If you’re on tenterhooks, it means you’re in a state of anxious anticipation or suspense. But what IS a tenterhook? The answer goes back to a 15th-century manufacturing process. Also, you probably have a term for those crumbs that collect in the corners of your eyes overnight. They go by lots of names, like “sleep” and “sand” and “eye boogers.” But there’s a medical term for them as well–one that goes back to ancient Greek. And where in tarnation did we get the word . . . tarnation? Plus, pie charts in other countries, “a month of Sundays,” euphemisms for vomiting, “at the coalface,” and the children’s game called hull gull.

This episode first aired September 26, 2014.

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 International Pie Charts
Pie charts were invented by the Scottish engineer William Playfair, but the name for these visual representations of data came later. In other countries, this type of graph goes by names for other round foods. In France, a pie chart is sometimes called a camembert, and in Brazil, it’s a grafico de pizza.

Few actions have as many slang euphemisms as vomiting. The sound itself is so distinct that it’s inspired such onomatopoetic terms as ralphing, talking to Ralph on the big white phone or calling Earl.

To be at the coalface means to be on the front lines–working at a practical level, rather than a theoretical one. The phrase is primarily British, and derives from the image of coal miners having direct contact with exposed ore.

 Up in the Papers
Young women used to be warned that a lady’s name should appear in the newspaper only three times: at her birth, upon her marriage, and at her death. In much the same way, the admonition “Don’t get your name all up in the papers” means “Don’t do something brash”–an allusion to all the negative reasons one might find their name in the news.

 Movie Portmanteau Quiz
What 6-letter combination of initials would make a perfect title for a movie about elderly college athletes? NCAARP! Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle this week features other portmanteau movie titles.

 Hull Gull
A caller from Madison, Wisconsin, is editing a book about children’s games from the 40’s and 50’s. One of them, hull gull, makes use of the English dialectal term hull meaning “to cover” or “hide.” The game involves guessing how many beans are being covered.

 Enough Left to Snore
In need of a creative insult? There’s always “When I’m done with you, there won’t be enough left of you to snore.”

 A Coon’s Age
The idiom “I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age,” comes from an old reference to raccoons living a long time. Given the racial sensitivity involving the word, however, it’s best to use an alternative.

 Attraction Abbreviations
In Washington, DC, National Park Service employees refer to Ford’s Theater as FOTH, Peterson House as PEHO, and the Washington Monument as WAMO.

 Sleepy Sand
The medical term for that grainy stuff that collects in the corner of your eyes when you sleep is rheum, but why call it that when you could call it sleepy sand or eye boogers?

 The Honey Spring
A 1904 dialect collection tipped us off to this variation on the idea of going to the land of milk and honey: “Going to find the honey spring and the flitter tree,” flitter being a variant of fritter, as in something fried and delicious.

 Listener’s Advice on Offering Sympathies
We talked about passed away versus died on a previous episode, and got a lot of responses on our Facebook page saying that phrases like “I’m sorry for your loss” don’t do justice to the reality of what happened.

 Etymology of Geographic Term Trace
Trace, used for locales like the Natchez Trace, refers to an informal road, like a deer trail or an Indian trail.

 Paint Riddle
Here’s a riddle: What’s green and smells like red paint?

Where in tarnation did we get the phrase “where in tarnation?” Tarnation seems to be a variant of damnation.

To be on tenterhooks, meaning to wait anxiously for something, comes from the tenterhooks on frames used for stretching out wool after it’s washed.

 Origin of “A Month of Sundays”
A month of Sundays, meaning “a long period,” or “longer than I can actually figure out,” goes at least as far back as the 1759 book The Life and Real Adventures of Hamilton Murray.

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

Photo by Gavin Mackintosh. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

The Life and Real Adventures of Hamilton Murray by Hamilton Murray

Music Used in the Broadcast

Title Artist Album Label
T.I.B.W.F. Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Up From The South Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Nick’s Theme Magic in Threes Magic in Threes GED Soul
Sing A Simple Song Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Budos Theme Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Ghost Walk Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Eastbound Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Neal’s Lament Magic in Threes Magic in Threes GED Soul
Aynoychesh Yererfu Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Monkey See, Monkey Do Budos Band The Budos Band Daptone
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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