A documentary film called My Beautiful Stutter follows youngsters at a summer camp specifically for stutterers. It’s a place for finding acceptance, support, and confidence for navigating the larger world. And:, “The High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone, was one of the most beguiling performers of all time. A beautiful new picture book for children tells her inspiring story. Plus: burritos! Why do those savory stuffed tortillas have a name that literally translates as “little donkey”? Also, gobble hole, live catch, and other pinball jargon, salad days, a take-off puzzle, devious licks, gumshoe, plat, pencil colors, not today, Josephine!, and more.
This episode first aired November 20, 2021.
Drain, gobble hole, and live catch are all terms used by pinball enthusiasts. Drain refers to “the space between flippers,” a gobble hole swallows up the ball, and live catch refers to “catching the ball on a flipper and balancing it before sending it in a specific direction.”
Kaitlyn from Rye, New York, is puzzled by people referring to their youth as their salad days. It’s drawn from a metaphor employed at the end of Act One of Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Cleopatra recalls a past dalliance with Julius Caesar, and says it occurred when she was “green in judgment, cold in blood,” much like a salad would be fresh and green.
Our conversation about women who use the nicknames Gertie or Gert as jokingly affectionate terms for each other, prompted a listener in Melbourne, Australia, to speculate that it’s a nod to Gertrude Lawrence, an English performer who rose to international fame in the early 20th century. Another possibility, though, is the character of Gertrude the telephone operator on The Jack Benny Program, a radio show in the United States that was wildly popular and ran for more than 30 years. Gertrude’s character is heard talking with her fellow operator Mabel in this episode starting at 22:30.
Quincy from Bozeman, Montana, wonders how burritos came to be named with a Spanish word that means “little donkey.” In Spanish, the meaning of burro has also extended from “donkey” to “sawhorse.” In the case of the tortilla-wrapped comfort food, there are several possible explanations, although the most likely appears to be the resemblance between a tortilla draped over multiple ingredients and a blanket thrown across the back of a donkey, which also bears a heavy load of items. The Dictionary of Chicano Folklore (Bookshop|Amazon) suggests another possibility: burritos were a valued companion for vaqueros out on the trail, somewhat like the way burros are valuable companions for horses, because their presence tends to calm those potentially jittery animals.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle that’s taking off — literally. He offers clues that suggest two words, one of those words being formed by removing the initial H from the other. For example, what two words are suggested by I crept down the house from room to room, and the entire house was empty?
A native Dutch speaker who spent many years in Japan says he had to learn the hard way that when Americans greeted him with How are you?, they didn’t really want to know how he was. Such casual greetings that don’t require a factual or detailed answer are an example of phatic speech, a term coined by linguist Walter Redfern. It’s speech that’s less about literal meaning and more about social function and politeness.
Listeners continue to weigh in on the topic of what to call those impromptu, free-for-all dinners at home where everyone just cobbles together their own dish with whatever leftovers or ingredients are handy. Frances writes from Bluffton, South Carolina, with her mother’s sophisticated-sounding name for those assorted leftovers: Cream of Frigidaire.
Why are detectives in old movies and mystery novels called gumshoes? The term gumshoe derives from the image of shoes with soles made of gum rubber, which offered an improvement over the wood traditionally used for the bottom of a shoe, since those rubbery soles allow the wearer to tiptoe quietly without being detected. Gumshoe has been applied to investigators and police officers for more than a century, although it’s also been applied to prowlers and others who resort to stealth for accomplishing nefarious goals.
Dan from Atlantic Beach, Florida, grew up in southwestern Ohio, where he and his friends and family referred to their neighborhoods as plats, as in “What plat do you live in?” To plat a place is jargon for the process of making a detailed map with key features of the area. A plat is a piece of land for which plans are being made. Plat is a variant of the English word plot.
The documentary My Beautiful Stutter follows youngsters at a summer camp run by SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young. There young people who stutter find acceptance, support, and confidence for navigating the larger world.
Paige grew up in Louisiana, where she used the term pencil colors for colored pencils. Her name for these drawing instruments is likely a calque from French crayon de couleur, literally “pencil of color.” In many small towns across the United States, school districts traditionally publish in the newspaper lists of supplies that students needed to purchase for the coming year. Newspapers in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi from the 1960s well into the 2000s often included the term pencil colors in those student supply lists, which lets us know in what regions the expression is used.
Pianist, singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone was one of the most iconic performers of the 20th century, and her song “Young, Gifted, and Black,” became an anthem of the civil rights movement. Children’s book editor Traci N. Todd tells Simone’s story in an inspiring new book for children, Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. (Bookshop|Amazon). The book is illustrated by Christian Robinson, who also illustrated Matt de la Peña’s Newbery Medal-winning book Last Stop on Market Street (Bookshop|Amazon).
A North Carolina listener says that when he was a boy and asked for something at a store that his father didn’t want to buy, his dad would reply Not today, Josephine. The origins of this phrase are unclear, although there is a story that it refers to Napoleon Bonaparte, who couldn’t keep up with his wife’s sexual voracity, and supposedly had to keep refusing her with Not tonight, Josephine. The story may well be apocryphal, however.
Paul in Camden, Maine, has adopted a new pup, and the dog’s exuberant face-licking has Paul wondering about the many meanings of the word lick, which include getting his licks in and takes a licking, which refers to the act of forcefully beating someone or something. With roots that stretch back more than a thousand years to Old English liccian, meaning “to pass the tongue lightly over a surface,” lick has come to mean a variety of things, including “a small amount” and “to vanquish.” More recently, some youngsters are boasting about devious licks, stealing items from school and showing them off on TikTok. Lick is a great example of polysemy, the capacity for a word or phrase to have more than one meaning.
Book Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare|
|Dictionary of Chicano Folklore (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Last Stop on Market Street (Bookshop|Amazon)|