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Wolf Whistle

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Gifts for book lovers: Martha recommends one for lovers of libraries and another for students of Spanish. Grant suggests some enchanting novels for young readers. When it comes to books, though, you can’t always judge them by their original titles. One of Jane Austen’s greatest novels was originally called “First Impressions.” Only later did she swap out that name for the alliterative–and immortal–Pride and Prejudice. And: Imagine a favorite colleague is moving away for a fantastic new job. What’s a good word to describe that mix of feelings where you’re really happy for that person but also a little sad? Plus, word quiz for those who love to study, a new-ish meaning of basic, “wolf whistling,” “canvassing,” Cobb salad, and how to pronounce the name Colin.

This episode first aired December 11, 2015.

Working Titles of Famous Books

 One of the greatest novels in all of American literature was originally titled Catch-18. Then Joseph Heller found out that a novel about World War II called Mila 18 already existed. So he changed his book to Catch-22. And guess which American classic was originally titled, Something That Happened, before its author read a Robert Burns poem about a farmer who destroys the home of a little mouse?


 Looking for a word that denotes being really excited for someone, but also a little sad? One option is bittersweet, but if you’d like a term that’s not quite so overused, yayboo is taking hold online. The Modern Greek word charmolype translates as “bitter joy” or “sweet sadness,” although it’s often used in a religious context, particularly around the mix of feelings evoked by crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

Etymology of Canvassing

 The word “canvassing,” as in, going door-to-door passing out political information, has an obscure etymology. It’s thought to be related to the use of canvas material either for sifting things out or tossing someone in the air. Either way, it probably has to do with a kind of “shaking out” or vetting to discern the truth.

Origin of Wolf Whistle

 We all know that lusty two-note whistle directed at an attractive passerby. But how did that particular sound come about? If we trace the earliest record of that sound, known as a “wolf whistle,” we find this 1943 Tex Avery cartoon.

The Year 1805

 Today the title War and Peace is practically synonymous with “incredibly long novel.” If Tolstoy had kept the book’s original title, however, our synonym for such a hefty epic would be The Year 1805.


 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for those who appreciate the study of things like comparatively thick cuts of beef or people who go to shake your hand only to pull theirs away and smooth down their hair.

The New Meaning of “Basic”

 In today’s schools, mean girls might dismiss a classmate who wears Ugg boots, drinks sugary lattes, and listens to Top 40 radio as basic. This adjective for a slightly vapid, mainstream trend-follower first showed up in hip-hop lyrics around 2005.

Jane Austen’s “First Impressions”

 Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice was originally going to be called “First Impressions.”

Bob Cobb’s Salad

 Since the 1930’s, a traditional Cobb salad has included hard-boiled eggs, avocado, bacon, chicken, blue cheese and tomatoes. The recipe is often credited to a restaurateur named Bob Cobb.

Pronouncing “Colin”

 Pity all the fellows named Colin whose name is often mispronounced to rhyme with the punctuation mark (or the body part). General Colin Powell’s rise to public prominence in the 1980’s apparently prompted many people to adopt his unusual long-o pronunciation.

Peppercorn Payment

 A “peppercorn payment,” or “peppercorn rent,” is a term used by attorneys for small, below-market-value payments for a property.

Martha and Grant’s Recommendations for Book Lovers

 For the book lovers on your gift list, Martha recommends, Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles. For younger readers, Grant suggests C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, starting with The Magician’s Nephew. For adults who loved the Narnia books, he also recommends Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Animal Mimicry

 A caller from East Tennessee swears that he’s heard ducks imitating the sounds of some nearby geese, and he’s probably right. Animals do indeed have the ability to mimic the sounds and behaviors of other species, but that doesn’t mean the animals are speaking a similar “language.”

Strangers From Within

 Before William Golding named his novel Lord of the Flies, based on a reference to Beelzebub, the book’s working title was Strangers From Within.

Phonaesthesia Word Connotations

 Why do words that begin with sn—sneer, snarl, snot, snide, snake, snooty—all have negative connotations? Phonaesthesia, a phenomenon whereby we associate certain sounds with particular meanings, may hold the answer. Linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker writes about such sound symbolism in his book The Stuff of Thought.

Book to Bump Up Your Spanish

 The book Martha most recently gave as a gift is Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph Keenan. She says it’ll help bump your Spanish up to the next level, even if you speak just a tiny bit.

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

Photo by Jan Faborsky. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Mila 18 by Leon Uris
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph Keenan

Music Used in the Episode

Rio GrandeIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
The OfferingIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
Last Train To NewarkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
Last StandIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
The StoneIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
Turtle WalkSugarman ThreeSweet SpotUnique
By Hook Or By CrookIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
Cover Your TracksIkebe ShakedownStone By StoneUbiquity Records
MesotheliomaMagic In ThreesMagic In ThreesGED Records

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