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Like a Boiled Owl

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What’s it like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico to Canada? You’ll end up with sore muscles and blisters, and great stories to tell. Along the way, you’ll also pick up some slang, like NoBo, SoBo, Yo-yo and Hike Naked Day, an annual event that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Plus, which came first, the color orange or the fruit? And if you have a pain in the pinny, what part of your body hurts? Also, a brain-busting puzzle, qualtaagh, media naranja, tougher than a boiled owl, zero day, nero day, trail names, how to pronounce caramel, not a Scooby Doo, a cloud of whale dust, and lots more.

This episode first aired December 19, 2020. It was rebroadcast the weekend of December 25, 2021.

Through-Hiker Slang

  Through-hikers, those intrepid souls who spend months hiking a long trail such as the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, acquire lots of colorful slang along the way. A NoBo is a northbound hiker; a SoBo is someone heading south, and Yo-Yo refers to the act of reaching the end of a trail and heading back the way you came. A zero day is when you take a day of rest, and a nero day is a “near zero” day, when you walk a mere 10 miles or so.

We’re Off in a Cloud of Whale Dust!

  Natalia from Portland, Oregon, remembers that before taking off on a Sunday drive, her grandfather would announce to everyone We’re off in a cloud of whale dust!

To Have Not a Scooby Doo

  On The Great British Baking Show (its US name; it’s called the Great British Bake Off in the UK, but bake-off is trademarked in the US), a contestant confessed he had not a Scooby Doo about how to make a particular recipe. By that he meant he had “not a clue” — an example of rhyming slang.

How to Pronounce Caramel

  Kadee, a Texas sixth-grader, wonders about how to pronounce the word caramel. There are at least seven different ways to pronounce the name of this gooey treat, including some with two and three syllables.

Lifebuoy Soap Pronunciation

  As we noted in an earlier conversation, people in the United States usually pronounce the word buoy as BOO-ee, but their counterparts in Britain tend to pronounce it BOY. Commercials airing in the U.S. for Lifebuoy soap use the British pronunciation, though, because this soap was introduced in the 19th century by the British manufacturing company Lever Brothers.

Family Name Quiz Game

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle is taking off, literally. The first half of his clue suggests something about a member of his family, and removing the first letter from that answer reveals the family member’s name. For example, his cousin is a lab assistant known for the extreme strictness with which he does his job, which means he does his job with rigor. What’s his cousin’s name?

Which Came First, the Name of the Fruit “Orange” or the Word for the Color “Orange”?

  A father and son are having an ongoing discussion about which came first — the color orange or the name of the fruit? The citrus got there first. The original name of this fruit comes from Sanskrit naranga, or “orange tree.” A German term for “orange,” Apfelsine, literally means “Chinese apple.”

A Pain Under the Pinny

  Lois in Newfoundland, Canada, asks about the phrase pain in the pinny, meaning “stomach discomfort.” Pain in the pinny, or more commonly pain under the pinny, refers to a pain under one’s pinafore, or apron, the word pinafore originally denoting a cloth cover that was literally pinned in front to protect the garment underneath. The term can apply to men or women.

A New Year’s Word: Quaaltagh

  Here’s a word to use each New Year’s Day: quaaltagh. It’s pronounced QUAL-tok, and comes from the Isle of Man. It means “the first person to show up at your door on the first day of the year” or “the first person you meet when you leave home on the first of January.”

A Hitch of Work or Service

  Alex in Bishop, California, works with an environmental nonprofit that partners with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. When his team goes out into the field for several days on assignment, they refer to that stretch of time as a hitch. The word hitch has several meanings, all having to do with “fastening on” to something, whether it’s a door hitch or getting hitched to someone. A person can also serve a hitch in the military, which means they’re “fastened” to a period of service, and in Alex’s case, the same word refers to a temporary assignment away from the office.

Hiker Trail Names and Trail Angels

  As a Wyoming caller noted in an earlier episode, through-hikers on routes like the Appalachian Trail give each other trail names — jocular appellations that stick throughout their trek. The origin stories of several of these are told in the book Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barney Scout Mann. Also, the term trail angel refers to those good-hearted souls who help out hikers along the way, even to the point of inviting weary, footsore travelers into their homes for a shower and a meal.

Media Naranja, Your Half Orange Sweetie

  In Spanish, you might refer to your sweetheart as your media naranja, or “half orange,” the idea being that an orange sliced perfectly in half has two mirror images — in other words, the perfect match. The Spanish word media can mean either “half” or “sock,” and pairing it with naranja produces a great visual pun.

When “Awhile” Means “In the Meantime”

  Greta and Sean in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are discussing whether the term awhile can mean “in the meantime,” as in Let’s go move your car awhile. It’s certainly used that way in many parts of Pennsylvania, reflecting German settlement patterns. The use of awhile in this sense is a direct borrowing from Pennsylvania German alleweil meaning “just now” or “right away.”

Hike Naked Day

  According to Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barney Scout Mann, the term Hike Naked Day is rumored to have arisen among hikers along the Mexico-to-Canada route. It’s June 21, a day when many through-hikers literally strip down to stroll, and as you might expect, there is lots of photo documentation.

Tougher Than, Drunker Than, and as Stewed as a Boiled Owl

  John in Frisco, Texas, is puzzled by his dad’s phrase tougher than a boiled owl. Although it sounds unappetizing, the phrase has a fascinating backstory. In the 18th century, owls were associated with drunkenness, and often invoked in the phrase drunk as an owl. Among the many synonyms for “intoxicated” is the adjective stewed, which eventually was conflated with boiled. So a boiled owl is simply a “drunk owl.” The connection between owls and drunkenness may have to do with their glassy-eyed stare, the way they regurgitate undigested food, and the clumsy way they fly when startled.

Hiker’s Midnight

  Another hiking term from Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barney Scout Mann is hiker’s midnight, which actually denotes a time closer to 9 p.m. After you’ve hiked a good 20 miles, you’ve set up came, and the sun has dropped below the horizon, it doesn’t take long for it to feel like the middle of the night has already arrived.

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

Photo by Samantha Levang. Used and modified under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Episode

Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barney Scout Mann

Music Used in the Episode

Thinking BlackIke Turner and The Kings of RhythmA Black Man’s SoulPompeii Records
Maze Of SoundsJanko Nilovic and The Soul SurfersMaze Of SoundsBroc Records
The JauntPoets of RhythmDiscern/DefineQuannum Projects
Black BeautyIke Turner and The Kings of RhythmA Black Man’s SoulPompeii Records
Ghetto FunkIke Turner and The Kings of RhythmA Black Man’s SoulPompeii Records
Make The Road By WalkingMenahan Street BandMake The Road By WalkingDunham Records
Sweet PathJanko Nilovic and The Soul SurfersMaze Of SoundsBroc Records
Black’s AlleyIke Turner and The Kings of RhythmA Black Man’s SoulPompeii Records
Getting NastyIke Turner and The Kings of RhythmA Black Man’s SoulPompeii Records
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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