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Pinking Shears

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When you’re distracted by trying to get the perfect photo at a wedding or fiddling with your camera during a solar eclipse, you’re missing out on some of the experience itself. There’s a term for this: It’s called overshadowing. Plus one of Lionel Hampton’s old bandmates recalls hearing him greet fellow musicians with “How you doing, gates?” It may be because good jazz swings, and so does a gate if you give it a push! Also, what is a brickfielder? Don’t look for one in a baseball stadium. And: unta, schnuff for the “nose” at the end of a loaf of bread, a “take-off” quiz, chimping, catch a crab, vocabulary from Utah, pinking shears, steady by jerks, uncaptured, and how to pronounce in situ. Oh, my stars and garters!

This episode first aired July 6, 2024.

Intermedation and Overshadowing of Life’s Experiences

 What’s a word for the act of being so focused on documenting an important event, such as a wedding or an eclipse, that your effort to capture it distracts from experiencing the event itself? The A Way with Words Facebook group has some creative suggestions, including devisolation (rhymes with isolation) and carpe tunnel syndrome. Another word making the rounds is uncaptured, referring to events where people are asked to leave off using their phones and cameras. Intermediation refers to how something mediates between event and observer. Overshadowing occurs when one thing eclipses another, as when a teacher tells a joke in class and the students remember the joke but not the actual lesson.

Unta Is for Sopping Up the Last Bites

 Corey in Buffalo, New York, says her family uses the word unta for “the piece of bread you use to sop up the last bite of what you’re eating.” They also use it as a verb, as in I’m going to unta. Her family is half Sephardic and half Ashkenazi, and her grandparents spoke Ladino. In Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, and Catalan, the verb untar means “to spread,” “to grease,” or “to smear,” and in Italian, a fettunta is “a greasy slice of bread,” also called a panunto. Corey says another family she knows refers to the end of a piece of bread as the schnuff. This term reflects their German heritage, because in German, the word Schnuff means “snout,” and is an etymological relative of English snuff and snuffle. In English, the end of a loaf of bread is also called the nose or the heel,or the butt or bum end, and in Spanish, it’s sometimes called the codo, or “elbow.”

The @ Symbol and Its Many Noms De Internet

 There are lots of creative names for the @, also known in English as the at-sign. In Denmark and Sweden, it’s sometimes called the snabel-a, or “elephant trunk.” In Italian, it’s a chiocciola, or “snail. In Greek, it’s a παπάκι, or “little duckling.” In German, it’s sometimes called a Klammeraffe or “spider monkey,” for the way it resembles such a monkey’s clinging tail. In Hebrew, it’s known colloquially as a “strudel,” or שְׁטְרוּדֶל, a name that likens the @ to a swirled cake. In the Middle Ages, this symbol was used in commerce in Spain and Portugal, where it was called the arroba. For a lively history of the use of the @ from its origins to its introduction in email addresses, check out Keith Houston’s delightful book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. (Bookshop|Amazon)

Pangram Jazz Waltz

 In response to our discussion about pangrams, a listener in Bishop, California, offers a 59-letter one: Funk revival jazz band played exciting three-quarter tempo waltzes.

Take-Off Brainteaser Reveals a Hidden Word

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a “Take-Off” brain teaser, in which the clue suggests a word that, when the first letter is taken off, reveals a second word. In this case, all the first words begin with the letter N. For example, what two words are clued by the following statement? In the reddish glow of the tavern sign, I contemplated my choices for what seemed like years and years.

Jazz Gates are Swinging

 Trombonist Benjamin Jacobs-El, who toured with jazz great Lionel Hampton, calls from Huntsville, Alabama, to say that Hampton regularly addressed friends and band members as gate, as in Hey, gates, how’re you doing? Is that because good jazz swings and a gate swings, too? It appears that’s the case, although it also may be a reference to Gatemouth, one of trumpeter Louis Armstrong’s many nicknames. When he played, audiences would shout Swing it, Gate! It’s also possible that Gate evolved into cat, as in a “hip or cool character,” a term also influenced by tomcat and the sly characteristics associated with a streetwise male feline.

Chimping Photographers

 During our online discussion about how being focused on one’s phone or camera can distract from fully participating in an experience, a listener brought up the term chimping. As we’ve noted before, chimping refers to fiddling with the buttons on a digital camera and checking the screen after taking a photograph, much like a chimpanzee fooling with whatever it finds on the ground.

My Stars and Garters!

 Oh my stars and garters! Appears to be a reference to the British Order of the Garter. This highest level of knighthood is represented by a medal in the shape of an 8-pointed star. The order was established in the 14th century, when garters were a part of male attire.

What’s So Pink About Pinking Shears?

 Brian in San Antonio, Texas, wonders about the origin of the pinkingin the term pinking shears. Such shears cut an even, zigzag pattern that keeps cloth from fraying at the edges. Pinking likely comes from French piquer, meaning to “pierce” or “stick,” the source also of English piquant, “stinging” pique, which can mean a feeling of pierced or wounded pride. Pinking is also be related to Spanish picar, meaning “sting” or “prick,” the source of picante, or “spicy.” In the 16th century, to pink cloth meant to “poke decorative holes” in it, and by the 19th century, a pinking iron was used to apply decorative elements to cloth. In 1893, Louise Austin of Whatcom, Washington, received a patent for pinking shears.

A Blowing Brickfielder

 A brickfielder is a hot, dry wind in Southern Australia.

Catching a Crab, Not a Clam

 In our earlier conversation about the term clam, which musicians use to refer to a “missed note” or “musical mistake,” Martha misspoke and said a similar term was used in rowing and sculling. Actually, as many listeners pointed out, that term is catching a crab. Having rowed herself for many years, Martha does know her Ready, row from her Weigh enough, and wrote a piece for The New York Times about the joys of sculling.

Language and Lingo Specific to Utah

 The dialect heard in the state of Utah includes lexical items such as the hotdish casserole called funeral potatoes, as well as the mayo-ketchup condiment called fry sauce, and a particular type of scone, also called fry bread. Utah is also known for its dirty sodas, which contain multiple ingredients such as syrup or fruit. In the Mountain West, you’ll hear talk about fourteeners, “mountains that stand at least 14,000 feet” and powder days, referring to great skiing conditions after a good snow, and red rock, or red sandstone. In addition, the speech of many Utahans features a vowel merger in which heal and hill sound similar, and the word barn sounds like “born” and born sounds like “barn.” The difference between Anglophone and Hispanophone settlement patterns are reflected in the different terms butte and mesa. Then there’s the Latter-Day Saints’ influence in the use of ward for a local congregation.

Sometimes You Have to Pet the Whale

 One participant in our online discussion about overshadowing quoted National Geographicphotographer Joel Sartore on the topic. “Sometimes,” Sartore has observed, “you just have to pet the whale.” In other words, don’t get so caught up in photographing or recording an experience that you miss out on the wonder of the experience itself. Be present, in other words.

By Steady Jerks

 Nathan in Raleigh, North Carolina, says his father described the process of cooking a big meal for the family as proceeding steady by jerks. This expression refers to a process that occurs by fits and starts or episodically.

Pronouncing In Situ

 An amateur herpetologist in Tucson, Arizona, notes that there’s a raging debate among his fellow reptile enthusiasts about the term in situ, which is Latin for “in place.” Is it “in SIT-too,” “in SITCH-yoo,” “in-SYTE-too,” or “in-SEE-TOO.” The English Pronouncing Dictionary (Bookshop|Amazon) from Cambridge University Press cites nine different pronunciations in North America alone, and several more in the UK. This Latin expression has never been completely anglicized, so speakers of English have never settled on one single pronunciation for it.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston’s (Bookshop|Amazon)
English Pronouncing Dictionary (Bookshop|Amazon

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Red ShiftScientistScientist Meets the Spacer InvadersGreensleeves Records
Smoked Poke SaladMagic in ThreesIncidental MusicG.E.D. Soul
PulsarScientistScientist Meets the Spacer InvadersGreensleeves Records
Laser Attack WickedScientistScientist Meets the Spacer InvadersGreensleeves Records
AperitivoMagic in ThreesIncidental MusicG.E.D. Soul
Super Nova ExplosionScientistScientist Meets the Spacer InvadersGreensleeves Records
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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