Careful what you criticize! Not long ago, some words that sound perfectly normal today were considered gauche and grating on the ear. If the complainers had had their way, we couldn’t say a word like pessimism or use contact as a verb! Also, we’ll settle another debate once and for all: is it “a historic” or “an historic”? Plus, what are you doing for Inside-Out Day? Also, bed lunch, sweven, hinky, johnny gowns, the real meaning of “shiver me timbers,” and more.
This episode first aired April 17, 2015.
Etymology of Pessimism
We get lots of calls and emails that take a pessimistic look at the way language changes– which reminded us that the word pessimism itself, just 100 or so years ago, was derided by the curmudgeons of old. People thought the word pessimism was a lazy, inaccurate replacement for despondency.
Inside Out Day
If you’re looking for yet another reason to buy an infant a present, there’s always Inside Out Day, which some people celebrate as the day when a baby has been out of the womb as long as they were in it.
Origin of Shiver Me Timbers
Did pirates ever actually say “shiver me timbers”? And why would they be shivering in the Caribbean, anyway? Actually, this saying has nothing to do with being cold, and pirates probably didn’t say it. The phrase goes back to the 1700’s and was popularized in books such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Shiver, in this sense, means “to split in two.” Shiver me timbers, in the imagined pirate lingo, refers to a storm or siege splitting the wooden beams of a ship.
The Ties That Bind Quiz
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about the ties that bind various sets of three words. For example, what do essay, excess, and decay have in common?
Hinky, or hincty, is a term going back to the 1920’s that has meant both “snobbish” and “haughty,” or, more commonly, suspicious. A police officer from Grove City, Pennsylvania, calls to say his older colleagues often use the word to describe someone who arouses suspicion.
Have Fever vs. Have a Fever
Fever is often diagnosed with an indefinite article attached—as in, you have a fever—but it was some time between the 1940s and 1960s that we added the article. And in the Southern United States, it’s still not uncommon to hear someone say they have fever.
Contact as a Verb
Contact, when used as a verb, is another word that once prompted peeving. In fact, in the 1930s, an official at Western Union lobbied for a company-wide ban on the word, which he deemed a hideous vulgarism compared to the phrases “get in touch with” or “make the acquaintance of.”
Phonetically Balanced Sentences
“These days, a chicken leg is a rare dish” might sound like an odd thing to observe, but during World War II, it was among dozens of phonetically balanced sentences devised by researchers for testing cockpit transmissions and headphones in planes. The sentences use a wide variety of sounds, which is why they’re still useful for testing audio today.
Slang Abbreviation “Nation”
The slang term nation pops up several times in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a reduced form of a mild swear word. The word damnation was euphemized as tarnation, which was later shortened to nation. Nation in this sense goes back to the mid-1700’s at least, and can also mean “large,” “great,” or “excellent.”
Poem on Insensible Losses
We spoke on an earlier show about insensible losses, a medical term for things like water vapor that your body loses but you don’t sense it. That inspired a Sacramento, California, listener to write a poem with that title about great artists who go underappreciated.
Photo by David Wright. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson|
|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Honey (Instrumental)||Erykah Badu||New Amerykah Part One||Motown|
|El Fuego||Polyrhythmics||El Fuego 45rpm||KEPT|
|Mendo Mulcher||Polyrhythmics||Mendo Mulcher 45rpm||KEPT|
|Bold and Black||Ramsey Lewis||Another Voyage||Cadet|
|Groove City||Chocolate Milk||The Best of Chocolate Milk||RCA Victor|
|Black Hills||Budos Band||Burnt Offering||Daptone|
|Uhuru||Ramsey Lewis||Another Voyage||Cadet|
|I Just Want To Make Love To You||Muddy Waters||Electric Mud||Cadet|
|How About Love||Chocolate Milk||The Best of Chocolate Milk||RCA Victor|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book||Verve|