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Made from Scratch

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Enthusiastic book recommendations! Martha’s savoring the biography of Alexander von Humboldt, the 19th-century explorer, polymath, and naturalist who revolutionized our understanding of nature and predicted the effects of human activity on climate. Grant’s enjoying A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, about how the study of DNA is rewriting our understanding of history itself. And a customer is startled when a salesperson waves goodbye with a friendly Preesh! Is Preesh really a word you might use to say you appreciate someone’s business? Plus, where would you hunt for a tizzy? All that, and whang, sloomy, abbiocco, receipt vs. recipe, scorn vs. scone, the language of emotions, poronkusema, a brain-tickling puzzle about the letter P, and the story behind the unit of distance called a smoot.

This episode first aired December 11, 2021. It was rebroadcast the weekend of October 8, 2022.

Just a Smoot Away

 In an earlier episode, we discussed the German term Katzensprung, literally “a cat’s leap,” meaning “a short distance.” Around the world, there are several other picturesque terms for approximate distances. In Greece, you might describe something nearby as “one cigarette away,” or ena tsigaro dromos. In Australia, if something’s far away, either literally or metaphorically, you might say it’s not within a bull’s roar, because a bellowing bull can be heard for a long, long way. And in Boston, you might hear people joking about a unit of measurement called a smoot, a distance of 5′ 7″, a unit of measure that recalls a prank by Massachusetts Institute of Technology students who measured the length of a nearby bridge using a pledge as a human measuring stick. The pledge’s name? Oliver Smoot, Jr.

Preesh! A Way of Saying Thanks

 Andrew in Fort Worth, Texas, says a customer in the paint store where he works was a bit taken aback when Andrew filled his order, waved goodbye, and said, Preesh!, meaning “I appreciate your coming in!” or “We appreciate your business!” Preesh is indeed a legitimate slang term with that meaning, and appears in a 1984 collection of college slang, and is probably even older than that. Similar phrases include preesh, dude and totally preesh, as well as much preesh. If you don’t appreciate something, you can always respond with non-preesh.

Sink Room or Scullery

 A listener had told us that she’d bought an old house with a separate room off of the kitchen that contained a dishwashing sink and cupboards and wondered what to call it. We noted that it’s sometimes called simply a sink room, but many listeners wrote and called to suggest another term: scullery.

Starting from Scratch

 Carol in Williamsburg, Virginia, wonders why if you bake something and don’t rely on pre-mixed ingredients, you’re said to bake it from scratch. This expression originally referred to a line scratched into the ground to mark the starting point of a race. If the runners all start from scratch, then no one has an advantage over the other; they’re all starting from the most basic point. The expression up to scratch meaning “ready” or “up to the task” originally involved a line marked on the ground running diagonally across a boxing ring. When a competitor was ready to meet an opponent, that person was said to come up to the scratch or come up to scratch.

Bring Your Mop for a Whang

 The word whang is an old term used in New England, particularly Maine. It’s an annual party where you invite your friends and neighbors to help you with the drudgery of spring cleaning.

Replace with P Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle requires replacing an initial consonant with the letter P. For example, John says he plans to open what his mother used to call a beauty parlor in his home, but his will have a romantic twist. His establishment will feature beauty treatments for couples only. What kind of business would this be?


 Joshua from Jacksonville, Florida, has fond memories of long dinners in Italy that left him with a sense of abbiocco, an Italian word for “that drowsy, full feeling after a satisfying meal.” The Dutch word uitbuiken means “to sit back and relax after dinner,” connoting the idea of comfortably pushing away from the table and perhaps loosening one’s belt. Joshua is also a fan of the Japanese word yugen, sometimes translated as “a feeling of profound and mysterious beauty.” For further reading about feelings in various languages, check out The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith (Bookshop|Amazon) and Translating Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Lexicon of Well-Being by Tim Lomas (Bookshop|Amazon).


 The English adjective sloomy means “sluggish” or “sleepy,” and a sloom is “a light sleep.”

A Real Corker

 Why is a mischievous child sometimes called a corker? A cork is the final word, the thing that ends a party when you put it back in the bottle, and put a cork in it means “stop talking.” In baseball, a corker is a ball struck powerfully by a batter.

Recipe vs. Receipt

 Brian in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reports hearing an older person talk about getting the receipt for a dish, using the word receipt in the same way that others might use the word recipe. The use of receipt as a synonym for recipe, as in “a set of cooking instructions,” is fading out, but is still occasionally heard. Both words go back to the Latin word recipere, meaning “to take,” but entered English at different times. Receipt is the older term, originally denoting “the act of receiving something.” Recipe is the Latin imperative form of recipere, and was inscribed at the top of a list of instructions for a medicinal preparation. There’s a vestige of this usage in the abbreviation , now seen on pharmaceutical prescriptions.

2021 Book Recommendations

 It’s Book Recommendation Time! Martha’s makes an enthusiastic case for The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Bookshop|Amazon). It’s historian Andrea Wulf’s biography of the polymath, adventurer, and naturalist whose fame throughout Europe in his day was second only to that of Napoleon Bonaparte. Humboldt’s revolutionary ideas about nature and the effects of human activity on climate helped form the basis of modern environmentalism. Wulf has also collaborated with artist Lillian Melcher on a graphic work of non-fiction on this topic called The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt. (Bookshop|Amazon) Grant recommends Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes (Bookshop|Amazon), which explains how the study of DNA is rewriting our understanding of human history, with profound implications for, among other things, the study of historical linguistics.

Tizzy, as in Fraud, Not as in Rushing Around

 Barb in Boston, Massachusetts, once worked on Wall Street for a British bank that had an office that handled tizzy-hunting, devoted to uncovering scams and fraud. In A Dictionary of the Underworld (Bookshop|Amazon), slang lexicographer Eric Partridge says tizz-worker was a term used in the 1920s to denote a “confidence man,” tizz being is short for tizzle, meaning “swindle” or “fraud.” In old Cockney slang, tizzy, also spelled tizzi, means “sixpence.”


 In Finland, there’s an old tradition of counting approximate distances in terms of poronkusema, literally “reindeer pee,” which is supposedly the distance a reindeer will travel between pit stops.

Scorns, Fried Biscuit Dough

 Kimberly in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has a family tradition of enjoying fried biscuit dough with butter for breakfast. They refer to these fried, doughy treats as scorns, but they’ve never heard anyone else use this term. Have you? Or might they just have altered the pronunciation of scones?

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith (Bookshop|Amazon)
Translating Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Lexicon of Well-Being by Tim Lomas (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Bookshop|Amazon)
The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt (Bookshop|Amazon)
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes (Bookshop|Amazon)
A Dictionary of the Underworld (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

SeesawLonnie SmithTurning PointBlue Note
Slow HighLonnie SmithTurning PointBlue Note
People Sure Act FunnyLonnie SmithTurning PointBlue Note
UpshotGrant GreenCarryin’ OnBlue Note
Eleanor RigbyLonnie SmithTurning PointBlue Note
Jan JanGrant GreenLive at The LighthouseBlue Note
Turning PointLonnie SmithTurning PointBlue Note
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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