NTMP 90: Boop
Buttless chicken out of place
New-to-me Phrases, December 3, 2023
New: Submit Phrases to the Phrase-O-Matic Submission Machine!
Otherwise known as a Google Form I built for readers to submit new-to-me phrases.
The Phrases, With Context
This week, we have things being left where they shouldn’t be, a thorny etymological mystery, a whiff of smartphone panic redux, everyone’s favorite pairing: potatoes and cheese, and more.
But first! A poll!
With travel and holiday time off in November, there aren’t as many phrases to choose from, but that doesn’t mean the ones we have aren’t great.
Note that choice 3 should read “Hairy-faced floofenchops waddle CHICKEN,” but the stupid Substack poll feature has a character count. 🙄
Click your fave to vote:
Let’s get to it!
1. The Great Stink
Maybe it’s because I read Stephen King’s The Stand in middle school and have since read my fair share of both post-apocalyptic and historical fiction. But I think fairly often about how medical advances (penicillin, anesthesia, vaccines), public health regulations (restaurant and factory inspections, vaccine & drug approvals), and infrastructure (roads, electricity, access to clean water) keep us alive. Whereas nowadays we humans outlive our brains and (for women) hormones, so many people died of what are now easily preventable deaths before these advances and systems were put in place.
And here we arrive at The Great Stink. I recently read a terrific book called Hidden Systems, written and illustrated by Dan Nott, where he mentions this event in a chapter about water. Hidden Systems is marketed to young readers, but I thought it was really well done and the amount of detail in his illustrations is pretty mind-blowing. I think it took him four years to create. Highly recommend if you dig learning about things like this and enjoy illustrated guides—and it would make a great gift for an inquisitive person of any age.
Sidebar: I’m also excited to read another book on infrastructure, How Infrastructure Works by Deb Chachra. 🤓
Back to the big stank: In mid- 19th century London, most homes lacked indoor plumbing and the city’s population was booming as people moved from urban areas to the city to find work. “Night soil men” used to go around collecting poop for farms to use as fertilizer (worst side hustle ever?), but their efforts couldn’t keep up with the burgeoning bulk of effluent, which then began to ferment. Merely existing anywhere in the city became an olfactory nightmare.
After an outbreak of cholera (a waterborne disease that was then thought to travel via smell), the government decided a new sewage system was needed to divert waste from the Thames out into the ocean. Problem solved, unless you were an ocean inhabitant!
2. A buttless chicken
One of my kids (who does not read this newsletter) sent me this Instagram post by jessalin000 about cockatiels. Being a bird nerd, I was surprised I had never heard of it. However, I’ve never lived with a cockatiel so perhaps that’s why.
If you didn’t click the link to see cute cockatiels and hear the origin of this phrase, here’s the gist: When a cockatiel or similar species is fleeing prey, they are vulnerable to attack from behind by having their tails grabbed. (Rude!) So they developed a defense mechanism where they can release their tail feathers and escape.
According to the post, “In captivity, that means if you scare your cockatiel enough, you may wake up to a buttless chicken.” It’s likely painless to the birds and their tails grow back in about five weeks.
Imagine humans having this as a superpower. Haunted houses full of abandoned butts.
3. Fat Boy cactus
I caught this phrase while perusing needlepoint patterns (do I need a new hobby? I do not). The fat boy cactus is a nickname for the Helianthocereus Terscheckii, an Argentine cactus akin to the saguaro. I tried looking up who gave this cactus the fat boy nickname but came up empty.
If like me, you are also 12, you’ll appreciate this description from a cactus grower:
Also called the "Fat Boy", this plant will grow into a thick fat column. This one is about 8-10 inches tall, very wide and thick. Poised for huge growth.
I spotted this in’s newsletter, where he linked to a “volvelle for writing cartoon gags” called The Gag Master (title of your sex tape). I never knew these devices had a name, or that they were initially used to make calculations in astronomy.
Now I want to make one as a phrase-maker. (Do I need a new hobby? I do not.) There are lots of tutorials online! I’ll let you know what I come up with.
5. Poop Shelf
I accidentally coined this phrase when I saw a store called Pop Shelf and misread it as Poop Shelf and then giggled as I drove past. However, I do not wish to contemplate the reasons why one would either possess or need to use a poop shelf.
Saw these on the menu at a brunch spot in Chicago (Hutch American Bistro, where I had life-giving chilaquiles).
Totchos are tater tot nachos—a new-to-me food, most likely because I’m not big into tater tots. (I know—but more for you!)
Phubbing stands for “phone snubbing,” where you are more absorbed in your phone than the people you’re physically sitting with. Obviously coined by a neurotypical extrovert. Points for cleverness, though, and it’s always worth having societal and interpersonal convos about digital intentionality.
This one’s just fun to say. I’d never have guessed its meaning, either. MOOP stands for “Matter Out Of Place,” an acronym used by Burning Man organizers as part of their Leave No Trace ethic for the event. An annual MOOP Map (also fun to say) details which individual camps left MOOP behind after the event.
The 2023 map isn’t on the site yet, but Burning Man made the news for historic rains and flooding that reportedly had attendees abandoning more items than usual. Here’s a GQ profile of Dominic Tirio, the person responsible for MOOP removal and designer of the MOOP Map.
Honorable mention to the PBS affiliate writer who conjured the heading “MOOP: there it is” back in 2006.
One last thing
Let’s do some good for trans youth
In other news, last weekstarted a fundraiser with her subscribers for my favorite holiday nonprofit, Transanta. Together, they and raised over $16,000 to support trans youth by donating to their holiday wishlists!
Here's your chance to lift the spirits of teens and young adults facing hardship and emotional pain, often due to anti-trans bigotry, including from their families of origin:
That’s it for this week! Remember to stay furiously curious.