We take our voices for granted, but it’s truly miraculous that we communicate complex thoughts simply by moving our mouths while exhaling. A fascinating new book reveals the science, history, and linguistics involved in human speech. And although you might associate the term paraphernalia with drug use, the word goes all the way back to ancient Greece and the property of a new bride. Plus: you’re jogging through the woods and come up behind someone. What do you say to keep from startling them? Excuse me? On your left? What IS the opposite of startling someone with Boo!? Also, inoculate, no cap, it’s been a minute, doorwall vs. sliding door, ansible, a verbal escape-room puzzle, chimbly and chimley, intentional mispronunciations, and the handy German word Impfneid, which means “vaccine envy.”
This episode first aired April 03, 2021. It was rebroadcast the weekend of March 19, 2022.
Impfneid, Vaccination Envy
The handy German neologism Impfneid literally means “vaccine envy.” It’s one of many German words coined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neid in German means “envy” and Impf, meaning “vaccine,” derives from the horticultural metaphor of grafting part of one plant onto another. The same idea informs our word inoculate, from Latin oculus, “eye,” the source of English ocular, or “having to do with the eyes.” In Latin, oculus also applied to small, round things that might resemble an eye. The Middle English derivative inoculate means “to graft a bud from one plant onto another,” and later extended to the idea of grafting a live vaccine into another creature.
When “It’s Been a Minute” Means “It’s Been Quite a While”
Michelle calls from the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to ask about it’s been a minute meaning “It’s been a while.” Why would we use a phrase that usually means “sixty seconds” for a period of time that might actually be much longer? This slang meaning was first recorded among Black Americans in the 1970s, and later adopted by college students before spreading into mainstream culture. Sam Sanders, who hosts National Public Radio’s It’s Been A Minute, has described the phrase as a way of saying “Let’s catch up.”
Who Calls Sliding Doors “Doorwalls”?
Doorwall was once used in many parts of the United States for “sliding glass door,” although the term now seems to have settled largely in parts of Michigan. In the American Southwest, these doors are sometimes called arcadia doors.
According to the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, an ansible is an “instantaneous communication device.”
Audio Escape Room Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has created an audio escape room. You’re trapped in a hotel and must figure out a series of clues from objects in the room to find your way out. See that Gideon Bible over there? It’s said that the Bible is this four-letter noun, but a 1963 song by The Trashmen claims that actually it’s a bird. (Need a hint?)
Origin of the Word “Paraphernalia”
Rachel from Ashland, Virginia, wonders about the origin of paraphernalia, or “items belonging to a particular person or used for a particular activity.” In ancient Greece, the pherna was a bride’s dowry, and the parapherna was her additional personal property. The Greek root para- means “beside,” as in paramilitary, “a group existing beside the military,” and parasite, something that “eats food beside you.” Romans adopted the word as paraphernalia, which eventually found its way into English and Scottish Common law as a term for “the personal belongings of a wife,” such as clothing, jewelry. Over time, paraphernalia came to denote “any personal belongings” or “items used for a particular activity,” such as drug paraphernalia.
What is the “It” in “It’s Raining”?
You say that it’s raining or it’s cold, but what exactly is it? Sometimes called the weather it or the dummy it, this it in this case is a placeholder that makes sentence work grammatically.
“Chimley” and “Chimbley” Pronunciations of “Chimney”
In Appalachia, it’s fairly common to pronounce chimney as if it were spelled chimley or chimbley is fairly common in Appalachia. This pronunciation is an artifact of immigration in areas originally settled hundreds of years ago by people from Northern England and Scotland.
The German neologism Coronafussgruss literally translates as “Corona foot greeting,” a term for the socially distanced alternative to handshakes.
A Book About the Miracle of the Human Voice
John Colapinto’s book This is the Voice (Bookshop|Amazon) is a fascinating look at the miracle of the human voice and how it distinguishes our own species from others. The book is an invigorating mix of science, history, linguistics, and personal narrative.
In Slang “To Cap” Means “To Lie” but Why?
A Nevada high-schooler wonders about the slang terms cap meaning “to lie” and no cap, meaning I’m not lying. Many people associate it with the Future & Young Thug song “No Cap.” However, the expression goes back to the 1500s, when you might cap an anecdote, quotation, or verse as part of a verbal jousting game. By the 1800s, capping was a way of competing by telling a better joke than someone else, and by the 1940s, Black Americans were using the verb to cap when trading ever more exaggerated insults, otherwise known as the dozens or the dirty dozens. In that way, capping became a synonym for “stretching the truth.”
Intentionally Pronouncing Business Names Beyond Targée
On our Facebook group, a listener says he and his son play a game while in the car that involves mispronouncing the names of commercial signage, such as “Kiff-cuh” for KFC, “Goo Dwill” for Goodwill, and “Oh-ficky Duh-paht” for Office Depot. Then they imagine what services or products these oddly named businesses might sell.
Dialect Adjectives that Mean Skewed or Crooked
When working on a construction site in Kentucky, Te’koa from Norfolk, Virginia, heard someone use the term si-gogglin to describe something that’s “crooked,” or “curvy.” Variants heard primarily in Appalachia include si-goggling, sidegogglin, sidegadling, and sidegartlin’. These adjectives apparently arose from a family of dialectal terms in England and Scotland, where verbs like coggle and goggle refer to the idea of causing something to wobble or sway or totter. Other dialectal terms to describe something similarly “off-kilter” include whompy-jawed and cattywampus.
What to Say When Coming Up Behind a Stranger?
Dan from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a jogger wants a word to say when coming up behind someone so as not to startle them. Pass on your left? Beep beep? Excuse me? Or is it better to make a non-verbal noise, like shuffling your feet or clapping your hands? In other words, what is the opposite of startling someone with Boo!?
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|You Got Me Hummin||Placebo||Ball of Eyes||CBS Records|
|Fazed Out||El Michels Affair||Yeti Season||Big Crown Records|
|Fug||Cymande||Fug 45||Janus Records|
|Kill The Lights||El Michels Affair||Yeti Season||Big Crown Records|
|One More||Cymande||Cymande||Janus Records|
|Villa||El Michels Affair||Yeti Season||Big Crown Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|
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