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Your Two Cents

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Astronauts returning from space say they experience what’s called the overview effect, a new understanding of the fragility of our planet and our need to reflect on what humans all share as a species. A book about the end of the universe offers a similar change in perspective — along with some fascinating language. Plus, different names for a delicious drink: one part lemonade, one part sweet tea. A famous golfer loved it. And why do we say that’s my two cents after offering an opinion? Would it be better to say that’s my one cent? Also, GUTs vs. TOEs, how to pronounce buoy, pore over vs. pour over, wally, a surprising pronunciation of prestige, piker, is all, a brain-teaser about orphan syllables, and more.

This episode first aired December 5, 2020. It was rebroadcast the weekend of December 18, 2021.

GUTs, Toes, and a View from the Cosmos

  When theoretical cosmologists speak of GUTs and TOEs, they’re not talking about anatomy. GUT is an acronym for Grand Unified Theory and TOE stands for Theory of Everything. These are just two fun facts in the fascinating book The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (Bookshop|Amazon) by Katie Mack, an assistant professor of physics at North Carolina State University. Don’t miss her moving poem and video “Disorientation.”

British vs. American Pronunciations of “Buoy”

  Nicole in Indianapolis, Indiana, has a long-running dispute with her British husband about how to pronounce the word buoy. He says it’s pronounced BOY, like buoyant, and she insists it’s BOO-ee — a difference that reflects their upbringing on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Pour Over vs. Pore Over

  Do you pour over a document or pore over a document? Although it’s tempting to assume that the phrase alludes to pouring one’s attention all over something (as if your vision was a substance), the correct word is pore, a term that since the 13th century has meant “to gaze intently at something.”

Orphan Syllables Brain Teaser

  Quiz Guy John Chaneski has crafted a challenge about polysyllabic words that are commonly represented by their first three letters, inspired by the popular online game “Among Us,” in which someone suspicious is simply sus. For example, what three-letter word is clued by the sentence Your track team was supposed to practice, but it was raining, so instead you ran laps in the nasium?

Names for the Part Tea, Part Lemonade Drink

  Drew in Washington, D.C., wonders about names for the drink that’s part lemonade and part sweet tea. It’s sometimes called a half and half, or sunshine tea, but is also widely known as an Arnold Palmer, in honor of the champion golfer who was famously fond of this beverage. Spiked (alcoholic) versions include the Tipsy Palmer and the John Daly, named for another golfer.

The Old Pronunciation of “Prestige”

  The English word prestige derives from the Latin word praestigia, which means “trick,” “deceit,” or “illusion.” Its meaning evolved to connote “glamorous, impressive influence.” Originally in English, the word prestige was pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, sounding like PREST-idge.

To Give a Wide Berth

  To give someone a wide berth means to provide ample room. This phrase is nautical in origin, where it means “the distance ships give each other to avoid crashing.”

My Two Cents

  Gopal from Greenville, North Carolina, wonders why we use the phrase my two cents after expressing an opinion to indicate that we’re open to discussion about it. Since the 16th century, the term twopence has been used to mean a “paltry, trifling amount.”

“The End of Everything,” by Katie Mack

  Martha recommends The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (Bookshop|Amazon) by Katie Mack, an assistant professor of physics at North Carolina State University. It’s a challenging read, but accessible enough to lay readers to provide a mind-stretching perspective on life, the universe, and everything. (Check out Mack’s moving poem and video “Disorientation.”) Grant passes along a recommendation from his teenage son Guthrie: Lois Lowry’s series The Giver (Bookshop|Amazon) about a boy coming of age in a strange, dystopian world.

Language Mysteries in Fight Song Lyrics, Like “Piker”

  Laura from Ithaca, New York, is puzzling over the lyrics to Cornell University’s fight song, “Give My Regards to Davy,” sung to the tune of George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway.” The lyrics include the word pikers, specifically, Tell all the pikers on the hill that I’ll be back again. Although piker has had a number of meanings, including “a small-time gambler” and “a man who won’t spend much money on a date,” in this context, the term probably means a “shirker” or “poor student.”

Can’t and Won’t

  Following up on our conversation about the expression Can’t died in a cornfield and its many variants, Todd from Woodstock, Virginia, adds his father’s version of this advice: Can’t never could, Won’t never will.

The Coffee “Is All”

  Kathy in Rye, New York, used to live in Central Pennsylvania, where she was surprised by a friend announcing The coffee’s all meaning “The coffee’s all gone.” This phrase is a vestige of Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German. The coffee’s all is what linguists call a calque, a direct borrowing of the German word alle, which means “finished” or “all gone.”

A Kiwi Calls Her Yank Beau a “Wally”

  Vanessa, who is originally from New Zealand, jokingly calls her American boyfriend a wally, an adjective that means “silly,” “daft,” or “inept.” Heard in much of the United Kingdom, this term may be related to the British slang term for “cucumber” or “a ‘green’ unskilled, inexperienced person,” or the Scottish term wally-drag, which means a “runt” or “slovenly person,” or the Italian term uaglio, meaning “young man.” But the truth is that the etymology of this type of wally is uncertain.

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

Photo by Marco Verch. Used and modified under a Creative Commons license.

Books Mentioned in the Episode

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (Bookshop|Amazon) by Katie Mack
The Giver Quartet (Bookshop|Amazon) by Lois Lowry

Music Used in the Episode

The ShufflerEd KornhauserThe Short YearsSelf Release
Power To The PeopleDurand Jones and The IndicationsPower To The People (Single)Dead Oceans
Drum SongJackie MittooDrum Song 45Clock Tower Records
CeladonEd KornhauserThe Short YearsSelf Release
Stop Them JahKing Tubby and the AggrovatorsStop Them Jah 45Jackpot
Volcano VapesSure Fire Soul EnsembleOut On The CoastColemine Records

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