If your last name is Cook or Smith, your ancestors probably worked in those professions. But what if your last name is Pope? Or Abbott? And if you have enough food for Coxey’s army, you have more than enough to go around. The phrase refers to protesters marching on Washington more than a century ago. Plus, some people say pizza bones are the best parts of the pie! Also, biweekly, shichimencho, piza no mimi, a Barbenheimer-inspired portmanteau puzzle, advice for writers of children’s books, lax vowel lowering, zero-proof drink, spoken Garamond, a catchy camp song, and more.
This episode first aired September 23, 2023.
In English, you might describe something easy to do as a cinch or a piece of cake. Several other languages employ tasty metaphors to convey a similar idea. In Brazilian Portuguese, you something easy can be described with an idiom that translates as “a papaya with sugar.” A Dutch idiom literally translates as “a little egg,” and in Polish, you can say something’s easy with a phrase that translates as “a roll with butter.” Writer Adam Sharp has gathered these and other idioms in a book called The Wheel is Spinning But the Hamster is Dead: A Journey Around the World in Idioms, Proverbs and General Nonsense. (Amazon)
Onomastics is the study of the origin and history of proper names. Many family names, such as Smith and Cook derive from occupations. That poses a conundrum for Marina Abbott from Sonoma, California: If abbots traditionally took a vow of celibacy, how did her ancestors get that name? You might ask the same question about folks named Bishop, Monk, Nunn, or Pope. It may be that Marina’s ancestors were in the employ of an abbott, or maybe they were known for pious behavior. Sometimes proper names derive from a one’s proximity to something significant: A family that lives near a forest may be named Woods, or in French DuBois, or a family in Spain that lived near a riverbank might be named Rivera. Similarly, it may be that a family living near the home of the head of an abbey acquired the name Abbott.
Leah, a college student in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, asks: Does biweekly mean “twice a week” or “once every two weeks”? In British English, fortnightly specifies “once every two weeks.” But biweekly is what’s known as a skunked term, because it’s simply too confusing. A better choice is to opt to specify twice a week or twice a month, depending on what you mean. Ditto for bimonthly–just use more words to clarify exactly what you intend to say.
After our conversation about terms for ice cream trucks, a listener reports that her harried mother used to tell her kids that the cheery sounds wafting through their neighborhood were from the music truck.
Inspired by the success of Barbenheimer, Quiz Guy John Chaneski seeks portmanteau titles for new movies that combine two plotlines. For example, he’s looking for a one-word title for a movie summarized this way: Only the persistent efforts of a Minnesota chief of police could possibly track down the restless spirits of otherworldly demons like Gozer the Gozerian.
Meg says that when she was growing up near Boston, Massachusetts, her dad used to entertain kids with a phrase that sounded like Ish biddly oten doten bobo ba deeten dotten wanotten shhhhh! That’s most likely adapted from a camp song from the 1950s called “Flee Fly Flo” that has lots of different versions, is also called “Flea Fly Flo,” and may have roots in scat singing. Parts of the song have shown up in other songs, such as Chubby Checker’s 1964 song “Cu Ma La Be Stay.” The 1944 movie National Barn Dance featured the song “Down Home Rag (Deeten Dotten Dooten),” which includes some similar-sounding nonsense lyrics.
Kate DiCamillo, the author of many acclaimed books for children, including The Tale of Despereaux (Bookshop|Amazon), Flora & Ulysses (Bookshop|Amazon), and Because of Winn-Dixie (Bookshop|Amazon) believes that writers of children’s books have what she calls “a sacred task of making hearts large through story.”
If you have enough for Coxey’s army, you have heaping helpings of it. The phrase goes back to the 1890s, when the United States was in the midst of an economic depression. Activist Jacob Coxey led a ragtag group of hungry protesters across the country with the intent to march on Washington, D.C. to demand government action. As they made their way toward the nation’s capital, they depended on the generosity of cities to feed them and offer temporary lodgings. To feed all these tired, ravenous marchers required copious amounts of food, hence the expression, sometimes later rendered as enough food to feed Cox’s army.
A mental health therapist wonders about the origin of the term manic. It derives from Greek mania, meaning “madness” or “frenzy,” from an older root that gives us mind and mental. From the same root comes maniac. The word mania is now part of such terms as nymphomania, kleptomania, megalomania, and Beatlemania.
Depending on its mood, a turkey’s skin can shift from red to blue to white, due to changes in the blood vessels between bundles of collagen. That phenomenon is reflected in the Japanese term for “turkey,” shichimencho (七面鳥), which translates as “seven face bird.” There’s a similar word in Korean. In Ireland, someone who’s arrogant or self-important might be described in one of the following two ways: If you’ve been to Tenerife, he’s been to Elevenerife or If you’ve got an elephant, he’s got the box it came in. Those are just some of the picturesque expressions that writer Adam Sharp has gathered in his book The Wheel is Spinning But the Hamster is Dead: A Journey Around the World in Idioms, Proverbs and General Nonsense. (Bookshop|Amazon).
Tim from Jacksonville, Florida, gets teased for the way he says the word milk, which he pronounces as melk and the word eggs, which he pronounces as aigs. It’s not uncommon for what linguists call lax vowel lowering to occur, and these pronunciations are scattered across North America.
Poet and teacher Frances Klein reports that a friend refers to the “overemphasized voice people use to read poems” as spoken Garamond.
What do you call the edge of the crust left on a pizza once you’ve eaten through the part with all the toppings? Some people refer to this as a dough-lip, a pizza bone, or a pizza handle, or a pizza rind. It’s also been called the dashboard. In Italian, it’s il cornicione, a word cognate with Englis cornice. In Japanese, it’s piza no mimi (ピザの耳), which translates as “pizza ear.”
Responding to our conversation about alternatives to the term mocktail, Rob in Wolcott, New York, reports on our Facebook group that he recently saw the term zero-proof drink to describe an alcohol-free beverage — a sophisticated cocktail of harissa and pomegranate. The recipe looks delicious!
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|The Wheel is Spinning But the Hamster is Dead: A Journey Around the World in Idioms, Proverbs and General Nonsense by Adam Sharp (Amazon)|
|The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Bookshop|Amazon)|
Music Used in the Episode
|Song For One||John Stubblefield||Prelude||Storyville Records|
|Confessin’||John Stubblefield||Confessin’||Soul Note|
|Stings||Kamaal Williams||Stings||Black Force Records|
|Spiral Dance||John Stubblefield||Confessin’||Soul Note|
|Street Dreams||Kamaal Williams||Wu Hen||Black Force Records|
|Ceora||Lee Morgan||Cornbread||Blue Note|
|The Sidewinder||Lee Morgan||The Sidewinder||Blue Note|
|The Other Side||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Step Down||Colemine Records|