It’s hard enough to get a new word into the dictionary. But what happens when lawmakers get involved? New Jersey legislators passed a resolution as part of an anti-bullying campaign urging dictionary companies to adopt the word upstander. It means “the opposite of bystander.” But will it stick? And: 18th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth was born in New York State, but for most of her childhood, she spoke only Dutch. There’s a good reason for that. Plus, practical tips for learning to converse in any foreign language: Think of it like an exercise program, and work out with a buddy. Also, rhyming slang, “kick the bucket,” “behind God’s back,” world-beaters, Twitter canoes, a slew of slang terms for that yep-nope hairstyle, the mullet. This episode first aired October 16, 2015.
Plenty of people write to dictionary editors asking for words to be added. It almost never works. But what if politicians make a special request? To urge adoption of the term upstander, as in “the opposite of bystander,” to honor those who stand up to bullies, the New Jersey State Senate passed a resolution urging two dictionary publishers to add it. Unfortunately, dictionaries don’t work that way. Even so, whether a word is or isn’t in the dictionary doesn’t determine whether a word is real.
A television journalist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wants a generic term for “house of worship” to use in place of the word church in news reports. Synagogue, temple, sanctuary, and mosque are all too specific. What’s a fitting alternative?
A teacher in Dallas, Texas, is trying to learn Spanish in order to chat casually with some of his students. He’s having some success with the smartphone app DuoLingo. But an app won’t necessarily give him the slang vocabulary he needs. A good way to learn a new language is to approach it as you would a fitness program. Set reasonable goals, commit to the long term, don’t expect results overnight, and if possible, practice with a buddy or a trainer.
English rhyming slang had a short run of popularity in the western U.S., thanks in part to Australians who brought it over (and then, again, thanks to a scene in Ocean’s Eleven). But even in the U.K., it’s now mostly defunct.
Is there a word for that mind-blowing moment when you think you’ve heard it all, but then something happens that’s completely out of your realm of experience? You might call this phenomenon a marmalade dropper. Others might call it a world-beater. Have a better term for it?
When a conversation on Twitter gets so crowded that replies contain more handles than actual comments, the result is a tipping Twitter canoe.
For the first nine or ten years of her life, the 18th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth spoke only Dutch. She later used her accent to great effect in her stirring speeches. As Jeroen Dewulf, director of Dutch Studies at University of California, Berkeley, points out in an article in American Speech, as late as the mid-18th century, there were so many Dutch slaveholders in New York and New Jersey meant that up to 20 percent of enslaved Africans in those states spoke Dutch.
The idiom “kick the bucket,” meaning to die, does not originate from the concept of kicking a bucket out from under one’s feet. It has to do with an older meaning of bucket that refers to the wooden beam often found in a barn roof, where an animal carcass might be hung.
A listener from California says her family’s way of remarking on rain is to mention the space between falling drops. So a 12-inch rain means there’s about a foot between one drop and the next. Tricky, huh?
The term skinnymalink, or a skinny marink, is one way the Scots refer to someone who’s thin. In the United States, the term goes back to the 1870’s.
To say that something’s “behind God’s back” is to say that it’s really far away. This may refer to Isaiah 38:17, which includes the phrase “for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” In the Caribbean in particular, the saying behind God’s back is idiomatic. Lisa Winer writes of it in detail in her Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago.
Photo by Trevor Pritchard. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
|Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago by Lisa Winer|
Music Used in the Episode
|Forever Loving You||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Good Times||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Score of Memories||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Bold and Black||Ramsey Lewis||Another Voyage||Cadet|
|Kind Girl||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Guiding Light||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Jump The Fence||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Uhuru||Ramsey Lewis||Another Voyage||Cadet|
|Waiting For Love||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Hard To Give||Jackie Mittoo||Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright play hits from Studio One||Attack|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Unreleased||Unreleased|