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Tiger Tail

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You may have a favorite word in English, but what about your favorite in another language? The Spanish term ojalá is especially handy for expressing hopefulness and derives from Arabic for “God willing.” In Trinidad, if you want to ask friends to hang out with you, invite them to go liming. Nobody’s sure about this word’s origin, although it may indeed have to do with the tart green fruit. And: a story about a traveler who finds that children in Siberia use different words to say the sound an animal makes. English speakers imitate a rooster with cock-a-doodle-doo, but in Siberia, children learn to say something that sounds like “koh-kock-a-REE!” The sounds we attribute to other creatures vary from language to language, even if they’re all the same to the animals. Plus, a brain teaser about subtracting letters, saditty, bundu, potpie, the famous bubbler, words misheard, the plural of squash, a poem about slowing down and paying attention, and a whole lot more.

This episode first aired January 18, 2020.

Favorite Words in Other Languages

 You may have a favorite word in English, but how about one from another language? Martha likes the Spanish term ojalá because it’s handy for expressing hopefulness, and has an interesting history, deriving from inshallah, Arabic for “God willing.” Grant tells a story about what he imagined was Cuban radio personality named Jorge Jueves.


 Terese from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, wants to popularize the word yipka, a term a friend uses for “old clothes you wear around the house.” We’re pretty sure it’s not Yiddish.

Out in the Bundus

 Bundu is a Bantu word meaning “a largely uninhabited wild region far from town.” It was adopted into South African slang and ultimately into British English, and appears in the phrase out in the bundus, with the same meaning. Although it sounds like out in the boondocks, these two phrases are completely unrelated etymologically.

Have a Wolf by the Ears

 Stephanie in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was puzzled when a colleague used the expression like grabbing a wolf by the ears to describe an impossible task. Like the idiom to have a tiger by the tail, it suggests the paralyzing difficulty of having hold of a dangerous beast. The Roman playwright Terence expressed the same idea with auribus teneo lupum, or “I have a wolf by the ears.” Thomas Jefferson used the phraseWe have a wolf by the ears in a letter about slavery.

The Clatter of Recognition in Old Love Poetry

 Author, poet, and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht has observed that although medical advice even from 100 years ago can be wildly outmoded, expressions of love written two millennia ago can have deep resonance, creating what she calls a “clatter of recognition.” That, she says, is why she turns to art, not science, for answers to life’s most profound questions.

Terminal Deletion Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a terminal deletion game popular among fellow members of The National Puzzlers’ League. A terminal deletion involves dropping the first and last letters of a word to form a new one. For example, the word ample is a terminal deletion of sampled. So If you terminally delete the word for a large wooden box, you’ll get a large rodent. What’s the word?

To Lime or Go Liming in Trinidad

 Jolene is originally from Trinidad and recalls that when she wanted to ask her friends to get together for some loosely organized socializing, she’dinvite them to go lime or liming. No one’s sure of the etymology, although the Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago suggests the term may derive from limey, a derogatory name for British and later U.S. servicemembers. Another possibility is that liming originated with the idea that everyone who didn’t get invited to a party might instead get together on their own, metaphorically sucking limes — a kind of citrus-flavored version of sour grapes.

Crab Crackers Misunderstanding

 Sometimes children misunderstand language with hilarious results. But sometimes even adults can be tripped up by homonyms. Working behind the seafood counter in a supermarket, John from San Diego, California, had some embarrassing miscommunications when customers were looking for crab crackers and lox.

Potpie Without a Crust? Is It Even a Pie?

 Deanna from Whitefish, Montana, has a dispute with her husband over the definition of potpie. She says it’s a type of soup with dumplings; he says it can’t be called a pie if it doesn’t have a crust. There is such a thing as a pot pie without a crust! The Pennsylvania Dutch version with chicken and noodles is also known as Bot Boi.

Different Animal Sounds in Different Languages

 Robert from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was surprised to find when working in Siberia that children there are taught to use different words to say the sound an animal makes. For example, English speakers say cock-a-doodle-doo, but children in Siberia are taught the sound is more like koh-kock-a-ree. In fact, renderings of animal sounds vary from language to language.

King Wet

 A listener writes in with a story about her toddler wailing that he was King Wet, which puzzled her until the little guy clarified just how wet: I’m So King Wet!

“Abide,” by Ellen Birkett Morris

 The poem “Abide” by Ellen Birkett Morris offers elegant advice about slowing down and paying attention. The poem appears in the anthology Running with Water, published by V Press LC and is read with permission of the author.

Mary Gordon Has a Story

 Mary Gordon in Austin, Texas, shares a delightful story about her elderly father and a handful of vegetables, which raises the question: what’s the plural of squash? Squashes? Or squash?

Seditty, Saddity

 Semby from Los Angeles, California, wants to know about the term saditty, also spelled seditty, which refers to someone who is stuck up or puts on airs. Used almost exclusively among African Americans, this term may simply be a fancy pronunciation of the word sedate. There is also speculation that it derives from the word Saturday, a day of the week when you might be more dressed up than usual.

Time Machine

 After Sarah moved from Wisconsin to Iowa, she sparked some momentary confusion when she asked a store clerk where his TYME machine was. In parts of Wisconsin, Florida, and Michigan there are automated teller machines, or ATMs, called TYME machines, TYME being an acronym for Take Your Money Everywhere.

Bubbler for Water Fountain Isn’t Heard Just Everywhere

 Growing up in Massachusetts, David always used the word bubbler to denote a drinking fountain. So he was flabbergasted during a trip to Southern Indiana when no one had any idea what he meant when he asked where he could find a bubbler. He might not have had that problem had he been wearing a T-shirt from the Wisconsin Historical Society. Wisconsin is one of the few places in the world besides parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where people call drinking fountains bubblers. And Australia!

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

Public domain photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture..

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago
Running with Water

Music Used in the Episode

Afro-HarpingDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
Action LineDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
Jan JanGrant GreenLive At The LighthouseBlue Note
Little SunflowerDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
Lonely GirlDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
Valley Of The DollsDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
UpshotGrant GreenCarryin’ OnBlue Note
Come Live With MeDorothy AshbyAfro HarpingCadet
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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