Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound, well, of a certain age? Grant and Martha discuss language that’s lost on other generations. Why is the entree the main course? Shouldn’t it come first? And why is the letter k silent in “knot” and “knight”? Plus, the right way to say “the,” a remedy for the superstition of splitting the pole, names for the toes straight from Mother Goose, the difference between finished and done, and a special word quiz for all you zombie fans!
This episode first aired October 31, 2011.
Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound out of touch? Are you using outdated slang? Changes in pop culture and catchphrases are always marking the generational gap, from the sitcom characters we love to the way we say something’s cool. The “Doogie Howser” scene in the movie 50/50 is a perfect example.
What’s the difference between done and finished? If you’ve completed something, are you done? Or are you finished? Grant and Martha contend that there’s no historical evidence to suggest a difference between the two, although finished is slightly more formal.
Why are main courses called entrees in the US? Why isn’t the entree the first course of a meal? In 19th Century Britain, the entree came after a course of soup or fish, but before the main portion of the meal, such as a boar’s head. Over time, the main course converged into one course, but the name entree stuck.
There’s a rule for the pronunciation of the word “the.” If it’s followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like “/thee/,” as in, the end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with “duh,” as in “the dog”. That’s thuh long and thuh short of it.
It’s a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn’t each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there’s a remedy: just say bread and butter! There’s an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that. And of course, there’s a Facebook page devoted to keeping poles whole.
There’s a story going around about a 19th Century priest named Giuseppe Mezzofanti who claimed to speak forty to fifty languages. Hyperpolyglots, or those who speak six or more languages fluently, offer some key insights into learnings language. Michael Erard chronicles all this in his linguistic cliffhanger, Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners.
Is there a term for the way words feel when they’re spoken that has nothing to do with their meaning? The word “suitcase” feels nice to say, unlike rural. “Cellar door” certainly has a different quality than “moist ointment.” Mouthfeel is an oft-noted concept. But in his book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount, Jr., says of his favorite term to enunciate: polyurethane foam. His reason? “It’s just so sayable.”
Did we ever pronounce the “k” sound in the words “knot” or “know”? The now-silent k underwent apheresis, from Greek meaning “to take off.” In olden days, the word knight also had an initial-k sound, and a “kin-not” was the thing you tie. But nowadays, as Blount would say, the k in knot is silent, “like the p in swimming.”
Do our toes have names? Mother Goose and Scandinavian nursery rhymes gave us variants of Tom Pumpkin, Long Larkin, Betty Pringle, Johnny Jingle, and Little Dick. Sounds cooler than big toe, no? A whole lot more shared here.
Photo by amie2105. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Books Mentioned in the Episode
|Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard|
|Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.|
Music Used in the Episode
|Funky Fever||Joe Thomas||Feelin’s From Within||Groove Merchant|
|A Place in Space||Joe Thomas||Here I Come||Lester Radio Corporation|
|Polarizer||Joe Thomas||Feelin’s From Within||Groove Merchant|
|Dig On It||Jimmy McGriff||Soul Sugar||Capitol Records|
|NT||Kool and The Gang||The Best of Kool and the Gang (1969-1976)||Mercury|
|Base Line||Syd Dale||Cinemaphonic 2: Soul Punch||Motel Records|
|Do I Have To Boogaloo?||The Double Dozen Orchestra||Dance Date||Amphonic Music Ltd|
|London Life||The Syd Dale Orchestra||London Life||Amphonic Music Ltd|
|Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George & Ira Gershwin Song Book||UMG Recordings|