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Howling Fantods

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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. It was rebroadcast the weekend of September 30, 2023.

Thunderous Epiphanies

 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.  

Gemini Pronunciations

 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.

Misunderstanding Surgical Dressing

 Shannon Proudfoot’s tweet about thunderous epiphanies later in life prompted a response about misunderstanding the meaning of the term surgical dressing.

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.

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

Photo by Lisa Lukyanenka. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
Infinite Jest
Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

Music Used in the Episode

You Don’t Want MeWesley Bright and The HoneytonesHappiness 45rpmColemine Records
Little Booker TDelvon Lamarr TrioClose But No CigarColemine Records
Let There Be DrumsIncredible Bongo BandBongo RockMGM Records
Walk Like A Motherf***erGhost Funk OrchestraWalk Like A Motherfucker 45rpmKarma Chief Records
ApacheIncredible Bongo BandBongo RockMGM Records
Close But No CigarDelvon Lamarr TrioClose But No CigarColemine Records
MemphisDelvon Lamarr TrioClose But No CigarColemine Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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