In this week's archive episode: If your family has guests over, how do you warn each other if one of you has a stray crumb on the face? Some families do so with the surreptitious code phrase, "There's a gazelle on the lawn." But why a gazelle? We tackle that question, as well as the past tense of the verb "to text", why some people use three syllables when pronouncing "realtor," and the language in which it's perfectly normal to wash your clothes in "Barf." Listen:
The "Barf" call, by the way, involves words that are spelled alike but mean different things in different languages. In Farsi, the word for "snow" is spelled "barf." Several of you have offered other examples. As B. Clay Shannon of Oconomowoc, Wis., wrote in an email, "Every time I see a bottle of Canadian Mist, I wonder what a German person must think when he sees it." In German, he notes, the word "Mist" means "manure."
And over on our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/waywordradio), Karlis Lisovskis from Osceola, Wis., observed, "My family is from Latvia and I always think it funny when I see Vista computing systems, or Vista Vision, or Vista Overlook, and others, because in Latvian, 'vista' means 'chicken'!" Karlis, you'll have to come visit San Diego County sometime. We have a whole city with that name.
On to grammar: Did you ever wonder who makes up those example sentences in grammar textbooks? There's a funny post over at Language Log about how the writers of grammar books are trying to engage younger students with allusions to pop culture or wacky sentences, like "The platypus is in the bathtub." The 2006 grammar book "Relevant Linguistics," for example, teaches inflectional morphemes by riffing about former NBA star Latrell Sprewell, who in 1997 became notorious for the outburst in which he angrily choked his coach. "Latrell hates coach-es" . . . "Latrell-'s contract is huge" . . . "Latrell is count-ing his money," and so forth. See a photo of that book here:
BEHIND THE SCENES: There's still time for you to cast your vote for our upcoming episode about old words and new coinages. We want to hear from you about two kinds of words: 1) old words you'd like to see revived, and 2) words you've coined to fill a pesky gap in the English language.
Write to email@example.com and tell us why we need these words, and put "Save the Words" in the message header. Or call and leave a message: 1-877-929-9673. If your word is chosen, we'll invite you to talk with us about it on the air.
Don't forget: Brand-new episodes begin in just two weeks!
Martha and Grant