Whistle Pig (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2018


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The stories behind slang, political and otherwise. The dated term "jingoism" denotes a kind of belligerent nationalism. But the word's roots lie in an old English drinking-house song that was popular during wartime. Speaking of fightin' words, the expression "out the side of your neck" came up in a feud between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa--and let's just say the phrase is hardly complimentary. Finally, a German publishing company has declared that the top slang term among that country's youth is a name for someone who's completely absorbed in his cell phone. That word is...Smombie! And if you're guessing that Smombie comes from "zombie," you're right. Plus, thaw vs. unthaw, dinner vs. supper, groundhog vs. whistle pig, riddles galore, speed bumps and sleeping policemen, pirooting around, and kick into touch.


Riddle: This two-syllable word has five letters. If you remove letters from it one by one, its pronunciation is still the same.

A husband and wife have a heated dispute. The topic? Whether thaw and unthaw mean the same thing.

What English speakers call speed bumps or sleeping policemen go by different names in various parts of the Spanish-speaking world. In Argentina, traffic is slowed by lomos de burro, or "burro's backs." In Puerto Rico that bump in the road is a muerto, or "dead person." In Mexico, those things are called topes, a word that's probably onomatopoetic.

A St. Petersburg, Florida, listener says when she used to ask her mother what was for dinner, her mom's answer was often Root little pig or die, meaning "You'll have to fend for yourself." An older version, root hog or die, goes all the way back to the memoirs of Davy Crockett, published in 1834. It refers to a time when hogs weren't fenced in and had to find most of their own food.

The German publisher Langenscheidt declared Smombie as the Youth Word of the Year for 2015. A portmanteau of the German borrowings Smartphone and Zombie, Smombie denotes someone so absorbed in their small, glowing screen that they're oblivious to the rest of the world. Runner-up words included merkeln, "to do nothing" or "to decide nothing"--a reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel's deliberate decision-making style--and Maulpesto, or "halitosis"-- literally, "mouth pesto."

Puzzle Person John Chaneski proffers problems pertaining to the letter P. What alliterative term, for example, also means "wet blanket"?

A San Antonio, Texas, caller wonders: What's a good word for a shortcut that ends up taking much longer than the recommended route? You might call the opposite of a shortcut a longcut, or perhaps even a longpaste. But there's also the joking faux-Latinate term circumbendibus, first used in 17th-century England to mean "a roundabout process."

A listener from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, sent us this riddle: I begin at the end. I am constant but never the same. I am frequently captured but never possessed. What am I?

Jingoism, or "extreme nationalism," derives from a drinking-hall song popular in the 1870's, with the belligerent refrain: "We don't want to fight but by jingo if we do / We've got the ships, we've got the men, and got the money too / We've fought the Bear before and while we're Britons true / The Russians shall not have Constantinople." The term jingo came to denote "fervent patriot espousing an aggressive foreign policy."

In rugby and soccer to kick into touch means to "kick a ball out of play." The phrase by extension can mean to "take some kind of action so that a decision is postponed" or otherwise get rid of a problem.

The Twitter feud between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa has a listener wondering about the phrase talk out the side of your neck, meaning to "talk trash about someone." It's simply a variation of talking out of the side of one's mouth.

When they happen to say the same word at the very same time, many children play a version of the Jinx! game that ends with the declaration, You owe me a Coke! Martha shares an old version from the Ozarks that ends with a different line: What goes up the chimney? Smoke!

Many listeners responded to our conversation about the use of the term auntie to refer to an older woman who is not a blood relative. It turns out that throughout much of Africa, Asia, as well as among Native Americans, the word auntie, or its equivalent in another language, is commonly used as a term of respect for an older woman who is close to one's family but not related by blood.

A Las Vegas, Nevada, listener says her South Dakota-born mother always refers to supper as the last meal of the day and dinner as the largest meal of the day. It's caused some confusion in the family. Linguist Bert Vaux has produced dialect maps of the United States showing that in fact quite a bit of variation in the meaning of these terms depending on which part of the country you're from.

How do you make the number one disappear? (You can do it if you add a letter.)

Whistle pig, woodchuck, and groundhog are all terms for a type of large squirrel, or marmot, found in the United States. The name whistle pig, common in Appalachia, is a jocular reference to the sound they make.

On our Facebook group, a listener posted a photo of a doubletake-worthy sign in her local grocery, which reads We Now Offer Boxes to Bag Your Groceries.

Pirooting around can means "whirling around," as well as "prowling" or "nosing around." This expression is most commonly heard in the American South and Southwest. Piroot is most likely a variant of pirouette and is probably influenced by root, as in root around. Similarly, rootle is a dialectal term that means to "root around" or "poke about."

What do you call that force that keeps you lounging on the couch rather than get up the energy to go outdoors? A listener calls it house gravity.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.


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