Word Watch, The Sequel: 2Watch 2Wordiest We're back this week with the grand finale of the Word Watch Game Show! First, we'll uncover the messy history of the term "white trash." Then we'll get into a ditty that signals ... anything "Asian." Come play with us!
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Word Watch, The Sequel: 2Watch 2Wordiest

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Word Watch, The Sequel: 2Watch 2Wordiest

Word Watch, The Sequel: 2Watch 2Wordiest

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/634373103/634399780" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

What's good, CODE SWITCH listeners? We got a quick announcement for you. We are going to Alabama. WBHM and NPR have teamed up to bring you CODE SWITCH Live From Birmingham. So on Tuesday August 14 at 8 p.m. at UAB's Alys Stephens Center, we have some dope guests, including Mayor Randall Woodfin and WBHM's Gigi Douban. It's going to be a lot of fun. You can get your tickets now for the live taping of our podcast at nprpresents.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAME SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Game show, game show, game show.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

It's part two of the CODE SWITCH Word Watch Game Show. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji, your host for the evening, along with my partner in crime, Gene Demby.

Hey, GD. You ready for this?

DEMBY: I think so. My sequined dress - you know, all this wagon I'm dragging - is riding up a little bit in the back. Let me just fix that.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DEMBY: There we go. We good. We good.

MERAJI: OK. Good. All right.

DEMBY: Before we get this party started, let's remind folks who might have missed last week's show what we're going to do.

MERAJI: We're watching out for words with racial or ethnic backstories. A lot of the terms we'll be discussing on this episode get thrown around without much thought. So we're going to talk about where they come from and what they really mean.

DEMBY: Correct. Last week, we dropped part one of the Word Watch Game Show. We went deep on two words - boy and guru.

MERAJI: Today, we've got white trash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN DIRESTA: I'm proud of my ethnic background. I am 100 percent pure white trash.

(LAUGHTER)

DIRESTA: Our Christmas lights have been on since 1972.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: That was the comedian John DiResta at a show in 2009. Gene, tell them what else we got coming.

DEMBY: We're going to dig into the origin of this musical phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIFF, "FAR EAST PROTO-CLICHE")

MERAJI: And we're also going to play a game throughout the episode to test your knowledge of a racially coded words and phrases. Here's how to play. We'll give you a couple of clues and you're going to try to guess the word. The answers are at the end of the show. No fast-forwarding.

DEMBY: So all of these are going to be words that we've explored in the CODE SWITCH blog as part of our Word Watch series. So if you are a diehard CODE SWITCH reader, you're going to have an advantage here. Shereen...

MERAJI: Mm-hmm.

DEMBY: ...Would you please do the honors and read our first clue?

MERAJI: Happily.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: This phrase is often used to describe a politician who strays from party lines. It was first used in the 19th century, though, in reference to the activities of Native Americans. Hillary Clinton was criticized for saying it on CNN in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know, remember, I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get...

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

CLINTON: ...In the way they behave and how they speak.

DEMBY: OK. OK. First used in reference to Native Americans and is now used to describe politicians who don't toe the party line.

MERAJI: What is this phrase?

DEMBY: Let's keep talking about offensive words with janky histories. Joining us now is our teammate Leah Donnella.

MERAJI: Hey, Leah.

LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: Hey, guys.

MERAJI: What's the word?

DONNELLA: It's actually two words - white trash.

DEMBY: Oh.

MERAJI: Oh, white trash.

DONNELLA: Yeah. And I imagine when you hear those words, there are probably some images that come to mind right away.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA")

CHARLIE DAY: (As Charlie Kelly) You don't know karate. You're white trash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That's a mullet in Ted Nugent boots.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "REDNECK COOKING SHOW - TAMMY'S TRASHY NACHOS")

CHELCIE LYNN: (As Trailer Trash Tammy) And I like to call them Tammy's Trashy Nachos.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CONAN")

JACK MCBRAYER: With white trash tiramisu, it's a snap.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Shut up, you stinkin...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REDNECK PIECE OF WHITE TRASH")

REBEL SON: (Singing) I'm proud to be a redneck piece of white trash.

DONNELLA: Some of those, I know, are kind of silly, but there's a whole string of really negative words that we associate with white trash, so things like poor, lazy, uneducated, violent, dirty, immoral, racist. I talked to some experts and asked them to define white trash for me. They talked about sexual immorality, alcoholism.

MATT WRAY: Nowadays, the connotation is that they're probably crack or meth addicts or opioid addicts, they live in trailer parks and ramshackle cabins in the woods, and they are rude and crude and obnoxious.

DONNELLA: So that was Matt Wray. He's a professor at Temple University, and he wrote a book called "Not Quite White: White Trash And The Boundaries Of Whiteness."

DEMBY: Oh.

DONNELLA: And Matt pointed out that the phrase white trash is actually kind of an oxymoron.

WRAY: You think about these two words - white and trash - and you realize that they have nearly opposite meanings - white suggesting purity, cleanliness, even the sacred, while trash is about impurity, dirtiness and the profane.

DONNELLA: And Matt said that that contradiction exists because white trash is used to describe a sort of contradiction, which is white people who don't act like white people.

WRAY: This is a term that really has white supremacy baked into it (laughter) because it's kind of like it's understood that if you're not white, you're trash.

MERAJI: Yeah. That's interesting. You're going to have to explain that a little bit more because when I was hearing him say that this contradiction exists, I was thinking, well, not everyone thinks of the word white and white people in the same way.

DONNELLA: Yeah. I mean, that's totally true. But what Matt was saying is that we have all these really old racist stereotypes about black and brown people in the United States. So the stereotypes are things like black people are poor. They're lazy. They're violent. They're criminals and thugs. For white people, there aren't those same kind of deep, ingrained cultural stereotypes. So when they behave poorly - I'm using your air quotes, Gene...

DEMBY: OK.

DONNELLA: ...Then they become white trash, not just regular white people. Another professor I spoke to - John Hartigan at the University of Texas in Austin - said that white trash is a word that's used to talk about white people who are perceived to have too much in common with black people. And he says he saw some of that when he was studying poor white communities in Detroit.

JOHN HARTIGAN: One of the things I looked at was the history of migration there. And as you were having a lot of African-Americans coming up from Alabama and Georgia, you were having these whites from Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. And they talked like black people, and they ate like black people, and they comported themselves because they shared a regional identity. And there were a lot of forms of discrimination against hillbillies by whites in Detroit because they undermined the ability to keep that line between whiteness and blackness clear.

DEMBY: So where does the term white trash come from, Leah?

DONNELLA: Well there's actually a kind of two-part history. And I think it tells us a lot about the way we think about poor people in this country.

MERAJI: Curious.

DONNELLA: OK. So it turns out that poor white people have been compared to trash for centuries. I talked to Nancy Isenberg, the author of the book "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History Of Class In America." And she says the idea that poor equals trash goes all the way back to Europe. So hundreds of years ago in the early days of colonization, England sent hordes of poor, white people to America. And Nancy Isenberg says these people were referred to as waste people.

NANCY ISENBERG: And this is where the term white trash comes from. These were people who were seen as unproductive and idle, wandering vagrants. They were going to unload them on the New World.

DONNELLA: Waste people to be said with a posh English accent.

DEMBY: Waste people.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

DONNELLA: Yeah. She has a whole list of all the trash synonyms that were used over the years for people. So that's where the trash part comes from. But the white part doesn't come until a little bit later.

DEMBY: OK. So how did that happen?

DONNELLA: OK. So Matt Wray, our scholar from before, said that it actually started around the D.C, Maryland, Virginia area in the early 1800s.

DEMBY: Woot, woot.

DONNELLA: So this was still during slavery, but there was a pretty sizable population of free black people in this area. And a lot of them actually had decent jobs and pretty good educations. So his best guess, historically, is that those free blacks sort of ironically started referring to poor white people as white trash because they were often uneducated and didn't have very good jobs.

DEMBY: So...

MERAJI: Black people...

DEMBY: Black people started calling white people white trash and we called them - and that's where it comes from?

DONNELLA: Well, that's the best guess. So Matt's theory is that once that word started being used among black people, rich white people picked up on it right away...

DEMBY: (Laughter).

DONNELLA: ...And white slave owners were all over it. Like, they could not get enough of this term white trash.

DEMBY: So they Columbused (ph) white trash (laughter).

MERAJI: Appropriated it.

DONNELLA: Yes.

DEMBY: It's like lit.

DONNELLA: It's (laughter) - exactly. And these rich white people - slave owners many of them - started using the term white trash in really interesting ways that still shape the way we talk about poor white people.

MERAJI: Like what?

DONNELLA: OK. So one of the stereotypes about white trash is that they're more racist than any other group.

DEMBY: Right.

DONNELLA: So Matt told me this story of a dinner that happened in 1833. There was this English actress touring the United States. And one day, she visits this plantation to have dinner with the daughter of one of the largest slaveholders in Maryland. And they are sitting and eating and having a good time. And the daughter is talking about the plantation and she says everyone on the plantation is one big happy family - blacks, whites, everyone lives together in harmony.

DEMBY: Hmm.

DONNELLA: Yep. But the woman turns to her friend, this actress, and says, I'll admit, though, there are racial tensions in this country, and those tensions are between blacks and white trash.

WRAY: And that has always been part of this phrase. Whites who use the term are saying, look, I'm not racist, right? The person down the road is racist, the one who drops the N-word or who has the Confederate flag flapping off the back of their truck. That's real racism.

MERAJI: It's also the classic divide-and-conquer strategy.

DONNELLA: Yeah. Matt Wray was talking about how during slavery, towards the end of slavery, there was no real place for poor white people in the labor market because...

DEMBY: Right. Because could be like undercut wages wise. I mean, they couldn't...

DONNELLA: Exactly. They couldn't compete with people who owned slaves...

DEMBY: Right.

DONNELLA: ...So they had very few options when it came to getting land, capital, property, all of that kind of stuff. And that was a huge argument actually that abolitionists were making, that even if you didn't care about black people and their plight under slavery, abolishing slavery would be the best possible thing for poor whites in the South.

DEMBY: Right.

MERAJI: You know, we've talked about this a lot, that social justice comes when you can make the argument that it's good for white people in America.

DONNELLA: And there's so much more history there, but I guess the bigger point is that white trash over the years has been this incredibly useful concept because it does all this stuff. It scapegoats poor white people. It allows other white people to still be pure and good. And at the same time, it just reinforces white supremacy. So that's pretty good for two syllables I think.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Thank you, Leah.

MERAJI: Yeah. Thank you.

DONNELLA: Thank you.

MERAJI: There's even more to white trash. It's in Leah's piece on the CODE SWITCH blog. Check it out. But until then, it's clue time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: This phrase, often accompanied with a clapping or a snap of the fingers, means hurry up. And according to the 1886 edition of Hobson-Jobson, an Anglo-Indian dictionary, the phrase comes from the Cantonese word gap (ph), meaning to make haste.

DEMBY: And don't be looking in your 1886 edition of Hobson-Jobson. I know what y'all are doing out there trying to do - I see y'all cheating.

MERAJI: Yeah. Don't - (laughter). No cheating. You're going to find out the answers at the end of the show. Stay with us.

DEMBY: Just stay patient and stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Gene.

MERAJI: Shereen.

DEMBY: CODE SWITCH Word Watch Game Show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAME SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Game show, game show, game show.

MERAJI: NPR swag for the first person to email us at codeswitch@npr.org and tell us what album that little game show sound bite's from.

DEMBY: No Shazaming (ph).

MERAJI: We'll announce the winner next week, as well as the answer.

DEMBY: OK. And here's your next clue.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: What do you call someone working on their podcast while sipping on a cold brew at a coffee shop in Bushwick?

MERAJI: Come on. That's too easy.

DEMBY: I guess Williamsburg will work, too, or Austin - Austin, Texas.

MERAJI: (Laughter) No. Williamsburg is too fancy now.

DEMBY: Oh, is it? OK.

MERAJI: I think so. Anyway.

DEMBY: Well, this phrase, this word, that this clue refers to goes back to the 1930s and '40s and the word was synonymous with white negro.

MERAJI: Huh?

DEMBY: I'll let y'all sit in that...

MERAJI: White negro?

DEMBY: ...Just marinate in that clue for a little bit.

MERAJI: White negroes and people working on podcasts sipping on cold brew in Bushwick - what do they have in common? It's this word. (Laughter) I'm sorry (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: And we're going to mix things up now and talk about a musical phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIFF, "FAR EAST PROTO-CLICHE")

DEMBY: Here to break that down for us is our teammate Kat Chow. What's good, Kat?

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Hey, guys.

MERAJI: So that nine-note melody we just heard, where is that from?

CHOW: (Laughter) So that specific recording is from an NPR intern. Her name is Imani Mosley. And she played it for us on a piano.

DEMBY: She just happened to know it?

CHOW: Yes. She just happened to know it because everyone knows it. But that tune has been in a ton of things in the past few decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KUNG FU FIGHTING")

CARL DOUGLAS: (Vocalizing).

CHOW: Do you guys remember this song?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KUNG FU FIGHTING")

DOUGLAS: (Vocalizing).

MERAJI: Yeah (laughter). I know that song. It's "Kung Fu Fighting."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KUNG FU FIGHTING")

DOUGLAS: (Singing) Everybody was kung fu fighting.

CHOW: Yeah. So that's Carl Douglas' song from 1974.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KUNG FU FIGHTING")

DOUGLAS: (Singing) In fact, it was a little bit frightening.

CHOW: So...

MERAJI: I feel like - I, like - oh, I'm sorry.

CHOW: No, go for it.

MERAJI: (Laughter) I'm just going to wax poetic about kung fu fighting.

DEMBY: No, please do.

MERAJI: I wasn't even born when that song came out, but I feel like I've heard that song so many times over my life, right?

DEMBY: Yeah, me too, right?

CHOW: Everyone loves to play it at karaoke. And, like, being the Asian in the room when that happens, you're just like, why?

DEMBY: Why does that song exist? Was it, like, on a soundtrack or was he just, like, oh, this is his breakout single? Like, what was the context of this...

CHOW: It kind of was his breakout single. And, like, the lyrics to it are really terrible. He was just, like, you were funky China man in, like, Chinatown - I don't know. It would not fly right now. But anyway - so the riff that he has in that song, it's in so many things. You know, you would recognize it in pop songs. It's in a lot of cartoons. It's in a kids' movie. Do you guys remember "Aristocats?"

DEMBY: One of those are Disney movies.

MERAJI: Yes.

DEMBY: Yes, "The Aristocats."

CHOW: Sorry - "The Aristocats." So that's a Disney movie from 1970. And I want to play you guys this clip where there's this Siamese cat...

MERAJI: Oh, I know this.

CHOW: ...He has buck teeth - yeah - and he's wearing a triangle hat. He's singing. He's banging on a keyboard with chopsticks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARISTOCATS")

PAUL WINCHELL: (As Shun Gon, singing) Shang-hai, Hong Kong, egg foo young. (Laughter) Fortune cookie always wrong.

DEMBY: Wow, that's so racist.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: I was thinking of the other one.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY AND THE TRAMP")

PEGGY LEE: (As Si and Am, singing) We are Siamese if you please.

CHOW: No, that's from "Lady And The Tramp."

MERAJI: Oh, well then.

CHOW: That is also really racist.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LADY AND THE TRAMP")

LEE: (As Si and Am, singing) If you don't please.

CHOW: So actually, it's not just in movies, but it's in video games, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIROKAZU TANAKA'S "CHAI KINGDOM THEME")

CHOW: "Super Mario Land," the 1989 Game Boy game had it. And you hear it when you reach this mystical Asian kingdom called Chai Kingdom.

MERAJI: Chai Kingdom...

(SOUNDBITE OF HIROKAZU TANAKA'S "CHAI KINGDOM THEME")

CHOW: So all of these examples, they nod to something vaguely Asian. Like, if we heard those notes...

(SOUNDBITE OF HIROKAZU TANAKA'S "CHAI KINGDOM THEME")

CHOW: ...You sort of know that what follows is probably going to refer to an entire continent.

DEMBY: The whole continent.

CHOW: Yeah, the whole one. And the funny thing, guys, about this riff is that it followed me around as I grew up. Like, I knew what it was when I was little. Just - it was like I was born with it. And I have this really visceral memory from high school where I was in the orchestra for my high school's production of "Beauty And The Beast." and I played the oboe. And when my friend, who's also Chinese-American, she walked into the music room, one of our white classmates would just like bang this nine-note tune out on this piano.

DEMBY: Wow.

CHOW: Yeah. So like, it seemed so clear to me that this is something that people know is this automatic, like, entry and exit music for Asians.

DEMBY: Right. So it's everywhere. Everyone just instinctively knows what it's referring to. So where the hell does it come from?

CHOW: So it took me a while to find out and I called up a lot of experts. And none of them really knew for sure. But then I found this guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARTIN NILSSON: Hello.

CHOW: He's a Swedish Web designer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NILSSON: My name is Martin Nilsson.

CHOW: So back in 2006, Martin was studying at this piano conservatory and he got all caught up in the mystery of those nine notes. And so he's scoured these sheet music archives. And a lot of people were really curious, so he built a website dedicated to it.

MERAJI: An entire website dedicated to these nine notes - come on.

DEMBY: What's on the website? What's there?

CHOW: He basically used the website to, like, chronicle his search for the melody. So it's got all of these examples of the riff that he found from the sheet music. He analyzes it. So here's what Martin found after a month or so.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NILSSON: It doesn't come from Chinese folk music really. So it's just a caricature of how they would think the Chinese music would sound.

MERAJI: They.

DEMBY: They. Yeah, who's...

MERAJI: The royal they.

CHOW: The royal they referring to mostly Western composers - so people with names like T. Comer, W.L. Hayden, Chas J. Newman (ph). And so Martin noticed that in music that was composed in as early as the mid-1800s, there was this pattern that sort of resembled the nine-note phrase that we hear today. It was rhythmic and so it wasn't a tonal pattern.

DEMBY: OK.

CHOW: He calls it the "Far East Proto-Cliche."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NILSSON: If you have the modern variant, it's - di di di di di di di di di (ph). But back in those days, it was just mainly the first four notes - di di di di - and then the melody could go either way.

CHOW: So on Martin's website, he actually put some examples of this "Far East Proto-Cliche." And here's a little clip from 1847, and it's called the "Aladdin Quick Step." And you can hear that rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALADDIN QUICK STEP")

CHOW: And this one's called the "Chinese Galop."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHINESE GALOP")

CHOW: And it's from 1871, composed by W.L. Hayden.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHINESE GALOP")

CHOW: And then this one...

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE MIKADO")

CHOW: ...Is from the opera "The Mikado" from 1885.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "THE MIKADO")

CHOW: Do you guys recognize it? Does it sound vaguely familiar?

MERAJI: Vaguely.

DEMBY: Vaguely.

CHOW: Right, OK. So as time goes on, the progression of this tune, it veers a little closer to what we know. And so this is a clip from 1900 that's a lot closer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA'S CHINA TWINS (ORIENTAL LULLABY)")

CHOW: It's called "Momma's China Twins (Oriental Lullaby)."

MERAJI: "Momma's China Twins (Oriental Lullaby)" - I'm sorry, I just don't want to let that pass without...

CHOW: Yeah, the titles of these are really, really great, like "Chinese Galop." Anyway, so...

MERAJI: Yeah.

CHOW: ...The rhythm is one part of the equation. But as we get into the 1900s, Martin notices that these rhythms also follow this tonal pattern. And that pattern fits into something called the pentatonic scale.

DEMBY: All right, for those of us who are music illiterates - raise my hand, raise my hand - what is the pentatonic scale?

CHOW: It's used in a lot of Chinese, Japanese and West African music.

DEMBY: OK.

CHOW: It's this musical scale with five notes per octave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NILANJANA BHATTACHARJYA: It would sound like (singing) one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one.

CHOW: So that is Nilanjana Bhattacharjya and she's a professor at Arizona State University. And she researches the way music and ethnicity work together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BHATTACHARJYA: We get the sense of another culture when we actually hear the scale.

CHOW: Nilanjana says that in 1889, that's when the world's fair in Paris helped popularize the pentatonic scale.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHOW: There is this gamelan group that performed at the event. And gamelan music is from Indonesia, performed by ensembles that are pretty traditional from Java and Bali.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHOW: At the time, this performance was really, like, radical. It was so new for this European audience. And Nilanjana told me that this influenced Western music, including in the U.S. And so just to sort of set the stage a little. Around this time, the Chinese Exclusion Act is still in effect, which means that Chinese immigrants aren't allowed to come to the U.S. And so they were seen as dangerous, threats to white woman, that they're going to take all the jobs.

MERAJI: So anti-Chinese sentiment is all over the U.S. at this point, that's what you're saying.

CHOW: Yes, exactly. And it's making its way into music. So playwrights and composers, they came up with the shorthand way of saying this is Chinese.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AESOP'S FABLES")

CHOW: In the 1930s, you can kind of hear in the cartoons.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHOP SUEY")

CHOW: The first example is from "Aesop's Fables" and the second is from a cartoon called "Chop Suey." And the characters in these cartoons are just so ridiculous - like, they're not even people. In "Aesop's Fables," they're anthropomorphized cats and dogs and I think there's a hippo. And then in "Chop Suey" they're, like, vermin - they're mice. And all of these anthropomorphized animals have, like, the long braid down their back...

DEMBY: I can see it so clearly - oh, my gosh.

MERAJI: Yeah.

CHOW: ...The, like, slits in their eyes and they're wearing, like, sort of, like, things that look kind of mandarin color-y (ph). Oh and in "Chop Suey" they're all drugged out, smoking opium.

DEMBY: Wow.

CHOW: So Nilanjana, she says that all of the images we associate with this tune have really stuck.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BHATTACHARJYA: We all know what it means the minute we hear it.

MERAJI: I mean, I would not argue with that.

DEMBY: It's wild that, like, this little riff that was in these cartoons back in the '30s still made sense to you when you were in high school when this girl was walking up to the orchestra and that someone played it to mock her.

CHOW: Yeah.

DEMBY: Like, how few cultural totems sort of carry across those generations like...

CHOW: Yeah. And I think the thing that really gets me about, like, tunes or music as stereotypes is that it does it with so much economy. So it triggers an image immediately and I don't even know how you would fight that.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIFF, "FAR EAST PROTO-CLICHE")

MERAJI: All right. So, Gene, we know this because we grew up with it. Kat, we grew up listening to this and hearing it in cartoons, et cetera. But for people who are younger than us, I'm wondering, is this a thing that they recognize as a racist riff?

DEMBY: Right.

CHOW: Yeah, that's a really good question.

MERAJI: Write in. Tell us.

DEMBY: Holla at us. Let us know if you've heard this tune before, this nine-note riff. And tell us where you heard it.

CHOW: And what you associate with it.

MERAJI: Code Switch reporter Kat Chow dropping the knowledge. Thank you, Kat.

CHOW: Thanks, guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARRIE GLEDDEN AND CHRIS NORTON'S "GAME SHOW")

MERAJI: That's our show. But before we say goodbye, we have a couple of things. First, if you're playing the game with us, it's time for the answers.

DEMBY: OK. So the phrase that is used to describe someone who does something unexpected, like a politician straying from the party line, a phrase that was originally used in reference to Native Americans is off the reservation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak.

DEMBY: It should go without saying that that's not a good thing. Don't say that. Don't don't say that. Don't do that.

MERAJI: Hillary Clinton, take note.

DEMBY: Yes. Don't do that, Hillary.

MERAJI: Our second word meaning hurry up is - actually, it's two words - chop chop.

DEMBY: Chop chop.

MERAJI: It comes from the Cantonese word gap meaning to make haste.

DEMBY: The third word - this one is kind of easy - the third word is hipster. Hipsters in the '30s and '40s were white jazz aficionados who spoke jive - and who among us doesn't - and drank spirits in smoky Harlem clubs.

MERAJI: Like we said earlier, these days they're in Brooklyn, making podcasts and sipping on overpriced pourovers.

DEMBY: I dug your rap. I speak jive.

MERAJI: I don't think I speak jive.

DEMBY: And for those of you who listened to last week's episode, we ended that episode with a clue. It's a phrase used to describe someone shady who exploits an unsuspecting public. It started being used way back in the 1800s when Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad.

MERAJI: The answer to that clue is snake oil salesmen.

DEMBY: According to Lakshmi Gandhi, snake oil was one of the many items that Chinese railroad laborers brought with them to the U.S. It's made from the oil of the Chinese water snake and has been used for centuries in China to treat things like arthritis. And it works. But as word of the healing oil spread, fraudsters started making fake snake oils from rattlesnake. That sounds like a bad idea. I'm sorry. In 1917, a brand called Stanley Snake Oil started being sold. It was made out of beef fat, red pepper and turpentine - actually sounded pretty good up until you got to the turpentine part. And that's when the term snake oil salesmen first started appearing as a symbol of fraud.

MERAJI: Huh.

DEMBY: Yeah. Who knew?

MERAJI: I had no idea. We learn things, too, on this show.

DEMBY: We're all learning together. It's communal.

MERAJI: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARRIE GLEDDEN AND CHRIS NORTON'S "GAME SHOW")

MERAJI: And don't forget to email us at codeswitch@npr.org if you know what album this sample is from.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAME SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Game show, game show, game show.

MERAJI: It's from one of my favorite albums of all time. And speaking of music, our intern Angelo Bautista is going to give us the song that is giving him life.

Angelo, what is this song?

(SOUNDBITE OF JANELLE MONAE SONG, "I GOT THE JUICE")

ANTONIO BAUTISTA, BYLINE: The song is "I Got The Juice" by Janelle Monae featuring Pharrell Williams. I recently went to her concert and it was amazing.

MERAJI: Oh, yes, I bet it was.

DEMBY: I saw her live, like, maybe three years ago. And I was, like, yo, she's amazing.

MERAJI: Renaissance woman - what can't she do?

BAUTISTA: She's a queen.

DEMBY: So while you're here, Angelo, tell us a little bit about yourself. OK, so your internship at NPR is almost over. Where are you from? What is your deal?

BAUTISTA: Yeah, so I'm from Fishers, Ind., right outside of Indianapolis. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington. And I studied media and audio journalism. And now I'm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT THE JUICE")

JANELLE MONAE: (Singing) I got the juice.

MERAJI: Getting tortured by us. How does that feel? Has it been fun? Or have you been really frustrated with us?

BAUTISTA: I have not - no, I love this. This is a dream come true, honestly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT THE JUICE")

JANELLE MONAE AND PHARRELL: (Singing) Down, love. Don't think about it. Down, love. Don't think about it.

DEMBY: So if you're listening to this, you should hire Angelo. He's been a fantastic intern for us, and he brings us fire music in addition to just being a good colleague.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: All right, y'all, so if you have other words you want to know about, please hit us up - tweet at us. You can email us. Respond to the call out on our hilarious newsletter. It's really hilarious, guys - really, really. If you aren't signed up, do that right now. Go to npr.org/newsletters.

MERAJI: Leah Donnella and Maria Paz Gutierrez produced this episode with help from our intern, Angelo Bautista. It was edited by Sami Yenigun and Steve Drummond.

BAUTISTA: And a shout-out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH team - Karen Grigsby Bates, Adrian Florido, Walter Ray Watson and Kat Chow. I'm Angelo Bautista.

DEMBY: I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

MERAJI: Peace.

BAUTISTA: Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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