The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning “seven,” “eight,” “nine,” and “ten.” So why don’t their names correspond to where they fall in the year? The answer lies in an earlier version of the Roman calendar. • The sweltering period called the “dog days” takes its name from the movements of a certain star. • A new book offers an insider’s view of the world of dictionary editing.
This episode first aired May 7, 2017.
Rubber Jar Opener Thingy
You’re trying to unscrew the stubborn lid on a jar of pickles and ask someone to hand you that flat, round, rubber thing that helps you get it open. What do you call it? In a discussion on our Facebook group, listeners share several names, including rubber husband, second husband, rubber grippy thing, and round tuit.
How Was “Gnarly” Coined?
A surfer in Imperial Beach, California, wonders who coined the word gnarly to describe waves that are particularly challenging. This term may have originated in the slang of surfers in South Africa in the 1970s and eventually spread into everyday slang.
The slang term sky hag was originally a negative appellation for an older flight attendant. But it’s now being reclaimed by longtime airline employees as a positive self-descriptor.
Promulgating Your Esoteric Cogitations
A woman in Mammoth Lakes, California, says her father used to offer this advice: “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities, beware of preposterous ponderosities. In other words, don’t use big words.” This particular phrase and variations of it were passed around in 19th century, much like internet memes today.
Blank in the Blank Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares puzzle called “Blank in the Blank.” For example, what classic toddler’s toy shares its name with a fast-food restaurant?
Emoji Word Origins
A college student in Bowling Green, Kentucky, wonders about the origin of the word emoji. Although you might guess that the name for these little pictures inserted into text messages contains the English word emotion, that’s just a coincidence. Instead, the word derives from Japanese e meaning “picture” and moji, meaning “letter” or “character.”
The phrase to be nebby is heard particularly in Western Pennsylvania, and means to be “picky” or “gossipy.” Originally, it meant “nosy” or “snooping.” Nebby is a vestige of Scots-Irish, where the word neb means “nose” or “beak.”
Some parents take homeschooling a step further with world-schooling, or educating children through shared travel experiences.
A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls hearing the term las caniculas to denote a period of 12 days in January where the weather seems to run the gamut of all the kinds of weather that will be experienced in the coming year. This period is also known as las cabañuelas. Canicula derives from Latin for “little dog,” a reference to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which at a certain time of the year appears in the eastern horizon just before sunrise, appearing to accompany the sun like a faithful pup. There’s a great deal of folklore associated with la canicula, a term applied at different times in different Spanish-speaking countries. In English, this period in late summer is known as the dog days.
A Great Book by a Dictionary Editor
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, is a must-read for anyone interested in language and how dictionaries are made.
Why the Month Names Don’t Match Their Order
The months September, October, November, and December derive from Latin words that mean “seven,” “eight,” “nine,” and “ten” respectively. So why are they applied to the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months of the year? The answer lies in the messy history of marking the year, described in detail in David Duncan’s book, Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.
A sneck is a kind of latch. A listener in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says his British relatives sometimes use the term snecklifter to mean “a gift that will get you in the door at a dinner party.”
A Gender-Neutral Plural Pronoun for Talking to Groups
A U.S. Forest Service firefighter in Lakeland, Florida, also teaches classes on chainsaw safety, and wants to make sure he’s using gender-neutral pronouns when doing so. The epicene pronoun they will work just fine.
The Origiins of Skedaddle
The origin of skedaddle, meaning to “run away in a panic” or “flee,” has proved elusive. Renowned etymologist Anatoly Liberman suggests it may be related to a Scottish term, skeindaddle, meaning “to spill.” Its popularity in the United States took off during the Civil War.
Photo by Derek Socrates Finch. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries|
|Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Concentrate||The Gaturs||Wasted||Funky Delicacies|
|Hercules||Aaron Neville||Hercules / Gossip 45rpm||Jazzman|
|Make The Road By Walking||Menahan Street Band||Make The Road By Walking||Daptone|
|Nobody But You||The Gaturs||Wasted||Funky Delicacies|
|Tired Of Fighting||Menahan Street Band||Make The Road By Walking||Daptone|
|Wasted||The Gaturs||Wasted||Funky Delicacies|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|