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A Way with Words (Series)

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Just Skylarking (#1617)

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


A listener in Virginia Beach, Virginia, reports that her three-year-old would ask for horrible eggs rather than hard boiled eggs, and the family has used that term ever since. A listener in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, says her Cuban-born mother uses the expression friendo un huevo or "frying an egg" to indicate the act of making a sucking sound with one's teeth to express disapproval or disagreement. The Spanish expression is also rendered as freír alguien huevos. In English-speaking parts of the Caribbean, this same thing is sometimes referred to as a chup.
Do you live around here or ride a bicycle? This goofy saying goes back to at least the 1920s. It's a handy icebreaker for those fond of Dad jokes, as is this one: Does your mother have any children that lived?
Fans of The Great British Bake Off (known in the U.S. as The Great British Baking Show because of a trademark issue) know that you don't want your baked goods to be stodgy or claggy. The verb to stodge, meaning "to stuff," goes back some 400 years and stodgy eventually came to describe something "heavy" or "bogged down." Today, stodgy also describes a curmudgeonly person who's set in their ways. Claggy is likely from Norse, and shows up in Scotland and Northern England to mean things like "messy," "mucky," or "clotted," and is likely a linguistic relative of words involving sticky things, such as clay. 
Pat in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, says that when his brother Paul was young, he misunderstood their father's references to Miami. Paul always thought his dad was referring to his own personal ammy, and the family still refers to that South Florida city as Dad's ammy.
This week’s puzzle from Quiz Guy John Chaneski requires coming up with a four-word phrase that contains the words with the in the middle. For example, if the clues are "A person who behaves in a way that indicates romantic interest" and "A thought about how to do something," what phrase is he looking for?
Christy in Norfolk, Virginia, shares a funny story about how she and a friend failed to communicate about an invitation. The friend often mentioned that she and some pals were going to a club, assuming that Christy would understand that she was also invited. Christy assumed she wasn't invited. In other words, she missed what linguists call the implicature of her friend's statement, failing to understand that an invitation was implied. So much of conversational pragmatics involves renegotiation, restatement, and clarification, but that didn't happen in this case. When it finally did, Christy went along to the club--and ended up meeting her future husband!
In the early 1600s, the term undertaker didn't necessarily denote someone in charge of arranging funerals. It was a more general term referring to entrepreneurs who undertook the work of running a business. Mine undertakers undertook exploring a mine, and land undertakers acquired land for commercial purposes. A book publisher might be called an undertaker, and the producer of a play was referred to as the undertaker of that production. If your job was to care for the dead, you were an undertaker of that particular kind of work. By the late 1600s, though, the meaning of undertaker began narrowing to specify someone in the funeral business. 
Jay in Barre, Vermont, asks: If someone is passionate about conservation, they're called a conservationist, but if someone is passionate about conversation, they're a conversationalist. Why the extra syllable in conversationalist? 
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog is an example of the rhetorical device called antimetabole, from Greek words that mean "a turning about." Other examples include When the going gets tough, the tough get going and Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Antimetabole involves inverting the words in a statement, and it's a subset of chiasmus, which can also involve inverting the syntax or structure or ideas, as in the line from Martin Luther King Jr's. famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere. The word chiasmus derives from the X-shaped Greek letter chi. For a popular book about chiasmus, check out Never Let a Kiss Fool You or a Fool Kiss You (Bookshop|Amazon) by Mardy Grothe.
Reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (Bookshop|Amazon) feels like auditing a class with creative writing professor  writer George Saunders, author of the acclaimed Lincoln in the Bardo ​​(Bookshop|Amazon) and Tenth of December. (Bookshop|Amazon)
Diane in Frankfort, Kentucky, says her mother always pronounced the word wash with an R sound in it. This pronunciation of wash as "warsh" reflects what linguists call the intrusive R or excrescent R, a form of what's known as epenthesis, or the addition of a letter or sound within a word. This pronunciation follows Scots-Irish immigration patterns in the United States. 
In English, to beat around the bush, means "to talk while avoiding another topic" or "to talk without ever getting to the point." A similar German phrase translates "to go like a cat around the hot porridge."
Why is a V-shaped hairline called a widow's peak?
While vacationing on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, a listener encountered an Australian who used the term skylarking to mean "horsing around." The verb to skylark goes back hundreds of years and once referred to racing through the rigging of a sailing ship in order to practice skills or just pass the time. The birds called larks have long been associated with joy and exuberance, not just because of their cheerful song but their zippy flight pattern. Happy as a lark, cheerful as a lark, merry as a lark, bright as a lark, fresh as a lark, or as a young lark. People who get up early are sometimes called larks, as opposed to a night owl. Similarly, skylarking is about going for the gusto in life. 
Following up on our chat about names for a sandwich on a long roll, a listener from southwestern Connecticut says that there, such a sandwich is called a wedge. For a thorough take on the beloved Cuban sandwich of South Florida, check out The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers. (Bookshop|Amazon)
 This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.