One of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear — and one of the most poignant — isn’t in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means “the last surviving member of a species.” The surprising story behind this word includes a doctor in a Georgia convalescent center, a museum exhibit in Australia, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and much more. Also: how important is linguistic accuracy when it comes to a movie? Does it detract from your enjoyment if a fictional character utters a word or phrase that you suspect was not in use at that point in history? Finally: what’s the first big word you remember using — the one you just couldn’t wait to show off to your family and friends? Plus: a rhyming puzzle, fulano, in the soup, bedroom suit vs. bedroom suite, swarf, boondocks, good people, and tons more.
This episode first aired January 25, 2020.
This episode is supported in part by Yabla, language immersion through engaging videos and patented learning technology, for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese and English. Stream real TV shows enjoy and learn at the same time! For a free trial, visit yabla.com/awaywithwords.
First Really Big Word For Kids
What’s the first really big word you remember learning? For one listener, the word was conflagration. For Martha, it was logical, a word she repeated after watching “Sylvester the Cat” cartoons, followed in short order by theological.
Boondocks, Out in the Boondocks
Erica from Troy, Tennessee, wonders if the word boondocks, meaning “a remote place” is related to the name of frontier explorer Daniel Boone. Out in the boondocks and out in the boonies, derive from the Tagalog word for “mountain,” bundok, which was picked up by American servicemembers in the Philippines and popularized among and by the U.S. Marines.
The Meaning of Indifferent
Gwen, a sixth-grader in Rosalia, asks for clarification about the meaning and proper usage of the word indifferent.
Fulano, Fulanito, Fulanito de Tal
Adriana from Miami, Florida, says she and her Cuban-American friends and family use the terms fulano, fulanito, and fulanito de tal as the Spanish equivalent of John Doe. These terms for “so and so” came into Spanish from Arabic fulan, which likely goes back to an Egyptian term meaning “this person.” The Spanish versions of Tom, Dick, and Harry include Fulano, Mengano y Zutano and Sultano, Perengano y Perensejo. Other terms in Spanish for “John Doe” are Juan Perez, Fulano Fulani, and Juan de los Palotes, or “John of the big sticks.”
Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle this week was inspired by the name for that two-way radio, the walkie-talkie. If you named other objects using the same repetitive pattern, you’d refer to a pair of socks as feety-heaties. Following that same pattern, if you consider that one of the biggest types of batteries is the one that supplies your car with electricity, that automotive component might be called by what rhyming name?
How Do Films and Television Get Language Right?
Cynthia in Rancho Santa Fe, California, asks: Do filmmakers use linguistic consultants to ensure that no character uses a term that wouldn’t have been around by the time the story is taking place?
Bedroom Suit vs. Suite
Beth in Springhill, Tennessee, wonders which is correct to denote a particular grouping of furniture: bedroom suit or bedroom suite? Both are correct, although their use varies from region to region. If you don’t want to invite controversy, just use refer to that furniture as a bedroom set.
To Be in the Soup
Jennifer in Omaha, Nebraska, is curious about the origin of the phrase to be in the soup, meaning “to get into trouble.”
The Meaning of Endling
One of the most powerful and most poignant words you’ll ever hear isn’t in dictionaries yet, although it probably will be eventually. An endling is the last surviving member of a species. The story of its origin is a marvelous one, involving a Georgia convalescent center, a letter to the editor in the journal Nature, a museum exhibit in Australia involving the now-extinct thylacine, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and much more. Historian Dolly Jorgensen has written compellingly about this word, as has essayist Elena Passarrello in her book Animals Strike Curious Poses.
Why Don’t We Pronounce the W in Two?
Shona in San Diego, California, is puzzling over why we don’t pronounce the w in the word two. The answer has to do with its etymological origins and the fact that spelling doesn’t change as quickly as pronunciation.
The Meaning of Swarf
Mark in Bostonia, California, works in a machine shop where a sign warned: Beware of coolant and swarf. The word swarf refers to filings or dust created from machine work. Swarf can also function as a verb meaning “to cover with dust or grit or powder.” It comes from an Old English word meaning “to rub” or “to scour,” the source also of English swerve.
Why Do We Say Some People are Good People?
Olivia from Denver, Colorado, is musing about her use of the term good people, as in She’s good people. This phrase is what linguists call an extragrammatical idiom, meaning the phrase makes sense even though it’s not grammatically correct. Other examples include She’s real people, She’s nice people, She’s great people, or simply She’s people. Something similar occurs in Spanish with a phrase like Juan es buena gente.
Photo by http://homedust.com/. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Broadcast
|Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarrello|
Music Used in the Broadcast
|Life Has Its Trials||Dorothy Ashby||Afro-Harping||Cadet|
|Pow!||Beastie Boys||Check Your Head||Capitol Records|
|The Look Of Love||Dorothy Ashby||Afro-Harping||Cadet|
|Groove Holmes||Beastie Boys||Check Your Head||Capitol Records|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|