What do you call a segment of an orange? These juicy pieces of fruit go by lots of different names, including section, wedge, and carpel. But they’re also called pegs or even pigs! The stringy parts of a banana also have a surprising name. Also, we need a word to describe that productive period of wakefulness in the middle of the night before falling back into “second sleep.” And: anagrams that make a statement. The letters in the word “listen,” l-i-s-t-e-n, can be rearranged to form the word “silent,” and the word “conversation” can be switched around to read “Voices rant on”! Plus, gussie, phloem bundles, desahogar, dorveille, a “take-off” quiz, the wayback, ahogarse en un vaso de agua, different ways to say “You’re welcome,” hypnopompic, uto-uto, sockdolager, apizza, bobtail beats the devil, and just like New York!
This episode first aired January 20, 2024.
Rearranging letters as anagrams can be an entertaining aged worm (or word game). For example, you can switch around the letters in listen to make the word silent. Dormitory can be rearranged to form dirty room, and Morse codemakes here come dots. An even more complicated anagram even works mathematically: eleven plus two can become twelve plus one.
Jennifer, a tutor in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders what to call a segment of an orange. Among botanists, it’s a carpel. Informally, it’s a segment, slice, wedge, peg, or pig. It may be that these segments are called pigs, because all together they look like fat little piglets huddling together as they nurse. In fact, in Scotland, the word for “young pig,” gussie, is also applied to a segment of an orange. There such citrus segments are also called liths. In French, the noun suprême refers to such a wedge of orange, and as a verb, it means “to remove the skin, pith, membranes, and seeds and separate its wedges.” Despite what Martha and Grant said in this segment, people besides Jennifer do use plug to mean a segment of an orange or other citrus fruit. By the way, if you’re wondering if there’s an official term for those stringy things on a banana, they’re called phloem bundles.
Patrick in Jacksonville, Florida, is curious about an expression his family uses: just like downtown, meaning, “done really well,” or “performed to perfection.” This phrase, along with just like New York, originated in the days when promoters of theatrical productions in the hinterlands would boast that the shows were every bit as good as those playing in a major metropolis.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s presents a “take-off” puzzle, in which a clue suggests two words, one of which is a letter shorter because its first letter is taken off. For example, what two words are clued by the following sentence? The knight was an expert at swinging a heavy, spiked club.
Amber in Reno, Nevada, grew up in the American South, and was surprised to find after settling in Reno that she often hears people respond to Thank you with a simple Yeah instead of You’re welcome. The Yeah sounds pleasant enough, but is there a particular reason that it seems so many people there use it?
In Spanish, desahogar means “to vent” or “to let out one’s emotions.” Literally, it means to “undrown.” Ahogarse en un vaso de agua means “become overwhelmed” — literally, “to drown in a glass of water.”
Micah in Council Bluffs, Iowa, reports reading an account of a fistfight between 19th-century newspaper editors in which one was hit with a sockdolager, meaning “a knockout punch” or a “heavy, decisive blow,” and wonders if that’s the source of sock, meaning to “strike hard.” Actually, sockdolager is probably an elaboration of sock. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Bookshop|Amazon), Mark Twain uses sockdolager to denote a clap of thunder. The word sockdolagizing is one of the last words heard by Abraham Lincoln, because it’s part of the play Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor (Bookshop|Amazon), which he was watching when he was assassinated.
Jodie in Norfolk, Virginia, reports that a new restaurant there serving New Haven-style pizza is called District Apizza, pronounced “ah-BEETS.” The word apizza is a remnant of the language of Italian immigrants who settled in Connecticut, from la pizza, and its two-syllable pronunciation is the result of apocope, the lenition (weakening) or elision of a final vowel. For the same reason, some Italian-Americans pronounce prosciutto as “pro-ZHOOT.”
Some gems in this week’s mailbag: Following up on our conversation with a caller hoping to promote less-violent alternatives to the phrase kill two birds with one stone, a listener who grew up in India wrote in with one from her native language. In Tamil, oru kallil iraṇṭu māṅkāy or ஒரு கல்லில் இரண்டு மாங்காய், also has to do with accomplishing something with minimal effort. Literally, it translates as “one stone, two mangoes,” suggesting that you could toss one stone at a tree to shake loose two mangoes. Also, Cynthia in Midland, Georgia, offers paint or get off the ladder! as an alternative to a coarser phrase urging someone to action. And responding to the call from an 11-year-old asking if there’s a word for “a road free of traffic,” a listener from Green Bay, Wisconsin, shares an amusing version used in his area.
There’s an English word for “sleep during daytime”: nap. But is there a word for “a period of nighttime wakefulness,” aside from spelling nap backwards as pan? The French have a lovely word for this state, dorveille, a portmanteau of dormir, “sleep” and veiller, “wake.” After coming across references in journals and other historical documents to first sleep followed by a period of wakefulness, followed by second sleep, historian Roger Ekirch made a cross-cultural study of the phenomenon, which formed the basis of his fascinating book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (Bookshop|Amazon). Other terms involving phases of sleep include the rare English word semisomnous, or “half-asleep,” and hypnopompic, describing “the process of waking.” In Japanese, uto-uto denotes “the process of falling into a light sleep.”
Byron in Jacksonville, Florida, shares that when his mother was astonished, she’d say Don’t that beat all! But when really surprised, she’d exclaim, That beats bobtail and bobtail beats the devil!What’s a bobtail and how could it beat the devil?
Joan in Bettendorf, Iowa, has always called the rear compartment of a station wagon the wayback. Did she invent the term? No, and the last time we discussed this term on the show, listeners from all over chimed in to say they use it, too. Some people call it the back-back.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Bookshop|Amazon)
|Our American Cousin Tom Taylor (Bookshop|Amazon)
|At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past by Roger Ekirch (Bookshop|Amazon)
Music Used in the Episode
|Pass The Peas
|Funky Good Times: The Anthology Volume 1
|Soul Power ‘74
|Maceo and The Macks
|Soul Power ’74 45rpm
|Ahmad Jamal Trio
|Better Get Hit in Yo Soul
|Ahmad Jamal Trio
|Shirley Scott with Stanley Turrentine
|The Other Side
|Sure Fire Soul Ensemble