The dated term “jingoism” denotes a kind of belligerent nationalism but the word’s roots lie in an old English drinking-house song that was popular during wartime. Speaking of fightin’ words, the expression “out the side of your neck” came up in a feud between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa—and let’s just say the phrase is hardly complimentary. Also, a German publishing company has declared that the top slang term among that country’s youth is a name for someone who’s completely absorbed in his cell phone. That word is…smombie! And if you’re guessing that smombie comes from “zombie,” you’re right. Plus, thaw vs. unthaw, dinner vs. supper, groundhog vs. whistle pig, riddles galore, speed bumps and sleeping policemen, pirooting around, and kick into touch. This episode first aired March 26, 2016.
What English-speakers call speed bumps or sleeping policemen go by different names in various parts of the Spanish-speaking world. In Argentina, traffic is slowed by lomos de burro, or “burro’s backs.” In Puerto Rico that bump in the road is a muerto, or “dead person.” In Mexico, those things are called topes, a word that’s probably onomatopoetic.
A St. Petersburg, Florida, listener says when she used to ask her mother what was for dinner, her mom’s answer was often “root, little pig, or die,” meaning “You’ll have to fend for yourself.” The more common version of the expression, root, hog, or die, goes all the way back to the memoirs of Davy Crockett, published in 1834. It refers to a time when hogs weren’t fenced in and had to find most of their own food.
The German publisher Langenscheidt declared smombie as the Youth Word of the Year for 2015. A portmanteau of the German borrowings smartphone and zombie, Smombie denotes someone so absorbed in their small, glowing screen that they’re oblivious to the rest of the world. Runner-up words included merkeln, “to do nothing” or “to decide nothing”—a reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deliberate decision-making style—and Maulpesto, or “halitosis”—literally, “mouth pesto.”
A San Antonio, Texas, caller wonders: What’s a good word for a shortcut that ends up taking much longer than the recommended route? You might call the opposite of a shortcut a longcut, or perhaps even a longpaste. But there’s also the joking faux-Latinate term circumbendibus, first used in 17th-century England to mean “a roundabout process.”
Jingoism, or “extreme nationalism,” derives from a drinking-hall song popular in the 1870’s, with the belligerent refrain: “We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do / We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too / We’ve fought the Bear before and while we’re Britons true / The Russians shall not have Constantinople.” The term jingo came to denote “fervent patriot espousing an aggressive foreign policy.”
In rugby and soccer to kick into touch means to “kick a ball out of play.” The phrase by extension is used in British English mean to “take some kind of action so that a decision is postponed” or otherwise get rid of a problem.
A Twitter beef between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa has a listener wondering about the phrase talk out the side of one’s neck, meaning to “talk trash about someone.” It’s simply a variation of talking out of the side of one’s mouth.
When they happen to say the same word at the very same time, many children play a version of the jinx game that ends with the declaration, “You owe me a Coke!” Martha shares an old version from the Ozarks that ends with a different line: “What goes up the chimney? Smoke!”
Many listeners responded to our conversation about the use of the term auntie to refer to an older woman who is not a blood relative. It turns out that throughout much of Africa, Asia, as well as among Native Americans, the word auntie, or its equivalent in another language, is commonly used as a term of respect for an older woman who is close to one’s family but not related by blood. The same holds true with uncle for older men.
A Las Vegas, Nevada, listener says her South Dakota-born mother always refers to supper as the last meal of the day and dinner as the largest meal of the day. It’s caused some confusion in the family. Linguist Bert Vaux has produced dialect maps of the United States showing that in fact quite a bit of variation in the meaning of these terms depending on which part of the country you’re from.
Whistle pig, woodchuck, and groundhog are all terms for a type of large squirrel, or marmot, found in the United States. The name whistle pig, common in Appalachia, is a jocular reference to the sound they make.
On our Facebook group, a listener posted a photo of a doubletake-worthy sign. in her local grocery, which reads, “We Now Offer Boxes to Bag Your Groceries.”
Pirooting around can mean “whirling around,” as well as “prowling” or “nosing around.” This expression is most commonly heard in the American South and Southwest. Piroot is most likely a variant of pirouette and is probably influenced by root, as in root around. Similarly, rootle is a dialectal term that means to “root around” or “poke about.”
Photo by Marilyn McCoy. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Book Mentioned in the Episode
Music Used in the Episode
|Hot Pants Road||The JB’s||Pass The Peas||Mojo|
|The Grunt||Pass The Peas||Pass The Peas||Mojo|
|Easter Parade||Jimmy McGriff||Step One||Solid State|
|Blessed Blackness||The JB’s||Mojo||Mojo|
|Watermelon Man||Fred Wesley and The JB’s||Funky Good Time: The Anthology||Watermelon Man Fred Wesley and The JB’s Funky Good Time: The Anthology Polydor|
|Damn Right I Am Somebody||Fred Wesley and The JB’s||Funky Good Time: The Anthology||Polydor|
|Mag Poo||Maseo And All The Kings Men||Doing Their Own Thing||House of Fox|
|Step One||Jimmy McGriff||Step One||Solid State|
|All Aboard The Soul Funky Train||The JB’s||Funky Good Time: The Anthology||Polydor|
|Southwick||Maseo And All The Kings Men||Doing Their Own Thing||House of Fox|
|Four Play||Fred Wesley And The Horny Horns||A Blow For Me, A Toot For You||Atlantic|
|Volcano Vapes||Sure Fire Soul Ensemble||Out On The Coast||Colemine Records|