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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
Trace, used for locales like the Natchez Trace, refers to an informal road, like a deer trail or an Indian trail.
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.
Photo by Gavin Mackintosh. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
|The Life and Real Adventures of Hamilton Murray by Hamilton Murray|
Music Used in the Episode
|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|