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Hot Mess

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Sneaky contract lingo, advice for writing well, and preserving a dying language. Say you’re scrolling through an online transaction where you’re asked to read the “Terms and Conditions.” Do you actually read them or just check the box and move on? If you move on, watch out for the Herod’s clause. Plus: When does your own communication style make you sound out-of-date? A 50-something boss wants suggestions on speaking with and writing for his younger co-workers. Finally, if we lose a language, how many of our childhood memories perish in the process? Also, “dark as Egypt,” “not quite cricket,” “down to the lick log,” “light dawns on Marblehead,” “sneezing to the truth,” and hot mess. This episode first aired February 5, 2016.

Herod Clause

  When you get to the stage of an online transaction where you’re asked to read the “Terms and Conditions,” do you actually read them? Or do you just check the box and move on? A London security firm once offered free use of a WiFi hotspot, provided the users agreed to sign over their firstborn child “for the duration of eternity.” Sure enough, some people signed. The company called that sneaky contract language a Herod clause, after the Biblical king who ordered the deaths of firstborn babies in Bethlehem.

Dark as Egypt

  The expression “dark as Egypt” means really dark, and is a reference to the story in the book of Exodus of the ten plagues that descended upon Egypt, the ninth of these being complete darkness.

Down to the Lick Log

  If you’re “down to the lick log,” you’re close to the end of negotiations, or nearing some kind of decision. This expression is associated with cattle ranching, a salt lick being a place where the herd congregates. The 19th-century frontiersman Davy Crockett used the term in his autobiography.

Not Quite Cricket

  “Not quite cricket” means not proper, substandard, or perhaps even illegal. The phrase is a reference to the world’s second most popular sport, cricket, and derives from the 19th-century notion that the “Spirit of the Game” is the epitome of good sportsmanship.

Hot Topics of 2015 Limerick Game

  Quiz guy John Chaneski shares limericks about things people were talking about in 2015.

Thief Finesse

  A high school teacher in Indianapolis reports her students use the verb finesse to mean “to steal.”

Golden Apple Riddle

  Here’s a riddle: Within a fountain crystal clear / A golden apple doth appear / No doors or locks to this stronghold / Yet thieves break in and steal the gold. What is it?

Generation Slang Gap

  A 50-something boss in Reno, Nevada, wants suggestions on speaking with and writing for his younger co-workers. When does your own communication style make you sound out-of-date, and when does using younger folks’ slang make you sound like you’re trying too hard?

Light Dawns on Marblehead

  A Massachusetts native living in Washington, D.C. says her professor and classmates had no idea what she meant by a “light dawns on Marblehead” moment. It’s a reference to the town of Marblehead in her home state, on an outcropping of land where the sun first hits the coast. It’s also a pun on Marblehead, meaning someone who’s dense.

Precious Little Dying Language

  Imagine that you’re the last living speaker of a dying language.  What memories do the words of your childhood evoke? What do you miss talking about? Those are questions raised by Precious Little, a play by Madeleine George. Martha reads a moving passage in which an elderly speaker of a dying language counts to 20 in her native tongue.

Southern Expression “Hot Mess”

  The term hot mess refers to someone whose life is chaotic or otherwise somewhat dysfunctional. Heard primarily in the South, hot mess is often used affectionately, suggesting that the person is attractive despite the messiness of their life.

Sneeze Confirmed the Truth

  If someone sneezes while you’re saying something, a Yiddish speaker might say “G’nossem tsum emes,” or “The sneeze confirmed the truth,” meaning that what you just said is true, and the sternutation proves it. An English speaker expresses the same idea with the phrases “sneezin’ to the truth,” “sneezing on the truth,” or “the sneeze confirmed the truth.”

Etymology of Poormouthing

  Someone who’s cheap or just likes to complain that they don’t have much money are said to be poormouthing. This expression goes back to at least the 1850’s, and originated in the American South, although now it’s more widespread.

Apple Core, Baltimore!

  A Madison, Wisconsin, caller says his father will eat an apple down to the core, then call out “Apple core, Baltimore! Who’s your friend?” and if the person doesn’t answer fast enough, his dad will throw the core at him. This game, and variations of it, was recorded by the researchers gathering folklore for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s.

A Southern Mess

  In parts of the South, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the word mess can denote “a witty, clever, or mischievous person.”

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

Photo by Rick. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

CarlitoCochemea GastelumThe Electric Sound of Johnny ArrowMRI
Bold And BlackRamsey LewisAnother VoyageCadet
Guardian AngelCochemea GastelumThe Electric Sound of Johnny ArrowMRI
UhuruRamsey LewisAnother VoyageCadet
Dark CityCochemea GastelumThe Electric Sound of Johnny ArrowMRI
Arrow’s ThemeCochemea GastelumThe Electric Sound of Johnny ArrowMRI
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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  • I heard “hot mess” in the SF Bay Area all the time now. I do kind of like it and think of it just as you described above. Someone whose life is at times a mess but who gets a bit of a pass because they are attractive or perhaps just part of the in crowd.

  • I believe this goes back to the military. People were being called a real mess even back in the 1950s.

    Normally, soldiers would eat at the mess hall. If they were tied up in the field, they’d truck in a “cold mess” of unheated food, but on occasion, they’d offer a hot mess, which may be heated on the spot, or if the distances were less, heated in the mess hall and delivered quickly.

    And from there, hot mess being a lot nicer than a regular mess, they described women (and situations) as being a hot mess instead of a real mess.

    No, I can’t prove it – but I heard “hot mess” being used to reference a warm meal at least a decade before the usage this caller was describing.

    Don Quixote de la Mancha says “They accordingly went in, leaving him at the door; but the barber presently returned with a hot mess, in compliance with his wish,” and I think that hates from the 1820s. James walker, in “Letters From the West Indies” [1821] wrote “The cooking of a nourishing hot mess every day for the young and the sick, is an indispensable part of the economy of every well regulated plantation.” George Johnson in 1801 wrote “How much more comfortable it must be for those who go from home each day early in the morning, to follow their different callings, to have a nice hot mess of fried vegetables for breakfast instead of merely bread and butter” in The Cottage Gardener.

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