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11 Antiquated "P" Words From the American Slang Dictionary

As you might guess, we’ve got a lot of books here at the mental_floss New York office. One stands above the rest in terms of usefulness and pure entertainment value: the second supplemented edition of Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang.

This 1975 update of the original 1960 tome is unrivaled as a resource when we Flossers need to get up to speed on hobo slang, lunch vernacular, or auctioneer lingo. We thought we’d share the authors’ definitions for our 11 favorite “P” words and phrases from the days of yore. See if you can work them into conversation today!

1. Pad the hoof: “To tramp about. Orig. hobo use.”

2. Pang-wangle: “To live or go along cheerfully in spite of minor misfortunes.”

3. Paper-belly: “A person unable to drink liquor straight, or one who grimaces after drinking.”

4. Peter Funk: “An auctioneer’s accomplice who poses as a buyer in order to stimulate bidding or to 'buy' items on which the final bid from a genuine customer has not been high enough. Auction use.”

5. Pie card: “A union membership card, specif., as shown to a stranger who is a union member in order to borrow money, obtain food and lodging, or the like. Hobo use c1925.”

6. Pig between two sheets: “A ham sandwich. Some lunch-counter use c1925”

7. Pine overcoat: “A coffin, esp. a cheap one.”

8. Possum Belly: “An extra storage compartment under a railroad car. Hobo lingo.”

9. Pretzel-bender: “1. A preculiar person; an eccentric; one who thinks in a round-about manner. 2. A player of the French horn. Musician use. Not common. 3. A wrestler. 4. A heavy drinker; one who frequents bars.”

10. Prushun or Prushon: “A boy tramp who begs for a mature tramp. Obscurely from “Prusssian.”

11. Puka: “1. Any small, private place, such as a pigeonhole in a desk, a safe, a purse, a small suitcase, or the like. 2. [taboo] The female genitals. Both meanings WWII USN use in Pacific. Prob. orig. Polynesian.”

…and Two More Should You Ever Need to Work for a Circus

Punk day: “A day during which children are admitted to a carnival or circus free; children’s day. C1930; carnival and circus use.”

Punk pusher: “The boss of boy workers in a circus. Circus use.”

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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