A California college student is campaigning for international scientific authorities to adopt the slang term hella as an official prefix indicating a huge number. Will he succeed? Also, how to pronounce niche, the regional terms doppick and nixie, the origins of towheaded and frenetic, and a phrase familiar to African-Americans but little-known outside that community: I couldn’t buy a louse in a wrestling jacket. This episode first aired October 2, 2010.
Whether it’s bytes of data or intergalactic distances, humans are accumulating ever more massive amounts of data. But how do we use language to describe such mind-bogglingly huge numbers? There’s mega, as in mega-millions, and giga, as in gigabytes, but a California college student is urging international scientific authorities to adopt hella as a prefix to indicate a huge number: 10 to the 27th power. What are his chances for getting this slang term officially adopted as a unit of measurement?
Here’s a variant of a phrase that’s familiar to many African-Americans, but virtually unknown to most others: “I’m so broke I couldn’t buy a louse a wrestling jacket.” What’s its meaning and origin? It’s also heard “buy a flea a wrestling jacket” or “buy a mosquito a wrestling jacket.”
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a special inspiration for this week’s puzzle: His wife, author Jennifer Michael Hecht, is one of five judges for the nonfiction category of the National Book Awards. He’s crafted a quiz based on some of the 500 titles in contention.
A descendant of the legendary Hatfield family of Appalachia remembers her grandmother saying, “Wish in one hand and tacky in the other, and see which fills up first.” She wonders about the origin of this advice, and what the word tacky means in this case. Yep, we know all about the coarser, earthier version of the phrase! Here’s another: “If wishes were buttercake, beggars would bite.”
Grant recommends the new book, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word by Allan Metcalf.
Photo by Dennis Jarvis. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
|OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word by Allan Metcalf|