A book of photographs and essays by famous writers celebrates libraries — and the librarians who changed their lives. Plus cutting doughnuts, spinning cookies, and pulling brodies: There are lots of ways to talk about spinning a car in circles on purpose. And if there’s gravel, well, that just makes it more fun! And if you’re faffing about at work, are you busy or idle? Also, Kushtaka, Cooter Brown, fafflement, a puzzle about homographs, toboggan, an inspiring letter from E.B. White, bags not!, the admonition be particular! and more.
This episode first aired June 17, 2023.
The Public Library: A Photographic Essay (Amazon) is a love letter to America’s libraries and the librarians who open up worlds for readers. It features 150 gorgeous photos by Robert Dawson and essays by famous writers.
A Kentuckian says he always described gunning a car’s engine to make the vehicle spin in a circle as cutting doughnuts or cutting donuts, but when visiting South Dakota, he heard the same thing described as spinning cookies. This pastime goes by lots of names, including making cookies and cutting cookies. The term pull a brodie is sometimes used for this activity, inspired by a bookmaker named Steve Brodie who in 1886 supposedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge to win a bet. This expression came to denote various stunts, including such hijinks with a car.
Rebecca in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that when the grandkids would take their leave, her grandmother would send them off with the sweet admonition Be particular! Heard most often in the American South and South Midlands, this advice derives from the idea of particular meaning “cautious,” “exacting,” or “precise.” Particular derives from Latin particula, literally “little part,” the source also of particulate.
A listener in Richardson, Texas, notes that before her mother married, her middle name was Knight and her last name was Chevallier. For those who know the French word for “knight,” chevalier, this made for some occasional chuckles.
Quiz Guy John Chaneski is puzzling over homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and sometimes different pronunciations. For example, what two words that are spelled the same are suggested by the following clue? An artist is commissioned to paint a picture of the planets, but the patron wants him to get rid of the imaginary lines about which the planet rotates. At that point, the patron would have to wait for the artist to do what?
When he lived in Nova Scotia, Jeffrey from Montreal, Canada, noted that the word some was often used as an intensifier, as in That’s some good or She’s some pretty or She’s right some pretty. Also common in the dialects of Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland is the pulmonic ingressive, a sharp intake of air to indicate agreement or approval. This linguistic feature is heard in many parts of the world, including Maine. With reference to Mainers, it’s usually represented in writing as Ayup! Two helpful references: Sandra Clarke’s Newfoundland and Labrador English (Bookshop|Amazon) and From Clerks to Corpora (Bookshop|Amazon), a collection of essays on linguistics.
Hannah from Shreveport, Louisiana, is curious about Cooter Brown, a name she’s often heard applied to someone behaving mischievously. Cooter Brown shows up in several expressions, including drunk as Cooter Brown, high as Cooter Brown, and fast as Cooter Brown. Sometimes it appears as Cootie Brown. Langston Hughes has used the expression in his work. Just who is Cooter Brown, though? That’s unclear, although it may be related to the expressions drunk as a cooter, drunk as a coot, or drunk as a cootie.
Kara in Charlotte, North Carolina, was shopping in New Brunswick, Canada, hoping to find a warm hat. She asked for a toboggan, but the store clerk was incredulous. Depending on where you’re from toboggan can mean either “a long, knitted hat” or “a long, flat-bottomed sled.” The English word toboggan comes from similar words for this type of sled in the Algonquian family of languages, first adopted by speakers of Canadian French, then passed on into English. The term toboggan hat or toboggan cap referred to the type of headwear one might wear while riding such a sled, possibly because of a resemblance between the curved shape of the hat and the curved front of the sled.
Shaun Usher has collected many marvelous epistles in Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (Bookshop|Amazon). One of them, from E. B. White, is a thoughtful letter of encouragement urging the reader to “wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
An Omaha, Nebraska, listener and wife have picked up the expression Bags not! from the Australian children’s show “Bluey.” The phrase is used to stake a claim by announcing one refuses to doing something undesirable, like change a diaper or take out the trash. The folklorists Iona and Peter Opie describe such phrases as part of the “code of oral legislation” by which children negotiate their rights with each other.
Inspired by our conversation about the word lapslock, a Berkeley, California, listener pens a funny ditty based on an E.E. Cummings poem, “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” When Cummings read the original poem aloud, he recited it quite slowly.
In the Tlingit & Haida cultures, there are many stories involving the kushtaka (also spelled kooshdakhaa, kushtahkah, and kooshdaa kaa, and stressed on the final syllable), a being associated with the land otter. The name shows up in several place names in Alaska, including Kushtaka Lake, Kushtaka Mountain, Kushtaka Ridge, Kushtaka Glacier. For more about traditions involving the kushtaka, see these works edited by Sergei Kan: Symbolic Immortality: The Tlingit Potlatch of the Nineteenth Century (Bookshop|Amazon) and Sharing Our Knowledge: The Tlingit and Their Coastal Neighbors (Bookshop|Amazon).
While traveling in England, Chris in Hollywood, Florida, picked up a favorite word from his British friends: faff. The expression faffing about means “procrastinating, idling, dawdling” or “acting ineffectually.” Ultimately it comes from a pair of English dialect words referring to “wind” or “plants blowing in the wind.” Fafflement can be used to mean “trifling or unnecessary work.”
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson (Amazon)|
|Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Newfoundland and Labrador English by Sandra Clarke (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|From Clerks to Corpora (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Symbolic Immortality: The Tlingit Potlatch of the Nineteenth Century by Sergei Kan (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|Sharing Our Knowledge: The Tlingit and Their Coastal Neighbors by Sergei Kan (Bookshop|Amazon)|
Music Used in the Episode
|Stumped||Minor Threat||Complete Discography||Dischord|
|Two-Headed Freap||Ronnie Foster||Two Headed Freap||Blue Note|
|Close But No Cigar||Devon Lamarr||Close But No Cigar||Colemine Records|
|1% Crown||Scone Cash Players||Blast Furnace!||Colemine Records|
|Memphis||Devon Lamarr||Close But No Cigar||Colemine Records|
|Bliss Machine||Scone Cash Players||Blast Furnace!||Colemine Records|
|The Other Side||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Step Down||Colemine Records|