Your telephone is for talking, right? Or is it? We’re guessing it’s been a while since you sat next to a telephone waiting for it to ring. In fact, maybe you’re one of those people who HATE to see that voicemail message light blinking. But for many of us, waiting for a text is a different. Also, California may be the “Dude!” capital of the country, but the term “dude” actually comes from New York City. And where exactly do you eat tweezer food? Plus, donning and doffing our clothes, tweezer food, the origin of kowtow, emcee, Arby’s, and -orama, and modern etiquette for wedding invitations. This episode first aired June 13, 2014.
A Panama City, Florida, caller wants to know the origin of kowtow, as in “to agree in an excessively eager or annoying way.” Kowtow comes from a Chinese term that means “to bow extremely low out of respect,” from words that literally mean “knock head.” The same caller asks about bated, as in bated breath. It’s a shortening of abate, from Old French abatre, meaning “to beat down.”
Addressing a wedding invitation to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is pretty old-fashioned. It’s more than appropriate these days to address both a husband and wife by their respective names. But if you’re inviting someone who prefers the old-fashioned style, best to honor their preference.
Long before English speakers adopted the suffix –orama, as in Scoutorama and smell-o-rama, there was French word panorama referring to “a great display or spectacle.” Panorama comes from Greek words that mean “whole view.” University of Alabama professor Michael Piccone details the development panorama in French in his book Anglicisms, Neologisms, and Dynamic French. In English, panorama first referred to spectacular, long paintings slowly unscrolled before 19th-century audiences, and later inspired other words that likewise ended in -orama.
Firefighters don and doff their equipment, words that derive from “do on” and “do off.” New York City firefighters’ buff-colored uniforms apparently inspired our word buff, as in a fan — a reference to fire enthusiasts who would show up in buff-colored coats to watch firefighters at work.
A caller from Burlington, Vermont, has observed a slight change in the language of flight attendants’ instructions, replacing your with that. Instead of saying “Put your coat in the overhead compartment,” the ones on the airline she frequents say, “Put that coat in the overhead compartment.” Linguistic anthropologist Barbara Clark has analyzed the scripted language of flight attendants and finds their deferential speech is calculated in part to gain the respect and loyalty of passengers.
Newscasters are going overboard with the euphemisms for death, like passed away, or simply passed. If someone died, it’s fine to say exactly that.
Jaggin around is a classic Pittsburghese term for “fooling around,” or “to poke fun or play tricks.” It’s likely related to jaggerbush, meaning a “thorny bush.”
You know when you go to a fancy restaurant and order something where every little ingredient looks like it was placed there with a tweezer? There’s a term for that stuff: tweezer food.
Emcee, or “Master of Ceremonies,” is one of many cases where the initials of something are spelled out phonetically, like okay, deejay, jaycee, or Arby’s. Although every letter of the alphabet can be sounded out this way, few words fall into this category.
Photo by Staffan Scherz. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
|Anglicisms, Neologisms, and Dynamic French by Dr. Michael D. Picone|
Music Used in the Episode
|Funky Broadway||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Rocky Mountain Roundabout||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Hip Jigger||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|The Rat Cage||Beastie Boys||The Mix-Up||Capitol|
|Senior Thump||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Sweet Soul Music||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Dramstically Different||Beastie Boys||The Mix-Up||Capitol|
|Dr. Jekyll and Hyde Park||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Landscape||The Mohawks||The Champ||Pama Records|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|