Oh For Cute - 8 October 2018


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A stereotype is a preconceived notion about a person or group. Originally, though, the word stereotype referring to a printing device used to produce lots of identical copies. If you suspect there's a connection, you're right! Also, the link between tiny mythical creatures called trolls and modern-day mischief-makers, plus the stories behind the color names we give to horses. Finally, wise advice about fending off despair: learn something new. Also, grinslies, personal summers, cowboy slang, smell vs. odor, orient vs. orientate, trolls and trolling, and just for fun, some agentive and instrumental exocentric verb-noun compounds.


Scarecrow and pickpocket are compound words that name things and people by describing what they do. Such nouns were especially popular centuries ago, when quake-breech meant a coward, a saddle-goose was a fool, a scrape-gut was a violinist, and tanglelegs meant strong alcohol. The linguistic term for such terms is a mouthful: agentive and instrumental exocentric verb-noun compounds. Linguist Brianne Hughes, who has studied them extensively, calls them cutthroat compounds, the word cutthroat being another case in point. She's collected more than 1200 cutthroat compounds at her website, Encyclopedia Briannica.

Todd, a firefighter in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, wonders about the difference between the words smell and odor. Also, which verb is the better choice: orient or orientate?

While reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Sidney from Indianapolis, Indiana, stumbled across the use of the term stereotyped notice to denote a printed announcement of a meeting. It's an example of this word's earliest sense; stereotype originally referred to a type of metal printing block used to produce multiple copies. The French word for this kind of block is cliche, a word that may be imitative of the clicking sound made by such a device as it prints. Borrowed into English, cliche now refers to a word or phrase that is trite or hackneyed -- in other words, something repeated multiple times.

Matt in San Antonio, Texas, poses this question: Which language has the most words? For that matter, how would you even begin to count them?

Crossword-puzzle constructors often employ words with a vowel-consonant-consonant-vowel pattern, or VCCV. That's the cruciverbal inspiration Quiz Guy John Chaneski's VCCV puzzle. For example, if the clue is teen woe, what's the four-letter answer begins and ends with a vowel?

On our Facebook group, listeners share their terms for menopausal hot flashes, including a short private vacation in the tropics, temperature tantrum, short private trip to the Sahara, and my inner child is playing with matches.

The name of that horse with a light gold coat, the palomino, derives from Spanish for young dove, because these animals share similar coloring. In the same way, a sorrel horse has the same color as a certain kind of sorrel plant. The names for the colors of horses come from three main traditions: English from the United Kingdom, Spanish, and French. Western Words, a book of cowboy slang collected by Ramon Adams, contains many more examples, including albino, bald-faced, bayo, bayo coyote, blaze, blood bay, buckskin, calico, chestnut, chin spot, claybank, cremello, flea bitten, grulla, moros, overo, paint, palomilla, piebald, pinto, race, roan, sabino, skewbald, snip, sock, star, star strip, stew ball, stocking, tobiano, trigeuno, and zebra dun.

Linguist Brianne Hughes has compiled more than 1200 cutthroat compounds, including smell-feast meaning a freeloader, and smellfungus, a chronic complainer. For a lively primer about such compounds, check out her video.

The gallywampus is a large, wobbly insect that looks like an overgrown mosquito. These long-legged creatures and others like them go by lots of funny-sounding names, including gallinipper, gabber napper, and granny-nipper.

A thought-provoking tweet from @Elloryn in Atlanta, Georgia, suggests replacing the words I'm sorry with Thank you. Instead of saying Sorry I was late, try saying Thank you for waiting for me. It's a subtle change, but it powerfully shifts the focus from the offender's feelings to those of the offended.

Ann from Fort Worth, Texas, says her elderly aunt was talking disparagingly about two people who, in her words, wet around the same stump. This expression isn't all that common, but it does appear in Sarah Bird's 1999 novel Virgin of the Rodeo. Another version, to smell around the same stump, is likewise rare, but also suggests that the two are thick as thieves or at least have much in common. The word stump figures in several colloquial English expressions where the stump is a metaphorical point of contention or a problem that needs to be solved. Two ways of getting around the same stump means two ways to solve a problem. There's also the phrase to go around the same stump, and to whip or beat the devil around the same stump, which means to avoid one's responsibilities.

A proverb on a bench in San Diego's Balboa Park reads: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.

T. H. White's The Once and Future King offers excellent advice about how to fight off despair: learn something.

Harry from Falls Church, Virginia, wonders about the many meanings and uses of the words troll and trolling.

Listeners continue to chime in after our conversation about terms for a quick cleanup, such as Navy shower or G.I. shower, or washing your possible. @TruBlu tweeted still more examples.

Jesse in Gainesville, Florida, says that when he was growing up in Northern Minnesota, he often heard the expression Oh for …!, as in Oh for cute!, Oh, for nice!, or Oh for dumb! This idiomatic construction usually expresses judgment, is largely confined to Minnesota, and may be a calque from German or a Scandinavian language.

Amy from Ishpeming, Michigan, says her family's idiolect includes the word grinslies, which they use to denote the sediment in the bottom of your coffee cup. The word orts is a term for leftovers, and a dialectal term for the last little bit left from a meal is scrunchings. The last little bit of a drink in a glass or bottle is sometimes called a heel-tap. …

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.


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