A recent study found that some names crop up more frequently than others in certain professions. The name William is especially common among attorneys–and graphic designers include a higher-than-average number of Jessicas. Plus, picturesque idioms from around the world: What Russians mean when they say someone has “a burning hat,” and what Swedes mean when they say someone “slid in on a shrimp sandwich.” Speaking of food, where would you find a self-licking ice cream cone? A good place to look: Washington, D.C. Plus, bunking, “Carter’s got pills,” the Philly slang word jawn, Irish tough love, do-ocracy, the pulmonic ingressive, and the etymology of tip.

This episode first aired February 20, 2015.

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 Slide in on a Shrimp Sandwich
In English, we might say that someone born to a life of luxury was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In Swedish, though, the image is different. Someone similarly spoiled is said to “slide in on a shrimp sandwich.” For more picturesque idioms from foreign languages, check out Suzanne Brock’s beautifully illustrated Idiom’s Delight.

Students in New England might refer to playing hooky from school as bunking, or bunking off. Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang traces the term back to the 1840s in the British Isles.

 Thief with a Burning Hat
In Russian, someone with an uneasy conscience is described by an idiom that translates as “The thief has a burning hat”–perhaps because he’s suffering discomfort that no one else perceives.

 Irish Expression for “Get Over It”
A Washington, D.C., caller says her dad would console her with the saying “Don’t worry, it will be better before you’re married.” Which is really less a heartfelt consolation than it is a better way to say, get over it. The saying comes from Ireland.

 Self-Licking Organizations
The terms self-licking ice cream cone, self-eating watermelon, and self-licking lollipop all refer to organizations, such as governmental bureaucracies, that appear to exist solely for the sake of perpetuating themselves.

 Every Vowel Word Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game where the answer to each clue is a word or phrase includes the vowels a, e, i, o, and u exactly one time each. For example, what’s a cute infant animal that’s yet to get its spikes?

 Origin of Gratuity “Tip”
Like many English words, tip — as in, the gratuity you leave to the waiter or the bellhop — doesn’t originate with an acronym such as To Insure Promptness. This type of tip goes back to the mid-18th century, when thieves would tip, or tap, someone in the process of acquiring or handing off stolen goods. That false etymology really a backronym, formed after the invention of the word.

 Portuguese Procrastination
If you keep postponing an important chore, you’re said to be procrastinating. There’s a more colorful idiom in Portuguese, however. It translates as “to push something with your belly.”

 Alternative for Anyways
Anyhow and anyways, said at the end of a sentence, are common placeholders that many find annoying. Instead, you might try finishing a thought with “What do you think?” That way, the conversation naturally flows back to the other person.

 Thai Advice for Lovelorn
In Thailand, advice to the lovelorn can include a phrase that translates as “The land is not so small as a prune leaf.” It’s the same sentiment as “There are lots of fish in the sea.”

 Carter’s Little Liver Pills
The saying, “you’ve got more excuses than Carter’s got pills,” or “more money than Carter’s got pills,” refers to the very successful product known as Carter’s Little Liver Pills. They were heavily marketed beginning in the late 1880’s, and as late as 1961 made for some amusing television commercials.

 Twitter Pangrams
Pangrams, or statements that include every letter of the alphabet, are collected on Twitter at @PangramTweets, and include such colorful lines as, “I always feel like the clerk at the liquor store is judging me when she has to get a moving box to pack all my booze up.”

 Popular Names by Profession
The folks at the baby-name app Nametrix crunched some data and found that certain names are disproportionately represented in different professions. The name Leonard, for example, happens to be particularly common among geologists, and Marthas are overrepresented among interior designers.

 Swedish Pulmonic Ingressives
In northern Sweden, the word yes is widely communicated by a sound that’s reminiscent of someone sucking through a straw. It’s called the pulmonic ingressive. Linguist Robert Eklund calls this a neglected universal, meaning that it’s only recently been recognized as a sound that’s part of many languages around the world, even though it’s been around for a while. In one study, Swedes talking on the phone used ingressive speech when they thought they were speaking with a human, but not when they thought they were conveying the same information to a computer.

 Thai Self-Reliance
The Thai have a wise saying about self-reliance that translates as “You must go to the restroom, the restroom won’t come to find you.” True that.

 Just like New York
An Indianapolis listener is curious about a saying his dad used to describe anything that’s excellent or the best of its kind: Just like New York.

The Occupy movement helped to popularize the term do-ocracy, a system of management or government where the people who actually roll up their sleeves and do things get to decide how those things are done.

Jawn is a term common in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey that refers to a thing, team, show, group, or pretty much any item. It’s a variant of joint, as in, a Spike Lee joint.

 Latvian Expressions
A Latvian expression that translates as “Did a bear stomp on your ear?” is a more colorful, though no more kind, way to tell someone they have no ear for music. Also heard in Latvia is an idiom that translates as “You’re blowing little ducks,” meaning, “You’re talking nonsense.”

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

Photo by Mike Russell. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Broadcast

Idiom’s Delight by Suzanne Brock Dictionary of Slang by Jonathon Green

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
Yo Todo Tu Yo Rugged Nuggets Colemine Singles Colemine
Suction On The Spot Trio Colemine Singles Colemine
Street Sweeper The Grease Traps Colemine Singles Colemine
Scale It Back DJ Shadow Scale It Back Island Records
You Make Loving’ Real Easy Dojo Cuts Colemine Singles Colemine
Jano’s Revenge Los Suspechos Colemine Singles Colemine
Don’t Stop Orgone Colemine Singles Colemine
Stay The Course DJ Shadow Scale It Back Island Records
Hard Steppin’ Ikebe Shakedown Colemine Singles Colemine
Authoritay Alan Evans Trio Colemine Singles Colemine
Don’t Throw Your Love Away Gene Washington & The Ironsides Colemine Singles Colemine
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

  1. KseniaMultilingua says:

    Hello there, I’m Russian and we too use the idiom ‘it will get well before you marry’. Although in the Russian version it is ‘it will get well before your wedding’. Even my 5 year old daughter knows it and uses it.

  2. hippogriff says:

    Just ike New York: I was wondering about a similar meaning with a geographic name, the maritime expression, “all Bristol fashion”.

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