Letters: Idioms

Melissa Block and Robert Siegel read listeners' comments about the story on idioms from around the world, and also reach back into our archives to play the 10-year old musical production Web Site Story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

And it's time now for your letters.

SIEGEL: And we'll kick things off with a few comments about Melissa's conversation with Jag Ballah about his book "I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World." The hanging noodles phrase comes from Russian and means I'm not pulling your leg. Our segment had a number of you remembering idioms from your past.

BLOCK: Carey Newman(ph) of Masury, Ohio, tells us, your story on idioms reminded me of when my grandmother, who migrated here from Czechoslovakia, received advice from her father on the eve of her journey. Ms. Newman continues, knowing that she was looking for a better life, my great grandfather told his young daughter, remember that the fences in America are not made of kielbasa. His point, the streets are not paved with gold.

SIEGEL: A handful of you wrote to take issue with Ballah's explanation of a favorite English idiom.

Mr. JAG BALLAH (Author, "I'm Not Hanging Noodles On Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms from Around the World"): To let the cat out of the bag is from a 16th century practice of substituting, instead of a pig, which is what most people were going to market to buy, substituting a cat literally in a bag. And if you didn't open the bag before you left the market, it would be too late to complain later.

BLOCK: Well, Ron Malavski(ph) of Mansfield Center, Connecticut, was one of several listeners who thought that sounded odd. He writes, Jag Ballah's explanation of this phrase does not agree at all with an explanation told to visitors by a docent on the British ship Warrior docked at the Royal Maritime Museum in Portsmouth, England.

According to Malavski, the docent said this, the phrase comes from the fact that cat o' nine tails, the whip used to mete out punishment to errant sailors on British warships, was kept in a leather bag. Telling a sailor that the cat would be let out of the bag meant that he would be whipped.

SIEGEL: As far as we can tell, both explanations for the idiom are out there, and we do not know which one is more accurate.

BLOCK: Finally, a rare moment in which we'll actually quote an internal email from our longtime producer Art Silverman. He emailed the staff after hearing Robert talking to our tech guru Omar Gallaga about a video making the rounds on the Internet, an online musical called "Web Site Story."

(Soundbite of online musical, "Web Site Story")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Evite, Evite, did you get the details? I had you down as not yet replied.

SIEGEL: "We Did This Ourselves" was the title of Art's email, and true enough, back in 1999, during the Microsoft antitrust trial, NPR staff recorded a musical production which we, too, called "Web Site Story."

(Soundbite of musical, "Web Site Story")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) I like to be on the Internet, plenty to see on the Internet. Everything's free on the Internet. I bought a TV on the Internet.

(Soundbite of shouting)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) I like the amazon.com.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Where you can shop with no pants on.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) I love to spend money all day.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Sell your own mother on eBay. (unintelligible) on the Internet. Kids can buy food on the Internet. And put the shoes on the Internet, you cannot lose on the Internet.

BLOCK: Our 10-year-old production "Web Site Story" featuring the NPR Players.

SIEGEL: You can of course leave comments on the Internet. Go to npr.org and click on Contact Us at the top of the page. And don't forget to tell us where you live and how you pronounce your name.

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