of questions about the limits and core meanings of various words are more complicated that you might think. Lexicographers try to tease out the answers when writing dictionary entries.
A woman who grew up in Albuquerque recalls that when one of her schoolmates got in trouble, she and their peers would say ominously, “Umbers!” This slang term is apparently a hyperlocal version of similarly elongated exclamations like “Maaaaaan!” Or “Burrrrrn!” that youngsters use to call attention to another’s faux pas.
An Indianapolis, Indiana, listener says that his mother-in-law was asked by a child where she was going, would jokingly sing that she was “going to the Turkey trot trot trot, across the lot, lot, lot, feeling fine, fine, fine until Thanksgiving time. Trouble. Trouble trouble. Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble on the double.” Sounds like she was singing a version of the Turkey Trot Blues.
Photo by Olivier Peulen. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|The Funky Turkey||Jive Turkeys||Bread and Butter||Colemine|
|Brown Line||Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae||Autumn Breeze||Rivas Recordings|
|Autumn Breeze||Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae||Autumn Breeze||Rivas Recordings|
|Mellow Fire||Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae||Autumn Breeze||Rivas Recordings|
|JT Strut||Jive Turkeys||The Funky Turkey||Mocambo|
|Mesothelioma||Magic In Three’s||Magic In Three’s||GED Soul Records|