In Cockney rhyming slang, apples and pears is a synonym for “stairs,” and dustbin lids means kids. Plus, sniglets are clever coinages for things we don’t already have words for. Any guesses what incogsneeto means? It’s the act of trying to hide your sneeze while wearing a face mask. Also, how the vocabulary of science fiction influences our everyday conversation, from the tribble on your hat to vaccine development at warp speed! Plus unkempt vs. unkept, erase vs. delete, tribbles vs. pompoms, placid, meuf, a cryptic quiz, a tasty pangram, Barney for “trouble,” earthborn, apple-dancing, dirtsider, one hand washes the other and both hands wash the face, and You must be holding your mouth wrong!
This episode first aired March 6, 2021.
Halfway Between Depressed and Euphoric
Responding to our conversation about a word to denote the exact halfway point between deep depression and euphoria, a listener in Libreville, Gabon, suggests placid.
Unkept vs. Unkempt
Do you describe someone with a sloppy appearance as being unkempt or unkept? A garden that’s been neglected might be described as unkept, but when it comes to personal appearance, someone who’s disheveled is far more commonly described as unkempt, a word that derives from the past participle of Middle English kemben, meaning “to comb.” Disheveled is related to the French word for “hair,” cheveaux, and originally referred to someone with tousled hair or who is lacking hair entirely.
A Bit of Rhyming Slang
Steven in Cavendish, Vermont, remembers this saying from his Cockney grandfather: There I was on the dog and bone, with me mate Charlie, when my trouble and strife took a tumble on the apples and pears, and I couldn’t Adam and Eve it. It’s a bit of Cockney rhyming slang that translates as “There I was on the phone, with my friend Charlie, when my wife took a tumble on the stairs, and I couldn’t believe it.” Such slang has been around since the mid-19th century, and has spawned further slang terms: apples can mean “stairs,” apple-dancing means “to steal from multi-story buildings.” By extension, the word fruit can mean “stairs,” as can oranges and lemons. In addition to trouble and strife for “wife,” there’s also joy of my life, or simply joy. Another bit of rhyming slang for “trouble” is Barney, short for Barney Rubble. Often used among the criminal underclass, rhyming slang is intended to be difficult for outsiders to understand. In French back slang, the word femme for “woman” becomes meuf.
A Delicious Pangram
We talked about pangrams in an earlier episode, which prompted a delicious one from Laura in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey: I quickly mixed up a dozen jelly donuts for the big variety show.
Play Along with This Cryptic Crossword
It’s another cryptic crossword from Quiz Guy John Chaneski! The clues involve wordplay, and if the clue includes a definite article, it’s part of the answer. For example, what Biblical name is suggested by the clue “A barrier for first man”?
Delete vs. Erase
Trevor in Austin, Texas, notes that when his young son was talking about drawing a cat, but erasing part of it, the boy used the term deleting rather than erasing. Should he correct his son, or is this a natural evolution of language in the digital age? In 1490, publisher William Caxton told the story of two people from different parts of England discussing a transaction involving eggs. There was some initial confusion when the one from the north of English used the term eggs, from Old Norse, while the other from the south used eyren, from Old English. After these terms coexisted and competed for a while, the term eggs won out. Perhaps in the same way, erase and delete will coexist for years before one becomes obsolete.
Elsie from Fredericksburg, Texas, wonders if a gunnysack and a burlap bag are the same thing. Both are made from coarse fabric, but the word gunnysack is actually redundant, because the gunny goes back to a Sanskrit word that means “sack.” Tow sack is another term for a bag made of coarse fabric.
Tribble Meaning Pompom
Polly, a library worker in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, wonders about the correct term for the fuzzy puffball atop a warm hat. Is it a tribble or a pompom? The word tribble first appeared in the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” In the 1967 script by screenwriter and novelist David Gerrold, the Starship Enterprise is overrun by cute, furry creatures called tribbles who do little more than coo and reproduce. Gerrold’s coinage has since migrated into mainstream culture. The word pompom has been around since the 1500s, and may be related to pomp, meaning “ostentatious display.”
Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction
The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction is a comprehensive, quotation-based online resource that’s a delight for language lovers of all kinds, and a treasure trove for sci-fi fans. It’s the work of lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower and grew out of the crowdsourced Science Fiction Citations Project, which also led to a print historical dictionary, Brave New Words, edited by Jeff Prucher. (Bookshop|Amazon) Some entries, like earthborn and dirtsider, remain outside the cultural mainstream. Warp speed, on the other hand, originated in a 1952 science fiction work, and is now so widely known to mean “very fast” that it ends up in names like that for the all-out vaccine-development effort, Operation Warp Speed.
You’ll Never Catch Anything Unless You Hold Your Mouth Right
Bud in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says when he was fishing but no one was catching anything, an acquaintance observed, We must be holding our mouths wrong. There are several versions of that expression, including You must be holding your mouth wrong or That fisherman is holding his mouth wrong, It’s all in how you hold your mouth or Are you holding your mouth right? These all reference a useless additional act that may or may not help what you’re doing. The idea of holding one’s mouth correctly to accomplish a task goes back at least as far as the 1890s.
After we puzzled over a caller’s use of the term Jack Roses to signal a sudden shift in conversational topics, Christye from Abilene, Texas, wrote to say that when that happens to her, she says, You didn’t put your blinker on! The word blinker is one of several for those flashing rear lights on a car that serve as turn indicators or turn signals.
One Hand Washes the Other
Wayne from Wayland, Massachusetts, says a co-worker was fond of the saying One hand washes the other and both hands wash the face. The saying suggests that working together, two can accomplish what one can’t. It can also connote the idea of One good turn deserves another or I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine, which can also imply the idea of graft and corruption. The saying goes back to ancient Rome, where Manus manum lavat literally meant “one hand washes the other,” and appears in The Satyricon by Petronius. (Bookshop|Amazon)
On HBO’s Not Necessarily the News, comedian Rich Hall offered sniglets, goofy made-up words for things and ideas that don’t already have names, like aquadextrous, describing someone able to use their toes to turn off the bathtub faucet, or laminites, those happy couples depicted in photos inside brand-new picture frames. Such neologisms are usually blends or portmanteau words that combine elements to form a new word. A listener says that her mother’s sniglet for “trying to hide one’s sneeze behind a facemask” is trying to go incognsneeto.
Books Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Brave New Words edited by Jeff Prucher (Bookshop|Amazon)|
|The Satyricon by Petronius (Bookshop|Amazon)|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Shaft In Africa||Johnny Pate||Shaft in Africa||ABC Records|
|It’s Good To Be The King||Magic In Threes||Magic In Threes||GED Soul|
|Call Your Mom||Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio||I Told You So||Colemine Records|
|I Got Warrants||Magic In Threes||Magic In Threes||GED Soul|
|Give Everybody Some||Mickey and the Soul Generation||Give Everybody Some 45||Funk 45|
|Gun Metal Gray||The Budos Band||Long In The Tooth||Daptone|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|