National Book Award winner Barry Lopez had wise advice for young writers. First, read widely and follow your curiosity. Second, travel or learn a foreign language. And third, find out what you truly believe, because if you’re not writing from your beliefs, then you’re just passing along information. And: if someone says they’re going to plant flags at a gravesite, they may not mean what you think. That’s because the word flag is also the name for a certain flower. Plus, if helicopter parents hover protectively around their kids … what do golf parents do? All that, along with in a brown study, pitcher-proud, ring-tailed ripsnorter, gleepers, clackers, a brain-busting take-off puzzle, thing like that and all, and there are no bones in ice cream. Ye gods and little fishes!
This episode first aired February 20, 2021.
After our conversation about helicopter parents, who hover closely over their children, and the Danish term curling foraeldre, or “curling parents,” who sweep away problems ahead of their children, much like people sweeping the ice in curling, a listener in the Czech Republic proposes a term for a more laissez-faire parenting style. If you’re a golf parent, you do your best to point your kid in the right direction, and then let them fly.
Mimi in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, wonders about a phrase her grandmother used to express disbelief or indignation: Good grief and little fishes! Far more common is the phrase Ye gods and little fishes! or simply Ye gods! These expressions all serve as euphemisms for a stronger oath.
Where the Baker Jumped Through
On our Facebook group, listeners discuss jocular explanations for air holes in bread, such as That’s where the baker jumped through, and That’s where the baker crawled through, and for a really big hole, That’s where the baker and his wife jumped through.
If It’s “Ring-Tailed,” It’s Distinctive
The rustic expression ring-tailed tooter applies to someone or something outstanding in some way. The term ring-tailed does most of the work here, inspired by the way a ring-tailed animal is more striking than one without such distinctive markings. Similar terms for something remarkable include ring-tailed roarer, ring-tailed squealer, ring-tailed peeler, ring-tailed mosquito, ring-tailed squeaker, ring-tailed tooter, ring-tailed snorter, ring-tailed ape, ring-tailed baboon, ring-tailed know-nothing, ring-tailed waffle brain, ring-tailed S.O.B., and ring-tailed ripsnorter.
Mondogreens and Oronyms
Mondegreens are words misheard in song lyrics that still make a kind of sense, such as misunderstanding Just like a white-winged dove as Just like a one-winged dove. They’re sometimes called oronyms.
Take Away the Gee, and You Have a Word Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s take-off quiz involves removing the initial letter G from a word to leave another word. For example, imagine that John said, “That waiter who put fresh parmesan cheese on my lasagna? I’d give him a 7 or 8 out of 10.” What two words does this clue suggest?
A Different Kind of Colorful Flag
John from Dallas, Texas, was surprised to learn that a relative who said she was on her way to plant flags at a loved one’s gravesite meant she was going to plant flowers. In addition to meaning “cloth banner,” the word flag is another name for the flower known as an iris. The flag in this sense may come from an old Scandinavian word meaning “reed” or “rush.” There is a long tradition of planting irises at gravesites, and in fact, a variety of white iris is so commonly used, particularly in the American South, that it’s known as the cemetery iris.
A Brown Study
To be in a brown study means to be “deep in thought,” and often refers to gloomy or melancholy contemplation.
So Proud You Visited
After moving from Indiana to Arkansas, Shannon noted that people in her new hometown use the adjective proud to mean “glad,” as in “I’m so proud you came for a visit.” In addition to describing someone “full of pride,” the word proud has meant several other things over the centuries. In Middle English, pitcher-proud meant “drunk” or “belligerent.” The term journey proud can describe someone “restless, excited, or nervous about impending travel.”
Deadpan, an adjective used to describe a flat or unsmiling affect, as in deadpan humor, derives from the use of pan as a slang term for “face.”
Lapidary Prose from Barry Lopez
Barry Lopez was the author of Arctic Dreams (Bookshop|Amazon),winner of the National Book Award, and the editor, along with his wife Debra Gwartney, of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (Bookshop|Amazon). In the introduction to his memoir, About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory (Bookshop|Amazon), he offered wise advice about how to become a better writer.
Pathological Insertion of a Phrase into One’s Speech
Randy from Live Oak, Florida, remembers a man in Central Florida who often added a few words to a simple sentence of explanation, usually thing ‘ere or thing like that and all. That might just reflect his own habitual way of speaking. Entertainer Jack Benny had a somewhat similar bit of speech pathology, inserting the expression you know throughout his speech, seemingly without being aware of it.
After our conversation about the word nickname, a listener shares the story of a guy who earned the nickname Blister because he always “shows up when the work is done.”
No Bones in Ice Cream
Amelia in Traverse City, Michigan, says her grandfather used to pull her close and whisper There are no bones in ice cream. He has a point there, but where did the phrase come from? That phrase seems to have arisen as part of a goofy joke making the rounds in the United States during the 1930s. A variant, Because ice cream has no bones, or a similar phrase, was often offered as the nonsensical answer to an equally nonsensical riddle.
Anybody Else Use the “Gleepers” to Mean “Tongs”?
Jeepers creepers! Pass the gleepers! Mary in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wonders if anyone else uses the term gleepers to mean “a pair of tongs.” Gleepers may be just her own family’s term. Some people refer to them as clackers because of the noise they may when you open and close them. It’s perhaps unrelated, but the slang term gleep means “to steal.”
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Arctic Dreams (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barry Lopez|
|Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney|
|About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory (Bookshop|Amazon) by Barry Lopez|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Bound To Happen||Johnny Pate||Outrageous||MGM Records|
|No Hang Ups||Johnny Pate||Outrageous||MGM Records|
|Ain’t She Sweet||Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae||Last Goodbye||Jump Up! Records|
|That Ain’t Too Cool||Johnny Pate||Outrageous||MGM Records|
|Ribes||The Bombillas||The Bombillas||F-Spot|
|Heading West||Roger Rivas and The Brothers of Reggae||Last Goodbye||Jump Up! Records|
|You’re Starting Too Fast||Johnny Pate||Outrageous||MGM Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|