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Snookums and Snicklefritz

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A new book about how animals perceive their environment reveals immense worlds beyond our own. A bee can see ultraviolet light, catfish have taste buds all over their bodies, and manatees use highly sensitive lips to examine nearby objects. Also, what’s the relationship between romantic novels and Romance languages? Plus, sometimes buying gingerbread isn’t just about the baked goods. In one part of the United States, buying gingerbread has to do with voter fraud! And snickelfritz, oripulation, tchotchkes, an ear-tickling quiz, mocap slang, canooper, an outfit that you drive, chipping away at writer’s block, darcin, and Snookums.

This episode first aired November 26, 2022.

Mr. Darcy, What an Irresistible Scent!

 A pheromone in the urine of male mice is called darcin, named for Mr. Darcy, the man Elizabeth Bennet finds irresistible in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Bookshop|Amazon). Manatees use their sensitive lips to oripulate their environment and greet each other, oripulation being the oral version of manipulation. These tidbits come from a new book by science writer Ed Yong called An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (Bookshop|Amazon).

My Little Snicklefritz

 Allie in Decatur, Alabama, says her mother referred to an impish child as a schnickelfritz. This term for a “young rascal” is often used affectionately, and spelled any of several ways, including snicklefritz, snickelfritz, and schnickelfritz. It’s of German origin, most likely a combination of the common masculine name Fritz with another element, possibly the German dialectal word Schnickel or Schniggel, meaning “a little boy’s penis.” Schnickelfritz shows up in late 19th-century U.S. newspapers as a joking stand-in for a person of German heritage, much like the English term Joe Six-Pack or Spanish name Fulano is used as a placeholder.

How is “Romantic” Love Related to “Romance” Languages?

 Jennifer, a seventh-grade English teacher in Kingsport, Tennessee, and her students have been studying the development of Romance languages, which got them wondering: When did the words romance and romantic come to be associated with stories about love?

What Heavy Oar The Pen Is, What Strong Current The Ideas

 Having a hard time with writer’s block? So did Gustave Flaubert while trying to get his great novel Madame Bovary (Bookshop|Amazon) underway, telling a correspondent: I am finding it hard to get my novel started. I suffer from stylistic abscesses; and sentences keep itching without coming to a head. I am fretting, scratching. What a heavy oar the pen is, and what a strong current ideas are to row in!

Portmanteauverload Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski pairs of words in which the last sound of the first word is the same as the first sound of the second word. You might call it a kind of “portmanteau-verload.” For example, what’s this harves John keeps hearing about? It’s discussed every year around September and October when farmers gather their crops. What pair of words is he actually hearing mashed together?

What a Hotsy-Totsy Tchotchke

 The word tchotchke, pronounced CHOTCH-kee, means “knickknack” or “trinket.” Also spelled chotchkie or tsatske, this word was borrowed into English from Yiddish tshatshke, and is cognate with several words that mean “trinket” or “plaything” in Slavic languages such as Polish cacko and Russian tsatski. The word tchotchke is also sometimes applied to an adorable person.

Buying Gingerbread Means Buying Ballots

 In parts of Appalachia, if you’re buying gingerbread, you may not literally be buying a baked good. In Our Appalachia (Bookshop|Amazon), an oral history of the region, editors Laurel Shackelford and Bill Weinberg describe an old political practice of buying gingerbread cakes from elderly women and distributing them in hopes of gaining a few additional votes. Buying gingerbread became a more generalized term for “buying votes.”

An Outfit with Four Wheels and a V8

  Jack from Sentinel Butte, North Dakota, observes that in his part of the country, the word outfit can have any of several meanings. Buying a new outfit doesn’t necessarily mean “buying a new set of clothes.” It could well refer to “buying a new car” or “buying a new pickup truck.” This usage reflects hundreds of years of history in the American West. An outfitter would outfit a group about to set out by supplying them with gear and transportation, and later the word outfit came to refer to the vehicle itself.

Canuper, a Cocktail or Stiff Drink

 Pete in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wonders about the word canooper, which he’s heard used to refer to a type of alcoholic beverage. Also spelled kanuper, this word is rarely found outside Minnesota. Its origin is uncertain, although Red Fisher, host of a fishing show that ran on Canadian television from 1963 to 1989, once told interviewer Vicki Gabereau that he made it up himself. The earliest uses of this word in print appear in the 1970s.

“Every Bird That Cuts the Airy Way”

 The new book An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (Bookshop|Amazon) delightfully combines scientific writing with a literary sensibility and a gift for vivid similes. It’s by Ed Yong, who won a Pulitzer for his reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. The book’s title is derived from lines by poet William Blake: How do you know but every bird / that cuts the airy way / Is an immense world of delight, / closed by your senses five?

Why Can it Be Hard to Perceive Emotions in Unknown Languages Very Different From Our Own?

 Elia lives in northern Arizona, alongside the Navajo Nation. He grew up in France and learned English as a second language, but he knows very little Navajo. When he overhears Navajo being spoken, he has a hard time picking up any emotional tones at all, such as anger or sadness, or even perceiving whether he’s hearing a question or a statement. Why might that be?

Jewels and Fear Sticks and Other Motion Capture Lingo

 Mocap is short for motion capture, the process of creating digital characters for 2D or 3D computer animation by attaching reflective markers to an actor and having them move in front of a green screen while information about those movements is recorded. The Motion Capture Society has compiled a collection of slang used this industry. The reflective markers are referred to as dots or jewels. Those dots must remain in place, and if they fall off, the action may be stopped with a cry of Marker Doon! A hitchhiker is a marker that’s transferred from one actor to another but hasn’t fallen off, and a fear stick is a large stick with a pool noodle on the end of it, used to hit actors in order to make them react appropriately during a fight scene.

If “Hypo-” Means “Under,” What is the “Chondria” in “Hypochondria”?

 Hypochondria derives from the Greek preposition hypo, meaning “under,” as in the hypodermic that goes under the skin, and hypothermia, the condition of being insufficient heat. The -chondria in hypochondria comes from Greek chondros, meaning “gristle” or “cartilage.” It was once believed that the organs under the cartilage of the breastbone — specifically the spleen, liver, and gallbladder — were the seat of melancholy and generated feelings of malaise. The Greek preposition hyper means “over,” as in hypersensitive and hyperactive.

“Snooksy” and Other Cutey-Pie Names

 Star in Santa Claus, Indiana, says her grandpa nicknamed her Snooksy. But why? A popular radio show that ran from 1936 to 1951 featured Fanny Brice playing a mischievous character named Baby Snooks, loosely based on a comic strip character, Baby Snookums. Snooksy-wooksy, Lambsy-wamsy, and Honey-bun are all hypocoristic names formed by reduplication.

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

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Bookshop|Amazon).
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong (Bookshop|Amazon)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Bookshop|Amazon)
Our Appalachia edited by Laurel Shackelford and Bill Weinberg (Bookshop|Amazon)

Music Used in the Episode

TitleArtistAlbumLabel
Back Down HomeThe Nite-LitersDifferent StrokesRCA
Boiling PotWinston BrothersDriftColemine Records
Do The GrannyThe Nite-LitersDifferent StrokesRCA
Hang OnWinston BrothersDriftColemine Records
Money RunnerThe Nite-LitersDifferent StrokesRCA
The Other SideSure Fire Soul EnsembleStep DownColemine Records

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