Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing drug-laced dollar bills, or that AM radio stations only broadcast in the morning? • A moving new memoir by Kansas writer Sarah Smarsh touches on the connection between vocabulary and class. • The inventive language of writer David Foster Wallace. • Also ilk, how to pronounce Gemini, fart in a mitten, greebles, make over, sploot, to boot, a brainteaser, and a whole lot more.
This episode first aired December 15, 2018.
On Twitter, columnist Shannon Proudfoot asks: What’s the most mundane but thunderous epiphany you ever had? Something so ridiculously dull or elementary that still bowled you over when you figured it out? Some of the answers had to do with misunderstandings about language, including the meaning of guerilla warfare, AM radio stations, and money laundering.
To Make Over Someone Can also Mean to Fuss Over Them
Sarah from Grove City, Pennsylvania, says her husband had no idea what she meant when she said she wanted to make over him. Besides its other meanings, the verb to make over someone also means to be affectionate towards them. The terms make of and to make on have long meant to value highly or treat with great consideration.
Viewers of the movie First Man, about the Gemini space program, may be surprised to learn that within National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the name Gemini is pronounced more like JEM-i-nee. Gemini is the Latin word for twin, and the source of the Spanish word for twins, gemelos.
Pets Go Sploot
James in San Diego, California, wonders about the origin of the word sploot, which refers to the way cute cuddly animals, such as corgis, lie on their bellies with their back legs splayed out. Other terms for this include frog legs, frog dog, furry turkey, drumsticks, turkey legs, chicken legs, Supermanning, pancaking, flying squirrel, and frogging. The origins of sploot are murky, although it may be connected with splat. There’s a whole subreddit for all your splooting needs.
Hidden Weather Brainteaser
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle is involves weather terms hidden inside longer words. For example, suppose he’s going to the store to buy some stuff — nothing in particular, just various objects that are too small and unimportant to mention separately. How’s the weather?
South African “Shot” Slang
Cory in Newark, Ohio, says that while in South Africa, he heard the exclamation shot! used in an empathetic way to mean “that’s so sweet!” or “bless your heart!” In South Africa, the word can be used to express agreement, and in Australia, the expression “That’s the shot!” expresses approval. In boxing, a skillful punch might be commended with “Oh, shot!”
Misunderstanding How Beer is Made
Inspired by a Twitter thread about things people learned surprisingly late in life, Martha relates an extremely embarrassing story of her own about her misunderstanding how beer is made.
Slang “To Bogart”
Rebecca from San Diego, California, wants to know the origin of the verb to bogart, as in, “Don’t bogart that salad dressing!” meaning “don’t hog it” or “don’t use it all up.” It’s associated the tough-guy manner of matinee idol Humphrey Bogart.
Using “Ilk” to Mean “Type” or “Kind”
Masha in Vergennes, Vermont, says her family uses the word ilk to refer to a variety or type, as in, “What ilk of tree is that?” Is this term is now archaic?
Writing Advice from Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, advises that although would-be writers should read extensively, it’s even more important to listen intensely.
Fart in a Mitten and Variants
Sharon in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, says that when her father wanted his children to stop squirming, he used to say “You’re just like a fart in a mitten.” Versions of this term for something moving around a lot, feature a fart in a colander, a blender, a hot skillet, a jacuzzi, a spaceship, a submarine, a phone box, and an elevator.
David Foster Wallace’s Turns of Phrase
David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest includes many unusual turns of phrase, including nose-pore-range for something very close, toadbelly white for a particular shade of the color, howling fantods for the heebie-jeebies, and greebles for disintegrated bits of Kleenex. Grant worked with Wallace on the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, for which Wallace supplied some usage notes.
The Neglected Salutation “Hark”
Our discussion about proper salutations for business letters prompts Mary in Austin, Texas, to suggest beginning such correspondence with the neutral but emphatic “Hark!”
“To Boot” Origins
Maribel in Montgomery, Alabama, asks about why we say to boot to mean in addition. This kind of boot has nothing to do with the kind you wear on your feet. It’s from Old English bot, meaning advantage or remedy, and is a linguistic relative of the English word better.
Photo by Lisa Lukyanenka. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth|
|Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|You Don’t Want Me||Wesley Bright and The Honeytones||Happiness 45rpm||Colemine Records|
|Little Booker T||Delvon Lamarr Trio||Close But No Cigar||Colemine Records|
|Let There Be Drums||Incredible Bongo Band||Bongo Rock||MGM Records|
|Walk Like A Motherf***er||Ghost Funk Orchestra||Walk Like A Motherfucker 45rpm||Karma Chief Records|
|Apache||Incredible Bongo Band||Bongo Rock||MGM Records|
|Close But No Cigar||Delvon Lamarr Trio||Close But No Cigar||Colemine Records|
|Memphis||Delvon Lamarr Trio||Close But No Cigar||Colemine Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|