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Hot Dog, Cold Turkey

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Why do we call a frankfurter a hot dog? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we say they quit cold turkey? This term’s roots may lie in the history of boxing. Plus, a transgender listener with nieces and nephews is looking for a gender-neutral term for the sibling of one’s parent. Finally, the words barber and doctor don’t necessarily mean what you think. They can both be weather words, referring to very different types of wind. This episode first aired May 27, 2017.

Names of the Wind

 Brickfielder, simoom, and haboob are types of winds. Others include snow eater and chinook.

Why We Call Them “Hot Dogs”

 Why do we call a frankfurter a hot dog? In the 19th century, hot dog was a jocular reference to rumors that these sausages were stuffed with dog meat.

Addressing or Introducing Married Doctors

 Say you’re introducing someone to a married heterosexual couple, and both members of the couple are physicians. What titles should you use? “This is Dr. and Dr. Jones”? Dr. and Mrs.? What if one holds Ph.D.? What if both hold doctorates?

Opitmists vs. Pessimists

 Here’s a humorous take on how optimists differ from pessimists.

Broadway Letter Swap

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been swapping out letters on Broadway marquees to create the names of entirely new theatrical productions. For example, what Broadway play might you be watching if it’s about a famous woman who leaves her career as a sharpshooter for a job at McDonald’s?

Hurrah’s Nest

 The grandmother of a woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says tousled hair looks like a hoorah’s nest. Also spelled hurrah’s nest or hooraw’s nest, this means “an untidy mess” or “a commotion.” Its origin is uncertain. In 1829, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described someone as having a head like a hurra’s nest. The term’s origin is obscure, although it might have to do with the nest of an imaginary creature.

Gender Neutral Term for Aunt and Uncle?

 A transgender and gender-nonconforming listener wonders if there’s a gender-neutral term for “aunt” or “uncle.” Some people have suggested pibling, meaning the “sibling of one’s parent.” Others have proposed baba, titi, bibi, zizi, unty or untie, or simply cousin. In the same way that kids often come up with a pet name for their grandparents, perhaps nieces and nephews (or nieflings, as they’re sometimes collectively called) will come up with their own term. The tumblr Gender Queeries has more suggestions for all kinds of gender-neutral words denoting kinship.

Origin of the Word “Thesaurus”

 A thesaurus, a collection of synonyms, derives its name from the Latin word thesaurus, or literally, “treasury.”

Strange English Plurals Leftover From a Bygone Age

 A San Antonio, Texas, man says his six-year-old son wonders: If the plural of house is houses, why is the plural of mouse mice? And why is the plural of tooth teeth? These plurals are vestiges of a time when the middle vowel sound in some nouns changed to form the plural. Other old plural forms are reflected in such words as children and oxen.

Doctor Good Wind

 A cool wind or a wind that brings good health is sometimes called a doctor, such as the Fremantle Doctor of Western Australia. A barber wind is a harsh wind so cold and wet it can freeze a person’s hair and beard.

Mountain-Inspired Poetry by Jessica Goodfellow

 Jessica Goodfellow spent several weeks as an artist-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska while finishing her latest book, Whiteout. The poems in this collection explore the stark natural beauty of that mountain, which drew her uncle there for a climb that turned out to be deadly. Martha shares one of those poems, “The Magpie.”

Cold Turkey Origins

 When you quit something abruptly, you’re said to quit cold turkey. This expression’s origin is unknown although its earliest recording uses are from 19th-century boxing.

Discarding and Replacing Dictionaries

 A listener in Port Washington, Wisconsin, asks: When is it appropriate to get rid of an old edition of a dictionary?

Names for the Bed Linen That Holds A Pillow

 The cloth case for a pillow is variously known as a pillowcase, a pillow slip, or a pillow cover.

If I Were Any Better I’d…

 An Evansville, Indiana, listener says she responds to the question “how are you?” with a phrase she adopted from her grandmother: “If I was any better, I’d be twins.” There are several versions along these lines: “If I was any better, I’d be you.” “If I was any better, there’d be two of me.” “If I were any better, I’d be dangerous.” “If I were any better, vitamins would be taking me.” In all of these jokey responses, the meaning is straightforward. It’s simply that the speaker is doing very well indeed.


 Kapai is a Maori term used in New Zealand meaning “good.”

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

Photo by jeffreyww. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume 1.

Music Used in the Episode

BowlegsFunk IncFunk IncPrestige
Kool Is BackFunk IncFunk IncPrestige
Ain’t She SweetRoger Rivas and The Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
Sister JanieFunk IncFunk IncPrestige
The Hill Where The Lord HidesFunk IncSuperfunkPrestige
Ace-HighRoger Rivas and The Brothers of ReggaeLast GoodbyeRivas Recordings
The Better HalfFunk IncChicken Lickin’Prestige
Hang Up Your Hang UpsHerbie HancockMan-ChildColumbia
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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1 comment
  • For gender-neutral terms for Aunt and Uncle … It occurs to me that in some languages they have the same root word for both, and just change the ending of the word. For instance, Spanish has tía and tío, while Italian has zia and zio. The gender-neutral root could be tí or zi. Perhaps other languages have a similar approach.

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