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A Way with Words (Series)

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Electric Soup (#1635)

From A Way with Words | Part of the A Way with Words series | 54:00


After an international team of scientists and staffers spent six months at a research station in Antarctica, their accents changed ever so slightly, according to an acoustic analysis by German researchers. The slang terms they shared include dingle, which described "clear weather," as in a dingle day, and electric soup, meaning "fortified wine."
Is the booty as in shake your booty related to a pirate's booty? The booty that means "derriere" is an alteration of botty, which is itself an alteration of bottom. The booty that means "loot" or "plunder" derives from an Old Germanic word. It was likely influenced by Old English bót, meaning "advantage" or "a little more" and the source also of the expression to boot, meaning "additionally" or "to the good."
Ian in Jacksonville, Florida, wonders about why musicians use the word clam to mean "a mistake" or "an egregious musical error," as in There are a lot of clams in there or We need to practice where the clams are regarding a musical passage that needs work. Occasionally, it's used as a verb, as in You clammed. In the 1950s, the term clambake meant a jam with bad vibes. In the 1930s, a clambake was actually a good jam session, but the term went from a positive sense to a negative one, a process that linguists refer to pejoration. It's possible that the term became skunked, which describes a term so widely used by the general public that the cool people came to disdain it. Robert S. Gold's A Jazz Lexicon (Bookshop|Amazon) is a helpful resource for the language of jazz.
Journalist Bianca Bosker infiltrated the world of contemporary art and wrote about it in her book Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey Among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See (Bookshop|Amazon), often with hilarious results. She describes the lexicon of art curators, whose language is peppered with such words as indexicality, iconicity, and durational, and observes,"Art devotees spoke like they were trapped in dictionaries and being forced to chew their way out."
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has crafted a quiz involving a polysyllabic word followed by another word that repeats the last of those syllables twice. For example, suppose the clue is: "When playing a simple game with a toddler, it's a real faux pas to forget to reveal your face again." What's a five-syllable term for that kind of mistake?
Mary Lou is a former newspaper reporter in Memphis, Tennessee. One of her editors used to say he was off to the salt mines, meaning he was headed to do some challenging work. That expression is a reference to the grim practice of sending prisoners off to work in literal salt mines in Siberia. Through the linguistic process known as amelioration, that expression lost its original, extremely negative sense over time. Mary Lou is also curious about the old practice of adding #30# at the bottom of a story to indicate its end. There are many proposed explanations for this, going back to the 19th century. The most likely explanation connects this notation to a code outlined in 1864 in Orrin Wood's Plan of Telegraphic Instruction, where the number 30 was the telegraphic code meaning finis, meaning "end" or "conclusion."
Smoko is slang for "a cigarette break." It's used in Australia and also at a British research station in Antarctica.
What's the difference between a daffodil and a jonquil? Strictly speaking, daffodil is a general term, and jonquils are a specific type of daffodil, called Narcissus jonquilla.  Both belong to the botanical genus Narcissus, and most people use the two terms interchangeably. Jonquil is more common in the American South, and occasionally they're called Johnny-quills.
Why is an insulated sleeve for a beverage called a koozie? Any relation to a tea cozy used to keep a teapot warm? In Australia, a coozie is often called a stubby holder, a stubby or stubbie being "a short bottle of beer." The coozie was originally patented with the trade name Koozie.
Stravenue is a portmanteau of street and avenue, and is used in Tucson, Arizona, to refer to a diagonal road between east-west streets and north-south avenues. Similarly, a stroad is a combination of street and road.
What's the difference between ethics and morality? Between a proverb and an adage? Eli Burnstein's Dictionary of Fine Distinctions: Nuances, Niceties and Subtle Shades of Meaning ​​(Bookshop|Amazon) helps readers distinguish between such things. Linguist Anne Curzan's Says Who?: A Kinder, Funner Usage Guide for Everyone Who Cares About Words (Bookshop|Amazon) is a helpful, highly readable summary for anyone who wants to understand how linguists think about language. 
Mike in Glasgow, Kentucky, wonders about a catchphrase used in British comedies: I go to the foot of the stairs. The Oxford Dictionary of Catchphrases (Bookshop|Amazon) compiled by Anna Farkas and several books by catchphrase collector Nigel Rees both point to a comedy radio series that ran from 1939-1949 called "It's That Man Again." The phrase suggests that the speaker has been taken by surprise and must retire from polite company for one purpose or another.
The liked to in statements such as It started raining yesterday and liked to never stop is directly related to the word likely. The terms liked to and likedta used in this way reflect a British dialectal term that found its way into the speech of many people in the American South.
The expression You look like death eating on a Nab means "You look terrible." It's a humorous elaboration of the idea of death, which refers to death consuming a dry, salty, peanut-butter-filled snack made by the Nabisco company. The more common phrase is You look like death eating a cracker. Variations include like death on toast and the simile Ralph Ellison used in Invisible Man (Bookshop|Amazon), like death eating a sandwich.
This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.