Books were rare treasures in the Middle Ages, painstakingly copied out by hand. So how to protect them from theft? Scribes sometimes added a curse to the first page of those books that was supposed to keep thieves away — and some were as vicious as they were creative! Also: if you spot a typo in a published book, should you contact the publisher? Maybe, but your first step is to make sure you’re right! Finally, learning another language may make you question whether you’re speaking your own correctly — but there are strategies to fix that. Plus y’all, a Venn diagram brain teaser, 11 o’clock number, pronouncing the word measure, and you’ll die bull-headed.
This episode first aired November 23, 2019.
Medieval Book Thief Curses
To warn away thieves, medieval scribes sometimes added a written curse to the colophon of a precious book. Curses were once considered such powerful deterrents that they were sometimes added to Anglo-Saxon legal documents.
Dasn’t, Dares Not
Carol from Clays Ferry, Kentucky, wonders about the term her grandmother used, dasn’t, as in the warning “We dasn’t do that.” The word dasn’t derives from the expression dares not. It’s now antiquated and mostly heard east of the Mississippi.
Sneezing Fox Pangram
In several previous episodes, we’ve talked about pangrams, those sentences that use every letter of the alphabet at least once. Lauren, who lives in Perth, Western Australia, sent us a couple penned by her 11-year-old daughter Sinead, including this gem: “The fox sneezed quickly several times while eating strawberry jam pancakes.”
Y’all Spreading Beyond the South
Jesse from Louisville, Kentucky, wonders if the second-person plural pronoun y’all is becoming more popular throughout the United States. A 2000 article in the Journal of English Linguistics finds that y’all and you-all are indeed spreading beyond the American South.
Venn Diagram Brain Teaser
This week’s puzzle by Quiz Guy John Chaneski is inspired by the drawings used by logicians — that is, each answer rhymes with the term Venn Diagram. For example, a map of nearby marshlands isn’t a Venn Diagram, it’s a…
The Black Dog of Dark Mood and Depression
Jo Ann lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but grew up in England. She remembers that when her brother was mopey during family trips to visit their grandparents in Devon, their grandfather would tell him “Get that black dog off your back!” For hundreds of years, the term black dog has been used to mean “a dark mood” or “depression” or “a funk.” The black dog has long been associated with Winston Churchill, although he rarely used the expression himself.
An 11 O’clock Showbiz Numbers
In theatrical parlance, an 11 o’clock number is a showstopping tune late in a musical, which usually coincides with the protagonist or other major character having a life-changing realization. An example would be the song “So Long, Dearie” from Hello, Dolly!
Who Do You Tell About Typos in Books?
Trevor from Waxahachie, Texas, wonders: If you find a typo or other error in a book, should you let the publisher know?
Sprinkles Pronounced “Sprankles”
Eight-year-old Violet moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Zionsville, Indiana, and found other kids don’t share her pronunciation of sprinkles as ‘spræ?k(?)ls, rhyming with “rankles.” Who’s right?
A Painful Observation About Typos
Tweeting under the name @guerillamemoir, Allison K Williams has a painful observation about typos that will resonate with many writers.
Velocity of Being
A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader is a lavishly illustrated anthology edited by Maria Popova of Brainpickings and Claudia Bedrick. It contains a particularly inspiring letter from writer Anne Lamott.
Pronunciation of Measure
Anna, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, wonders if it’s okay to pronounce the word measure as ‘meɪʒər (rhyming with “hey sure”) instead of ‘mɛʒər (rhyming with “treasure”). This pronunciation is scattered across the United States, and in fact one of Jack Benny’s old radio announcers pronounced the word that way.
The ancient Greeks believed that the precious purple stone called an amethyst had the power to prevent a person from becoming intoxicated. That belief is reflected in the name of this gem, which comes from the Greek prefix a- meaning “not,” and methys, “drunk,” a linguistic relative of English mead.
Language Attrition: What Happens To Your First Language When You Learn Another One
A native English speaker who’s been studying Spanish for 11 years with her husband finds that learning a second language has an effect on her original tongue. She can’t spell as well as she used to, and sometimes finds herself reaching for Spanish constructions when speaking English, such as saying I have cold rather than I am cold. It’s a phenomenon called language attrition, and linguistics professor Monika Schmid of the University of Essex has devoted a whole website to the topic, with lots of helpful advice for addressing this challenge.
Darcy calls from North Pole, Alaska, to share a saying her grandparents used when she asked for something she couldn’t have. It sounded like either You may want horns, but you’ll die mole-headed or You may want horns, but you’ll die mull-headed. More often the final element is bull-headed or butt-headed, and it’s common enough that it shows up in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.
This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
Photo by Abigail Batchelder. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Kool Is Back Again||Kool and the Gang||Kool Is Back Again 45||De-Lite|
|Me and Baby Brother||War||Me and Baby Brother 45||United Artists|
|Boot-Leg||Booker T and the MGs||Boot-Leg 45||Stax|
|Get Off||Ripple||Willie Pass The Water 45||GRC|
|The Gang Is Back Again||Kool and the Gang||Kool Is Back Again 45||De-Lite|
|Hip Hug-Her||Booker T and the MGs||Hip Hug-Her 45||Stax|
|Willie Pass The Water||Ripple||Willie Pass The Water 45||GRC|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|
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