Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2019


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Echoes of the Greatest Generation, and a tasty bite of history. The language and melodies of military marching songs can connect grown children with their parents who served. Is there a collection of those military cadences somewhere? Also, a story about a woman sifting through her parents' love letters from World War II, and a puzzling phrase to describe an awkward love triangle: "running a sandy." Finally, is Northern Spy the name of a military operation or a kind of apple? The surprising story of how this apple variety got its name. Plus, kayakers' slang, wooden spoon, Shakespearean knock-knock jokes, Sunday throat, celestial discharge, and mickey mousing.


Whitewater rafting has a rich tradition of slang that includes such terms as boulder garden, strainer, and drop pool.

An Indianapolis, Indiana, teacher and his class wonder about the origin of whistling in the dark, which means "to put on a brave face in a scary situation." As it happens, the teacher's band, The Knollwood Boys, recorded a song by the same name.

A listener reports that the pronunciation of Novi, Michigan, is counterintuitive. It's pronounced noh-VYE.

The manager of a cider mill in Rochester, Minnesota, is curious about the name of the variety of apple known as Northern Spy. The origins of its name are murky, but it was likely popularized by the 1830 novel Northern Spy, about a wily abolitionist. Other names for this apple are Northern Pie and Northern Spice.

An Omaha, Nebraska, listener has a word for using Google Earth to fly around the planet virtually and zoom in on far-flung locations: floogling, a combination of flying and Googling.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about 4-letter anagrams. For example, what letters can anagram into words meaning either "cruel" or "designation"?

A historian in Indianapolis, Indiana, says a World War II-era letter from her father to her mother refers to running a sandy. It's a phrase that derives from poker, and the act of sandbagging, or in other words, "bluffing," an opponent.

Locals pronounce the name of the town of Thoreau, New Mexico, as thuh-ROO.

In Cantabrigian tradition, a wooden spoon was jokingly awarded to low achievers in mathematics. That practice later extended to other types of competitions. It's also key to a heartwarming story about a charitable organization that arose from a friendly spoon-swapping rivalry between English and Irish rugby teams.

If you complain that something went down my Sunday throat, you mean that it went into your windpipe. To go down your Sunday throat may derive from the fact that just as Sunday is a special day of the week, the bite you swallowed went into an unaccustomed place.

In kayakers' slang, a park and play is a part of a river where you park your vehicle closer to a river and enter the water to paddle around a particular water feature, then paddle back to your launch spot rather than continue downstream. If you make a wet exit, you end up in the water.

As we mentioned earlier, knock-knock jokes were once a fad sweeping the nation. What we didn't mention is that there are quite a few Shakespearean knock-knock jokes. Such as: Knock-Knock. Who's there? Et. Et who? Et who, Brute? (Hey, don't blame us! Blame some guy named Duane.)

A caller from San Antonio, Texas, remembers a song her father, a World War II vet, used to sing: Around the corner and under a tree/ A sergeant major proposed to me / Who would marry you? I would like to know / For every time I look at your face it makes me want to go -- at which point the verse repeats. These marching songs are known as cadence calls or Jody calls. They apparently arose among American troops during World War II, when a soldier named Willie Duckworth began chanting to boost his comrades' spirits. Such songs echo the rhythmic work songs sung by enslaved Africans and prison chain gangs, which helped to make sure they moved in unison and also helped pass the time.

The Indianapolis, Indiana, caller who asked about running a sandy figures out the movie she saw that included that phrase: Action in Arabia. And sure enough, the expression is used by a character during a poker game.

Who is she from home? meaning "What's her maiden name?" is a construction common in communities with significant Polish heritage. It's what linguists call a calque--a word or phrase from another language translated literally into another. From home is a literal translation of Polish z domu, just as English blueblood is a literal translation of the older Spanish term sangre azul.

Celestial discharge, in medical slang, refers to a patient's death.

The terms mickey mouse and mickey mousing can be used as pejoratives.

In whitewater rafting, river left and river right refer to the banks of the river on either side when looking downstream.

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


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