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Sleeve Island

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Language from inside a monastery. A Benedictine monk shares terms from his world: For example, corporate prayer refers to praying as a group, not urging shares to return dividends. And did you know there’s a term of art for those annoying add-on costs when you buy tickets online? It’s called drip pricing. Plus: Why do we hear the word Perfect! when we’ve answered the most mundane of questions? Say you order chicken fajitas, and the server says “Perfect!” What was so perfect about the order? All that, plus knitting slang, yuppies and hippies, mixtape vs. mixed tape, rubber jungle, as the crow flies, desire lines, mommick and mammock, mumble-squibble, squishy mail, a devilish quiz, hebdomadary, querfeldein, perrijo, and zhuzh.

This episode first aired June 22, 2024.

Squishy Mail

 Allyn from North Dallas, Texas, who hosts a YouTube show about knitting called Sal & Al: The Woolslayers, emails the show to share some favorite slang used by knitters. LYS stands for one’s Local Yarn Shop, as opposed to a big-box store. Frogging means to pull apart a knitted portion with a mistake in it. Squishy mail is an order of yarn delivered by the postal carrier, and squishy mail is added to one’s stash, which is a supply of yarn currently not in use for a project.

Perfect! As a Constant Response to Things That Aren’t Really Perfect

 When Tony from Fort Worth, Texas, ordered chicken fajitas at a restaurant, the server replied Perfect! He’s pretty confident that his order was hardly outstanding, much less perfect. He’s noticed that the response Perfect! doesn’t literally mean “perfect,” but something more like “Okay!” or “I understand.”

How Do You Spell Zoozh… Zuzh… Szhuzh… That Word That Means to Spiff Up?

 Joan from Buffalo, New York, wants to know how to spell a particular word that means to spiff up, clean up, straighten, or fix. The word is zhuzh, which has had dozens of different spellings over the years because it’s primarily transmitted orally, rather than on the page. It comes from the jargon called Polari, used in the London theater, entertainment, and fashion worlds in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and strongly associated with the gay subculture of the time. Before that, it was trader’s cant based largely on Italian and the language of the Romani, which happens to have a word that sounds like zhuzh that means “to clean.” A BBC Radio show in the 1960s called Round the Horne featured two characters whose on-air patter was filled with Polari words, including drag, camp, and zhuzh, and helped popularize the term, as did the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reality TV show launched in 2003.

Rubber Jungle Pressure Bundles

 When the pressure drops in an airplane cabin and all the oxygen masks fall, pilots refer to all that equipment hanging down as a rubber jungle.

Answer: A Quiz That Gives Off Heat and Stimulates the Organ That We Are Fools With

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has been thumbing through The Devil’s Dictionary (Bookshop|Amazon), the satirical work by Ambrose Bierce that provides cheeky definitions for familiar words. For example, Bierce defines the word positive as “mistaken at the top of one’s voice.” John wants to know: Based on their definitions, can you guess a series of words that Bierce features in his dictionary? For example, what’s a 10-letter word that starts with A and might be defined as “our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.”

Querfeldein in English?

 Ben calls from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to say that he and his wife, who is from Germany, were taking a leisurely stroll at Valley Forge. They ended up leaving one of the trails and taking a diagonal route across a field and agreed that in German, they were moving querfeldein, or literally “diagonally into the field.” Is there an English equivalent? The English terms desire line, desire path, or social path, which are unplanned paths formed by pedestrians who repeatedly choose that route over a planned one, such as a sidewalk, but those terms aren’t exactly comparable. The phrase as the crow flies connotes a similar idea of unimpeded movement in a straight line, but it’s still not quite the same. It’s not exactly traveling catty-corner, from one corner to the opposite one, either. It’s also something like off the beaten path or off the beaten track or the trod path, but not quite. The French also have “beaten path,” as sentiers battus, and in German, it’s Trampelpfad. Other English expressions for non-established paths include cow paths, dog runs, and deer trails. In Dutch, there’s also a term that translates as “elephant path,” and in French there’s one that translates as “donkey path.” Perhaps there’s a term from orienteering that would work?

What A Drip

 Those annoying add-on fees that come at the end of an online transaction are part of a lucrative practice known as drip pricing. The word drip has become a descriptor for anything that slowly increases revenue. For example, drip marketing involves multiple contacts over time, like a long series of brief email messages.

To Mommick and Mommicked

 If you’re mommicked, if you’re bothered, frustrated, or exhausted. Most often heard in coastal North Carolina, mommicked derives from an old word mammock, which as a noun, means “a fragment,” and as a verb, means “to break or tear.” One way to mommick someone is to mubble-squibblethem, a local word for treating their scalp to a vigorous knuckle-rub–giving them noogies, in other words.

Do People Still Say “Yuppie”?

 Did we stop referring to young urban professionals as yuppies? A listener in Madison, Wisconsin, says his younger co-workers told him they’d never heard of the word. The use of the word yuppie peaked around 1990, and has dramatically dropped ever since. Hippie, on the other hand, arose in the 1940s, then peaked around 1970, but had a resurgence in 2013 before starting to decline again.

Refect on This Monastic Lingo

 A monk at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan, a Benedictine monastery in the Episcopal Church, shares some of the terms used there on a daily basis. The monks gather seven times a day to pray as a group, a practice called corporate prayer, because they’re praying a body, as opposed to the private prayer they do while going about their daily chores. They are assigned tasks on a rotating basis, and also take turns as church cantor. Because the cantor performs this duty for seven days, that person is called the hebdomadary, from Greek ἑβδομάς meaning “seven,” and is related to the French for “weekly magazine,” hebdomadaire, or hebdo for short. The dining hall at the monastery is called the refectory, from a Latin term that means “a place of restoration.” To refect is “to refresh oneself or another person with food or drink,” a word that goes back to a Latin term that means “make” or “do” and is also the source of such words as confectionary, confection, and manufacture. Incidentally, mealtimes are silent, but each week a different person is assigned to read aloud from a book while everyone else eats. Among the books on this year’s reading list is A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration: Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM (Bookshop|Amazon) by Dale DeBakcsy. Others include Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Bookshop|Amazon) by Cathy O’Neil, as well as Yiddish: Biography of a Language (Bookshop|Amazon) by Jeffrey Shandler.

Mixtape vs. Mixed Tape

 Courtney in Anchorage, Alaska, and her teenage son disagree: Should that collection of music be called a mixtape or a mixed tape? The former is far more common, and reflects that linguistic process known as lenition or “softening,” in which the -ed tends to drop off so that shaved icebecomes shave ice and grilled cheese said quickly becomes grill cheese.

Stranded on Sleeve Island

 Knitters speak of being stranded on Sleeve Island. As the host of Sal & Al: The Woolslayers explains: Being on Sleeve Island is the feeling you get when you think you’re almost finished with a sweater because you’ve completed the part that goes over the torso. Then you realize that, actually, the sleeves themselves will also require a whole lot more knitting.

What Does It Mean “To Soft-Soap” Someone? And Why Do We Say It?

 Since the early 19th century, to soft-soap someone is to flatter them or give them excessively deferential treatment. The idea is that soft soap is unctuous and if you pour soft soap down someone’s back or pour soft soap into someone’s ear, it’s imposing something on someone that’s seemingly positive that’s actually annoying. Don’t give me all that lather reflects a similar irritation or outright disgust.

Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy

 Among knitters, SABLE is an acronym for “Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy,” a joking reference to “a supply of yarn so huge that there’s no way you could possibly knit it all before you die.”

Coming to the Lick Log

 If you’re coming to the lick log or bringing someone to the lick log, you’re getting to a crucial point in negotiations. A lick log is a salt lick being a place where a cattle or other herd animals congregates.

Perrijo/Perrija = Fur Baby

 The Spanish equivalent of fur baby, an affectionate term for one’s pets, is perrijo or perrija, a combination of perro, “dog,” and hijo or hija, meaning “son” or “daughter.”

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (Bookshop|Amazon)
A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration: Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM by Dale DeBakcsy (Bookshop|Amazon)
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil (Bookshop|Amazon)
Yiddish: Biography of a Language by Jeffrey Shandler (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

HomeKen McIntyreHomeInner City Records
Teach Me How To Be VulnerableShabaka and the AncestorsWe Are Sent Here By HistoryImpulse!
InfinityKhan JamalInfinityCon’brio Records
This TimeCarsten Meiners KvartetC. M. MusictrainSpectator Records
JoyousShabaka and the AncestorsWisdom Of The EldersImpulse!
Half A MindThe Rare SoundsIntroducing: The Rare SoundsColor Red
PYGThe Rare SoundsIntroducing: The Rare SoundsColor Red
Intensive PurposesThe Rare SoundsIntroducing: The Rare SoundsColor Red
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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