I was shopping recently when I overheard someone say, “You got the hinny? I hope I don’t get the hinny.” It took me a few moments to figure it out. I’d heard of getting the skinny, the willies, the heebie-jeebies, or even having the whammy put on you. But I was unacquainted with the hinny.
I was shopping recently when I overheard someone say, “You got the hinny? I hope I don’t get the hinny.”
It took me a few moments to figure it out. I’d heard of getting the skinny, the willies, the heebie-jeebies, or even having the whammy put on you. But I was unacquainted with the hinny.
Fortunately, I’m a fan of “Weekend Edition” on National Public Radio, and Will Shortz, the guy who edits the New York Times crossword puzzles (now there’s a job you really have to customize your résumé to get) provides a weekly brain teaser. Not that my brain needs such challenges. Between work and home life, my brain isn’t so much teased as taunted.
But such puzzles are a good way to stay mentally sharp. For instance, one recent challenge asked listeners to name a beverage with two words, wherein the first word has three letters and the second word, nine. Take the second word and arrange it, boxlike, in three rows of three. If you’ve picked the correct beverage, the middle three letters going down the center will spell the first word of the beverage.
See? Isn’t your brain feeling teased? The answer is at the bottom of this column, in case you want to see if you can figure it out on your own (*). I couldn’t, primarily because the beverage was unfamiliar, what with it being non-alcoholic.
One of the winners last month, since we’re on this digression, was from our region: Elaine Chapin of Geneva, N.Y., knew that if you take a familiar three-letter French word, then take its English meaning (also three letters), then pronounce the two back to back, you’d get another familiar French word. See? Isn’t your brain feeling utterly ineffective?
The answer — I’m not going to stick it down at the bottom; trust, me, you won’t get it — was merci, from the French word mer, which means sea. I didn’t get that one, either, what with the sea being non-alcoholic.
As the randomly selected winner (yes, other people besides Elaine figured this out; those NPR listeners are a brainy lot), Elaine got to play another game on the air. As I recall, she ran the board. For each clue, the answer was a four-letter anagram of one of the words in the question.
For instance, if Will said, “Thorns on the stem of this plant can make your finger sore,” Elaine said “rose,” because “rose” is an anagram of “sore.” (Whereas I guessed “Mets,” which is an anagram of “stem.” Not the right answer, although the way they played this year made a lot of fans sore.)
I’m not so sure I would have performed as well as Elaine, even with a category so ostensibly in my wheelhouse as four-letter words.
Still, I play along at home to keep the gray matter nimble. And it was this nimbleness that was put toward the matter of the hinny, which I realized was a more contemporary reference than I would have at first guessed.
For, after a few moments of reflection, I realized the word was a casual pronunciation of H1N1 — where the 1’s were substituted with the i’s they resemble. Instead of saying swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, this stranger was inquiring about the hinny.
I wondered if the word had gained any widespread attention, so checked for it online. A “hinny,” I learned, is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey (making it another version of the word we don’t want to get). A search of “hini” turned up ... results for H1N1, and a Web site geared at health care professionals, called the Heinz Infant Nutrition Institute. And a “hinnie” search brought me to the LinkedIn page for Hinnie Steenbruggen, an independent textiles professional from the Groningen area in the Netherlands.
So for all we know, the guy I overheard coined the reference.
Whether it will catch on, who knows? But I’m with him — I don’t want to get the hinny either.
Contact Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
(*) Hot chocolate.