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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Public domain photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture..
Books Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Afro-Harping||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Action Line||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Jan Jan||Grant Green||Live At The Lighthouse||Blue Note|
|Little Sunflower||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Lonely Girl||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Valley Of The Dolls||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Upshot||Grant Green||Carryin’ On||Blue Note|
|Come Live With Me||Dorothy Ashby||Afro Harping||Cadet|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|