A Way with Words

Hair on Your Tongue - 11 February 2019

February 11, 20190 sec
If you speak both German and Spanish, you may find yourself reaching for a German word instead of a Spanish one, and vice versa. This puzzling experience is so common among polyglots that linguists have a name for it. Also, the best writers create luscious, long sentences using the same principles that make for a musician's melodious phrasing or a tightrope walker's measured steps. Finally, want to say something is wild and crazy in Norwegian? You can use a slang phrase that translates as "That's totally Texas!" Plus happenstance, underwear euphemisms, pooh-pooh, scrappy, fret, gedunk, tartar sauce, antejentacular, and the many ways to pronounce the word experiment. FULL DETAILS Takk for sist is a Norwegian greeting that means thanks for the last time, which conveys the idea that the speaker is pleased to see the person again. Another Norwegian slang phrase translates literally as to be in the middle of the butter's eye, meaning to be in the best possible spot. It alludes to a dab of butter that melts deliciously atop a popular rice pudding. Step-ins, pull-ons, and drawers are all euphemistic terms for underwear. Jane in Billings, Montana, says her daughter is a veterinary student who pronounces the word experiment as ecks-PEER-a-ment rather than ex-PARE-a-ment. By their early teens, children tend to get their language from peers, rather than their parents or books. The word experiment has about half a dozen different common pronunciations, and two major ones. Norwegians often indicate that something's crazy or mixed up by using a slang term that translates as That's totally Texas! Jeff from Iron Mountain, Michigan, is curious about the word happenstance. It's a combination of the words happen and circumstance, and means by chance or by accident. Happenstance has been around since the 1850s. It outlasted a couple of competing terms, happenchance and happenso, the latter a reduction of it so happens. Quiz Guy John Chaneski has crafted a puzzle inspired by Australian slang. For example: New Yorkers know the meaning of a Bronx cheer, but they may not know what it means to wave one's hand in the air in an Aussie salute. What does an Aussie salute signify? Lael in Heartland, Iowa, wonders how tartar sauce got its name. The answer is a complicated etymological story that combines cream of tartar, which derives from the Latin tartarum, or a residue left on the inside of wine casks, and the story of the fierce 13th-century warriors known as the Tartars, also known as the Tatars, led by Genghis Khan. These rough-and-ready fighters were known for cooking their meat by placing it under their saddles during a long ride, the result of which eventually inspired the German dish steak tartare, which in turn inspired the modern meat patty we call a hamburger. Antejentacular derives from Latin words that mean before breakfast. One might take, for example, an antejentacular walk before sitting down for the morning's meal. Antejentacular comes from the Latin jejunus meaning fasting or barren. It's related to the word jejune meaning empty or insipid, and jejunum, the part of the small intestine that anatomists discovered is usually empty at death. Dennis in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, recalls that his Spanish-speaking mother used to speak frankly with him or rebuke him using the phrase I have no hair on my tongue, no tengo pelo en mi lengua. The same idea appears in Italian, Welsh, Croatian, and Serbian. In French, the phrase that translates as to have no hair on my tongue means to speak with a lisp. In Turkish it means I'm tired of repeating myself. Marley in Indianapolis, Indiana, is arguing with her friends over whether the word scrappy is positive or negative. The answer depends on context. The gorgeous essay In Praise of the Long and Complicated Sentence by Joe Moran argues for the glories of spinning out long and beautiful sentences. Destiny from Huntington Beach, California, speaks German proficiently, plus some Spanish. She's now learning Russian, but finds herself frustrated as she reaches instead for Spanish words for the same thing. This phenomenon is so common among polyglots that linguists have a term for it: faulty language selection. Sometimes physically embodying the mannerisms you use with a particular language can help you keep them straight. At our recent appearance in Dallas, Texas, a listener asked about the use of fret as a transitive verb, as in Don't fret that child. This usage is particularly common in the American South, and comes from the old notion of fret meaning to eat. The listener brought her infant daughter Dayspring to the event, dayspring being an archaic word for dawn. Tom in Tallahassee, Florida, wonders why he and his fellow buddies called the store on a ship the gedunk, also geedunk, and also applied the word to the sweets and other goodies they purchased there. As Paul Dickson notes in his book War Slang, some servicemembers believe the word derives from the sound of a snack landing with a thud in a vending machine. More likely, though, it was inpsired by the gedunk sundaes mentioned in a popular cartoon from the 1920s called Harold Teen. A listener reports that her Brooklyn-born mother used to exclaim, upon seeing something remarkable, Don't that jar your preserves? An Alabama man wonders about the verb to pooh-pooh, meaning to disdain or disapprove. It has nothing to do with the similar-sounding word for excrement, but rather the noise one makes when being dismissive. It started as simply pooh in the 1500s, was reduplicated by the 1600s, and by the 1800s, it's commonly used as a verb. In Norway, a popular bit of advice translates as There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette. -- A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate Podcast listeners, contact us with your questions and comments! Email words@waywordradio.org or call toll-free 24 hours a day (877) 929-9673 in the US and Canada. Everywhere else call +1 (619) 800-4443. https://waywordradio.org/ Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

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