Howling Fantods - 17 December 2018


Manage episode 223471656 series 3197
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Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing drug-laced dollar bills, or that AM radio stations only broadcast in the morning? A Twitter thread prompts those and other funny confessions. And: a moving new memoir by Kansas writer Sarah Smarsh touches on the connection between vocabulary and class. Plus, the inventive language of writer David Foster Wallace: Even if you've never heard the term "nose-pore-range," you can probably guess what it means. Also, ilk, how to pronounce Gemini, fart in a mitten, greebles, make over, sploot, and to boot.


On Twitter, columnist Shannon Proudfoot asks: What's the most mundane but thunderous epiphany you ever had? Something so ridiculously dull or elementary that still bowled you over when you figured it out? Some of the answers had to do with misunderstandings about language, including the meaning of guerilla warfare, AM radio stations, and money laundering.

Sarah from Grove City, Pennsylvania, says her husband had no idea what she meant when she said she wanted to make over him. The verb to make over means to be affectionate. The terms make of and to make on have long meant to value highly or treat with great consideration.

Viewers of the movie First Man, about the Gemini space program, may be surprised to learn that within National Aeornautics and Space Administration, the name Gemini is pronounced more like JEM-in-nee. Gemini is the Latin word for twin, and the source of the Spanish word for twins, gemelos.

James in San Diego, California, wonders about the origin of the word sploot, which refers to the way cute cuddly animals, such as Corgis, lie on their bellies with their back legs splayed out. Other terms for this include frog legs, frog dog, furry turkey, drumsticks, turkey legs, chicken legs, Supermanning, pancaking, flying squirrel, and frogging. The origins of sploot are murky, although it may be connected with splat. There's a whole subreddit for all your splooting needs.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle is involves weather terms hidden inside longer words. For example, suppose he's going to the store to buy some stuff -- nothing in particular, just various objects that are too small and unimportant to mention separately. How's the weather?

Cory in Newark, Ohio, says that while in South Africa, he heard the exclamation Shot! used in an empathetic way to mean That's so sweet! or Bless your heart! In South Africa, the word can be used to express agreement, and in Australia, the expression That's the shot! expresses approval. In boxing, a skillful punch might be commended with Oh, shot!

Inspired by a Twitter thread about things people learned surprisingly late in life, Martha relates an extremely embarrassing story of her own about her misunderstanding how beer is made.

Rebecca from San Diego, California, wants to know the origin of the verb to bogart, as in Don't bogart that salad dressing! It's associated the forcefulness of matinee idol Humphrey Bogart.

Masha in Vergennes, Vermont, says her family uses the word ilk to refer to a variety or type, as in What ilk of tree is that? Is this term is now archaic?

Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, advises that although would-be writers should read extensively, it's even more important to listen intensely.

Sharon in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, says that when her father wanted his children to stop squirming, he used to say You're just like a fart in a mitten. Versions of this term for something moving around feature a fart in a colander, a blender, a hot skillet, a jacuzzi, a spaceship, a submarine, a phone box, and an elevator.

Shannon Proudfoot's tweet about thunderous epiphanies later in life prompted a response about misunderstanding the meaning of the term surgical dressing.

David Foster Wallace's book Infinite Jest, includes many unusual turns of phrase, including nose-pore-range for something very close, toadbelly white for a particular shade of the color, howling fantods for the heebie-jeebies, and greebles for disintegrated bits of Kleenex. Grant worked with Wallace on the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, for which Wallace supplied some usage notes.

Our discussion about proper salutations for business letters prompts Mary in Austin, Texas, to suggest beginning such correspondence with the neutral but emphatic Hark!

Maribel in Montgomery, Alabama, asks about why we say to boot to mean in addition. This kind of boot has nothing to do with the kind you wear on your feet. It's from Old English bot, meaning advantage or remedy, and is a linguistic relative of the English word better.

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.


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