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Last update: 2013-06-23

Ride the Merry-Go-Round - 24 June 2013

2013-06-23
Length: 51s

A pint-sized mad scientist, a green-haired girl with a contagious sense of wonder, and a 10-year-old detective. They're all characters in the books on Grant's latest list of recommended books for children. Also, what's the word for a female octopus? How about a male kangaroo? A colorful book for younger kids has those answers and more. And the debate over "on accident" versus "by accident": Which one you use probably depends on how old you are. Plus, if you hop on a merry-go-round, are you moving clockwise or counterclockwise? The answer depends on which side of the pond you're on.


FULL DETAILS

Tuna may be the chicken of the sea, but octopi, lobsters and crabs are the hens. That is, the females of each those species is called a hen. Aaron Zenz's lovely book for children I Love Ewe: An Ode to Animal Moms offers a little lesson about female names in the animal kingdom. He does the same for the males of the species in Hug a Bull: An Ode to Animal Dads.

Holy wha, a Yooper corruption of wow, is specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Evidently, it comes in handy when spotting a bear.

An adult male cat is called a tom. What's the female called? A queen.

Martha Geiger of Sacramento, California, says her French teacher told her that the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round is that one goes clockwise and the other counterclockwise. True? Actually, there's really no difference between the names, although in England and much of Europe, these rides usually go clockwise; in the U.S., it's the opposite. And to some Americans, a merry-go-round is simply that spinning playground fixture for kids.

Alex Zobler from Stamford, Connecticut, sent along this joke: Knock knock. Who's there? To. To who? You see where this one's going, right?

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski phones in a game of homophones. For example, what two-word phrase could either be described as a redundant way to name a common crop, or a seasonal attraction at state fairs?

Lauren from La Crescenta, California, says her 98-year-old grandfather uses a rather obscure saying. As a kid, if Lauren or her sister won a meaningless contest, he'd award them an imaginary prize he called the crocheted gidote. Or maybe that's gadoty, or gadote, guhdody, or gadodie -- we've never seen the term before. Similar phrases include You win the crocheted teapot and You win the crocheted bicycle, all suggesting winning a prize that's as useless as, say, a chocolate teapot.

A high-school English teacher asks which is correct: It happened on accident, or It happened by accident? A survey by linguist Leslie Barratt at Indiana State University indicates that most people born after 1990 use on accident, and weren't even aware that by accident was proper, while those born before 1970 almost always say by accident.

An adult male opossum is called a jack, while the female's called a jill. A baby opossum is simply known as cute.

A Dallas listener says that if someone's moving especially slowly, his co-worker exclaims It's like dead lice dripping off you! This phrase, found in Southern and African-American literature from the early 20th century, probably reflects the idea that the person is moving so slowly that they're already dead and any lice on them have starved to death.
 
As composer and writer H.I. Phillips has observed, Oratory is the art of making deep noises from the chest sound like important messages from the brain.

Grant offers of a list of children's books he's been enjoying with his six-year-old son: Yotsuba&!, the energetic and curious Manga character, Pippi Longstocking, Calvin and Hobbes, the mad scientist Franny K. Stein, and the venerable Encyclopedia Brown.

Why are distances at sea measured in knots? In the 1500s, sailors would drop a chip log off the side of the boat and let out the rope for about thirty seconds, counting how many knots on the rope went out. Eventually, one knot came to mean one nautical mile per hour. Incidentally, this same log gave us logbook, weblog, and ultimately, blog.

A female sheep is an ewe, a goat is a nanny, but what's a female kangaroo? A flyer.

The word chow, as in chow hall or chow down, goes back to the British presence in Chinese ports during the 1700s. Chow chow was a pidgin term referring to a mixed dish of various foods, namely whatever was on hand. The joke was that it often contained dog, which is the same joke behind our encased sausage scraps known as hot dogs.

Why do we measure the sea in knots? Why, to keep the ocean tide!

Although a few sticklers cling to the traditional pronunciation of short-lived with a long i, the vast majority of Americans now pronounce short-lived with a short i. Long live the latter, we say.

Does and bucks are female and male deer, respectively. But what do you call female and male gerbils. Why, they're does and bucks, too.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Share: Ride the Merry-Go-Round - 24 June 2013


Bouncy House of Language - 17 June 2013

2013-06-16
Length: 51s

Some people proudly embrace the label cancer survivor, while others feel that's not quite the right word. Is there a better term for someone who's battled cancer? Writers and listeners share the best sentence they've read all day. Plus, koofers and goombahs, Alfred Hitchcock and MacGuffins, why we put food in jars but call it canning, and why ring the door with your elbow means BYOB.

FULL DETAILS

Ever read a sentence that's so good, you just have to look up from the page to let it sink in? Grant offers one from Ezra Pound: "The book should be a ball of light in one's hands."

When someone says, He didn't lick that off the grass, it means he's inherited a behavior from relatives or picked it up from those around them. This phrase is particularly common in Northern Ireland.

Don't bother showing up to a party unless you're ringing the doorbell with your elbow. In other words, BYOB.

Brian from Edison, New Jersey, is pondering this linguistic mystery: The Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain Wawa has a goose as its logo. The Algonquin term for "goose" is wawa, and the French for "goose" is oie, pronounced "wah." Is there a connection between the French and Native American terms? It's probably just another example from a long list of linguistic coincidences resulting from the limited amount of vocal sounds we can make.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska invites us to play Categorical Allies, a game of two-word pairs where the last two letters of the first word lend themselves to the start of the second, and both words fit into one category. For example, what word might follow the name Job? Or the title A Christmas Carol?

Say you've been busy all semester throwing a Frisbee and drinking juice out of a funnel, and now it's finals week. How are you going to study? Just get yourself a koofer! These old tests, which some universities keep around in their libraries, can be great guides in prepping for a current test. Virginia Tech alums claim the term originated there in the early 1940s. In any case, many universities now have koofers, and many are available online at koofers.com.

Why do we call it canning if we're putting stuff in glass jars? The answer has to do with when the technique was discovered. The process of canning came about in the late 1700s, when thin glass jars were used. Factories soon switched to metal cans because they were durable and better for shipping. But after Mason jars came about in the mid-1800s, the process of preserving things at home kept the name canning.

Sam Anderson, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, tweets the best sentence he reads each day, like this from D.H. Lawrence describing the affection of Italians: "They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips."

Should people living with cancer be referred to as cancer survivors? Mary from Delafield, Wisconsin, a breast cancer survivor herself, doesn't like the term. Nor does Indiana University professor emerita Susan Gubar, who discusses this in an eloquent New York Times blog post. Many people living with cancer feel that the word survivor, which came into vogue in the early 90s, now seems inadequate. Some argue that having cancer shouldn't be their most important identifying feature. Others suggest calling themselves contenders or grits. Have a better idea?

Kevin Whitebaum of Oberlin, Ohio, has a favorite sentence from P.D. James's A Taste for Death: "The original tenants had been replaced by the transients of the city, the peripatetic young, sharing three to a room; unmarried mothers sharing social security; foreign students—a racial mix which, like some human kaleidoscope, was continually being shaken into new and brighter colours."

A while back, we talked about ishpy, a popular word among Nordic immigrants meaning something that a child shouldn't touch or put in their mouth. It turns out that lots of listeners with ancestors from Norway and Denmark know the term ishpy, along with ishie poo, ishta, and ish, all having to do with something disgusting or otherwise forbidden.

When is it okay to correct someone's grammar? Grant offers two rules: Correct someone only if they've asked you to, or if they're paying you to. Otherwise, telling someone they should've used I instead of me is just interrupt the conversation for no good reason.

Nick Greene, web editor for The Village Voice, tweeted, "Modern society's greatest failing has been letting Application defeat Appetizer in the War For What Can Be Called an App." There's always antipasti.

Goombah, sometimes spelled goomba, is a term for Italian-Americans that's sometimes used disparagingly. Physicians use the same word for the blobs on CT scans indicating a possible tumor, but this sense probably derives from the evil mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., known as goombas. The game was released in 1986, right about the same time that doctors picked up the term.

Here's a great sentence by Phil Jackson, tweeted by writer Sam Anderson: "I was 6'6" in high school ... arms so long I could sit in the backseat of a car and open both front doors at the same time."

A MacGuffin isn't the name of a breakfast sandwich, but it could be -- that is, if a movie involves characters trying to get that sandwich. The MacGuffin, also spelled McGuffin or maguffin, is any object in a film that drives the story forward, like the secret papers or the stolen necklace. Alfred Hitchcock made the MacGuffin famous, and explained it this way in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original."

Judy Schwartz from Dallas, Texas, sent us the best sentence she read all day. It's from William Zinsser's On Writing Well: "Clutter is the disease of American writing." Have a sentence that stopped you in your tracks? Send it our way.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Bouncy House of Language - 17 June 2013


The One Who Brung You (Rebroadcast) - 10 June 2013

2013-06-09
Length: 51s

You've been reading a book but you're just not into it. How do you quit it, guilt-free? How do you break up with a book? Also, what do you ask for when you go through the grocery checkout line: bag, sack, or something else? Plus, brung vs. brought, a swim swim, cuddywifters, pinstriped cookie-pushers, a road trip word game, and more.

FULL DETAILS

How do you know if it's time to break up with a book? You've into the book 50, maybe a 100 pages, but you're just not into it. Is there something wrong with quitting before the end? Tell us where you draw the line.

Let's say an expression you use really bothers your friends or coworkers. Maybe you end sentences with whatnot or etcetera, or you use um as a placeholder, and you want to stop doing it. Here's a tip: Enlist someone you trust, and have them police you, calling your attention to it every time you use that verbal crutch. It should cure you pretty quickly.

A while ago, we played a game involving aptronyms, those monikers that really fit their owners. For example, picture a guy holding a shovel standing next to a hole. His name might be Doug. But a Tennessee listener wrote to suggest another answer: the guy with the shovel might just as well be called Barry. Have a better aptronym to share?

If you say something's going downhill, does that mean things are getting better or worse? Here's the rule: if something's going downhill, it's getting worse, but if things are all downhill from here, they're getting better.

Remember Tom Swifties, those puns where the adverb matches the quote? How about this one: "I love reading Moby-Dick," Tom said superficially.

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game that should last through your longest road trip. It's a variation of “20 Questions” called “Animal, Mineral or Vegetable. “He gives you a word, and you have to find the animal, mineral or vegetable embedded in it. For example, which of those three things is contained in the word "soaking"?

Mike from Irving, Texas, has a co-worker who regularly uses brung instead of brought. Is it okay to say "he brung something"? Although the word brung isn't standard English, this dialectal variant has existed alongside brought for centuries. It appears in the informal phrase dance with the one what brung you (or who brung you or that brung you), which suggests the importance of being loyal.

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” made popular by the 1983 film The Right Stuff, has seen a renaissance in usage among pilots. That is, if you don't pay them what they believe they’re worth, they're not going to fly.

We got a call from Sarah in Dresden, Germany, who's applying to work for the State Department as foreign service officer. She was curious about an article that contained the term pinstriped cookie-pusher. According to William Safire's Political Dictionary, this bit of derogatory slang came into use in the 1920s to refer to diplomats who were perceived as soft or even effeminate. These men in pinstriped suits would attend receptions at embassies where they'd push cookies instead of paper.

If a waiter marks your date as a WW, you know you're in for a pricey bottle of wine. The wine whales, as they're called, take their name from the Vegas whale: those folks who play big at the tables, to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions.

Will, a listener from South Burlington, Vermont, says he always considered willy nilly to be his own special phrase. But he's realized over the years that its original meaning has been replaced. What was originated as will I, nill I or will he, nill he -- that is, with or without the will of someone -- has come to mean "haphazard." This transformation likely has to do with its rhyme.

If someone's a cuddywifter, are they a) a wine snob, b) left-handed, or c) a circus clown? Folks in Scotland and Northern England refer to left-handed people as cuddywifters, along with a host of other terms.

After re-reading Stephen Crane's short story The Open Boat, Martha is reminded of one of Crane's poems about perspective, known as A man saw a ball of gold in the sky.

If someone asks for their groceries in a bag, does that mean they want paper or plastic? For Jean-Patrick in Dallas, Texas, has had plenty of experience bagging groceries, and says his customers use the term bag specifically to mean the paper kind. We don't have evidence that there are different names for these containers in different parts of the country, but we'd love to hear from our listeners on this one.

When someone's going for a swim swim, it means they're doing it for real, laps and all. If they're going to a party, that's probably going to be more sedate than a party party. These are examples of what linguists call contrastive focus reduplication, in which we emphasize a term by reusing it, rather than tacking on another adjective. For example, you might just like someone, but then again you maybe you like like them.

When it comes to marriage, you've got to work with your OH—that is, your other half. Lexicographers for the Oxford English Dictionary are tracking this initialism, as well as DH, or dear husband, for possible inclusion in future editions.

I liked to died when that ol' toad-strangler crashed through the veranda! The Southernism liked to, also known as the counterfactual liketa, derives from the sense of like meaning "nearly." If you have some favorite regional language, please share it with us.

One of Kentucky's finest, Wendell Berry, wrote this in his poem "The Real Work": "It may be that when we no longer know what to do/ we have come to our real work." Indeed, a smooth life is often a boring life.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
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Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

And from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The One Who Brung You (Rebroadcast) - 10 June 2013


On the Shoe Phone - 3 June 2013

2013-06-02
Length: 51s

First names like "Patience," "Hope," and "Charity" are inspired by worthy qualities. But how about "Be-courteous" or "Hate-evil"? The Puritans sometimes gave children such names hoping that their kids would live up to them. Also, even some feminists are discarding the name "feminist." Plus, reticent vs. reluctant, sherbet vs. sherbert, mosquitoes vs. lawyers, and a word for that feeling in your toes after a great kiss.

FULL DETAILS

Patience, Hope, and Charity are pretty ambitious things to name your children. But what about Hate-evil, Be-courteous, or Search-the-scriptures? Or Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith? Puritan parents sometimes gave their kids so as to encourage those qualities. They're called hortatory names, from the Latin for "encourage" or "urge."

What's the difference between a mosquito and a lawyer? One's a bloodsucking parasite, and the other's an insect. This bait-and-switch joke, like many good paraprosdokians, get their humor by going contrary to our expectations.

A debate has been raging within the Conductors Guild. Should that organization's name have an apostrophe? Most board members contend that for simplicity and clarity, the name should go without an apostrophe. The hosts concur.

That thing when someone kisses you so well that your toes curl up? It's called a foot pop.

Is it incorrect to say I could use a drink rather than I want a drink? A California man says his Italian partner claims this use of use is incorrect. It may be a verbal crutch, but it's still correct English.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska feeds us a game of spoonerisms, or rhyming phrase pairs where the first sounds are swapped. For example, what do a stream of information in 140 characters and a better tailored suit have in common? Or how about a Michael Lewis book about baseball and a shopping destination for rabbits?

A caller from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, says that cops in Canada will often say to contact them on their shoe phones. The shoe phone comes from Maxwell Smart, the hapless hero of the 1960s sitcom Get Smart, who kept a phone on the sole of his shoe. The phrase has now come to refer to any surreptitiously placed phone.

Before the days of the Square, vendors had to run a credit card through rough, bulky machine called a knucklebuster that had the capacity to do just that.

Order in the court, the monkey wants to speak, the first one to speak is a monkey for a week! This children's rhyme appears in print in the 1950s, and Israel Kaplan mentions it in When I Was a Boy in Brooklyn, his take on growing up in New York in the 20s and 30s. Many of his rhymes were less tame.

The poet Marianne Moore was once asked to come up with car names for the Ford Motor Company, and if it wasn't for the genius of their own term, the Edsel, we could've been driving around in Resilient Bullets, Varsity Strokes, or Utopian Turtletops.

The term vegan was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, the founder of the U.K. Vegan Society, who insisted that the original pronunciation was VEE-gin. However, some dictionaries now allow for other pronunciations, such as VAY-gin or even VEDJ-in.

If a phone in your shoe or your glasses isn't futuristic enough for you, check out morphees. They're smartphones and handheld gaming devices that can bend and change shapes.

Is it time for feminists to ditch the label feminist? Women's studies professor Abigail Rine is among those struggling with that question. She argues that conversations about feminist issues are often held up by discussions about the label itself, and its negative connotations in particular. Meanwhile, some are trying to replace the word patriarchy with kyriarchy, from the Greek for "lord" or "master" (as in Kyrie Eleison, or "Lord, have mercy) since matters of discrimination don't just fall along gender lines.

Sherbet is pronounced SHUR-bit. There's no r before the t, and there's no need to add one. If it still seems too complicated, you might just order ice cream or sorbet instead.

Noah Webster originally tried changing the spelling of hard ch words to begin with k, as in karacter, but the shift never caught on, as is usually the case with spelling reforms.

Is there a difference between reticent and reluctant? Reticent more specifically involves reluctance to speak--it comes from the Latin root meaning "silent," and is a relative of the word tacit--whereas you can be reluctant to do anything.

Say you're a novelist working on your magnum opus. While you're shuffling through the produce aisle, an idea strikes you and you can't stop thinking about it. That's what they call a plot bunny.

Lori from Swansboro, North Carolina, wonders about pure-T mommicked, which in many parts of the South and South Midlands means "confused." Its sense of "harrass, tease, impose upon" is particularly common in North Carolina. It apparently derives from the verb mammock, meaning to tear into pieces, actually shows up in Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The pure-T is a variant of pure-D, a euphemism for pure damned.

This past spring was a cold one, wasn't it? Some have taken to calling it February 90th.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: On the Shoe Phone - 3 June 2013


Fake English (Rebroadcast) - 27 May 2013

2013-05-26
Length: 51s

Everyone knows you don't start a sentence with "But." But why? We sort out the confusion over this little word. Also, how voice recognition technology is changing the way we think and write, and what English sounds like to foreigners. (Hint: It's not pretty.) Plus, where cockamamie comes from, oddly translated movie titles, trucker slang, patron vs. customer, hashtags, pungling, paralipsis, and more.

FULL DETAILS

Quiz time! Does pungle mean a) a baby platypus, or b) a verb meaning "to put down money."  It's the latter. The term pungle is most common in the Western United States. It comes from the Spanish pongale, an imperative meaning "put it down." For example, you might pungle down cash at a poker table or a checkout counter.

Michelle, a middle school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, says her students believe they've invented a new word for "an injury received from a fist bump or dap." They say they created fistumba as a combination of fist and Zumba, the popular dance exercise. They're wondering how to improve their chances of spreading this new word, and they've been discussing the children's book Frindle, by Andrew Clements, which is about inventing and trying to popularize a new term.

"We don't want to dwell on the need for your donations, so we'll stop talking about how important they are." Rhetorical statements like this one, where the point is actually made by pretending to avoid it, is often called paralipsis or paraleipsis. The terms come from the Greek word meaning "to leave aside."

In truck driver slang, a bedbugger is "a moving van that hauls furniture." That's one example of trucker lingo that Martha picked up during her appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio's call-in program, The Ben Merens Show.

Kathleen from Hebron, Connecticut, is curious about the term hashtag. She associates it with the symbol #, which she calls a pound sign. When that symbol, also known as a hash mark, pound sign, doublecross, hatch mark, octothorpe, or number sign, is appended to clickable keywords, the whole thing is known as a hashtag. It's used on Twitter, among other places, to help label a message on a particular topic.

If you're a fan of yard sales, you'll love this game from Puzzle Guy John Chaneski. Suppose you go yard-saling, but only at the homes of famous people. The items you find there are all two-word rhymes. At the house of one powerful politician, for example, you find he's selling his flannel nightclothes. Can you guess what they're called?

Richard from San Diego, California, has a hard time believe that the term cockamamie doesn't derive from Yiddish. Although the word was adapted by Jewish immigrants in New York City to refer to transferable decals, it comes from French decalcomania. Cockamamie, or cockamamy, is now used to describe something wacky or ridiculous, and it's often heard among those familiar with Yiddish.

What film, when translated from its Spanish version, is known as An Expert in Fun? It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off! Now take a crack at decoding these two: Love without Stopovers, and Very Important Perros.

Suzie, who works at the Dallas Public Library, is wondering why librarians are being asked to refer to their patrons as customers. Does the word customer make consulting a library and borrowing books feel too much like a transaction? Eric Patridge, in his 1955 book The Concise Usage and Abusage, explains that you can have a patron of the arts, but not of a greengrocer or a bookmaker. What do you think people who use a library should be called?

Back in 1867 a newspaper in Nevada used the verb pungle to lovely effect: "All night the clouds pungled their fleecy treasure."

The modifier lamming or lammin', is used as an intensifier, as in "That container is lammin' full," meaning "That container is extremely full." There's a whole class of intensifying words like this in English, which have to do with the idea of hitting, banging, thumping, or striking. Another example: larrupin'.  The word lammin' in particular popped up in a bunch of cowboy novels after Zane Grey popularized the term in his books.

Do you listen to our show on an alligator radio? We're guessing not, since this bit of trucker slang refers to the CB radios that transmit a strong signal but are terrible for receiving. Like an alligator, they're all mouth and no ears.

Voice recording technology is making it easier than ever to dictate text rather than write it. Richard Powers, author of the 2006 National Book Award winner The Echo Maker, wrote most of that book by dictating it into a computer program. Of course, dictating to humans has been happening for centuries. John Milton is said to have dictated Paradise Lost to his daughters, and Mark Twain supposedly dictated much of his Autobiography. But as Powers explained in an essay, dictating to a computer changes the way one puts words on the page.

Every elementary school student is taught never to start a sentence with "But." But why? Teachers of young students often warn against beginning with "But" or "And" simply as a way of avoiding a verbal crutch. All mature writers develop an instinct for what tone they're going for, who their audience is, and what kind of style their content demands. But there's no universal rule against starting a sentence with the word "but."

David, a lawyer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, subscribes to the Lexis Legal News Brief, and wonders about the connection between lex meaning "law," and the lex which refers to "words." While lexis refers to the total stock of words in a language, lexicon means the vocabulary of an individual or a specific branch of knowledge. They all come from an ancient root leg-, having to do with the idea of "collecting" or "gathering," which also gives us the suffix -logy, as in the study of something.

If you're driving an 18-wheeler and want to warn fellow truckers about a piece of blown tire lying in the middle of the road, you'd tell them to watch out for the alligator. Come to think of it, the crocodilian reptile and the rubber remnant do share a passing resemblance.

Kids often imitate French or Chinese speakers without knowing the language,. But have you ever tried to imitate the English language, or speak fake English? There are lots of YouTube videos that give an idea of what English sounds like to native speakers of foreign languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere.  More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.


Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

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Share: Fake English (Rebroadcast) - 27 May 2013


Can of Worms (Rebroadcast) - 20 May 2013

2013-05-19
Length: 51s

What do you call a guy with a bald pate? A chrome dome? Maybe the lucky fellow is sporting a solar panel for a sex machine. Also, which would you rather open: a can of worms or Pandora's Box? Plus, ordinary vs. ornery, versing vs. versus, dishwater vs. ditchwater, the copyediting term stet, still hunts, and doozies. And if someone's a phony, is he a four-flusher or a floor-flusher? Maybe he's also a piece of work.

FULL DETAILS

Has anyone collected the stuff bald people say? How about a busy road grows no grass, or God only made so many perfect heads—the rest he covered in hair. Jorge Luis Borges deemed the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina as "a fight between two bald men over a comb."

If someone seems too good to be true, he may be a four-flusher. This term for "a fake" or "a phony" comes from the poker slang four-flusher, meaning someone who has four cards of a suit but not yet the full flush. Some people confuse the term as floor-flusher, like in the 1954 Popeye cartoon about a plumbing mishap that makes humorous use of this expression.

Is someone dull as ditchwater or dishwater? The more common phrase, which came into use much earlier, is ditchwater.

What do you call the rear compartment of a station wagon or minivan? Many know it as the way back, not to be confused with the regular back, which is more likely to have seat belts.

Who knows if Harry means "hairy," but we do know that the name Calvin means "bald." It derives from the Latin calvus, which means the same thing, and is also the root of the term Calvary.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski plays master of ceremonies for the Miss Word Pageant, a popularity contest for words based on their Google search frequency. For example, between bacon, lettuce and tomato, bacon takes the prize by far for most Google hits, while lettuce brings up the rear. What’d lettuce do for the talent portion?

What's the difference between Pandora's box and a can of worms? In Greek myth, the contents of the fateful box belonging to Pandora (literally, "all gifts" in ancient Greek) were a mystery. WIth a can of worms, on the other hand, you know the kind of tangled, unpleasant mess you're in for. It's worms.

Does the possessive “s” go at the end of a proper name ending in “s”? What's the possessive of  a name like James -- James' or James's? Either's correct, depending on your style guide. The AP Stylebook says you just use an apostrophe, but others say to add the “s”. Your best bet is to choose a style and then be consistent.

The term callow goes back to Old English calu, meaning "bald." The original sense of callow referred to young birds lacking feathers on their heads, then referred to a young man's down cheek, and eventually came to mean "youthful" or "immature."

The word stet was borrowed from the Latin word spelled the same way, which translates "let it stand." Stet is commonly used by writers and editors to indicate that something should remain as written, especially after a correction has been suggested.

Why do we refer to a draw in tic-tac-toe as a cat's game? Throughout the history of the game, cats have been associated with it. In some Spanish-speaking countries, for example, it's known as gato, or "cat."

Photos and tests from the Mars Rover show an abundance of hematite, a dark red mineral that takes its name from the Greek word haima, meaning "blood." Another mineral, goethite, is named for the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an amateur geologist whose collection of 18,000 minerals was famous throughout Europe.

Is versing, meaning "to compete against someone," a real verb? In the past thirty years, this term has grown in popularity because versus, when spoken, sounds like a conjugated verb. So youngsters especially will talk about one team getting ready to verse another. Similar things happened with misunderstanding the plural forms of kudos (in ancient Greek, "glory") and biceps (literally, "two-headed") — both of those words were originally singular.

To sell woof tickets, or wolf tickets, is African-American slang meaning "to threaten in a boastful manner."  Geneva Smitherman, a professor at Michigan State University who's studied the term, believes it has its origins in the idea of a dog barking uselessly.

The term doozie, which refers to something good or first rate, may derive from daisy, as in the flower, sometimes considered an example of excellence. It might also have to do with the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, who toured the States in the 1890s.

Goethe wasn't all about the minerals. He's also quoted as saying, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Goethe also said, "Everything is simpler than one can imagine and yet complicated and intertwined beyond comprehension," which seems quite appropriate for a poet whose name graces rocks on another planet.

What does it mean if someone's on a still hunt? This hunting term, for when you're walking quietly to find prey, has been conscripted by the political world to refer to certain kinds of campaign strategies.

Can ordinary also mean "crude" or "crass"? This usage was more common in previous generations, but it is acceptable. It's also the source of ornery, meaning "combative" or "crotchety."

If someone's a piece of work, they're a real pain in the rear. Merriam-Webster defines a piece of work as "a complicated, difficult, or eccentric person." The expression appears to derive  from Hamlet.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Can of Worms (Rebroadcast) - 20 May 2013


Got Your Six - 13 May 2013

2013-05-12
Length: 51s

Starting this year, Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants not only have to spell words correctly. A controversial new rule means they'll have to answer vocabulary questions, too. Also, when it comes to reading text, do you prefer "paper" or "plastic"? Some research suggests that comprehension is slightly better when you read offline instead of on a screen. And the term winkle out, plus bike slang, the military origin of I've got your six, why the word awfully isn't awful, and where you'll find onion snow.

FULL DETAILS

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, long beloved for its youngsters stammering out words like appoggiatura, is about to change this year, when they're also forced to define words like appoggiatura. Officials added two rounds of computerized vocabulary tests to the early rounds of the tournament. In some circles, though, this new rule spells C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-SY.

If someone's got your six, it means they've got your back. This expression comes from the placement of numbers on an analog clock, and appears to have originated with military pilots.

Is there such thing as a half a hole? Most holes are whole holes, but even half holes are whole holes, if you think about it. In any case, it's a fun conundrum, sort of like asking someone if they're asleep. Children's book author Robert McCloskey had some fun with a similar idea in a little ditty in one of his Homer Price stories.

Michel de Montaigne once wrote, "A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears." This is a classic example of chiasmus, or a reversal of clauses that together make a larger point.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska takes a break from his music career to bring us a game called Initia-rithmetic. For example, if he says there are 4 P's depicted on M.R., what do those initials stand for? The answer to that one is, you might say, monumental.

Lesley Tweedie from Chicago, Illinois, owns a bike shop, and shares some slang from her workplace. A boomerang bike is one of those bikes that goes out the door and comes back 20 minutes later for another repair. JRA refers to those instances when someone was just riding along when something broke down. And a bikeochondriac is someone who comes in claiming there's something wrong with it, but the wrench (a bike mechanic) just can't find the problem.

When someone's fly is down, do you say XYZ for "Examine your zipper"? For a change of pace, you might try another euphemistic expression used the Southern United States and South Midlands: Is your finger sore? As in, Is your finger too sore to zip up your pants?

What Americans call a cold draft, the British call a cold draught. Noah Webster deserves most of the responsibility for changing the British spelling. Regardless of how they're spelled, both words rhyme with "daft," not "drought."

In parts of Pennsylvania, a late-spring dusting of light snow is called onion snow. It's a reference to the way little green onion shoots are poking through the white.

Is an iPad just a magazine that doesn't work? The now-classic video of a child thumbing over a magazine to no effect comes to mind given a recent article in Scientific American about our comprehension of things read on e-readers as opposed to printed books. As it turns out, we retain slightly more when reading a real book.

Awfully might seem like an awful choice for a positive adverb, as in awfully talented, but it makes sense given the history of awful. Once intended to mean filled with awe, it's now a general intensifier. The process of semantic weakening has meant that awfully, along with terribly and horribly, has become synonymous with the word very. Actually, the word very went through a similar process. Very derives from Latin verus, "true," and is cognate with verify.

Amber from Berlin, New Hampshire, works in a prison, and wants to know why those ominous double sets of prison doors are called by the feminine-sounding name sallyport. Going back to the 1600s, a sallyport was a fortified entrance to a military structure. The name comes from Latin salire, meaning "to go out" or "to leave."

If something needs to be carefully extracted, you'll want to winkle it out. This Britishism comes from winkles, those edible snails that must be gingerly pulled out of their shells.

Keep the ishpee out of your mouth. One caller's parents used to shout Ishpee! when he or his siblings would try and eat dirt, marbles, or whatever they found on the floor. He wonders if this expression is unique to his family. It may be related to the exclamation Ish!, which is used particularly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, when encountering something really disgusting. Ish may derive from similar-sounding words expressions of disgust from Scandinavian languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Got Your Six - 13 May 2013


Nothing to Sneeze At (Rebroadcast) - 6 May 2013

2013-05-05
Length: 51s

This week, forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry because company's coming? How about "making lasagna" or "shame cleaning"? Plus who's a hoopie, down goes your shanty, hold on to your blueberry money, and gym slang fit for a cardio queen.

FULL DETAILS

Having trouble sneezing? You may be suffering from arrested sternutation, also known as a sneeze freeze!

Is it still cleaning if you just throw things in a closet? Terms for this practice include making a lasagna, shame cleaning, or stuffing the comedy closet. Just be careful not to end up with a Fibber McGee catastrophe.

Is there a connection between the ancient Greek muse and the word amused? No. The muses were mythological figures who inspired the likes of Homer, while amuse comes from the Latin word for "staring stupidly," as in, "to be distracted by mindless entertainment."

Why do we sneeze when we go from a dark theater to the bright outdoors? The photic sneeze reflex is a genetic trait many of us have, as part of the Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helo-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, the backronym for ACHOO!

You don't know siccum, meaning "you don't know anything," is an idiom common in the Northwest. It's a shortened form of he doesn't know come here from sic 'em, as in a dog that doesn't know how to obey commands.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for all of us who fancy the blank tiles in Words With Friends. Given a word and two blank tiles, place one on either end to form a new word. For example, at least two new words can be made by adding a letter to either end of the word eight.

If someone's a hoopie, it means they're less than sophisticated. This term was used in the Ohio River Valley to refer to the bumpkins from West Virginia who performed menial work with barrels, hammering their hoops into place.

How should news organizations refer to elected officials, past and present? There's not much consensus among print and broadcast companies, but most organizations have their own set of rules. For example, NPR's policy is to refer to the current president as President Barack Obama the first time he's mentioned in a news story, and thereafter as Mr. Obama.

Here's a proverb about the days on which you sneeze. "Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger. Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger..." But wait, there's more!

What kind of slang will you find at the gym? The old standby, jacked, meaning "muscular," may derive from the lifting motion of a car jack. January joiners are those well-meaning souls who make new year's resolutions to get in shape, and stop showing up a week later. Cardio queens are the ladies in fancy sweatsuits taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while reading a magazine.

What's it called when a fit of sneezing takes hold? Try ptarmosis, from the Greek ptarmos for "sneeze." Or sternutamentum, meaning rapid, spasmodic sneezing.

Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who's written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by identifying personal and regional distinctions in a suspect's language. Though far from a silver bullet, the practice seems to have a solid place in the future of law enforcement.

If someone still has their blueberry money, chances are they're a bit stingy. This term from the Northeast refers to those who've held onto the change they made picking and selling blueberries as a kid.

What's the origin of the warning phrase “down goes your shanty!”? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, "If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty." It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house!

If you sneeze at the end of a meal, you may be afflicted with snatiation. It's that tickle in the nose you feel when you're full.

Why do people use the phrase going forward when talking about the future? Although it sometimes carries legitimate meaning, the expression is often just a pleonastic bit of business jargon that ends up on plenty of lists of people's pet peeves.

Is the synonym for pamphlet spelled f-l-y-e-r or f-l-i-e-r? Both. In the UK, it’s flyer, and in the US, flier is preferred.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Nothing to Sneeze At (Rebroadcast) - 6 May 2013


Gone Pecan (Rebroadcast) - 29 April 2013

2013-04-28
Length: 51s

How did the word "gay" go from meaning "happy" to "homosexual"? Martha and Grant discuss the evolution of this word. Also, why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? Plus, imeldific, gone pecan, random Scrabble words, and the difference between borrow and lend. And the etiquette of striking up a conversation with a stranger in an English pub: Whatever you do, don't introduce yourself or try to shake hands.

FULL DETAILS

When you're playing Scrabble or Words with Friends, do you ever try random letters and hope they stick? One listener scored a few points when he managed to play the word haverels that way. Turns out it's an old term from Scotland and Northern England meaning "those who talk foolishly or without sense."

Why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? The earliest schools, called scolae grammaticales, were connected to monasteries. They were meant for teaching Latin grammar. The term declined in popularity during the 1960's.

What's the plural of cyclops? If you have a group of those one-eyed mythical monsters, your best bet is cyclopes, pronounced "sye-KLOH-peez."

If something's gaudy and excessive, Filipinos might call it imeldific. It's a slang term inspired by Imelda Marcos and her legendary shoe collection.

What's the difference between borrow and lend, or between borrow and loan? The real difference between these verbs is which direction the thing is traveling. Something similar happens with teach vs. learn and bring vs. take.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "I Don't Think So, M-W." The name is a nod to Merriam-Webster's word of the day email, which often uses puzzling example sentences, like this one: "Lying in my tent that night, I could hear the campfire crackling and the crickets __________ and none of the city sounds I was accustomed to." Good luck filling in that blank.

If a command begins or ends with the word please, does that make the order optional? The hosts agree that generally it's polite to honor such a request despite the phrasing.

How did the word gay come to mean both "happy" and "homosexual"? In the late 1800's, the term gaycat was used in hobo culture to refer to an inexperienced hobo who might take on an older mentor for help, often another male. Over time, there was a convergence between gay as slang for "homosexual" and "gay" from the French term for "happy."

Paronomasia's just another word for pun, and Martha can't resist offering an example.

What is a road warrior? This term for someone who travels a lot or commutes a long distance is also used by some to refer to military personnel who are retired on active duty, also known as r.o.a.d.

Grant pops a riddles from an 1835 collection titled The Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, and Connundrums by Peter Puzzlewell. Hmmmm.

Step into a traditional English pub, it'll be a while before everyone knows your name. A long while, in fact. The rules of conversational engagement are different in the UK from what you'd find in a place like Cheers. Kate Fox's Passport to the Pub: The Tourist's Guide to Pub Etiquette spells out many of the customs. For example, at English pubs, it's better not to go for a handshake when a simple "Hi" will do. Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK addresses these differences in her blog Separated By a Common Language.

If someone's gone pecan, they're doomed, defeated, and down on their luck. This idiom, common in New Orleans, probably caught on because of its rhyme.

Here's a slang word for being drunk you might not have heard of: high-lonesome.

When someone talks about Hollywood or Wall Street, they're probably not talking about a California city or a Manhattan street. It's an example of what rhetoricians call metonymy. Metonyms like The White House or Downing Street are often used as substitutes for a group of people or an industry.

What is a bingo? If you're a taxi driver, a bingo is someone you don't pick up because your cab is already occupied. Another bit of cabbie slang is bunco. That's when they arrive at an agreed-upon address but no passenger shows up.

The term dried plums has come into vogue since prune seems to have some negative connotations.

Why do some town names end in ham? Effingham, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; Gotham City, U.S.A. They all derive from the Old English ham meaning "home" or "homestead."

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Gone Pecan (Rebroadcast) - 29 April 2013


Dog-and-Pony Show (Rebroadcast) - 22 April 2013

2013-04-21
Length: 51s

Remember getting caught sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G? Grant and Martha wax nostalgic on some classic schoolyard rhymes. What do you call your offspring once they've grown up? Adult children? How about kid-ults? Plus, is there really such a thing as a dog-and-pony show? What does a dog chewing waspers look like? Also, the reason the words valuable and invaluable aren't opposites.

FULL DETAILS

What's your favorite schoolyard rhyme? Maybe it's the singsong taunt that goes "Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider." Or the romantic standby about two lovebirds sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Some playground chants are rude, others are crude, and many involve figuring out that whole business about the birds and the bees.

If you're an empty nester, you've probably wondered about a term for one's grown offspring. Do you use the term adult children? How about kid-ults? Since the 1960's, the latter has also been used in the marketing and advertising world. There, kid-ults often refers to, for example, the kind of grownup who enjoys reading Harry Potter. This term combining the words kid and adult is an example of a portmanteau word, or what linguists call a blend.

How do you pronounce ogle? Is it oh-gle? Oogle? By far the best pronunciation is the former. But older slang dictionaries do include the verb oogle. All of these words connote the idea of looking on with desire, often with a sexy up-and-down glance.

It's time for a round of Name that Tune! What familiar song, translated into Shakespearean English, begins "Oh, proud left foot that ventures quick within, then soon upon a backward journey lithe"? There's much more to these overwrought lyrics, which come from Jeff Brechlin's winning entry in a contest sponsored by The Washington Post. The newspaper asked readers to submit familiar instructions in the style of a famous writer. The results are pretty funny.

Just in time for the new movie season, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game involving one-word movie titles that have won Best Picture Academy Awards. For example, which Oscar-winning film is titled with a man's middle name that means "for the love of God"?

Does a statement have to be true to be a fact? When it comes to the difference between facts and opinions, some may argue that facts are merely claims that can be proven true or false. Most dictionaries, however, assert that in order for an assertion to be a fact, it must be true.

What does it mean to look like a dog chewing waspers? Or like a possum eating persimmons? And what does it mean when someone says, "He was grinning like a mule eating briars?" These idioms, which have been recorded in Kentucky and Virginia, refer to people chewing with their mouths open in a less-than-civilized fashion. In all of these examples, the one who's masticating is showing lots of teeth -- rather like a beagle trying to eat a sliding glass door.

Time for more Name that Tune: What song, often sung in rounds, inspired this high-falutin' first line? "Propel, propel, propel your craft, progressively down the liquid solution."

Why does the prefix in- sometimes make a synonym rather than an antonym? In the case of  invaluable, the prefix is still a negation, since it suggests that something's value is incalculable. Michael Quinion's website affixes.org shows how in- prefixes have been corrupted over time.

Yikes! Come to think of it, what if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?

Do children still need to learn cursive? Many listeners now in their twenties say they didn't learn cursive in school and have trouble reading it. Others view it as a lost art, akin to calligraphy, which should be learned and practiced for its aesthetic value.

What is a dog-and-pony show? This disparaging term goes back to the 1920s, when actual dog and pony shows competed with far more elaborate circuses. Many times the dog-and-pony offerings served as a front to hoochie-coochie shows or tents serving illegal alcohol. Over time, in the worlds of politics, business, and the military, the term was transferred to perfunctory or picayune presentations.

Is it correct to say "I have no ideal" instead of "no idea"? In Kentucky, this use of ideal is common across education and socioeconomic lines. Flustrated, a variant of frustrated that connotes more anger and confusion, is also common in the Bluegrass State. Grant explains the liquidity of the letters L and R, the sounds of which are often confused in English.

"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was black as ink, it chewed the paper off the walls and spit it in the sink." There's a variation you probably missed on the playground!

What's the difference between agreeance vs. agreement? While agreeance is a word, it hasn't been used since the 19th century, whereas agreement is both correct and common. Best to go with agreement.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Dog-and-Pony Show (Rebroadcast) - 22 April 2013


Good Juju (Rebroadcast) - 15 April 2013

2013-04-12
Length: 51s

Imagine a time when heroin was marketed for the whole family. It really happened. Also, how Twitter, M&M's, and Hallmark cards got their names. Plus, restaurant slang, bad juju, having a wild hair, cutting to the quick, and use vs. utilize.

FULL DETAILS

Nancy Friedman's blog Fritinancy is a great source of information about how products get their names. For example, the names Twitch and Jitter were rejected before the creators of Twitter finally settled on the famous moniker.

The idiom I've got a wild hair, which dates to the 50’s, means you're itching to do something. It's pretty literal: just think about those itchy stray hairs under your collar after a haircut.

Is it fussy and pretentious to use the word whom instead of who? If you think so, you'll  be heartened by writer Calvin Trillin's observation on the difference between whom and who: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."

Which is correct: use or utilize? The answer depends on the context. The word utilize carries an additional shade of meaning, suggesting that you’re using something in a way it’s not ordinarily employed. For example, you would use a stapler to staple, but you might utilize a stapler as a paperweight. In any case, if you want to be grammatically correct, use is your safest bet.

One of comedian Megan Amram’s hilarious tweets made Martha wonder about how M&M's got their name. In 1940, Forrest Mars and an heir to the Hershey fortune, Bruce Murrie, created a candy similar to the European chocolates called Smarties. The American version takes its name from the initials of the candymakers' last names, Mars and Murrie.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game full of Colbertisms, in honor of how comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his own name, with a silent "T" at the end. Why not drop the "T" off all words ending in "RT"?

Why do newspaper reporters end articles with the number "30"or the three-pound-sign symbol "###"? No one knows for sure, although that never stopped journalists from debating the origin of this way of ending a story. We do know that this practice arose in a bygone era when reporters typed their copy directly onto paper and handed it over to copyboys, and needed a way to indicate the last page. In 2007, a vestige of this old practice figured in an amusing correction in the New York Times.

What is the best way to write an apology to a customer, especially if you’re handling complaints for a corporation. Some tips: be sincere, and make sure your wording makes clear that you understand the consumer's complaint and that your company takes responsibility for the mistake and wants to make things right.

Aspirin is now a generic drug, but it was once a brand-name product made by Bayer. It's just one of many genericized trademarks, also known as proprietary eponyms, which includes not only aspirin, but kerosene, dry ice, and cellophane.

What is juju? Is there such a thing as good juju, or is it only possible to have bad juju? This African term for a "charm" or "spell" took off during the Back-To-Africa movement in the 1960's, and has been mentioned in connection with international soccer matches.

Is it true that the drug heroin was once marketed to families? Yes! In the 1890’s, heroin, a substitute for morphine, was hailed as a tremendous help to patients with tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the time. Heroin eased the terrible suffering of tuberculosis by suppressing the respiratory system and thus the painful coughing fits associated with the disease. Nineteenth-century German doctors used the term heroisch ("heroic") to describe powerful drugs, and the German company that would later make Bayer aspirin dubbed this promising new drug Heroin. Before the drug's addictive nature and damaging effects were known, heroin was marketed specifically for children, resulting in some rather astonishing Spanish-language ads.

If a waiter needs a table for two, they might call for a two-top. This restaurant lingo, referring to the amount of place-settings needed, comes from a larger body of terms. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential is a good source of additional slang from kitchens around the world.

If you cut something to the quick, it means you're getting at its very essence. It comes from the Old English word, cwicu, meaning alive. It the source of the quick in the phrase the quick and the dead, as well as the words quicksilver ("living silver"), and quicksand ("living sand"), and the quick of your finger, the tender part under the fingernail.

Hallmark Cards got its name from Joyce C. Hall, who bought an engraving shop along with his brothers in 1910. Would it have taken off had they just called it Hall Cards?

Why do we say that we have a doctor’s appointment instead of an appointment with a doctor? After all, we don’t say we have accountant’s appointments or attorney’s appointments. It seems that the possessive term has become lexicalized after many years of common use.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
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Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Share: Good Juju (Rebroadcast) - 15 April 2013


What is a Hipster (Rebroadcast) - 8 April 2013

2013-04-07
Length: 51s

Get out your skinny jeans and pass the PBR! Martha and Grant discuss the definition of the word hipster. Also, what happens when you pull a brodie? And why do we describe something cheap or poorly made as cheesy? Also, sawbucks, pulling a brodie, shoestring budgets, the origins of bootlegging, and cabbie lingo, including the slang word bingo.

FULL DETAILS

A former cabbie shares his favorite jargon, like green pea and making your nut. Someone waving down an occupied cab is known as a bingo, and the cabbie will usually tell the dispatcher to send another car.  A San Diego cabdriver has gathered much more taxi slang here.

Is there any etymological connection between the dairy product and the adjective cheesy, meaning inferior, cheap, or otherwise sub-par? This descriptive term for something lowbrow or poorly made at one point had positive connotations in the 1800s, when something great could be said to be cheesy as a rare Stilton. Over time, though, cheesy took on the connotation of something unappealing, an apparent reference to a low quality, stinky cheese.

A shoestring budget is a spending plan that’s as thin and spindly as a shoestring. Not surprisingly, the term gained popularity during the Great Depression.

A line from The Moor of Venice, that I would liefer bide, features an old word for rather that shares a root with the words love and leave, as in by your leave.

Cabbies are sometimes known to stretch their hood, which means to fib to the dispatcher about their location. Sometimes they have to drive out of bounds to pick up a fare.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a word puzzle based on so-called container clues, where the answer is divided into two words, one which is found inside the other. For this game, the answers are all Greek gods.

A Word-Book of Virginia Folk Speak from 1912 includes this gem: Bachelors' wives and old maid's children are the best people in the world.

What is a hipster? Is it an insult to call someone a hipster, even if they’re, well, a hipster? Do hipsters identify themselves as hipsters? Grant traces the label from 1960s counterculture to today's skinny-jeaned Brooklyn paradox.

The handy term omnishambles means all in shambles, and has found its way from the British TV comedy The Thick of It to the floor of the House of Commons.

What is a cuculoris? This lighting grate, which also goes by such names as cookie, gobo, and dapple sheet, is used in photography to cast a dramatic shadow. There are lots of spellings of this word, including cucoloris, kookaloris, cookaloris, and cucalorus. The name may have to do with George Cukor, an early pioneer of the tool in old Hollywood.

Add this to your list of paraprosdokians: Two guys walked into a bar. The third one ducked.

Where does the term bootleg come from? Originally, smugglers tucked bottles of alcohol into their pants to sneak them onto Indian reservations to sell illegally. The term knockoff also refers to pants, and buttleg is a variant that can refer to contraband cigarettes.

Why do we call a ten-dollar bill a sawbuck? The support for woodworking known as a sawbuck folds out into the shape of an X, the same shape as the Roman numeral for ten. Hence, the slang term for the currency worth ten bucks.

Can you get away with calling a misspelled word a typo if you didn't know how to spell it in the first place? One variety of mistake is called a performance error, where the goof is somehow related to the machine or keyboard. A competence error occurs when someone doesn’t know the difference between your and you're in the first place.

To spin a brodie or pull a brodie is to spin a doughnut in a car. The term derives from the name of Steve Brodie, who allegedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886. To do a brodie, originally meaning to jump or fall, came to mean any kind of stunt.

On the website A Poem From Us, people upload videos of themselves reading poetry from other writers. Here, David Jones reads "A Cradle Song" by William Butler Yeats.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: What is a Hipster (Rebroadcast) - 8 April 2013


A Hole to China - 1 April 2013

2013-03-31
Length: 51s

Have a question about objective pronouns? Whom ya gonna call? Wait--is that right? Or would it be "who ya gonna call"? "Whom" may be technically correct, but insisting on it can get you called an elitist. It's enough to make you nervous as a polecat in a perfume parlor! And if you really want to dig a hole all the way to China, don't start anywhere in the continental United States--you'll come out at the bottom of the ocean! Plus, how to pronounce the name of the Show-Me State, catfishing, gallon smashing, and what it means to conversate.

FULL DETAILS

March 4 was National Grammar Day, an occasion that prompted thoughtful essays and discussions about grammar, as well as a Tweeted Haiku Contest, for which Martha served a judge. Arika Okrent, author of In The Land of Invented Languages, took the prize with this one: I am an error/ And I will never reveal myself/ After you press send. Actually, that tweet became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because she soon followed up with an apt correction: Make that "send".

The idea of digging a hole to China surfaces as early as 1872 in a Chamber's Journal fiction piece about beavers and engineers. Unfortunately, digging from almost anywhere in the United States would lead you to open water on the other end. To dig straight through to China, you'd have to start shoveling in Northern Argentina. There'd also be a few pesky physics problems to work out, like the fiery, molten mass at the center of the Earth. Here's how to find out where you'd end up when you start digging from anywhere on the planet, and how to make an earth sandwich with your antipodes.

Whom you gonna call about discrepancies regarding who and whom? Grant and Martha, that's who. Although whom to contact is a correct use of whom, it's fast becoming obsolete, with growing numbers of people viewing it as elitist, effete, or both. But fair warning: Do not correct someone on this unless you're sure you have your facts straight!

Here's another tweeted haiku from Liz Morrison in San Diego: "Serial comma/ Chicago yes, AP no/ You bewilder me."

Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about professions that match their respective verbs. What, for example, does a tutor do?

Conversate, a variation of the word converse, is part of African-American Vernacular English, but with a slightly different meaning. To conversate is "to converse raucously." This word goes back to at least 1811, and it's well-known to many African-Americans. It's commonly heard in the Bahamas and Jamaica as well.

Martha spoke recently at an Audubon Society event, where she traced the role of the Latin stem greg-. It's a form of the Latin word grex meaning "flock" or "herd." This root appears in many English words involving groups, including aggregate, congregate, gregarious, as well as the word egregious--literally, "standing outside the herd."

Cain from Dublin, Ireland, wonders why sportscasters in his country often say a team's at sixes and sevens when they're looking disorganized or nonplussed. The leading theory suggests that sixes and sevens, primarily heard in the United Kingdom, comes from a French dice games similar to craps, called hazard, wherein to set on cinque and sice (from the French words for five and six) was the riskiest roll.

Old Eddard sayings were plentiful in the 1930s, when the Lum and Abner radio show was a hit in households across the country. Lum Edwards, who made up half of the cornball duo, would offer up such wise sayings as I always found that the best way to figure out what tomorrow's weather was going to be is to wait until tomorrow comes along. That way you never make a mistake.

Did you know that the word rack can also mean "one thousand," as in, he has four racks, or four thousand dollars? Here's another slang term: Gallon Smashing. It's the latest craze in pranks involving gallons of milk, a grocery store aisle to smash them on, and plenty of free time to waste. And of course, no slang roundup could fail to mention catfishing, the practice of lying to someone on the Internet in order to manipulate them, as in the case of former Notre Dame star Manti Te'o and noted Pacific Islander uberprankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

On the occasion of National Grammar Day, University of Illinois linguist Dennis Barron has pointed out some arresting posters from a wartime version from the early 20th century. They're from a 1918 Chicago Women's Club initiative called Better American Speech Week, a jingoistic campaign tinged with nationalism and ethnocentrism.

Stanley Wilkins, a listener from Tyler, Texas, shares the idiom nervous as a pole cat in a perfume parlor. A polecat, more commonly known as a skunk, also fronts such gems as mean as a polecat, nervous as a pole cat in a standoff with a porcupine, and tickled as a polecat eating briars. In other news, Grant admits that, from a reasonable distance, he enjoys the mephitic emanations of Mephitis mephitis.

A while back, we talked about the game Going To Texas, where two kids hold hands and spin around until they fall over dizzy. Becca Turpel from San Diego, California, said she knows the game as Wrist Rockets. Others have identified it as Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur. Has anyone ever called it Fun?

How do you pronounce Missouri? The late Donald Lance, a former professor from the University of Missouri at Columbia, compiled the exhaustive research that became The Pronunciation of Missouri: Variation and Change in American English, which traces the discrepancy between Missour-ee and Missour-uh all the way back to the 1600s. Today the pronunciation mostly divides along age lines, with older people saying Missour-uh and younger ones saying Missour-ee. The exceptions are politicians, who often say Missour-uh to sound authentic or folksy.

Nancy Friedman, who writes the blog Fritinancy, tweeted this haiku for National Grammar Day: Dear yoga teacher/ if you say down once more/ I'll hurt you, no lie.

If someone's a pound of pennies, it means they're a valuable asset and a pain in the butt, all at the same time. Grant and Martha are stumped on the origin of this one, though it is true that a pound of pennies comes out to about $1.46. One suspects that this guy's banker felt the same way about him.

Have you heard chick used as a verb? Runners and triathletes use it to refer to a female passing a male in a race, as in You just got chicked!

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: A Hole to China - 1 April 2013


Crazy Crossword Clues (Rebroadcast) - 25 March 2013

2013-03-24
Length: 51s

Should youngsters learn cursive handwriting in school? Plus, someone can be ruthless, but can that same person be ruthful? Which word refers to something larger, humongous or gargantuan? Also, funny newspaper corrections, a crossword quiz, Texas idioms, and new version of “Three Blind Mice” with an upgraded vocabulary.

FULL DETAILS

Even the best newspaper reporters make mistakes. Here’s an unfortunately funny correction about the My Little Pony character a young woman thinks about to cheer herself up. Another correction from the Centralia Morning Sentinel notes that a member of a Christian rock band was on, um, drums, not drugs.

What do you call that moment when you try to walk past someone on the sidewalk, but you both move in the same direction? Perhaps slidewalking, doing the sidewalk boogie, or stranger dancing? Martha votes for polkadodge.

In the military, a certain kind of duct tape is known as hundred-mile-per-hour tape because it can withstand 100-mph speeds.

Someone can be ruthless, but can that person be ruthful? Ruthful is indeed a word that derives from an old definition of ruth meaning “the quality of being compassionate.” But unpaired negatives, like ruthless, unkempt, uncouth, or disgruntled, are common words that lack positive correlatives in common speech.

A middle-school librarian caught the Arkansas Democrat Gazette messing up the title of the second book in the Hunger Games series. The newspaper then issued an abject apology.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has lifted some tricky puns from New York Times crossword puzzles for this word game. What's “a green org,” in three letters? How about a three-letter answer for “peas keeper”?

It seems there's a sesquipedalian version to the classic "Three Blind Mice" about a trio of rodents with impaired vision. Need a visual yourself? Try this one.

Should educators continue to teach cursive writing in school? For the sake of learning to read old documents and honing their hand-eye skills, many say “yes.” Most current teaching standards, however, require only keyboard training, not longhand.

Owe somebody money? How about you charge it to the dust and let the rain settle it? This is a useful idiom for friendly transactions where no payment is necessary.

It ain't no hill for a stepper like you is a popular idiom in the South meaning someone can finish the task at hand. Metaphorically, it means that you’re a fine horse that would have no problem stepping over that particular obstacle.

In the Army, a battle buddy is someone assigned to be your constant companion, and it's often shortened to just “battle.” Other words, like Upstate and cell, as in a mobile phone, have dropped the nouns they modified.

Which word is larger, humongous or gargantuan? Which refers to something larger? Grant and Martha agree with usage expert Bryan Garner that the word gargantuan is the larger of the two.

A correction in London’s Daily Mail notes that a Mr. Smith testified in court that he had “a dull life,” not “a dull wife.” Oops.

In Jamaica, the youngest child is commonly known as the wash-belly. In addition to being the youngest, the term can also connote that the wash-belly is lazy and spoiled. Frederic Cassidy traces this and other terms in his Dictionary of Jamaican English and Jamaica Talk.

Craig Silverman's book Regret the Error contains a maze of a correction that simply corrects an incorrect correction. You can also follow more recent collections of corrections on his blog at the Poynter Institute.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Crazy Crossword Clues (Rebroadcast) - 25 March 2013


Whistling Dixie - 18 March 2013

2013-03-17
Length: 51s

Today's most popular dog names are Max and Bella.  In the Middle Ages, though, dogs would answer to names like Amiable. Or Nosewise. Or even . . . Clench. And is the term redneck derogatory? Some folks proudly claim that name. They say it's high time they were redneckcognized. Also, the origin of the phrase rule of thumb, whistling Dixie, the eephus pitch, terms for flabby underarms, and craptastic substitutes for swear words, like Sacapuntas!

FULL DETAILS

Grant and Martha recently served as expert spellers at the San Diego Council on Literacy's annual Adult Spelling Bee, but don't let the age group or philanthropic mission fool you—spelling bees are always i-n-t-e-n-s-e. The word Rorschach shall forever haunt them, but they also took away a new favorite—homologate, meaning to sanction or officially approve. As in, "I'm Joe Blow, and I homologated this message."

There comes a time in life where waving hello means showing off some flabby underarm, but we have some slang to make "flabby underarm" sound a little less icky. A hi-Betty takes its name from the idea of someone waving hi to a friend named Betty. They're also known as hi-Helens, bingo wings, bat wings, and flying squirrels.

A while back we asked listeners what they call tourists in their neck of the woods, and we've heard back about tourons, which combines tourists and morons, and in the Florida panhandle, folks from out of town are known as sand dollars for bringing along their pocketbooks.

Where does the term redneck come from, and is it derogatory? It goes back at least to the 1830s where it pops up in the Carolinas to refer to a farmer that works in the sun. Over time, people like listener Richard Ramirez of Fort Worth, Texas, have taken it as a term of pride, denoting their authenticity and work ethic. The reality series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has furthered the cause with her call to redneckognize!  As always, whether such a term is offensive depends on who's saying it, and to whom.

Grant dug up an old book of English proverbs, with gems like Novelty always appears handsome, and New dishes beget new appetites. Perhaps you can consider those before lining up for that new iPhone.

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a quiz for all the fans out there--as in fans of Star Trek, or The X-Files, or trains. Come to think of it, what would you call a fan of A Way with Words?

Baseball fans know the eeuphus pitch—that arcing lob made famous by Rip Sewell in the 1946 All-Star Game. Before that, the word eephus referred to insider information. Jim Strain in La Mesa, California, even uses it as a verb, as in, that dog's not allowed on the couch, but he'll eephus his way on somehow.

Do you have junk in your frunk? As in, the front trunk, found on cars like this zippy Tesla.

Where does rule of thumb come from? The idiom referring to a practical measure based on experience was never actually a law, though it does pop up in legal opinions suggesting that it'd be okay to let a man beat his wife if the stick was less than a thumb in width.

If you need to release some tension but don't want to curse, try shouting Sacapuntas! This Spanish word for "pencil sharpener" falls into a colorful line of curses that aren't actually curses. For plenty of others, turn to Michelle Witte's book The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing.

The term daisy cutting, which refers to the low action trot that Arabian and Thoroughbred horses do, is reminiscent of the low grounder in baseball known as a daisy cutter and even the Daisy Cutter explosive, which shoots low-flying shrapnel.

According to vetstreet.com, the top ten female puppy names from 2012 include Bella, Daisy, Lucy, Molly and Lola. Notice anything odd? They're all human names! Gone are the days of pets named Fluffy and Pooch; in are the days of human children named after fruits and vegetables. In the Middle Ages, though, you might run into dogs that answer to Amiable, Trinket, Nosewise, Holdfast, and Clench. For more about pet ownership back then, check out historian Kathleen Walker Meikle's book Medieval Pets.

Do you have spizerinctum (or spizzerinctum) and huckledebuck? These terms for passion and energy, respectively, are fun examples of false Latin, meaning they replicate the look and mouthful of Latin words but aren't actually Latin. Huckledebuck, which can also mean commotion or craziness, has been in use for over one hundred years, but still hasn't been cited in any dictionaries.

You ain't just whistling Dixie, and that's the truth! Whistling Dixie, which refers to a wistful carelessness, comes from the song that originated in minstrel shows and from which the South takes its nickname. But if you say someone ain't just whistling Dixie, it means they're not kidding around.

Come on over for dinner, we'll knock a tater in the head or something! This lovely form of a dinner invite came to us from Vera, a listener in British Columbia who heard it while living in Arkansas.

Elbow grease isn't a product you can buy at the hardware store. If a task demands elbow grease, that just means whatever you're doing requires hard work.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Whistling Dixie - 18 March 2013


Gnarly Foot - 11 March 2013

2013-03-10
Length: 51s

It's the Up Goer Five Challenge! Try to describe something complex using only the thousand most common words in English. It's a useful mental exercise that's harder than you might think. Also, if you want to make a room dark, you might turn off the lights. But you might also cut them off or shut them. You probably know the experience of hearing or seeing a word so long that it ceases to make sense. But did you know linguists have a term for that? Plus, cumshaw artists, the history of Hoosier and beep, and the debate over whether numbers are nouns or adjectives.

FULL DETAILS

Who uses the phone book these days, right? The people of Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia do! And not only are their names printed, but so are their nicknames. If you're looking to call Carrots, Lettuce Leaf, Moose, Diesel, or Hose, they're all in there.

What makes a word a word? If something's not in the dictionary, you might not be able to use it in Scrabble. But dictionaries aren't the last word on whether a word is legitimate. If you use a word that someone else understands, then it's a word. So when Johnny from East Hampton, New York, called to ask if his made-up term micronutia, meaning "something even smaller than minutia," was a real word, he was happy with our answer.

We've all had the experience of saying a word over and over again until it starts to sound like nonsense. Linguists call this semantic satiation, although you might also think of it as Gnarly Foot phenomenon. Stare at your foot long enough, and you'll start to wonder how such a bizarre-looking thing could ever be attached to your body. Something similar happens with language.

A bleeble is that little sound or word they throw into a radio broadcast, like the call letters, that serves as a brief signature.

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game using three-word phrases linked by the word and. For example, what idiom could be described literally as a country carnival found in the center of town? Hint: this phrase could also be used to describe a good bet.

Is Hoosier a derogatory term? People from Indiana proudly embrace it, but in the dialect island that is the St. Louis area, the word means someone who is uncouth or uncultured. In Southern Appalachia, the related words hoodger, and hoojer still refer to a rustic, ill-mannered person from the hills.

How do you make a room dark? Do you shut the lights, cut the lights, or turn off the lights? "Shut the light," as Bob Dylan sang, may derive from old lanterns on which you'd shut a little door. They're all correct, though even the most common phrase, turn off the light, sounds weird when you think about it. After all, you're not turning anything if you're flipping a switch up and down.

In architecture and design, an affordance is a part of something that serves a function, like the handle on a cup or the notch in a dictionary where you put your thumb. In language we have affordances, too, such as words that indicate a place for someone else to speak or respond.

Is a number a noun or an adjective? Even dictionary editors struggle with how to classify parts of speech. Like color, such words often lie along a spectrum, and asking at what point the number seven goes from a noun to an adjective is like asking at what point blue becomes purple.

A while back, we talked about bookmashes—the found poetry formed by book spines stacked on top of each other. On our Facebook page, Irvin Kanines shared her bookmash: Shortcuts to Bliss/ Running with Scissors/ Naked/ Why Didn't I Think of That?

Try to explain something while only using the thousand most common words in English. It's harder than you might think. This comic from xkcd points out the difficulty in describing a space ship called the Up Goer Five, and an Up-Goer Five Text Editor points out what words don't fit. The challenge becomes even more fun if you're trying to describe complex subjects like science or engineering.

Tracy from Sherman, Texas, wonders why her dad always used cabbage as a verb to mean "to pilfer or swipe." This term goes back to at least the 18th century, when the verb to cabbage had to do with employee theft. Specifically, it referred to the way dressmakers would cut fabric for a garment and keep the excess for themselves, perhaps rolling it into a little ball that looked like, well, cabbage. Today, a student might sneak in a cabbage sheet to cheat on a test.

To hoodwink, or put something over on someone, derives from the act of thieves literally throwing a hood on victims before robbing them, thereby making them wink, which has an archaic meaning of "to close one's eyes."

Sue in Eureka, California, was working at the grocery store during Senior Day when she reminded an elderly customer that the woman might be eligible for a discount. The shopper responded, "Thanks for the tap on the shoulder." Did that mean Sue had said something offensive? No. A tap on the shoulder is simply a way of alerting a stranger to something, since the shoulder is an appropriate body part to touch on someone you don't know.

Think you know Downton Abbey? Try using the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to describe the plot using the thousand most common words in English! Your description probably won't sound much like the Dowager Countess.

When did we start using the word beep? After all, today we have car horns, microwaves and other electronic gizmos that beep, but before the early 1900s, nothing ever beeped. It makes you wonder: How did people back then know their Hot Pocket was ready?

We spoke earlier about cumshaw artists, or people who get things done by crafty stealing or bartering. Alan Johnson from Plano, Texas, told us a story from his Air Force days in Vietnam, when he and some comrades stole a bunch of plywood by sneaking onto a Navy base and loading it into the truck. When a Naval officer saw them, they started unloading it and explaining how they'd come to drop off some excess wood. So the officer told them to get their wood out of there! Classic cumshaw artistry.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Gnarly Foot - 11 March 2013


Bump and Grind - 4 March 2013

2013-03-03
Length: 51s

Remember a few years ago when Amazon introduced that mysterious device called a Kindle? People worried that electronic readers would replace traditional books. Turns out the death of the hardcover was greatly exaggerated. Also, the expression "bump and grind" doesn't always mean what you think. Plus, the origin of jet black, the roots of fugacious, a game called Goin' to Texas, and how to punctuate the term y'all. And is there anything express about espresso?

FULL DETAILS

Remember the olden days of 2007, when Amazon first introduced the Kindle? Oprah named it her Favorite New Gadget. Some people thought e-readers signaled the death of hardback books, but as Nicholas Carr notes in the Wall Street Journal, only 16% of Americans have purchased an e-book, while 60% say they have no interest in them at all. What is clear is that no matter the medium, people are reading more in general.

"I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump n' grind," sings the R&B star R. Kelly, referring to the hip-thrusting dance that's all the rage with kids these days. While some people use the phrase the old bump and grind to refer to the daily grind of workaday life, it's probably better not to use it unless your job involves, well, bumping and grinding.

Alan from Austin, Texas, asks: How do y'all punctuate the contraction of you all? Is it y'all or ya'll? You'd think it'd follow the pattern of she'll and we'll, but y'all is an exception to the rule.

A while ago we talked about the drink called a suicide, also known as a Matt Dillon. That's when the bartender pours whatever's dripped on the bar mat into a shot glass and some lucky fellow downs it. We've heard lots of variations from listeners, including the Jersey Turnpike, the Gorilla Fart, the Buffalo Tongue and the Alligator Shot. Strangely enough, it's yet to be called the Tasty.

Our Master of Quiz John Chaneski has a game from his home borough of Brooklyn. For this quiz, he gives us the definition of a word, plus its Brooklynese definition. For example, "a couple with no children" and "a synonym of ponder" are both known as what?

Why do we say something is jet black? It doesn't have anything to do with aircraft. The jet in jet black is the name of a black semi-precious stone, which in turn takes its name from the part of Syria where it was found in abundance in antiquity.

Dan Henderson of Sunnyvale, California, sent us a great cartoon of two guys at a bar. One says to the other, "Explain to me how comparing apples and oranges is fruitless?"

Is master a gender-neutral title? James from Seattle, Washington, hosts a local pub quiz night, where he's known as the Quizmaster. But, he wonders, would it be appropriate to call a woman a Quizmaster? Of course! Many titles, like Postmaster or even actor, have come to be gender-neutral. We wouldn't say Quizmistress because mistress has taken on a specific connotation--namely, the female lover of a married man. For more on gender and language, Grant recommends University of Michigan professor Ann Kurzan's book Gender Shifts in the History of English.

Hey kid, hey kid, give 'em the saliva toss, the perspiration pellet, the damp fling, deluded dip, the good ol' fashioned spitball! An essay on baseball slang from 1907 sent Martha off on a search for more of these wet ones.

In Chicano English, the word barely, which traditionally means "just happened," can also mean "almost didn't happen," as in I just barely got here. This locution apparently reflects the fact that in Spanish, the word apenas can mean either one of these. The Chicano use of the barely in this sense is a calque, or loan translation, which occurs when a pattern from one language gets transferred to another.

Our earlier conversation about sign language reminded Martha of this quote from Helen Keller: "Once I knew only darkness and stillness…my life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."

One of our listeners was visiting the Orchid House at the San Diego Zoo and happened across the word fugacious, meaning "blooming only briefly." The word can also apply to one's mood, and shares a Latin root with "fleeting" words like refuge, fugitive and subterfuge.

Is there an express in espresso? Nope. Cafe espresso is literally "pressed-out coffee." So the name espresso has nothing to do with the speed with which espresso is made. The term express, on the other hand, as in express train, derives from the idea of "directly," or "specific to a particular destination." It's the same express as in expressly forbidden, meaning "specifically forbidden."

Mary, from Royal Oaks, Michigan, says she once confused a friend by offering to relieve her of snow shoveling duties with the question, Can I spell you? This usage of spell, which refers to substituting for a period of time, has been deemed archaic by Merriam Webster, although we believe it's alive and well.

Bill Watkins from Tallahassee, Florida, is having a tough time knowing which setting to use on his microwave. He figures this moment of indecision while standing there with your finger poised over the buttons deserves a name. His suggestion: microwavering.

What do you call that children's game where you hold hands and spin around until you're too dizzy to stand? Sally Jarvis, who grew up in Eastern Arkansas, says she and her childhood playmates called it Going To Texas.

Latin phrases are commonly misused, but there's perhaps no better example than Vampire Butters' butchering of per se, which simply means "in itself," in this episode of South Park.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Bump and Grind - 4 March 2013


Two Shades of Grey (Rebroadcast) - 25 February 2013

2013-02-24
Length: 51s

You've probably noticed how work always seems to expand to fill the time given to complete it. But did you know there's a term for that? Also this week, the New England exclamation So don't I!, gray vs. gray, stories in a building, being squiffy, having chops, getting involved in pull-hauls, nubby Pennsylvanians, and a modern Greek idiom about hiccups and burning ears.

FULL DETAILS

If you're feeling squiffy, it means you're drunk, especially in 19th century British slang. If someone has a golden gut, on the other hand, it means they have good business acumen.

If someone is being nibby or nubby, they're nosy. This Western Pennsylvania http://www.popularpittsburgh.com/pittsburgh-info/pittsburgh-culture/pittsburghese.aspx term goes back to the old Scottish term nib or neb, meaning nose.
 
What does it mean to have chops? In the 1500s, chops was a slang term for the face or lips, but it carried into African-American jazz culture to mean that a brass or wind player had good embouchure. The idea is reflected in the old jazz musician's saying, "If you ain't got the chops for the dots, ain't nothing' happening." Having chops eventually came to mean having talent in other disciplines as well.

The New England phrase So don't I http://www.bu.edu/mfeldman/Boston/wicked.html, meaning you agree, is so embedded in the culture that it's now part of the regional stereotype. Linguist Laurence Horn http://books.google.com/books?id=7ESeXUD10c0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=laurence+horn&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vMG_T5HKLuTw6AGqvcGbCg&ved=0CFkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=so%20don't%20I&f=false work has discussed the phenomenon, as have we http://www.waywordradio.org/love-joe-floggers-so-dont-i/ !
 
Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has an improvement on the hoary puzzle about words ending in gry http://www.snopes.com/language/puzzlers/gry.asp. For example, if someone has posted to Tumblr in a while, they might be feeling a bit bloggry. If you're in the mood to do some karaoke, you might be described as singry.

Why are floors of buildings called stories? One theory suggests that an Latin architectural term historia once referred to the stained-glass windows or the ornate statues around the edifice. But the etymology is unclear at best.

If someone's been talking about you in English, then metaphorically speaking, your ears must have been burning. If they were talking about you in Modern Greek, it's said that you must have been hiccuping.

If you're blowing the soot out, you might literally be clearing the soot out of a flue. By extension, it's a term that means "relieving stress."

The term pull-haul, meaning "a verbal conflict," is heard in New England, particularly Maine http://dare.news.wisc.edu/state-by-state/maine/. A 1914 citation in the Dictionary of American Regional English alludes to all the pull-hauling among churches when a new congregant moves to town.

Why do we adjust our working pace to the timelines we're given? The late Cyril Northcote Parkinson explained the phenomenon in his 1955 Economist piece http://www.economist.com/node/14116121, calling it Parkinson's Law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law.

Squiffy, that British slang term for drunk, has also come to mean "askew." At a Roman orgy, for example, you might have found people wearing squiffy laurel crowns.

What do you call tourists in your hometown? In New England, they have leaf peepers. In Wisconsin, it's berry pickers or shackers, as in "people who rent cottages." Coastal areas have pukers, a reference to people who charter boats but then can't handle the waves. And in Big Sky, Montana, tourists are known as gapers.

Is there a term for words that sound like their first letter? Queue, jay, oh, and the like have been deemed by one listener homoepistulaverbumphones. Well, maybe.

What's the plural of pair? Is it correct to say two pairs of socks or two pair of socks? The most common usage is pairs, but it might depend on whether you think of the things as a unit, like socks.

Is there a visual difference between g-r-e-y and g-r-a-y http://grammarist.com/spelling/gray-grey/? The grey spelling is more common in the UK; gray is more common in the U.S. Many feel that grey has a delicate, silvery tint, while gray is more opaque, perhaps with warmer tones of red or brown. Martha and Grant disagree about this one.

The words anyways, spelled with an s, has come into vogue among writers looking to transition from stilted language into something more reader-friendly.

In Michigan, tourists are called trunkslammers for how often they slam their trunk unpacking and repacking over the course of a weekend trip.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Two Shades of Grey (Rebroadcast) - 25 February 2013


Raining Cats and Dogs (Rebroadcast) - 18 February 2013

2013-02-17
Length: 51s

Get out your umbrellas -- it's raining pitchforks and . . . bullfrogs? This week, it's odd expressions that mean "a heavy downpour." Also, holistic vs. wholistic, recurrence vs. reoccurrence, flash drive vs. thumb drive, whether it's good or bad to be jacked up, stomach Steinways and bunheads, and the origin of listless. And not to mince words, but what does the expression "not to mince words" really mean?


FULL DETAILS

In what profession would you deal with clams, footballs, hairpins, and axes? They're all slang terms used by classical musicians.
 
What's the origin of the term listless? Does it mean you can't find the piece of paper with the groceries you need? No. Listless shares a root with the English word lust. In its most literal sense, listless means "without lust," or "lacking want or desire."

Is being jacked up a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. To jack up means "to raise up," as with a car on a lift. But jack up also has a negative meaning, perhaps deriving from hijack or blackjack, suggesting that something's been hurt or cheated.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has some answers to classic songs in this week's puzzle about song titles in question form. For example, the answer "Because they're too dumb to stay out of it" answers the musical question from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"

What do we mean by the expression not to mince words? The New York Times' Paul Krugman http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/opinion/krugman-europes-economic-suicide.html often uses this idiom meaning "to be straightforward and blunt." The verb mince means "to make small," and is a linguistic relative of such words as diminish, miniature, and minute. Mincing is what you do when you're cutting onions into small pieces or diminishing the force of your speech by using euphemisms.

In an earlier episode http://www.waywordradio.org/horse-you-rode-in-on/, we discussed various meanings for the term stove up. One meaning of stove up is "to be in pain from work or exercise to the point where it's hard to move." Similarly, lots of athletes will get stoved fingers from getting them jammed with volleyballs or baseballs.

Do you store files on a flash drive, a thumb drive, a USB stick -- or perhaps on a monkey? What do you call the little device that holds flash memory and goes into the USB drive of a computer. Some come in wild forms http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/50-weirdest-usb-flash-drives-ever/, like sushi or animals.

Did you ever take lessons to play the stomach Steinway? You know, the accordion? That's another bit of musicians' slang sent in by a listener, along with the term bunhead http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/bunhead/, which means "a ballet dancer."

Which is the better term, recurrence or reoccurrence? A look at the corpus of American literature confirms that recurrence is far and away the more commonly used word denoting "something that occurs more than once." Some dictionaries don't even have entries for reoccurrence.

An old book of Virginia folk sayings contains such gems as "It's as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth," and "He can't spell A-B-L-E."

Is crick a Southern term? Surprisingly, crick, as in creek, is mostly used in New England and the Great Lakes region. The Northeast is also where you'll find people smoking boges, or boags. Both words for "cigarette," apparently derive from the verb "to bogart," discussed in an earlier episode http://www.waywordradio.org/bogarting-bangers/.

What do you call a fierce rainfall? There are lots of vivid terms in this country besides it's raining cats and dogs. Some Americans say It's raining pitchforks and hoehandles, or raining pitchforks and bullfrogs. Or they might call a heavy rain a toadstrangler, a ditchworker, or stumpwasher. In other countries http://www.omniglot.com/language/idioms/rain.php, this kind of cacophonous rain is denoted by lots of picturesque phrases involving imaginary falling things, including chair legs, female trolls, ropes, jugs -- and even husbands.

If something pertains to a whole system or body, is it holistic or wholistic? Despite that tempting "w," holistic is the correct term. It's an example of folk etymology http://books.google.com/books/about/Folk_etymology.html?id=e0wHAAAAQAAJ, the result of looking at the word whole and assuming that wholistic is the proper correlative.

If something's soft and fuzzy, why not call it suvvy? Grant collected that bit of slang during a recent appearance in Potsdam, NY. http://readme.readmedia.com/SUNY-Potsdam-Hosts-First-Ever-Lougheed-Kofoed-Festival-of-the-Arts/3807415

Everyone knows New Yorkers and Angelenos, but what do you call someone from Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Demonyms, or the names for people from a given place, can get pretty complicated, but there are seven rules as drawn by George Stewart http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/demonyms/, and Paul Dickson's book Labels for Locals http://books.google.com/books/about/Labels_for_Locals.html?id=MJpt4QCXWWoC has lots of other answers.

An old Chinese proverb says, he who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who does not remains a fool forever.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Raining Cats and Dogs (Rebroadcast) - 18 February 2013


Gracious Plenty - 11 February 2013

2013-02-10
Length: 51s

When somebody sneezes, you say, Bless you or Gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something--or are they?  Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit fanciers, a quiz about animal noises, and where to find a purple squirrel. And what's so humbling about winning an award?

FULL DETAILS

When you think of the word binky, a child's pacifier probably comes to mind. But it's also a term known among rabbit fanciers. It refers to when bunnies frolic and jump around.

When somebody sneezes, you say, "Bless you" or "Gesundheit," but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say excuse me. A commenter on Paul Davidson's blog sets a good rule of thumb: bless anything that looks like it hurt.

A listener from Fairfield, Connecticut wonders why she changes her accent and diction when family members from the Middle East are in town. Actually, everyone does this. It's a matter of imitating those around us in order to make ourselves feel part of a group. After all, the human response to someone who sounds like us is to like them more.

Here's a quiz: Is a purple squirrel a) a diving board trick, b) a cocktail, or c) a rare job candidate with all the right qualifications? The answer is c. There have, however, been reports of purple squirrels of the sciurine variety.

Is Hiya a legitimate way to say hello? Sure. The Dictionary of American Regional English has citations for this greeting going back to 1914, but it's heard both in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has quiz based on animal sounds. What sort of wild party would a sheep throw? Or what five-masted ship do golden retrievers sail on? Tip: For this game, animal sounds are just as important as advanced vocabularies.

This awards season, many winners will say they're humbled by the honor. Ann from Burlington, Vermont, wonders: Shouldn't they feel, well, honored? What's so humbling about winning awards? Grant argues that saying "I'm humbled" is truly a mark of humility to express doubt about your worthiness. Martha would rather hear them just say "I'm honored" or "I'm grateful."

What's the best time to schedule a dentist appointment? Why, tooth-hurty, of course!

If you've had enough to eat, you might say you've had gracious plenty. This expression goes back to the early 1800s, and serves the same purpose as saying you're sufficiently suffonsified and or you've had an elegant sufficiency.

A San Diego listener of Mexican descent says a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film has her wondering about the term Mexican standoff. Is it just a duel? A three-way duel, complete with guns? The end of a 1-1 doubleheader in baseball? Over time, it's had all of these definitions. But the term appears to derive from a derogatory use of Mexican to describe something inferior or undesirable, and therefore should be avoided.

Beware of linguistic false friends, also known as false cognates. You wouldn't want to say you're feeling embarazada in Spanish, unless you want to say you're pregnant. And don't order the tuna in Spain unless you want to hear a musical group made up of college kids. A kind of false friend exists within English as well—noisome doesn't mean noisy, it means icky, and bombastic doesn't mean booming, it means fluffy or ostentatious, deriving from bombast, a kind of cotton padding.

In Zen Buddhism, the term all one refers to a state of enlightenment that's the opposite of isolated and alone. The word alone, however, comes from the idea of "all on one's own." The word alone also gives us lone, lonely and lonesome, through a process called misdivision.

Is the phrase right on just an outdated relic of hippie talk, or is it making a comeback? The Journal of American Folklore traces it back to at least 1911, but it gained traction among African-Americans and hippies in the '60s and '70s, and now exists as a fairly common term of affirmation.

In an earlier episode, we talked about those huge palmetto bugs known as gallon-nippers.We heard from Dell Suggs in Tallahassee, Florida, who says he knows them simply as gallinippers. This term for a really large mosquito goes back to the early 1700s, and plenty of variations, like granny-nipper, have been tossed about. What do you call those mosquitoes the size of a racquetball where you live?

How come left-handers get the term southpaw, but righties aren't known as rightpaws? Because being right-handed is the default setting, the fun terms really just exist for the variants. In Australia, lefties are known as mollydookers, and the word sinister actually comes from the Latin term for "left."

Do you pronounce crayon like crown? This common variation tends to be a Midlands pronunciation. Actually, Americans may pronounce this word several ways, as this dialect map shows.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Gracious Plenty - 11 February 2013


Cute As a Button - 4 February 2013

2013-02-02
Length: 51s

Did you ever wonder why we capitalize the pronoun "I," but not any other pronoun? There's a reason, and it may not be what you think. Also, the romantic story behind our term "halcyon days," the origin of the phrase "like white on rice," and the linguistic scuttlebutt on the word scuttlebutt. Plus, a pun-laden word game, hold your peace vs. hold your piece, nixie on your tintype, and no skin off my nose.

FULL DETAILS

Listeners have been posting photos of themselves with their favorite words on our Word Wall, including some that are new to us. For example, epalpebrate might be a good one to drop when describing the Mona Lisa in Art History class, since it means without eyebrows. And Menehune is a term for the tiny, mischievous people in Hawaiian folklore.

If it's no skin off your nose, there's no harm done. This idiom, which the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms suggests may come from boxing, means the same thing as no skin off my back or no skin off my ear. If you have other idioms in this vein, share them with us!

What's the difference between speak your piece and speak now or forever hold your peace? While speaking your piece refers to a piece of information you want to share, holding your peace relates to keeping the peace. This is a simple case of a collision of idioms.

For years, teachers have warned against using the word ain't, apparently with some success. Emily Hummell from Boston sent us a poem that may have contributed: Don't say ain't/ your mother will faint/ your father will fall in a bucket of paint/ your sister will cry/ your brother will sigh/ the cat and dog will say goodbye. Did your parents or teachers have another way of breaking children of the habit of saying ain't?

Have you heard the latest scuttlebutt around the water cooler? This term for gossip, which comes from the water-filled cask in a ship, is a literal synonym for water cooler talk!

On our Word Wall, one listener fancies ginnel: the long, narrow passage between houses you find in Manchester and Leeds. Have you shared your favorite word yet?

Our Puzzle Maestro John Chaneski has a great variation of his classic Tom Swifty game, based on adjectives that fit their subject. For example, how did the citizens feel upon hearing that the dictator of their small country shut down the newspapers? Beware of puns!

Does capitalizing the pronoun I feel like aggrandizing your own self-importance? Timna, an English Composition professor at an Illinois community college, reports that a student contested refused to capitalize this first person pronoun, arguing that to do so was egotistical. But it's a standard convention of written English going back to the 13th century, and to not capitalize it would draw even more attention. When writing a formal document, always capitalize the I. It's a pronoun, not a computer brand.

If you want to sound defiant, you could do worse than exclaiming, Nixie on your tintype! This phrase, meaning something to the effect of spit on your face, popped up in Marjorie Benton Cooke's 1914 classic, Bambi. Kristin Anderson, a listener from Apalachicola, Florida, shares this great poem that makes use of the phrase.

Do you know the difference between flotsam and jetsam? In an earlier episode, we discussed flotsam, which we described as the stuff thrown off a sinking ship. But several avid sailors let us know that jetsam's the stuff thrown overboard, while flotsam is the remains of a shipwreck. Thanks, crew.

Paula from Palm City, Florida, wants to know: What's so cute about buttons, anyway? Like the expressions cute as a bug and cute as a bug's ear, this expression seems to derive from the fact that all of these things are delicate and small. She raises another interesting question: Are the descriptors beautiful and attractive preferable to cute and adorable after a certain age? We want to hear your thoughts!
 
The weeks on either side of the winter solstice have a special place in Greek mythology. In the story of Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus, she marries Ceyx, who arrogantly dares to compare their relationship to that of Zeus and Hera. Such hubris is never a good thing in Greek myth, and Zeus causes his death. But the gods eventually take pity on the mortal couple, changing them into birds known for their devotion to each other. Those birds, named after Alcyone, were said to nest on the surface of the sea during calm weather, giving rise to our term halcyon days.

Is white on rice a racist idiom? No! It simply means that if you're on top of your tasks like white on rice, it means you've got it covered the way rice is covered in whiteness. In Geneva Smitherman's Talkin and Testifyin, she relays a lyric from Frankie Crocker that goes Closer than white's on rice; closer than cold's on ice. Now that's close!

If something's got you feeling ate up, then you're consumed by the notion that it didn't go perfectly. You're overwhelmed, obsessed, or maybe you're just exhausted. However, among members of the Air Force, ate up has long meant gung ho, as in, that pilot's ate up, he loves flying so much.

Via Maud Newton's Twitter feed comes this gem from The Sea, by William John Banville: The past beats inside me like a second heart. If you see a great quote somewhere, tweet it to us!

How conversational fillers such as like and you know creep into our vernacular? Like most verbal ticks and pieces of vocabulary, we pick these things up from those around us. But contrary to some folks' opinions, the use of like and you know don't decrease one's credibility. When used appropriately, they actually make it easier for people to relate to us.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Cute As a Button - 4 February 2013


South End of a Chicken - 28 January 2013

2013-01-27
Length: 51s

Are your nightstand books all over the place? Why not stack 'em into a bookmash? A bookmash is a kind of found poetry formed from book titles! And we all know that honesty is the best policy. But does that mean you should correct the grammar of your daughter's teacher? Plus, texting lingo in everyday speech, the proper use of the word "penultimate," and what it means to have the south end of a chicken flying north. And what's up with pedantic gentlemen having to mansplain everything?

FULL DETAILS

Go to your nightstand, stack your books with the spines facing out, and what do you get? It's a bookmash. This new kind of found poetry popped up on Stan Carey's blog Sentence First, with this collection of titles: Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes/ Bugs/ Creatures of The Earth/ In The Shadow of Man. Send us a photo of your bookmash!

If a fellow thinks he's a hotter than he really is, he'd be known in the South as a dirt road sport. This term's been defined as "a country boy showing off in a Saturday afternoon town," and refers to someone reaching beyond his station in life, perhaps by spending beyond his means and making a show of it. If there's a dirt road sport in your life, we'd love to hear some stories!

Do you say the terms NBD, LOL, or BRB in everyday speech? It sounds strange to hear text lingo spoken aloud, but with all language, it's only weird until it becomes the norm, and then we wonder how we did without it. That said, most of these initialisms, like BFF, go back farther than text messaging, so don't blame kids these days!

That fatty bump at the end of a turkey or a chicken, known as the pope's nose, is also called the south end of a northbound chicken.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a special twist on the "Change One Letter" game. For this one, change one letter in a word to make it fit twice in a sentence. For example, fill in these blanks: Dear ______ Brown, lay off the candy bars in the confessional or you'll only get _____. Have the answer yet?

If something's still right touchous, that means it's still a painful area, be it a bruise on the leg or an emotional sore spot. No touching what's still right touchous!

Here's a phrase to describe a stuck-up gal: There's no pleasing her! If she gets to heaven, she'll ask to see the upstairs.

When is it okay to correct someone's grammar? A listener from Madison, Wisconsin, says a friend went for a parent-teacher conference only to notice that a sign in the classroom read "Things your thankful for." Should the teacher be called out? Is she committing educational malpractice by indoctrinating the four-year-olds with harmful misspelling? Before rushing to judgment, remember that teachers have an enormous amount of work to deal with, and you sure don't want to be "that parent"! But of course, if you're going to confront someone about a mistake, it's always best to do it one on one.

Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Book Project includes some excellent bookmash poetry. Just consider the following: Indian History for Young Folks/ Our Village/ Your National Parks.

If you're not late for something, you could say that you're in good season. This phrase, which shows up in Noah Webster's dictionaries from the 1820s, derives from the agricultural state of fruits and vegetables being in season. Instead of referring to a specific moment, in good season means you're in the ballpark of good timing.

Ever been on an airplane when an infant spits the dummy? This Australian slang expression, meaning to throw a fit, comes from the Aussie use of the word dummy to mean pacifier or binky. What do you call it when someone has a tantrum -- be they two or 52?

A toad in a hole—that piece of bread with a hole cut out with a fried egg in the middle—sure does come with some alternate nomenclature. Since our earlier discussion, listeners have sent us many other names for it, including fish in a pond, bread-frame egg, television egg, and one-eyed Egyptian. The more terms, the better, so keep 'em coming!

Where does the term one-off come from? Among British foundry workers in the 1950s, the number of units produced from a given mold was designated with the word off. So if twenty widgets came off the line, you'd call that batch a twenty-off. A one-off, in turn, refers to a one-of-a-kind object, such as a prototype model. And although Kingsley Amis once called the term an American abomination, make no mistake: We have the UK to thank for one-off.

What's hotter than a hen in a wool basket? Or hotter than a goat's butt in a pepper patch? You tell us!

Many public speakers, including President Obama, have developed a reputation for using the reduplicative copula. You know, that thing where he says, "the thing of it is, is…" In wonky speak, this is what happens when a cleft sentence, such as the sky is where the kite is, combines with a focusing construction, such as the reality is, to form this clunker: The reality is, is the sky is where the kite is.

You guys, nobody likes a mansplainer! You know those dudes who need to explain something to you that you already know? In Rebecca Solnit's LA Times essay "Men Who Explain Things," she recounts the time some pedantic schmo explained a book to her, not knowing that she was the author! Have you been given a mansplanation recently? Tell us about it!

Does penultimate mean the very last? No! It means second to last, taking from the Latin word paene, meaning almost. It's the same Latin root that gives us the word for that "almost island," a peninsula. People misusing penultimate are overreaching with language. Instead, it's best to write below your abilities and read above them. That's the ultimate way to go.

Parse this bookmash as you will: Making Love/ Getting Busted/ Memento Mori/ Leaving Las Vegas/ In Guilt and Glory.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: South End of a Chicken - 28 January 2013


Like a Bad Penny (Rebroadcast) - 21 January 2013

2013-01-19
Length: 51s

What did you call the cliques in your high school? Were you a member of the nerds, the jocks, or maybe the "grits" or the "heshers"? Also, what's the meaning of the phrase "rolling in the deep"? Why do we say something's returned "like a bad penny"? And is it proper to refer to our recent economic problems "the Great Recession"? Plus, favorite letters of the alphabet, taking umbrage, fudgies vs. flatlanders, and washrag vs. washcloth.

FULL DETAILS

Now that the Encyclopedia Britannica is going to an online-only format, one of many things we'll miss is the accidental poetry on the books' spines http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2012/03/spinelessness_1.php. In the age of endless digital information, volumes like Accounting-Architecture and Birds-Chess point to the tomes that contain everything you'd need to know and nothing more.

The saying a bad penny always turns up has been turning up in English since the 15th century, when counterfeit pennies would often surface in circulation. As pennies have lost their luster, the phrase has lived on; see the line "Don, my bad penny," http://jonhammsome.tumblr.com/post/20867218191/don-my-bad-penny from this season of Mad Men.

What does rolling in the deep mean, as sung by Adele? In her Rolling Stone  http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/adele-opens-up-about-her-inspirations-looks-and-stage-fright-20120210 interview from February, she traces it to British slang for close friends that have each other's backs.

To take umbrage means to take offense or be annoyed at something. It comes from the Latin umbra, meaning "shadow," as in umbrella. So to take umbrage is to sense something shady, or suspect that one has been slighted.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game about words and phrases that involve furniture or parts of a house. For example, if you want to see your lover but you only have two hours, that's a tight window of opportunity. And if you invest in, say, smartphones for pets--only to see your savings go down the drain--we'd say you'll be taking a bath.

In high school, were you a jock or a nerd? How about a grit, or perhaps a Hessian? Grits, hashers, metalheads, greasers--the dudes with roughed-up denim jackets, metal boots, and cigarettes in their shirt pockets--are an essential part of the student body, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus about their name. What did you call that crowd?

Should The Great Recession be talked and written about as a proper noun? Recessions tend to be vague in their scale and timelines, so it's problematic to mention them as proper nouns. Perhaps the similarities in sound between Great Recession and Great Depression have encouraged this usage http://www.salon.com/2009/12/17/great_recession/ by government officials and members of the press.

In a previous show http://www.waywordradio.org/go-all-city/, we came upon a word mystery with a 1947 menu from Jackson, Mississippi that mentions tang. The mystery has been solved! It wasn't the drink, and it wasn't the fish; it was Cudahy Tang http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=19560627&id=60EvAAAAIBAJ&sjid=eEgDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1903,5357698, one of over a hundred knockoff brands of SPAM, a canned meat product.

Which is correct: washrag or washcloth? Whether you use one or the other isn't likely so much about regional dialects as class differences.

Due to their fondness for treats, tourists in some parts of Michigan are known as fudgies or conelickers. In Vermont and Colorado, they're called flatlanders. And Californians refer to the Arizona beachcombers and Zonies. What do you call tourists in your area?

Vaccines take their name from vaccinia, the virus that caused cowpox. It was the original ingredient used to vaccinate people against smallpox. Stefan Riedel, a pathologist at the Baylor University Medical Center, offers a detailed history of the centuries-long fight against smallpox here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/.

A collection of Virginia folkspeak from 1912 includes this zinger about a proud person: He doesn't know where his behind hangs. And here's a choice insult: I'd rather have your room than your company!

Do you have a favorite letter? The sound or typeface varieties of a letter can really catch us. For more about the visual and emotional properties of various letters, check out Simon Garfield's book about fonts, Just My Type. http://www.simongarfield.com/pages/books/just_my_type.htm Grant also recommends One-Letter Words by Craig Conley, a surprisingly lengthy dictionary of words made up of just one letter. http://www.oneletterwords.com/dictionary/

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Like a Bad Penny (Rebroadcast) - 21 January 2013


The Horse You Rode In On (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2013

2013-01-13
Length: 51s

What colorful language do you use to when you're angry and  tempted to use a four-letter word? There's a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active, vibrant mind to cuss. Also, what it means to be stove up, the phrases the horse you rode in on, and it's all chicken but the gravy, plus a couple of handy synonyms for armpit. And when, if ever, can you trust Wikipedia?

FULL DETAILS

The hadal zone, named for the Greek god Hades, refers to the deepest depths of the ocean floor. James Cameron's deep sea dive http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/james-cameron-historic-solo-drive recently made it down there.

There's a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active and vibrant mind to cuss—especially when the cusswords sound like alapaloop palip palam or trance nance nenimimuality. What colorful language do you use to diffuse anger?

What's an oxter? It's another term for the underarm, primarily used in Northern England, Scotland, and Ireland http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-oxt1.htm. A bit nicer than armpit, isn't it? Oxter can also serve as a verb, as in, "We oxtered him out of the club." Need another synonym for that body part that also happens to rhyme with "gorilla"? Try axilla.

A pipe dream is "an unobtainable hope" or "an unrealistic fantasy."  The term originates from the idea of opium pipes, and the strange dreams one might incur while high on opium. Back in the 1890s when the term first showed up, opium pipes were a bit more common.

Here are a few good skeuomorphs, or outdated aesthetic elements: We still refer to the ticking of a clock, even though we're surrounded by digital timekeeping devices, and the kids are working hard for those washboard abs http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/Washboard-Abs.jpg when they don't even know what a washboard is!

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Aye Aye, Captain about phrases with that long "I" vowel sound. For example, a colorless synonym for a fib would be a white lie, and another name for a mafioso might be a wise guy.

What does it mean to be stove up? This phrase for sore or stiff has nothing to do with a stovetop; stove is actually the past tense of stave. To stave in a wooden boat is to smash a hole in its side, and thus, to be stove up is to be "incapacitated or damaged." These words are related to the noun stave, the term for one of those flat pieces of wood in a barrel. Similarly, to stave off hunger is to metaphorically beat it back, as if with a stick.

Common wisdom says that if you learn a second language by the age of ten, native speakers won't recognize that it's not your first. Even so, things like idioms or prepositions can often trip up even the most skilled second-language speakers, if their second language is English.

A dish-to-pass supper, common in Indiana, is the same as a pot-luck supper or a covered-dish supper, but the term nosh-you-want drew a red flag when Grant went to visit the Wikipedia page for potluck http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potluck. It hadn't appeared in any other form of print, so luckily, the crisis has been averted, because Grant personally edited out this specious term.

The song "Old Dan Tucker" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-GHbDFrwlU has a long history in the United States, going back to the minstrel shows of the 1840s. Martha highly recommends the documentary Ethnic Notions http://newsreel.org/video/ETHNIC-NOTIONS about our country's complicated history with racially-charged imagery in theater and song, and the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Is it a good thing to be a voracious reader? We think so. Just take Shakespeare's notion of the replenished intellect in Love's Labour's Lost http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:8InUqP76OKAJ:www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php%3FWorkID%3Dloveslabours%26Act%3D4%26Scene%3D2%26Scope%3Dscene+%22he+hath+never+fed+of+the+dainties%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

The idiom and the horse you rode in on, usually preceded by a far more unfriendly phrase, tends to be directed at someone who's full of himself and unwelcome to boot. It first pops up in the 1950s, and it's written on the spine of a book in Donald Regan's official portrait http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/28/magazine/on-language-of-high-moments-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia http://scienceblogs.com/retrospectacle/2008/01/mystery_solved_the_cause_of_ic.php, also known as brain freeze, is a variety of nerve pain that results from something cold touching the roof of the mouth. But some people who suffer from migraines actually find ice cream confuses the nerve in a way that eases the pain—how convenient!

How do you pronounce the word won? Does it rhyme with sun or Juan? Some people, depending on their regional dialect, may hypercorrect their vowels and pronounce certain words in an unusual way.

What is a buster? As TLC sang http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av7m_Pgt1S8, "A scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly, also known as a buster." That is, a buster is that guy on the fringe who's always putting on airs. The word may come from the old term gangbusters, which originally applied to police officers or others who took part in breaking up criminal gangs.

If something's all chicken but the gravy, then it's all good. This colloquialism pops up in an exchange from a 1969 Congressional record.

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Horse You Rode In On (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2013


The Shank of the Evening (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2013

2013-01-07
Length: 51s

What time is it if it's "the crack of chicken"? And when exactly is the "shank of the evening"? How do you pronounce the word spelled H-O-V-E-R? Did Warren G. Harding really coin the word normalcy? Also, a name game, sports nicknames, flounder vs. founder, Laundromats vs. washaterias, Black Dutch, nosebaggers, medical slang terms, and a look back at the joys of the early internet.


FULL DETAILS

When a car rolls slowly through a stop sign, it's often called a California stop or a California roll http://www.waywordradio.org/mute-point/. But the Midwest has its own monikers for this sneaky move, including the farmer stop, the Chicago stop, and "no cop, no stop."

How early do you have to wake up to see what one listener calls the crack of chicken? It seems to be a twist on the term crack of dawn. Other terms for this early-morning time are o'dark thirty and the scratch of dawn.

Did President Warren G. Harding coin the term normalcy in his famous Return to Normalcy speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXETeWS6ub8? Turns out the word normalcy was already in use before President Harding made it famous, but it's now become largely obsolete, while its synonym, normality, is generally the preferred term. Harding is also credited with--or blamed for--bringing the term hospitalization into the common vernacular.

In his book, Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush http://books.google.com/books?id=Dh0wM9DNjbAC&pg=PA124&dq=allan+metcalf+presidential+voices+belittle&hl=en&sa=X&ei=x0-LT6CRHumI2gW8obHpAg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=presidents%20as%20neologists&f=false, Allan Metcalf points out that U.S. presidents have contributed or popularized quite a few neologisms to the English language.

In Texas, the California stop is also known as an Okie yield sign, an Okie crash sign, and a taxpayer stop.

What does it mean to be gorked or crimped? These slang terms for high on drugs or crumpled in on oneself are used by hospital and Emergency Medical Services workers in a darkly comedic sense, often help cope with the stress of such traumatic work and to build solidarity among co-workers.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of aptronyms for people whose names fit certain locations or conditions. For example, a guy hanging onto a wall might be named Art. Or what do you call a woman between two buildings? Ally!

The racial descriptor Black Dutch http://www.genealogymagazine.com/blackdutch.html is one used by members of a certain ethnic group, like Cherokee Indian or African-American, that feel their identity will be viewed as more acceptable by those they're around if they use a different adjective. Black Irish and Black German are also used.

What's the difference between flounder and founder? To flounder is "to struggle or thrash about," while to founder is "to sink or to fail." Surprisingly,  the verb flounder shares no etymological root with the fish, though the image of a flounder flapping helplessly about on the shore may have influenced our sense of the word.

Skeuomorphs are aesthetic elements of design that no longer correlate with their original function. Computer software is full of skeuomorphs; for example, the save button that we're all used to is a picture of a floppy disc. But then, who uses floppy discs any more?

With Linsanity and Tebowing sweeping the country, we're thinking about other great sports nicknames. Unfortunately, it seems that with unique names taking up a greater percentage of children born, there's no longer as much practical demand for nicknames. Still, the Babe, Magic, and The Refrigerator http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/sports/great-sports-nicknames-like-magic-are-disappearing.html?pagewanted=all live on in legend.

The increasingly musty expression "like a broken record" has caused some confusion among digital natives who've heard of broken records only in terms of sports!

Ben Zimmer published a brilliant collection of internet memes from the past twenty years in a the journal American Speech. Memes like facepalming http://static.divbyzero.nl/facepalm/doublefacepalm.jpg and the O, rly? owl http://i1.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/000/015/orly.jpg have allowed us to communicate otherwise unwritable sentiments via the internet.

How do you pronounce the word hover? In England, it rhymes more with clobber than lover. If you want to learn how to say "My hovercraft is full of eels" in lots of different languages, head on over to Omniglot. http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/hovercraft.htm

It's the shank of the evening! But when is that, exactly? This phrase is typically suggests that the night is far from over, shank being an old word for something straight, or the tail end of something. But as the Dictionary of American Regional English notes, in the South, evening is considered "the time between late afternoon and dusk."

If you're on vacation, watch out for nosebaggers! This mid-19th century slang term refers to tourists who go to resort areas for the day but bring their own provisions and don't contribute to the local economy. A modern nosebagger might be the type of person who cracks open a soda can at the movies.

Do you wash your clothes at a Laundromat or a washateria? http://pics3.city-data.com/businesses/p/1/2/8/1/4151281.JPG A chain of Laundromats in Texas that dated from 1930 to 1950 had the name Washateria, and it took hold as a general term, especially in Texas.

A couple more variations of the California stop: the jackrabbit and the California slide.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Shank of the Evening (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2013


Rock, Paper, Scissors (Rebroadcast) - 30 December 2012

2012-12-30
Length: 51s

Does the thought of going without your cellphone fill you with separation anxiety? Grant and Martha coin some monikers for this modern-day phobia. Also, what's the best way to win at the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors? Where might you fry eggs in a spider, and where would you refer to a Band-Aid as a plaster? Could sending your child to a language immersion school help the whole family learn a new language? Where'd we get the expression When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Also, Yiddish proverbs and slang from the streets to Capitol Hill.

FULL DETAILS

How would you feel if someone took away your smartphone? Nomophobia, the suggested moniker for that anxiety produced by the separation between one and their phone, has been circulating on the internet for a few years after being cooked up by a market research firm. Is there a better term for that awful feeling?

What exactly is gobbledygook, and where does the word come from? Texas Congressman Maury Maverick coined the word http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gob1.htm in 1944 to describe the frustrating jargon used by policymakers in Washington, which reminded him of the sound of turkeys gobbling away. Incidentally, his grandfather Samuel August Maverick, also inspired a term that became popular during the 2008 U.S. elections. http://www.waywordradio.org/maverick-and-gobbledygook-minicast/

What's the best way to win at Rock, Paper, Scissors? Grant delves into the game's various monikers http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/23932, its roots going back centuries in Europe and Asia, and the role it plays among children learning about fairness. Studies have even been done to figure the most advantageous moves in competition http://www.worldrps.com/: statistically, scissors is your best bet http://www.worldrps.com/advanced.html.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Words of the Year, based on phrases containing each month's three letter abbreviation. So, an ancient demonym would be TroJAN, for January, and a Derby Day cocktail would be a Mint JULep, for July.

What does it mean to redd up the home? This phrase is most common in Pennsylvania, and reflects the presence of early Scots-Irish settlers there. The expression means to "pick up" or "tidy up."

What's the difference between a plaster and a Band-Aid? One's a term used in England for "adhesive bandage," and the other is an American brand name that's almost completely generalized. The use of plaster for this type of bandage in Britain is allusion to the traditional use of sticky pastes to ensure the bandage stayed in place.

The Yiddish Project https://twitter.com/#!/YiddishProject on Twitter translates Yiddish proverbs into English, such as, "Ask advice from everyone but act with your own mind." It's not far from Martha's favorite advice from her North Carolina-born father: "Milk all the cows you can and then churn your own butter."

Should route be pronounced to rhyme with root or stout? There's no evidence to suggest that it can't, or shouldn't, rhyme with stout -- although anyone who's traveled Route 66 might beg to differ.

A collection of Bethlehem, Pa., slang from The Chatauquan http://books.google.com/books?id=qsVZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA561&dq=chautauqua+%22coffee+soup%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CoFmT5ieBoaRsAKziuW2Dw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=chautauqua%20%22coffee%20soup%22&f=false, published in 1888, contains such gems as first, meant to be used interchangeably with just, as in "She is first eight years old," and coffee soup, bread with coffee poured over it.

We've received plenty of feedback about language immersion schools, and many who've attended say that not only did they learn both English and another language fluently by 3rd or 4th grade, but often the whole family picked up some of the new language, too.

Where does the phrase jonesing for come from? Heroin addicts first introduced the phrase in the early 1960s, but like many bits of slang, it soon left its original subculture and entered the mainstream vernacular.
 
The Southern idiom don't that tear the rag off the bush? http://www.word-detective.com/2010/03/04/rag-off-the-bush-to-take-the/ has been used when scandalous relationships are revealed, but it's also applicable to anything surprising. It's similar to "Don't that beat all?" and "Doesn't that take the cake?" Its etymology is uncertain, although it may have to do with old-fashioned shooting contests, in which someone would drape a rag on a bush as a target, and the winner would be the one who knocked it off.

Chiasumus http://www.waywordradio.org/pickles-and-ice-cream/, also known as antimetabole, is a somewhat symmetrical expression like John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” or "Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you." The great philosopher Alfred E. Newman once bequeathed to us a bit of wisdom with a somewhat similar structure: We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But wait, what did the Romans do, anyway, and where does that phrase come from? It pops up at least as early as St. Augustine's writings in the late 4th century, when he moved from Rome to Milan and inquired of a bishop as to whether he should keep his old routines.

Why are skillets also called spiders http://www.journalofantiques.com/hearthjan01.htm ? Centuries ago, the three-legged, long-handled pans used for frying actually resembled spiders, and the name stuck.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Rock, Paper, Scissors (Rebroadcast) - 30 December 2012


Clean As a Whistle - 24 December 2012

2012-12-23
Length: 51s

Finding that special bottle of wine can be tough, and even tougher if you're not fluent in winespeak. "Strawberries, rhubarb, and hints of leather are present in the nose." Say what? We discuss the sometimes baffling language of wine. Plus, many folks wish each other "Merry Christmas." But why don't we use the word "merry" with anything else? Anyone ever wished you a "Merry Birthday"? Also, Grant shares some of his picks for Word of the Year 2012, and Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents his annual news of the year Limerick Challenge. And do you pronounce the word scone to rhyme with "John" or "Joan"?

FULL DETAILS

What's the deal with winespeak? Can a grenache really taste like strawberries, rhubarb, hints of leather and dutch cocoa, all over the course of a long swig? While it may sound ridiculous, it does pose the challenge: how would you describe a flavor? It's not easy!

If something's clean as a whistle, that doesn't mean it's shiny and spotless like a silver whistle in a referee's mouth. The idiom refers to a whistle's sound: That sharp, piercing sound is one of the cleanest things known to the ear.

If you say, "He stuck his spoon in the wall," you mean that he died. In German, the person who's deceased has passed along his spoon, and in Afrikaans, he's jabbed his spoon into the ceiling. These expressions reflect the idea that eating is an essential part of life. An article in the British Medical Journal has a long list of euphemisms for dying, from the French avaler son extrait de naissance, "to swallow one's birth certificate," to the Portuguese phrase vestir pijama de madeira, "to wear wooden pajamas."

Why must Christmas be merry, but no other holiday? What if you want a merry birthday? While merry's heyday was the 1800s, you still see the term, meaning "exuberant" or "joyful," in phrases like go on your merry way or even merry-go-round.

If a fellow's getting married, you might say he's getting himself another rib. What slang do you have for getting hitched? Share it with us.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a news of the year Limerick Challenge fit for word lovers and news hounds alike. Try to finish this one: When they speak of their great virtuosity/ The team does not speak with pomposity/ NASA's rolling in clover/They've delivered a rover/ aptly named _______?

What's the past tense of squeeze? Is it squeezed or squoze? While the former is the proper version, squoze is a real word used in several dialects. Ronald Reagan even used it in the 1980s!

When the sky falls, we shall all catch larks. Or in other words, worrying about what's going to happen won't change it. If you've got a proverb you love, share it with us!

Do you pronounce scone to rhyme with Joan or John? In Canada, about 40 percent of English speakers go for the soft o sound, compared to two third of those in the U.K. But in the United States, 90 percent rhyme it with Joan.

Grant has compiled his ninth annual Words of the Year piece for The New York Times Sunday Review section. Among these gems is the verb doxing, as in documenting someone's life and share it on the web. What were your picks for word of the year?

Do you have a saying for when you drive over a bump and plop back down? In the Northeast, it's common to say thank you, ma'am, since the nodding motion of a head going over a bump is reminiscent of genteel greetings. It's also known as a dipsy doodle, duck-and-dip, tickle bump whoop-de-do, belly tickler, and how-do-you-do. Our favorite, though, is kiss-me-quick, a reference to seizing the opportunity when a bump in the road throws passengers closer together. The term goes back to the days of horse-drawn buggies.

Do you have a favorite word? Martha's is mellifluous, which means pleasing to the ear, but goes back to the idea of flowing with honey. If you have a favorite word, take a picture of yourself holding it up and send it in to our Word Wall!

If you're a wine connoisseur, do you remember the moment when it really clicked for you, when you could comprehend and describe the flavors of a wine? In his essay Wine and Astonishment, Andrew Jefford contends that every wine writer and wine lover should remember what it feels like to be astonished by wine. Jefford's essay Source/The Wine Writer is Dead is also directed at wine writers, but contains good advice for anyone interested in crafting prose.

What's your hobby? Or, rather, do you call your interests or passions hobbies at all, or does the word hobby connote something frivolous or strangely obsessive? The term hobby goes back to a nickname for a horse, which transferred to the popular hobby horse toy for children, who'd play with it incessantly, the way one might obsessively fuss over model trains.

A noisy river never drowned nobody. Throw that one back at a blowhard sometime!

R. Alan Smith from San Diego, California, is a strategic advisor. Or is he an adviser? There's been a shift over the years from the -er spelling to the -or, but we're pleased to announce that despite the style guides, advisor is the the overwhelmingly preferred version, and is absolutely correct!
 
Among Grant's Words of the Year picks had to be Higgs boson, that particle discovered by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

When something happens above board, it means things are clear and in the open. But this has nothing to do with being on board a ship. Rather, it comes from the term board meaning "table," as in room and board, and has to do with poker players keeping their cards above board, so as to prevent any underhanded sneaky stuff.

Any public-radio-listening polymath should know about MOOCs, or massive open online courses. These classes and lectures, often taught by the brightest minds at the most prestigious universities, are broadcast online, many times for free. It's being welcomed as a new way for learning to reach people all over the world who'd never have to opportunity to learn this stuff otherwise. Have you taken a MOOC? Let us know how you liked it!

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Clean As a Whistle - 24 December 2012


Help support A Way with Words today

2012-12-21
Length: 39s

This year, generous gifts from people like you made a difference:

We're producing more new episodes than ever. We're taking our mission into communities by partnering with educational and cultural institutions like National University, the San Diego Museum of Art, the State University of New York at Potsdam, Ferrum College, and literacy organizations. And we're working with high school students.

A Way with Words receives no money from any radio station or government agency. No NPR funding. Nothing from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or from stations that air the show. Instead, we rely on your tax-deductible donations.

In fact, A Way with Words is one of just a handful of independent national shows on public radio.

Why do we create and distribute the show at no cost to stations?

Because we believe everyone should be able to learn more about language, no matter who they are, or where they are.

We're creating a place to tell stories about language and share linguistic heirlooms. We're supporting literacy and lifelong learning. We're supporting better human understanding by encouraging better communication. Help us keep making a difference. Make your tax-deductible donation now.

http://www.waywordradio.org/donate

Sincerely,

Martha and Grant,
co-hosts of A Way with Words

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Share: Help support A Way with Words today


Pie in the Sky - 17 December 2012

2012-12-16
Length: 51s

Looking for a book to read with the kids, or maybe a guide to becoming a better writer? Plus, why are leg cramps called charley horses? And where'd we get a phrase like "pie in the sky"? If you happen to be tall, you've no doubt heard plenty of clueless comments from strangers. A listener who's 6-foot-8 shares his favorite snappy comebacks. Plus, a word quiz for math lovers, bathroom euphemisms, johnny-on-the-spot, and the biggest palmetto bugs in the land!

FULL DETAILS

Some call it quitting a book, while others call it post-publication editing. You know, in place of any neglected pre-publication editing. John in San Diego, California, who wrote us to suggest that term, wrote us to say that many a book should have been an essay; many an essay should have been a paragraph; many a paragraph should have been a sentence. Cheers, John!

Does Johnny-on-the-spot refer to a person or a porta potty? Or both? The phrase Johnny-on-the-spot, meaning a fellow who helpfully shows up at just the right instant, dates to the 1870s. But in the early 1900s, the john became a common euphemism for the outhouse. Today, there are several companies called Johnny On The Spot that operate porta potties and display that name on their doors.

The Dictionary of American Regional English has entries for Mrs. Jones, Miss Janet, Mrs. Murphy, and Neighbor Jones, all of which are euphemisms for outhouse or toilet. We've discussed others before, like going to see a man about a horse. It's part of a tradition of not explicitly referring to the place where we urinate and defecate. But please, go ahead and share with us your favorite bathroom euphemisms!

What do you call the flavor explosion that comes from splashing some soft drinks from every one of a restaurant's fountains into one cup? A suicide, a graveyard, swampwater? Any special recipes, or do you just go for it?

We all know the moon's made of green cheese, but what's the deal with the pie in the sky? The idiom pie in the sky, referring to that's pleasant to imagine but unattainable, comes from an early 20th century song called The Preacher and the Slave penned and popularized by labor organizer Joe Hill. The song parodied the hymn The Sweet By and By, which promised a heavenly reward after death. Hill's song sarcastically made the point there's need for help here on earth, too.

Want to get your mug on our website? We're making a Word Wall, featuring all you listeners and your favorite words, so take a picture holding a piece of paper with your favorite word on it close to your face and send it to us. The collecting starts now!

Our Puzzle Man John Chaneski's been working at the Museum of Math in New York City and it's got him thinking about number words. For this game, each clue leads to a certain number spelled out. For example, can you guess which number between one and ten can be anagrammed to something that means to pull something with a rope?

Ever seen a bug so big it could stand flat-footed and kiss a turkey? Kathy from Greensboro, North Carolina, called to share some classic idioms her Georgia grandmother would use to describe bugs, like those gallon-nipper mosquitos and Chatham County eagles, also known as palmetto bugs. There's a long tradition in American tall tales of trying to one-up everyone else about the size of your hometown's insects.

What's the rule on using they and their in place of his and hers? Grammarians a couple of centuries ago may have misapplied some Latin rules of grammar to the unruly English language, but the issue is clear today: the word they functions perfectly well as an epicene pronoun as does their for its possessive version. No professional linguist will tell you otherwise.

Why say goodbye when you could drop the phrase see you in church if the window's open? This joke about lousy churchgoers is a colorful variant of see you when I see you.

Martha spotted a choice cartoon: A dog is sitting behind a gate under a sign that says Beware of Dog. The caption: "Can I read you my poems?"

If you're looking for a great book about writing, Martha recommends Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing. In it, Constance Hale offers an accessible, bang-up course in writing with excerpted passages that really show how the greats do it.

For the young and old alike, Grant recommends A River of Words, a children's biography of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. The artwork is beautiful and it's a wonderful tale of someone who could take an idea in their mind and translate it to the page.

Why do we call that painful leg cramp a charley horse? While no good answers are out there, we did find some pretty far-fetched ones, including a story about old night watchmen known as Charlies and their broken-down horses. But the term does pop up in baseball reports in the 1880s, and fits well into the history of colorful baseball language.

When wine drinkers swirl their glasses and watch those streaks coming down, they say they’re looking at the legs. But the German term kirchenfenster, meaning church windows, makes a great substitute because of the arches of church windows. Do you have another term for that wine streaming down the side of a glass?

Ken from New Mexico measures up at six-foot-eight, and he's heard the gamut of comments tall people get, like How's the weather up there?. Sometimes he responds to How tall are you? with Five-foot-20, and if anyone asks if he plays basketball, he just asks them if they play miniature golf!

Grant and his son have been loving the magazines Click, Cricket, and Ladybug. The poems, stories, and pictures are fantastic, and you don't get the sense that it's didactic or trying to force any lessons or morals. If you're fond of Highlights Magazine, check these out.

How do you pronounce chicanery? Do you soften the a, as in Chicano? No!T his term, meaning trickery or disturbance of the peace, is etymologically unrelated to Chicano. It is, however, a linguistic relative of  the name of those concrete parking lot barriers called chicanes.

Because Grant still can't get enough schoolyard rhymes, he shares one this week that goes, Three six nine/ the goose drank wine/ the monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line. Are you a lifer when it comes to children's rhymes? Let us know!

....


Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Pie in the Sky - 17 December 2012


Little Pitchers - 10 December 2012

2012-12-09
Length: 51s

Can reading poetry make you a better writer? Grant and Martha discuss how reading poetry improves your prose. Also, how linguists guess where you come from based on how you speak. And what do you call someone who picks the chocolate out of the trail mix? Plus, champing at the bit, rutching around, kerfuffles and kerfluffles, pear-shaped, and little pitchers with big ears!

FULL DETAILS

Can reading poetry make you a better writer? The way poetry pushes up against the rules of grammar makes it a great teacher even for the writing of standard prose. And while plenty of poems are best comprehended by the wise and mature, hip-hop is a form that's more emotional and less subtle, and over at rapgenius.com, avid followers of hip-hop have annotated lyrics to tell the stories and meanings behind them. Is there a type of poetry that really moves you?

Veronica, who grew up in Liverpool, England, has noticed that kerfuffle is a favorite term among American journalists talking about our political situation, though it's much more common across the pond. This word for a disturbance or a bother comes from Scotland, but it's been picked up in the United States, where it's often pronounced as kerfluffle.

How do you get rid of the hiccups? Have someone scare you? Hold your breath? We hear thinking of six bald men may just do the trick!

When it comes to trail mix, the peanuts may just as well be packing peanuts—all we really want is the chocolate! But if you're one of those people who dig for the M&Ms and leave the rest, you might be accused of high-grading. This term comes from the mining industry in the early 1900s, when gold miners would sneak the good pieces into their lunch pails. What stuff would you admit to high-grading?

A while back, our Quiz Guy John Chaneski gave us a game of aptronyms, and your answers are still pouring in. Like, what do you call two guys over a window? How about Kurt n' Rod?

For this week's game, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word puzzle for license plate readers. Might those first three letters stand for a longer word? For example, MMT might be short for mathematics, while MMX could be flummox. The object of this game is to think of the shortest answers possible. Can you think of any with fewer letters?

What's the difference between champing at the bit and faunching at the bit? Champing, or chomping, means you're pumped up and ready to go, while faunching—more common in the Southwest—implies more anger and frustration. Which do you use?

When adults are talking sex, money, or other adult topics in the presence of children, one might say "little pitchers have big ears," meaning that they don't want the little ones to hear. The expression has to do with beverage pitchers with handles curved like ears. What do you say when you wish you could cover the kids' ears or make them leave the room?

High-grading, or stealing choice bits of something, is mentioned a book by David G. Rasmussen called The Man Who Moiled For Gold. Moil itself is an interesting term, meaning "to become wet and muddy from work." It comes from the Latin word mollis, meaning "soft," which is also the source of our word mollify.

It's hard to hold a baby when he's rutching around. Rutching, or rutsching, which means slipping, sliding and squirming around comes from German, and is used in areas influenced by Pennsylvania Dutch. What do you call it when infants start wriggling and shimmying all over the place?

You might use the phrase pear-shaped to describe someone who's wide in the hips, but to say everything went pear-shaped can also mean that things went wrong. This slang term was among the members of Britain's Royal Air Force during the Falkland Islands War, referring to the fact that when planes would crash, they'd crunch into the shape of a pear.

Martha's enthusiastic about the book Poetry 180: A Turning Back To Poetry, edited by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One gem in there by Robley Wilson called "I Wish in the City of Your Heart" provides a lovely image of that moment when the rain stops and the rutching kids can run outside.

Despite the reach of television and pop culture, American English is growing ever more diverse in terms of dialect. Grant shows how it's possible to pinpoint your region of origin--or at least come close--based on the way you pronounce the word bag. Of course, whether you call a carbonated beverage soda, pop or Coke also depends on what part of the country you're from. Same with sofa, couch or davenport. Although we still tend to pick up faddish words from other regions, local dialects continue to thrive, and there are plenty of quizzes out there to prove it. Linguist Bert Vaux's American Dialect Survey includes helpful maps based on the answers that speakers in the United States give to 122 questions about regional words and phrases.

Nowadays we think of the gridiron as the football field, but in the 14th century, a gridiron was a cooking instrument with horizontal bars placed over an open flame. Since then, gridiron has lent its name to a Medieval torture device, the American flag, and it's even the source of the terms grid and gridlock.

Why do people up and quit? Can't they just…quit? In the 1300s, the phrase up and followed by an action literally meant you got up and did something. Today, it's taken the figurative meaning of doing something with vigor and enthusiasm, and it's often used with speaking verbs. When's the last time you up and did something?

When you hear that little pitchers have big ears, do you think of a lemonade pitcher or a baseball pitcher? In The Wisdom of Many: Essays On The Proverb, Wolfgang Mieder points out that a lot of people think it refers to a Little League pitcher with big ears sticking out of their baseball cap, though it's really about a drink pitcher. Still, that's no excuse for yelling nasty things at Little League games!

Has ain't gone out of fashion? Teachers have succeeded in stigmatizing the word, and it's also not such a common pet peeve any more. But the biggest reason you don't hear it as much is because it's no longer used in fiction and movies. Nowadays, it's more common to hear ain't used in certain idioms, like say it ain't so. Let us know if you're still hearing it, or if you've taken it upon yourself to preserve the word.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Little Pitchers - 10 December 2012


Kissed Her on the Stairs - 3 December 2012

2012-12-02
Length: 51s

Do Americans use the same sign language as the Brits? And what do Japanese people use instead of "umm?" Grant and Martha cover language shifts across the globe. Plus, why we vote at polling places? And what goes into File 13? All this, plus a word quiz, commode vs toilet, saditty and bougie, and cute stuff that kids say!

FULL DETAILS

All languages evolve, and sign language is no exception. The British Sign Language Corpus Project has collected footage of nearly 250 deaf people across the U.K. and noticed lots of changes, especially as the internet has made it easier for hearing-impaired people to sign to more people. For example, the sign for "French people" is no longer a stereotypical mustache twirl—it's now made with a sign for "rooster," the unofficial symbol of France. If you sign, let us know what changes you've seen!

Why do some folks call the toilet a commode? Originally, the commode was a piece of furniture you'd put the chamberpot in. Today, commode is still a common term heard in the American South. Others, though, use the term commode to denote a kind of cabinet, causing confusion when journalists mistook reports of Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham taking a bribe in the form of a pair of antique commodes worth more than $7000. What do you call your porcelain throne?

So, um, where do those, er, filler words come from? Discourse particles, as they're also known, are used to fill those gaps when we're thinking of what to say but don't want to lose our turn in a conversation. English isn't the only language that has them, either. Spanish speakers often use este, and in Japanese, it's eto. Michael Erard has written at length about the subject in his book Um . . .

If you had to say the word telephone in sign language, you'd probably do the thumb and pinky to the head. In the past, though, it was one fist to the ear, one fist to the mouth—just like the old fashioned candlestick phone! The current sign, though, is still a bit skeuomorphic.

Our Puzzle Guy John Chaneski has a game for all the idiom lovers out there. For each category, three letters match with different phrases. For example, name three things you can hold, starting with the letters C, G, and T. These are open-ended questions, so let us know if you think of more answers!

If you're going to put something in File 13, is it headed to a) a top-secret folder, b) a Christmas stocking, or c) trash can? It's the trash! This term began in the 1940s during WWII as military slang, and by the late 60s had fully entered civilian speech. Other jocular expressions for the same thing include round file or circular file.

It's tough to say what generation was best at sarcasm and snark, but the 50s made a good case with I Love Lucy. Charmed, I'm sure, one of those sugarcoated jabs used when meeting someone you're dubious about, was one of Ethel's hallmark lines. Of course, the phrase goes back to the 1850s. Long live sarcasm.

A while back we talked about what English sounds like to those who don't speak it. Martha shares an evocative excerpt from Richard Rodriguez's memoir Hunger of Memory, where he describes the "high nasal notes of middle-class American speech."

When politicians, authority figures, or bureaucrats ignore those who need help, they're said to be sitting high and looking low. This idiom, almost exclusive to the African-American community, goes back to 1970s. It's also used in a religious sense, where God is sitting high and looking low, meaning He takes care of the small things. But outside the context of religion, nobody ought to be sitting high and looking low.

Some of the things kids say are so cute, it's a crime to correct them. Over time, they'll fix their pronunciations of callipitter, so enjoy those mistakes while they last. If you have a favorite little-kid mispronunciation, tell us!

If someone uses American Sign Language, can they communicate with someone in Bolivia? Or France? Or even England? No! In fact, ASL derives from the French system in use in the early 19th century, and they're still 60% identical. British sign language, which arose independently, would be unintelligible to an American signer.

Oh, those saditty chicks think they're all that, don't they? Saditty, or seditty, goes back to the 1940s, where it first appears in news articles from African-American publications, and applies primarily to women who think they're better than others. Bougie, as in bourgeois, has a similar use among African Americans.

Plenty of lizards are scary looking, but that doesn't make them scorpions. Even so, there are places like Western Virginia where the word scorpion is used to refer to an lizard, such as the five-lined skink, known for its distinctive blue tail.

Why do we vote at a polling place? Pol in Middle English simply meant head, and polls are the place where heads are counted. The Middle English word for head also gives us get polliwog, a young frog with a wiggly head, and tadpole, those toads and other little amphibians that for a while look like they're all head.

These days, people are going to prom, in studio, and in hospital -- but there's no the in there! In plenty of dialects, it's common to drop such articles, and use anarthrous nouns, or nouns without articles.

First I gave her peaches, then I gave her pears, then I gave her 50 cents and kissed her on the stairs. If you've got a children's rhyme to rival this gem, share it with us!

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Kissed Her on the Stairs - 3 December 2012


Mute Point (Rebroadcast) - 26 November 2012

2012-11-26
Length: 51s

What do you call it when you roll through a stop sign without ever coming to a complete stop? A California stop, a Michigan stop -- or something else? And if someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? Also, Puddin Tame, the outmoded design elements called skeuomorphs, a clever Spanish proverb, moot vs. mute point, and the meaning of the military slang term "go hermantile."

FULL DETAILS

Why do we make a hand crank motion when asking someone to roll down their window? After all, in most cars these days, that's done with the press of a button. An outmoded gesture like this is similar to a skeuomorph, http://skeuomorphseverywhere.com/post/3242801306/velcro-tap-shoes-with-buckles a design element that still used even though it no longer has a function. For example, iPhones still use images of old handsets or tape recorders to indicate phone and voicemail functions.

What's your name? I'm Puddin Tame, ask me again and I'll tell you the same! This and other rhymes, such as "What's your number? Cucumber!" derive from French, English, and American children's folklore that dates to at least as early as the 17th century. Iona and Peter Opie have collected a bundle of these children's sayings. http://books.google.com/books?id=sdWwHbOf4oAC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=iona+and+peter+opie+puddin+tane&source=bl&ots=HnFvI-mc4S&sig=6Yr0FO-iplK86ghakn5RXMK-b5s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vaZbT-rGMMX20gGw69znDA&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

What's it called when someone rolls through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? People across the country have coined terms like California stop, New York stop, and Michigan stop as a way of expressing pride in their local delinquencies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VVlTTqIgdY

Like the famous murmuration of starlings, http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/starling-flock/ a dole of doves is another beautiful collective noun from the aviary world. http://palomaraudubon.org/collective.html

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of geographic and astrological portmanteaus. For example, if you're looking for something with a spongy-pointed marker in Pittsburgh, how about a Felt Tip Pennsylvania? Or if someone born in June is in putting on makeup, chances are they'd wear Geminishadow.

A Vermont kindergarten teacher discusses unusual vocabulary with his class. He's trying to revive apricity, which means the warmth of the sun in the winter. This term comes from the Latin meaning "to bask in the sun." This caller hopes people will warm to the idea.

If someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? And is it better to be a voracious reader of nonfiction rather than novels? The word voracious, which shares a root with devour and carnivore, might connote a lack of discernment when it comes to eating, but if one reads voraciously, it's typically a point of pride. What other gustatory tropes are there in the ways we talk about reading and eating?

El pez se muere por la boca is a wise and vivid Spanish proverb. It means "the fish dies by its mouth."

In the Navy and the Marines, if someone goes hermantile, they're engaging in crazy behavior. This slang expression is of uncertain origin. It goes back to World War I but has stayed almost exclusively within the military's lexicon and writings related to the Navy or the Marines.

Asafetida, the plant used in asafidity bags http://www.waywordradio.org/spelling-bee-words/ meant to ward off disease, is also a common ingredient in Indian cooking http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/06/spice-hunting-asafoetida-hing.html, and it's said to counterbalance heavy spices and relieve stomach cramps.

Why can't you tear the tag off a mattress? And why do old books say that the right of translation into foreign languages including the Scandinavian is reserved? These bits of jargon, not necessarily intended for the consumer, have seeped into our language because of nuanced copyright laws and the like.
 
How do you pronounce moot point? Does it sound like mute, or rhyme with toot? The correct answer is the latter.

Here's another fun skeuomorph: Martha's father bought an exercise bike for the den, but the pedals have reflectors on them.

Why do we speak to babies in high pitched voices? Often our eyes grow wide, we give big smiles, and we talk in exaggerated, singsongy voices because these are the things that infants respond to. Chances are this parental cooing has gone on since time immemorial.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Mute Point (Rebroadcast) - 26 November 2012


A Dancer Who Walks for a Living - 19 November 2012

2012-11-18
Length: 51s

You dream of writing the great American novel, but to make ends meet, you spend your days writing boring corporate reports. There's a difference between writing for love and writing for a living—or is there? And does a heyday have anything to do with hay? Did getting dressed to kill originally refer to soldiers? Plus, toad-in-the-hole, deadwoods, due diligence, kibosh, clues, and an election-year word puzzle.


FULL DETAILS

Being a writer and making a living as a writer are often two different things. Maybe you're writing poetry at night but by day you're writing technical manuals or web copy. Journalist Michael Erard, whose day job is writing for think tank, describes such a writer as "a dancer who walks for a living." How do you make the transition between the two? How do you inspire yourself all over again to write what you love?

What do you call it when you're about to jump into a conversation but someone beats you to it? Mary, a caller and self-described introvert from Indianapolis, calls it getting seagulled, inspired by an episode of The Simpsons in which nerdy Lisa works up the courage to participate in a conversation, but is interrupted at the last second by a screeching seagull.

In her new book, The Introvert's Way, author Sophia Dembling refers to this experience as getting steamrolled. A different kind of interruption is getting porlocked, a reference to the visitor from Porlock who interrupted Samuel Taylor Coleridge's reverie while he was writing the poem Kubla Khan and made him lose his train of thought. Have a better term for these unfortunate experiences?

Leah from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, wants to know the origin of the name of the Delmarva Peninsula. It's a portmanteau name, made of parts of the names of the three states represented there: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University is a great source for more information.

Do you keep copypasta on your computer? It's that bit of tasty text you keep ready to paste in any relevant email or Facebook post. Grant has a great one for language lovers, based on eggcorns, those words or phrases that get switched to things that sound the same. Mustard up all the strength you can, it's a doggy dog world out there!

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game inspired by the recent election season. From each clue, determine the word that begins with either D-E-M or R-E-P. For example, what's the term for a part of a song that's performed all over again? Try the quiz, and if you think of any others, email us!

Naomi, a Missoula, Montana, mom who's writing a magazine essay, wants to know if due diligence is the appropriate term to denote the daily, household chores that her son's new stepdad has taken on. The verdict: it's a legal term. If you're writing about personal experiences, stick with a phrase from a lower register of speech, like daily duties. We think the term due diligence is among those being misused and overused.
 
If you're in a state of confusion, you might say I don't know if I'm Arthur or Martha. It's a slang phrase for "I'm confused" that you might hear in Australia or New Zealand, according to the Collins Dictionary.

If you're dressed to kill, you're looking sharp. But does the expression have to do with medieval chivalry, or military armor of any kind? Nope. The earliest cases pop up in text in the 1800s, based on the trend of adding the words to kill onto verbs to mean something's done with force and passion and energy.

If you've got crummy handwriting, you might say that it looks like something written with a thumbnail dipped in tar. But go ahead, dip that thumbnail and write to us anyway. If you've got notable handwriting of any sort, we want to see it!

When you put the kibosh, or kybosh, on something, you're putting a speedy end to it. This term, usually pronounced KYE-bosh, first shows up in print when Charles Dickens used in in 1836, writing under the pseudonym Boz. In that piece, it was spoken by a cockney fellow.

Martha shares a favorite poem, "The Bagel," by David Ignatow. Who wouldn't like to feel "strangely happy with myself"? This and other gems can be found in Billy Collins' book Poetry 180.

For you writers toiling away at your day job, heed the advice of Zadie Smith: "Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied." Wait, what? There has to be some satisfaction in this! Write to us about the simple pleasure that you find in the craft.

Five guys walk into a diner. One orders a toad in the hole, another the gashouse eggs, the third gets eggs in a basket, the next orders a hole in one, and the last fellow gets spit in the ocean. What does each wind up with? The same thing! Although toad in the hole can refer to a sausage-in-Yorkshire pudding dish, it's also among the many names for a good old-fashioned slice of bread with a hole in it, fried with an egg in that hole, including one-eyed jack and pirate's eye.

When something's in its heyday, its in its prime. What does that have to do with hay? Nothing, actually. It goes back to the 1500s, when heyday and similar-sounding words were simply expressions of celebration or joy. Grant is especially fond of the Oxford English Dictionary's first citation for this term, from the John Skelton's Magnyfycence, published around 1529: Rutty bully Ioly rutterkin heyda.

Editors are great for picking up those double the's and similar mistakes, known as eye-skip errors.

Do you refer to complimentary tickets to an event as Annie Oakleys? Or deadwoods, perhaps? The term Annie Oakley supposedly comes from a punched ticket's resemblance to bullet-riddled cards from the sharpshooter's Wild West shows. Deadwood is associated with the old barroom situation where you'd buy a paper drink ticket from one person and give it to the bartender. If you were in good favor with him, he might hand it back to you—that is, the piece of paper, or the dead piece of wood.

In one of history's greatest stories about yarn, Theseus famously made it back out of the deadly Minotaur's labyrinth by unspooling a ball of yarn so he could retrace his steps. In Middle English, such rolled-up yarn was called a clewe. Eventually, clew took on the metaphorical meaning of something that will lead you to a solution. Pretty soon, the spelling was changed to clue, and now we've got that awesome board game and of course, that blue pooch and his bits of evidence.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: A Dancer Who Walks for a Living - 19 November 2012


Make a Train Take a Dirt Road - 12 November 2012

2012-11-11
Length: 51s

Remember the classic films Dogumentary and $3000? Those were their working titles, before they became Best In Show and Pretty Woman. We look at how movie titles evolve and change. Also, is Spanglish a real language? Plus, balaclavas, teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, buying liquor at the packie, making a train take a dirt road, and that weird sensation when you meet a stranger you feel like you already know from your friends' Facebook updates!

FULL DETAILS

Would some Hollywood classics still have been box-office hits if they'd stuck with their original names? Take Anhedonia, which later became Annie Hall. Or $3000, which became Pretty Woman. And can you guess the eventual title of the movie originally called Harry, This is Sally?

Here's a puzzler: try to explain what malt tastes like without using the word malty. Or, for that matter, describe the color red. Defining sensory things is one of the great challenges that dictionary editors confront.

If she'll make a train take a dirt road, does that mean she's pretty or ugly? Nicole from Plano, Texas, overheard the idiom in the Zach Brown Band's song "Different Kind of Fine." The idea is an ugliness is so powerful it can derail a train. But as Zach Brown sings, looks aren't all that makes a lady fine.

Sometimes a couple may be paired, but they're just not connected. As this cartoon suggests, you might say they're bluetoothy.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about aptronyms for famous folks, or shall we say folks who were Almost Amous. In this puzzle, you drop the first letter of a famous person's last name in order to give them a fitting new occupation. For example, a legendary bank robber might become an archer by losing the first letter of his last name. See if you can come up with others!

If you spend any time on Facebook, then you've probably had the experience of knowing a whole lot about someone, even though they're just a friend or relative of a friend. And meeting them can be a little weird, or even a slightly creepy. There's a word for that odd connection: foafiness, as in friend-of-a-friend, or foaf.

Remember Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in James L. Brooks' classic Old Friends? No? That's because they changed the title to As Good As It Gets.

If John Wayne asked you to fetch his possibles, what would you go looking for? This term simply means one's personal belongings, and was used often among frontiersmen and cowboys.

In Argentina, a certain cinematic cult classic is known as Very Important Perros. But in the United States, the film was first titled Dogumentary, then later Best In Show.

A grandmother in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is curious about the advice Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs. This idiom is used as a warning not to presume that you know more than your elders, and may be connected with the old practice of henhouse thieves poking holes in an eggshell and sucking out the yolk. Variants of this expression include Don't teach your grandmother how to milk ducks or Don't teach your grandmother to steal sheep.

If you behave in a struthonian manner, then it means you're behaving like an ostrich. This play term comes from struthos, the ancient Greek word for ostrich. Actually, according to the American Ostrich Association, the old belief that an ostrich will stick its head in the sand is a myth.

Jeremy Dick, a listener from Victoria, Australia, grew up in Canada loving the movie The Mighty Ducks. But once he moved down under, he realized the Aussies call it Champions. What's that all about? Do Australians not think ducks are mighty? TV Tropes explains some reasons why titles change, like, for example, idioms that don't translate, even across English speaking countries.

What do you call the place you purchase adult beverages? Is it a liquor store, or a package store? Package store is common in the Northeast, while folks in Milwaukee know it as the beer depot, and Pennsylvanians might call it the ABC store. Tell us your preferred term!
 
Spanglish. What's it all about? Is it a real language, or just a funky amalgam? Ilan Stavans' book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language traces the varieties of Spanglish that have sprung up around the country, and includes his controversial translation of the first chapter of Don Quixote into Spanglish. Still, by academic standards, Spanglish itself is not technically a language.

On a previous episode, we discussed the origins of doozy, and boy did we get some responses! Many of you called and wrote to say that the Duesenberg luxury car is the source of the term. While the car's reputation for automotive excellence may have reinforced the use of term, the problem is that the word doozy appears in print at least as early as 1903. The car, however, wasn't widely available until about 1920.

Would you be intimidated if someone tried to rob you while wearing a balaclava? What about a ski mask? Trick question: they're the same thing! The head covering recently made popular in the Pussy Riot protests is known as a balaclava. The name comes from the Port of Balaclava on the Black Sea, an important site in the Crimean War, and the headgear worn there to protect against the bitter cold.

Here's one to clear up this confusing rule: i before e, except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbor. Got it?

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Make a Train Take a Dirt Road - 12 November 2012


The One Who Brung You - 5 November 2012

2012-11-04
Length: 51s

You've been reading a book but you're just not into it. How do you quit it, guilt-free? How do you break up with a book? Also, what do you ask for when you go through the grocery checkout line: bag, sack, or something else? Plus, brung vs. brought, a swim swim, cuddywifters, pinstriped cookie-pushers, a road trip word game, and more.

FULL DETAILS

How do you know if it's time to break up with a book? You've into the book 50, maybe a 100 pages, but you're just not into it. Is there something wrong with quitting before the end? Tell us where you draw the line.

Let's say an expression you use really bothers your friends or coworkers. Maybe you end sentences with whatnot or etcetera, or you use um as a placeholder, and you want to stop doing it. Here's a tip: Enlist someone you trust, and have them police you, calling your attention to it every time you use that verbal crutch. It should cure you pretty quickly.

A while ago, we played a game involving aptronyms, those monikers that really fit their owners. For example, picture a guy holding a shovel standing next to a hole. His name might be Doug. But a Tennessee listener wrote to suggest another answer: the guy with the shovel might just as well be called Barry. Have a better aptronym to share?

If you say something's going downhill, does that mean things are getting better or worse? Here's the rule: if something's going downhill, it's getting worse, but if things are all downhill from here, they're getting better.

Remember Tom Swifties, those puns where the adverb matches the quote? How about this one: "I love reading Moby-Dick," Tom said superficially.

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game that should last through your longest road trip. It's a variation of “20 Questions” called “Animal, Mineral or Vegetable. “He gives you a word, and you have to find the animal, mineral or vegetable embedded in it. For example, which of those three things is contained in the word "soaking"?

Mike from Irving, Texas, has a co-worker who regularly uses brung instead of brought. Is it okay to say "he brung something"? Although the word brung isn't standard English, this dialectal variant has existed alongside brought for centuries. It appears in the informal phrase dance with the one what brung you (or who brung you or that brung you), which suggests the importance of being loyal.

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” made popular by the 1983 film The Right Stuff, has seen a renaissance in usage among pilots. That is, if you don't pay them what they believe they’re worth, they're not going to fly.

We got a call from Sarah in Dresden, Germany, who's applying to work for the State Department as foreign service officer. She was curious about an article that contained the term pinstriped cookie-pusher. According to William Safire's Political Dictionary, this bit of derogatory slang came into use in the 1920s to refer to diplomats who were perceived as soft or even effeminate. These men in pinstriped suits would attend receptions at embassies where they'd push cookies instead of paper.

If a waiter marks your date as a WW, you know you're in for a pricey bottle of wine. The wine whales, as they're called, take their name from the Vegas whale: those folks who play big at the tables, to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions.

Will, a listener from South Burlington, Vermont, says he always considered willy nilly to be his own special phrase. But he's realized over the years that its original meaning has been replaced. What was originated as will I, nill I or will he, nill he -- that is, with or without the will of someone -- has come to mean "haphazard." This transformation likely has to do with its rhyme.

If someone's a cuddywifter, are they a) a wine snob, b) left-handed, or c) a circus clown? Folks in Scotland and Northern England refer to left-handed people as cuddywifters, along with a host of other terms.

After re-reading Stephen Crane's short story The Open Boat, Martha is reminded of one of Crane's poems about perspective, known as A man saw a ball of gold in the sky.

If someone asks for their groceries in a bag, does that mean they want paper or plastic? For Jean-Patrick in Dallas, Texas, has had plenty of experience bagging groceries, and says his customers use the term bag specifically to mean the paper kind. We don't have evidence that there are different names for these containers in different parts of the country, but we'd love to hear from our listeners on this one.

When someone's going for a swim swim, it means they're doing it for real, laps and all. If they're going to a party, that's probably going to be more sedate than a party party. These are examples of what linguists call contrastive focus reduplication, in which we emphasize a term by reusing it, rather than tacking on another adjective. For example, you might just like someone, but then again you maybe you like like them.

When it comes to marriage, you've got to work with your OH—that is, your other half. Lexicographers for the Oxford English Dictionary are tracking this initialism, as well as DH, or dear husband, for possible inclusion in future editions.

I liked to died when that ol' toad-strangler crashed through the veranda! The Southernism liked to, also known as the counterfactual liketa, derives from the sense of like meaning "nearly." If you have some favorite regional language, please share it with us.

One of Kentucky's finest, Wendell Berry, wrote this in his poem "The Real Work": "It may be that when we no longer know what to do/ we have come to our real work." Indeed, a smooth life is often a boring life.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

And from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Share: The One Who Brung You - 5 November 2012


Fake English - 29 October 2012

2012-10-28
Length: 51s

Everyone knows you don't start a sentence with "But." But why? We sort out the confusion over this little word. Also, how voice recognition technology is changing the way we think and write, and what English sounds like to foreigners. (Hint: It's not pretty.) Plus, where cockamamie comes from, oddly translated movie titles, trucker slang, patron vs. customer, hashtags, pungling, paralipsis, and more.

FULL DETAILS

Quiz time! Does pungle mean a) a baby platypus, or b) a verb meaning "to put down money."  It's the latter. The term pungle is most common in the Western United States. It comes from the Spanish pongale, an imperative meaning "put it down." For example, you might pungle down cash at a poker table or a checkout counter.

Michelle, a middle school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, says her students believe they've invented a new word for "an injury received from a fist bump or dap." They say they created fistumba as a combination of fist and Zumba, the popular dance exercise. They're wondering how to improve their chances of spreading this new word, and they've been discussing the children's book Frindle, by Andrew Clements, which is about inventing and trying to popularize a new term.

"We don't want to dwell on the need for your donations, so we'll stop talking about how important they are." Rhetorical statements like this one, where the point is actually made by pretending to avoid it, is often called paralipsis or paraleipsis. The terms come from the Greek word meaning "to leave aside."

In truck driver slang, a bedbugger is "a moving van that hauls furniture." That's one example of trucker lingo that Martha picked up during her appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio's call-in program, The Ben Merens Show.

Kathleen from Hebron, Connecticut, is curious about the term hashtag. She associates it with the symbol #, which she calls a pound sign. When that symbol, also known as a hash mark, pound sign, doublecross, hatch mark, octothorpe, or number sign, is appended to clickable keywords, the whole thing is known as a hashtag. It's used on Twitter, among other places, to help label a message on a particular topic.

If you're a fan of yard sales, you'll love this game from Puzzle Guy John Chaneski. Suppose you go yard-saling, but only at the homes of famous people. The items you find there are all two-word rhymes. At the house of one powerful politician, for example, you find he's selling his flannel nightclothes. Can you guess what they're called?

Richard from San Diego, California, has a hard time believe that the term cockamamie doesn't derive from Yiddish. Although the word was adapted by Jewish immigrants in New York City to refer to transferable decals, it comes from French decalcomania. Cockamamie, or cockamamy, is now used to describe something wacky or ridiculous, and it's often heard among those familiar with Yiddish.

What film, when translated from its Spanish version, is known as An Expert in Fun? It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off! Now take a crack at decoding these two: Love without Stopovers, and Very Important Perros.

Suzie, who works at the Dallas Public Library, is wondering why librarians are being asked to refer to their patrons as customers. Does the word customer make consulting a library and borrowing books feel too much like a transaction? Eric Patridge, in his 1955 book The Concise Usage and Abusage, explains that you can have a patron of the arts, but not of a greengrocer or a bookmaker. What do you think people who use a library should be called?

Back in 1867 a newspaper in Nevada used the verb pungle to lovely effect: "All night the clouds pungled their fleecy treasure."

The modifier lamming or lammin', is used as an intensifier, as in "That container is lammin' full," meaning "That container is extremely full." There's a whole class of intensifying words like this in English, which have to do with the idea of hitting, banging, thumping, or striking. Another example: larrupin'.  The word lammin' in particular popped up in a bunch of cowboy novels after Zane Grey popularized the term in his books.

Do you listen to our show on an alligator radio? We're guessing not, since this bit of trucker slang refers to the CB radios that transmit a strong signal but are terrible for receiving. Like an alligator, they're all mouth and no ears.

Voice recording technology is making it easier than ever to dictate text rather than write it. Richard Powers, author of the 2006 National Book Award winner The Echo Maker, wrote most of that book by dictating it into a computer program. Of course, dictating to humans has been happening for centuries. John Milton is said to have dictated Paradise Lost to his daughters, and Mark Twain supposedly dictated much of his Autobiography. But as Powers explained in an essay, dictating to a computer changes the way one puts words on the page.

Every elementary school student is taught never to start a sentence with "But." But why? Teachers of young students often warn against beginning with "But" or "And" simply as a way of avoiding a verbal crutch. All mature writers develop an instinct for what tone they're going for, who their audience is, and what kind of style their content demands. But there's no universal rule against starting a sentence with the word "but."

David, a lawyer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, subscribes to the Lexis Legal News Brief, and wonders about the connection between lex meaning "law," and the lex which refers to "words." While lexis refers to the total stock of words in a language, lexicon means the vocabulary of an individual or a specific branch of knowledge. They all come from an ancient root leg-, having to do with the idea of "collecting" or "gathering," which also gives us the suffix -logy, as in the study of something.

If you're driving an 18-wheeler and want to warn fellow truckers about a piece of blown tire lying in the middle of the road, you'd tell them to watch out for the alligator. Come to think of it, the crocodilian reptile and the rubber remnant do share a passing resemblance.

Kids often imitate French or Chinese speakers without knowing the language,. But have you ever tried to imitate the English language, or speak fake English? There are lots of YouTube videos that give an idea of what English sounds like to native speakers of foreign languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere.  More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.


Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Fake English - 29 October 2012


Can Of Worms - 22 October 2012

2012-10-21
Length: 51s

What do you call a guy with a bald pate? A chrome dome? Maybe the lucky fellow is sporting a solar panel for a sex machine. Also, which would you rather open: a can of worms or Pandora's Box? Plus, ordinary vs. ornery, versing vs. versus, dishwater vs. ditchwater, the copyediting term stet, still hunts, and doozies. And if someone's a phony, is he a four-flusher or a floor-flusher? Maybe he's also a piece of work.

FULL DETAILS

Has anyone collected the stuff bald people say? How about a busy road grows no grass, or God only made so many perfect heads—the rest he covered in hair. Jorge Luis Borges deemed the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina as "a fight between two bald men over a comb."

If someone seems too good to be true, he may be a four-flusher. This term for "a fake" or "a phony" comes from the poker slang four-flusher, meaning someone who has four cards of a suit but not yet the full flush. Some people confuse the term as floor-flusher, like in the 1954 Popeye cartoon about a plumbing mishap that makes humorous use of this expression.

Is someone dull as ditchwater or dishwater? The more common phrase, which came into use much earlier, is ditchwater.

What do you call the rear compartment of a station wagon or minivan? Many know it as the way back, not to be confused with the regular back, which is more likely to have seat belts.

Who knows if Harry means "hairy," but we do know that the name Calvin means "bald." It derives from the Latin calvus, which means the same thing, and is also the root of the term Calvary.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski plays master of ceremonies for the Miss Word Pageant, a popularity contest for words based on their Google search frequency. For example, between bacon, lettuce and tomato, bacon takes the prize by far for most Google hits, while lettuce brings up the rear. What’d lettuce do for the talent portion?

What's the difference between Pandora's box and a can of worms? In Greek myth, the contents of the fateful box belonging to Pandora (literally, "all gifts" in ancient Greek) were a mystery. WIth a can of worms, on the other hand, you know the kind of tangled, unpleasant mess you're in for. It's worms.

Does the possessive “s” go at the end of a proper name ending in “s”? What's the possessive of  a name like James -- James' or James's? Either's correct, depending on your style guide. The AP Stylebook says you just use an apostrophe, but others say to add the “s”. Your best bet is to choose a style and then be consistent.

The term callow goes back to Old English calu, meaning "bald." The original sense of callow referred to young birds lacking feathers on their heads, then referred to a young man's down cheek, and eventually came to mean "youthful" or "immature."

The word stet was borrowed from the Latin word spelled the same way, which translates "let it stand." Stet is commonly used by writers and editors to indicate that something should remain as written, especially after a correction has been suggested.

Why do we refer to a draw in tic-tac-toe as a cat's game? Throughout the history of the game, cats have been associated with it. In some Spanish-speaking countries, for example, it's known as gato, or "cat."

Photos and tests from the Mars Rover show an abundance of hematite, a dark red mineral that takes its name from the Greek word haima, meaning "blood." Another mineral, goethite, is named for the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an amateur geologist whose collection of 18,000 minerals was famous throughout Europe.

Is versing, meaning "to compete against someone," a real verb? In the past thirty years, this term has grown in popularity because versus, when spoken, sounds like a conjugated verb. So youngsters especially will talk about one team getting ready to verse another. Similar things happened with misunderstanding the plural forms of kudos (in ancient Greek, "glory") and biceps (literally, "two-headed") — both of those words were originally singular.

To sell woof tickets, or wolf tickets, is African-American slang meaning "to threaten in a boastful manner."  Geneva Smitherman, a professor at Michigan State University who's studied the term, believes it has its origins in the idea of a dog barking uselessly.

The term doozie, which refers to something good or first rate, may derive from daisy, as in the flower, sometimes considered an example of excellence. It might also have to do with the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, who toured the States in the 1890s.

Goethe wasn't all about the minerals. He's also quoted as saying, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Goethe also said, "Everything is simpler than one can imagine and yet complicated and intertwined beyond comprehension," which seems quite appropriate for a poet whose name graces rocks on another planet.

What does it mean if someone's on a still hunt? This hunting term, for when you're walking quietly to find prey, has been conscripted by the political world to refer to certain kinds of campaign strategies.

Can ordinary also mean "crude" or "crass"? This usage was more common in previous generations, but it is acceptable. It's also the source of ornery, meaning "combative" or "crotchety."

If someone's a piece of work, they're a real pain in the rear. Merriam-Webster defines a piece of work as "a complicated, difficult, or eccentric person." The expression appears to derive  from Hamlet.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Can Of Worms - 22 October 2012


Nothing to Sneeze At - 15 October 2012

2012-10-14
Length: 51s

This week, forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry because company's coming? How about "making lasagna" or "shame cleaning"? Plus who's a hoopie, down goes your shanty, hold on to your blueberry money, and gym slang fit for a cardio queen.

FULL DETAILS

Having trouble sneezing? You may be suffering from arrested sternutation, also known as a sneeze freeze!

Is it still cleaning if you just throw things in a closet? Terms for this practice include making a lasagna, shame cleaning, or stuffing the comedy closet. Just be careful not to end up with a Fibber McGee catastrophe.

Is there a connection between the ancient Greek muse and the word amused? No. The muses were mythological figures who inspired the likes of Homer, while amuse comes from the Latin word for "staring stupidly," as in, "to be distracted by mindless entertainment."

Why do we sneeze when we go from a dark theater to the bright outdoors? The photic sneeze reflex is a genetic trait many of us have, as part of the Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helo-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, the backronym for ACHOO!

You don't know siccum, meaning "you don't know anything," is an idiom common in the Northwest. It's a shortened form of he doesn't know come here from sic 'em, as in a dog that doesn't know how to obey commands.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for all of us who fancy the blank tiles in Words With Friends. Given a word and two blank tiles, place one on either end to form a new word. For example, at least two new words can be made by adding a letter to either end of the word eight.

If someone's a hoopie, it means they're less than sophisticated. This term was used in the Ohio River Valley to refer to the bumpkins from West Virginia who performed menial work with barrels, hammering their hoops into place.

How should news organizations refer to elected officials, past and present? There's not much consensus among print and broadcast companies, but most organizations have their own set of rules. For example, NPR's policy is to refer to the current president as President Barack Obama the first time he's mentioned in a news story, and thereafter as Mr. Obama.

Here's a proverb about the days on which you sneeze. "Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger. Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger..." But wait, there's more!

What kind of slang will you find at the gym? The old standby, jacked, meaning "muscular," may derive from the lifting motion of a car jack. January joiners are those well-meaning souls who make new year's resolutions to get in shape, and stop showing up a week later. Cardio queens are the ladies in fancy sweatsuits taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while reading a magazine.

What's it called when a fit of sneezing takes hold? Try ptarmosis, from the Greek ptarmos for "sneeze." Or sternutamentum, meaning rapid, spasmodic sneezing.

Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who's written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by identifying personal and regional distinctions in a suspect's language. Though far from a silver bullet, the practice seems to have a solid place in the future of law enforcement.

If someone still has their blueberry money, chances are they're a bit stingy. This term from the Northeast refers to those who've held onto the change they made picking and selling blueberries as a kid.

What's the origin of the warning phrase “down goes your shanty!”? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, "If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty." It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house!

If you sneeze at the end of a meal, you may be afflicted with snatiation. It's that tickle in the nose you feel when you're full.

Why do people use the phrase going forward when talking about the future? Although it sometimes carries legitimate meaning, the expression is often just a pleonastic bit of business jargon that ends up on plenty of lists of people's pet peeves.

Is the synonym for pamphlet spelled f-l-y-e-r or f-l-i-e-r? Both. In the UK, it’s flyer, and in the US, flier is preferred.
 ....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

Additional support comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Nothing to Sneeze At - 15 October 2012


Gone Pecan - 8 October 2012

2012-10-07
Length: 51s

How did the word "gay" go from meaning "happy" to "homosexual"? Martha and Grant discuss the evolution of this word. Also, why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? Plus, imeldific, gone pecan, random Scrabble words, and the difference between borrow and lend. And the etiquette of striking up a conversation with a stranger in an English pub: Whatever you do, don't introduce yourself or try to shake hands.

FULL DETAILS

When you're playing Scrabble or Words with Friends, do you ever try random letters and hope they stick? One listener scored a few points when he managed to play the word haverels that way. Turns out it's an old term from Scotland and Northern England meaning "those who talk foolishly or without sense."

Why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? The earliest schools, called scolae grammaticales, were connected to monasteries. They were meant for teaching Latin grammar. The term declined in popularity during the 1960's.

What's the plural of cyclops? If you have a group of those one-eyed mythical monsters, your best bet is cyclopes, pronounced "sye-KLOH-peez."

If something's gaudy and excessive, Filipinos might call it imeldific. It's a slang term inspired by Imelda Marcos and her legendary shoe collection.

What's the difference between borrow and lend, or between borrow and loan? The real difference between these verbs is which direction the thing is traveling. Something similar happens with teach vs. learn and bring vs. take.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "I Don't Think So, M-W." The name is a nod to Merriam-Webster's word of the day email, which often uses puzzling example sentences, like this one: "Lying in my tent that night, I could hear the campfire crackling and the crickets __________ and none of the city sounds I was accustomed to." Good luck filling in that blank.

If a command begins or ends with the word please, does that make the order optional? The hosts agree that generally it's polite to honor such a request despite the phrasing.

How did the word gay come to mean both "happy" and "homosexual"? In the late 1800's, the term gaycat was used in hobo culture to refer to an inexperienced hobo who might take on an older mentor for help, often another male. Over time, there was a convergence between gay as slang for "homosexual" and "gay" from the French term for "happy."

Paronomasia's just another word for pun, and Martha can't resist offering an example.

What is a road warrior? This term for someone who travels a lot or commutes a long distance is also used by some to refer to military personnel who are retired on active duty, also known as r.o.a.d.

Grant pops a riddles from an 1835 collection titled The Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, and Connundrums by Peter Puzzlewell. Hmmmm.

Step into a traditional English pub, it'll be a while before everyone knows your name. A long while, in fact. The rules of conversational engagement are different in the UK from what you'd find in a place like Cheers. Kate Fox's Passport to the Pub: The Tourist's Guide to Pub Etiquette spells out many of the customs. For example, at English pubs, it's better not to go for a handshake when a simple "Hi" will do. Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK addresses these differences in her blog Separated By a Common Language.

If someone's gone pecan, they're doomed, defeated, and down on their luck. This idiom, common in New Orleans, probably caught on because of its rhyme.

Here's a slang word for being drunk you might not have heard of: high-lonesome.

When someone talks about Hollywood or Wall Street, they're probably not talking about a California city or a Manhattan street. It's an example of what rhetoricians call metonymy. Metonyms like The White House or Downing Street are often used as substitutes for a group of people or an industry.

What is a bingo? If you're a taxi driver, a bingo is someone you don't pick up because your cab is already occupied. Another bit of cabbie slang is bunco. That's when they arrive at an agreed-upon address but no passenger shows up.

The term dried plums has come into vogue since prune seems to have some negative connotations.

Why do some town names end in ham? Effingham, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; Gotham City, U.S.A. They all derive from the Old English ham meaning "home" or "homestead."

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.
 
We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Gone Pecan - 8 October 2012


Dog-and-Pony Show - 1 October 2012

2012-09-30
Length: 51s

Remember getting caught sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G? Grant and Martha wax nostalgic on some classic schoolyard rhymes. What do you call your offspring once they've grown up? Adult children? How about kid-ults? Plus, is there really such a thing as a dog-and-pony show? What does a dog chewing waspers look like? Also, the reason the words valuable and invaluable aren't opposites.

FULL DETAILS

What's your favorite schoolyard rhyme? Maybe it's the singsong taunt that goes "Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider." Or the romantic standby about two lovebirds sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Some playground chants are rude, others are crude, and many involve figuring out that whole business about the birds and the bees.

If you're an empty nester, you've probably wondered about a term for one's grown offspring. Do you use the term adult children? How about kid-ults? Since the 1960's, the latter has also been used in the marketing and advertising world. There, kid-ults often refers to, for example, the kind of grownup who enjoys reading Harry Potter. This term combining the words kid and adult is an example of a portmanteau word, or what linguists call a blend.

How do you pronounce ogle? Is it oh-gle? Oogle? By far the best pronunciation is the former. But older slang dictionaries do include the verb oogle. All of these words connote the idea of looking on with desire, often with a sexy up-and-down glance.

It's time for a round of Name that Tune! What familiar song, translated into Shakespearean English, begins "Oh, proud left foot that ventures quick within, then soon upon a backward journey lithe"? There's much more to these overwrought lyrics, which come from Jeff Brechlin's winning entry in a contest sponsored by The Washington Post. The newspaper asked readers to submit familiar instructions in the style of a famous writer. The results are pretty funny.

Just in time for the new movie season, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game involving one-word movie titles that have won Best Picture Academy Awards. For example, which Oscar-winning film is titled with a man's middle name that means "for the love of God"?

Does a statement have to be true to be a fact? When it comes to the difference between facts and opinions, some may argue that facts are merely claims that can be proven true or false. Most dictionaries, however, assert that in order for an assertion to be a fact, it must be true.

What does it mean to look like a dog chewing waspers? Or like a possum eating persimmons? And what does it mean when someone says, "He was grinning like a mule eating briars?" These idioms, which have been recorded in Kentucky and Virginia, refer to people chewing with their mouths open in a less-than-civilized fashion. In all of these examples, the one who's masticating is showing lots of teeth -- rather like a beagle trying to eat a sliding glass door.

Time for more Name that Tune: What song, often sung in rounds, inspired this high-falutin' first line? "Propel, propel, propel your craft, progressively down the liquid solution."

Why does the prefix in- sometimes make a synonym rather than an antonym? In the case of  invaluable, the prefix is still a negation, since it suggests that something's value is incalculable. Michael Quinion's website affixes.org shows how in- prefixes have been corrupted over time.

Yikes! Come to think of it, what if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?

Do children still need to learn cursive? Many listeners now in their twenties say they didn't learn cursive in school and have trouble reading it. Others view it as a lost art, akin to calligraphy, which should be learned and practiced for its aesthetic value.

What is a dog-and-pony show? This disparaging term goes back to the 1920s, when actual dog and pony shows competed with far more elaborate circuses. Many times the dog-and-pony offerings served as a front to hoochie-coochie shows or tents serving illegal alcohol. Over time, in the worlds of politics, business, and the military, the term was transferred to perfunctory or picayune presentations.

Is it correct to say "I have no ideal" instead of "no idea"? In Kentucky, this use of ideal is common across education and socioeconomic lines. Flustrated, a variant of frustrated that connotes more anger and confusion, is also common in the Bluegrass State. Grant explains the liquidity of the letters L and R, the sounds of which are often confused in English.

"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was black as ink, it chewed the paper off the walls and spit it in the sink." There's a variation you probably missed on the playground!

What's the difference between agreeance vs. agreement? While agreeance is a word, it hasn't been used since the 19th century, whereas agreement is both correct and common. Best to go with agreement.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

Additional support comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

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Share: Dog-and-Pony Show - 1 October 2012


Good Juju - 24 September 2012

2012-09-23
Length: 51s

Imagine a time when heroin was marketed for the whole family. It really happened. Also, how Twitter, M&M's, and Hallmark cards got their names. Plus, restaurant slang, bad juju, having a wild hair, cutting to the quick, and use vs. utilize.

FULL DETAILS

Nancy Friedman's blog Fritinancy is a great source of information about how products get their names. For example, the names Twitch and Jitter were rejected before the creators of Twitter finally settled on the famous moniker.

The idiom I've got a wild hair, which dates to the 50’s, means you're itching to do something. It's pretty literal: just think about those itchy stray hairs under your collar after a haircut.

Is it fussy and pretentious to use the word whom instead of who? If you think so, you'll  be heartened by writer Calvin Trillin's observation on the difference between whom and who: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."

Which is correct: use or utilize? The answer depends on the context. The word utilize carries an additional shade of meaning, suggesting that you’re using something in a way it’s not ordinarily employed. For example, you would use a stapler to staple, but you might utilize a stapler as a paperweight. In any case, if you want to be grammatically correct, use is your safest bet.

One of comedian Megan Amram’s hilarious tweets made Martha wonder about how M&M's got their name. In 1940, Forrest Mars and an heir to the Hershey fortune, Bruce Murrie, created a candy similar to the European chocolates called Smarties. The American version takes its name from the initials of the candymakers' last names, Mars and Murrie.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game full of Colbertisms, in honor of how comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his own name, with a silent "T" at the end. Why not drop the "T" off all words ending in "RT"?

Why do newspaper reporters end articles with the number "30"or the three-pound-sign symbol "###"? No one knows for sure, although that never stopped journalists from debating the origin of this way of ending a story. We do know that this practice arose in a bygone era when reporters typed their copy directly onto paper and handed it over to copyboys, and needed a way to indicate the last page. In 2007, a vestige of this old practice figured in an amusing correction in the New York Times.

What is the best way to write an apology to a customer, especially if you’re handling complaints for a corporation. Some tips: be sincere, and make sure your wording makes clear that you understand the consumer's complaint and that your company takes responsibility for the mistake and wants to make things right.

Aspirin is now a generic drug, but it was once a brand-name product made by Bayer. It's just one of many genericized trademarks, also known as proprietary eponyms, which includes not only aspirin, but kerosene, dry ice, and cellophane.

What is juju? Is there such a thing as good juju, or is it only possible to have bad juju? This African term for a "charm" or "spell" took off during the Back-To-Africa movement in the 1960's, and has been mentioned in connection with international soccer matches.

Is it true that the drug heroin was once marketed to families? Yes! In the 1890’s, heroin, a substitute for morphine, was hailed as a tremendous help to patients with tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the time. Heroin eased the terrible suffering of tuberculosis by suppressing the respiratory system and thus the painful coughing fits associated with the disease. Nineteenth-century German doctors used the term heroisch ("heroic") to describe powerful drugs, and the German company that would later make Bayer aspirin dubbed this promising new drug Heroin. Before the drug's addictive nature and damaging effects were known, heroin was marketed specifically for children, resulting in some rather astonishing Spanish-language ads.

If a waiter needs a table for two, they might call for a two-top. This restaurant lingo, referring to the amount of place-settings needed, comes from a larger body of terms. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential is a good source of additional slang from kitchens around the world.

If you cut something to the quick, it means you're getting at its very essence. It comes from the Old English word, cwicu, meaning alive. It the source of the quick in the phrase the quick and the dead, as well as the words quicksilver ("living silver"), and quicksand ("living sand"), and the quick of your finger, the tender part under the fingernail.

Hallmark Cards got its name from Joyce C. Hall, who bought an engraving shop along with his brothers in 1910. Would it have taken off had they just called it Hall Cards?

Why do we say that we have a doctor’s appointment instead of an appointment with a doctor? After all, we don’t say we have accountant’s appointments or attorney’s appointments. It seems that the possessive term has become lexicalized after many years of common use.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Good Juju - 24 September 2012


The Uncanny Valley (Rebroadcast) - 17 September 2012

2012-09-16
Length: 51s

Do you ever wonder why the almost-human characters that appear in video games can seem downright creepy? That disturbing sensation is called "the uncanny valley." Speaking of creepy, do you know someone with a morbid fear of clowns? There's a term for that, too. Why do politicians suspend a campaign instead of just ending it? How is it that the sentence Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo actually makes sense? Plus, onomatopoeia for the digital age, a magic word quiz, and the kippie bags and vaporwakes you'll find in the airport security line.

FULL DETAILS

What is it about lifelike robots and the humanoid characters in movies like The Polar Express that feels so disturbing? Robotics scientist Masahiro Mori dubbed this phenomenon the uncanny valley. It's evident with movies like The Polar Express. There are lots of interesting articles explaining this creepy sensation in Slate http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/gaming/2004/06/the_undead_zone.html, Wired, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-07/19/uncanny-valley-tested, and on the NPR blog. http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/01/20/145504032/story-telling-and-the-uncanny-valley

When selling a house, the last thing you want is to take a bath--or, for that matter, a haircut. The first of these refers to getting cleaned out of money. The second is an allusion to the idea of being left with just two bits, or 25 cents.

Be careful with that lazy man's load! http://www.fromoldbooks.org/Grose-VulgarTongue/l/lazy-mans-load.html That's the oversize armful you carry when you're transporting things and take too much to avoid making another trip.

Why do politicians say they're going to suspend a campaign? Aren't they really just ending it? Under Federal Election Commission funding regulations, politicians can continue to collect money for paying off campaign fees well after an election, so long as their campaign is just suspended. William Safire's Political Dictionary http://books.google.com/books/about/Safire_s_political_dictionary.html?id=c4UoX6-Sv1AC remains the best reference for such political terminology.

Would you prefer a low, six-figure salary or a low six-figure salary? With the comma, there are two independent modifiers for the salary; it's six figures and by the speaker's standards, it's low. Without the comma, it's simply less than $500,000.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a magical puzzle, the answers to which contain the word magic. For example, a motel sign in the '70s might have included the enticement Magic Fingers, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a proponent of the literary genre Magic Realism.

How do you spell the exclamation that rhymes with the word "woe"? Is it woah or whoa? http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2009/04/whoa-and-woah.html The correct spelling in the United States is whoa, but when words are primarily translated orally, spelling often varies.

If you're as happy as if someone were throwing pork at you, you're pretty darn happy. And if something is higher than a cat's back, it's pretty darn high.

Post-9/11, we've heard a lot of new jargon pertaining to travel and security. An example is vaporwake, that term for the airborne trail we leave consisting of our natural scent, perfumes, and the odor of any drugs or weapons we may be carrying. Another example of Transportation Safety Administration terminology: puffer machine, the device that's used to read your vaporwake by blowing a puff of air on you.

Why don't nouns have gender in English they way they do in Spanish, French, or German? http://www.quora.com/Why-dont-nouns-in-English-have-gender Before the Middle English period, nouns in English were either masculine, feminine, or neuter. Over time, however, we've moved away from the semantically arbitrary practice of assigning genders to objects that have none. In other words, the linguistic notion of grammatical gender is completely different from biological and social notion of natural gender.
 
Kippie bags, named after the former TSA head Kip Hawley, are those quart-sized bags we put toiletries in when going through airport security.

Grant has collected some modern onomatopoeia for the technological age. Try untz, for the beat in dance music, or wub, for the common dubstep sound. Pew pew! works for lasers, and beep, for a computer's beep, is a modern classic.

Can you describe a price as cheap or expensive, or are those words properly applied to the item for sale, rather than the price? Across all registers of language, both variants are appropriate.

Absenteeism is a problem in the workplace, but so is presenteeism. That's when people who should stay home to nurse a cold or flu insist on coming in to work, risking a turn for the worse or infecting everyone around them.

When it comes to words like reckon, is it true that Southerners preserve the Queen's English? For the most part, reckon has its own meanings between the continents, and the more common English spoken in the South is actually of the Scotch or Irish varieties.

What do you call a fear of clowns? Coulrophobia, from the ancient Greek term for "one who walks on stilts." Perhaps coulrophobia is a creepy cousin of the uncanny valley. This article from Scientific American offers further explanation. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/2011/10/31/cant-sleepclown-will-eat-me-why-are-we-afraid-of-clowns/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2nK_qmvJ7A

How many buffaloes can you fit in a sentence? Eight? How about 40? The sentence Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a staple of introductory linguistics classes, because it's a great illustration of polysemy, in which one word can have several different meanings. In this case, example, buffalo can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, and a proper noun. It makes more sense to think of it this way: "Buffalo-origin bison that other Buffalo bison intimidate, themselves bully Buffalo bison."

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Uncanny Valley (Rebroadcast) - 17 September 2012


Kissing Games (Rebroadcast) - 10 September 2012

2012-09-09
Length: 51s

What's the best way to help your child learn to speak a foreign language? One option is an immersion school, where teachers avoid speaking English. Also, did you ever play paddle while riding in a car? It's a game that's supposed to help courting couples get closer. Plus, what your signature says about you, what to call that last hors d'oeuvre on a plate, sitting on your tuchus, alphabet riddles, old camp songs, soup to nuts, and the weather-related phrase Who let the hawk out?

FULL DETAILS

What does your signature say about you? http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/01/signing-off-the-slow-death-of-the-signature-in-a-pin-code-world/251934/ In today's world of PIN-codes and electronic communication, maybe not so much.

What's a tasteful way to refer to one's rear end? Tushie and tush come from the Yiddish word tuchus. The Yiddish word tuchus, also spelled tochis and tochas, is venerated by some, but regarded by others, including The New York Times http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/06/words-that-the-new-york-times-will-not-print/57884/, as "insufficiently elegant."

Grant has a handful of alphabet riddles for the young ones. What did the alphabet's love note say? U R A Q T!

Ever play padiddle in the car? You know, that game where you slap the ceiling when someone's rear light is out? Padiddle, also known as perdiddle and padoodle, go back to the 1940s, and were traditionally kissing games. There's even more about such games, including slug bug, in an earlier episode. http://www.waywordradio.org/road-trip/

Next time you're in Texas, be on the lookout for instances to drop this colloquialism: He didn't have enough hair on his chest to make a wig for a grape!

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Word Scouts. In order to earn your badge, you'll have to know the architectural term Bauhaus, and the flower that's also a past tense verb.

The phrases Who let the hawk out? and The hawk is flying tonight, both mean "there's a chilly wind blowing." This saying is almost exclusive to the African-American community, and is associated with that Windy City, Chicago.

What's the difference between a lawyer and an attorney? None, really. In the past, though, the word attorney could also refer more generally to a person you "turned to" to represent you, regardless of whether that person had legal training.

How would you fare in a quiz of idiom meanings? If you're looking to bone up on these colloquial expressions, the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms http://www.amazon.com/American-Heritage-Dictionary-Idioms/dp/039572774X is a good place to start.

What do you call the last appetizer on a plate--the one everyone's too embarrassed to reach for? That last piece has been variously known as the manners bit or manners piece, a reference to the fact that it's considered polite to not empty a plate, assuring the hosts that they provided sufficient fare. In Spanish, the last remaining morsel that everyone's too bashful to take is called la verguenza, or "the embarrassment."

What was your favorite camp song? If it sounds like nonsensical scat singing, it may date back to a radio character named Buddy Bear who sang in scat on the Buddy Bear show in 1946.

How does the alphabet get to work? Why, the L, of course!

Among some African-Americans, the term "Hannah" means "the sun." This sense is memorialized in the lyrics of "Go Down Old Hannah," a work song from the 1930s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv3Qt_ZCsu4 One writer said of this haunting melody: "About 3 o'clock on a long summer day, the sun forgets to move and stops, so then the men sing this song." The great folklorist Alan Lomax http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/ also made recordings of prison workers singing this song.

Twitter is a great way to discover new words. Just search with #newword, and you'll find gems like holus-bolus http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/holus-bolus, meaning the whole thing (e.g. he ate the whole turkey, or he ate the turkey holus-bolus).

If something is described as soup to nuts, it's "the whole thing" or it "runs the gamut." The phrase refers to an old-fashioned way of dining, beginning with soup and ending with nuts for dessert. The old Laurel and Hardy The ancient Romans used an analogous expression in Latin: ab ovo usque ad malum, literally, "from the egg to the apple."

Martha reads a poem by former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan called "The Long Up." http://archives.newyorker.com/default.aspx?iid=46998&startpage=page0000031

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Kissing Games (Rebroadcast) - 10 September 2012


The Rubber Match - 3 Sept. 2012 (rebroadcast)

2012-09-03
Length: 51s

SHOW SUMMARY

Survey time! Do you call that kind of cap a beanie, a toboggan, or a stocking hat, or something else? What about rubber-soled athletic shoes? Do you call them sneakers or tennis shoes? Also, great Scrabble words, feeling owly, Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!, finjans and zarfs, catching plagiarism with mountweazels, and the art of long sentences. It's a larrupin' good episode!

FULL DETAILS

What do you call a knitted cap? A beanie? A toboggan? A stocking hat? Grant's Great Knitted Hat Survey (http://waywordradio.org/great-knitted-hat-survey.html) traces the different terms for this cold weather accessory used across the country.

How do you refer to athletic shoes? Are they sneakers or tennis shoes? When canvas shoes with soft rubber soles came into use, they were so quiet compared to wood-soled shoes that one could literally sneak about. Outside the Northeast, however, tennis shoe is the much more common term.

The biblical king Jehoshaphat is the inspiration for the exclamation Jumpin' Jehosaphat. This alliterative idiom probably arose in the 19th century, but was popularized by the cartoon character Yosemite Sam.

Looking for some good Scrabble words? Try zarf, a type of cup holder of Arabic origin, or finjan, the small cup that's held by the zarf.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski shows off his acting skills with a word puzzle based on sounds. 

Tight games often end up at a rubber match, or tiebreaker. Used for a variety of sports and card games, rubber match has been in use since the late 16th century, and seem to have originated in the game of lawn bowling. The term may allude to the idea of erasing one's opponent.

Do dictionaries deal with copyright infringement or plagiarism when definitions match up between volumes? Since many modern dictionaries derive from the same few tomes, it's common to see definitions that match. But lexicographers have been known to plant mountweazels, (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/08/29/050829ta_talk_alford) or fake words, to catch serial plagiarizers. One famous mountweazel is the word jungftak (http://www.waywordradio.org/picklebacks-and-mountweazels/) the spurious definition of which is "A Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enable[d] to fly,—each, when alone, had to remain on the ground."

If someone directs you to drive three C's, they're advising you "drive as far as you can see, then do it two more times."

If something's larrupin' good, it's spankin' good or thumpin' good, and comes from the word larrup, a verb meaning "to beat or thrash." 

Martha shares a couple of choice idioms: dry as a contribution box, and plump as a partridge.

Pico Iyer's piece in the Los Angeles Times (http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/08/entertainment/la-ca-pico-iyer-20120108) is a testament to the value of long sentences in our age of tweets and abbrevs.

Oh no you di-int! The linguistic term for what happens when someone pronounces didn't as di-int, or Martin as Mar-in without the "t" sound, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF4H5vZ-Km4&feature=related) is called glottalization. Instead of making a "t" sound with the tongue behind the teeth, a different sound is made farther back in the mouth. John Rickford (http://www.johnrickford.com/Home/tabid/1101/Default.aspx), professor of linguistics at Stanford University, does a thorough job tracing this phenomenon in his book African-American English: Structure, History, and Use. (http://www.johnrickford.com/Writings/Books/tabid/1128/Default.aspx)

When putting together a jigsaw puzzle, do you call it making a puzzle or doing a puzzle? Listeners shared lots of different opinions on the A Way with Words Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/waywordradio

The Dictionary of American Regional English traces you'uns, a plural form of you, to the Midlands and the Ohio River Valley. But the phrase goes back a while; even Chaucer used it. 

If someone's feeling owly, they're in a grumpy mood and ought to pull up their socks and cut it out. The phrase is chiefly used in the Midwest and Canada, and can be found in some dictionaries from Novia Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Some people think owls look grumpy or creepy (http://bit.ly/y31Ja5), although others think they're adorable (http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/mar/25/san-marcos-famous-barn-owl/). Then there are those who prefer moist owlets (http://bit.ly/x7XVcD)

Martha reads a favorite love poem by e.e. cummings. (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179622)

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone: 

United States and Canada toll-free (877) 929-9673

London +44 20 7193 2113

Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Site: http://waywordradio.org/

Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/

Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/

Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/

Skype: skype://waywordradio 

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Rubber Match - 3 Sept. 2012 (rebroadcast)


Strange Spelling Bee Words (Rebroadcast) - 27 August 2012

2012-08-26
Length: 51s

Why do spelling bees include such bizarre, obsolete words like cymotrichous? And why is New York called the Big Apple? Also, the stinky folk medicine tradition called an asifidity bag. Worn around the neck like an amulet, these smelly bags supposedly keep away cold and flu. Also, the surprising number of common English phrases that come directly from the King James Bible. Plus, three sheets to the wind, the term white elephant, in like Flynn, Australian slang, and what to call foam sleeve for an ice-cold can of beer or soda.

FULL DETAILS

What's the common thread that connects the phrases pour out your heart, from time to time, fell flat on his face, the skin of my teeth, and the root of the matter? They all come from, or were popularized by, the King James Bible, published in 1611. The Manifold Greatness (http://www.manifoldgreatness.org/) exhibit is now traveling to libraries and schools nationwide, demonstrating, among other things, this translation's profound impact on the English language.

A wedding photographer says she happens to run into lots of people who are three sheets to the wind, and wonders why that term came to mean "falling-down drunk." It's from nautical terminology. On a seagoing vessel, the term sheets refers to "the lines or ropes that hold the sails in place." If one, two, or even three sheets get loose and start flapping in the wind, the boat will swerve and wobble as much as someone who's overimbibed.

In Australia, if someone's socky, they're "lacking in spirit or self confidence." If someone's toey, they're "nervous," "aroused," or "frisky."

The words respiration and inspiration have the same Latin root, spirare, which means "to breathe." The word "conspire" has the same Latin etymological root. But what does conspiring have to do with breathing? The source of this term is notion that people who conspire are thinking in harmony, so close that they even breathe together.

The so-called Wicked Bible is a 1631 version of the King James, printed by Robert Barker and Matin Lucas. This particular Bible is so called because the printers somehow managed to leave out the word not in the commandment against adultery. They were, indeed, punished. Behold the offending page here. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/arts/design/manifold-greatness-and-king-james-bible-at-folger-review.html?pagewanted=all)

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of Curtailments, in which the last letter of one word is removed to make another. For example: When the family gathers around the ________, it's clear that home is where the _______ is.

What do you call a gift that turns into more of a hassle, like a gift card for a store not in your area, or one with a pressing expiration date? A New York caller suggests the term gaft. Another possibility is white elephant, a term derived from the story of a king in ancient Siam, who punished unruly subjects with the gift of a rare white elephant. The recipient couldn't possibly refuse the present, but the elephant's upkeep became extremely costly.

What's an asafidity bag? Variously spelled asfidity, asfedity, asafetida, asphidity, and assafedity, it's a folk medicine tradition involves putting the stinky resin of the asafetida or asafoetida plant in a small bag worn around the neck to ward off disease. Then again, if this practice really does help you avoid colds and flu, it's probably because nobody, contagious or otherwise, wants come near you.

You can hear Granny Clampett mentions asafidity bags twice in the first two minutes of this episode of The Beverly Hillbillies(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S2RJqBbRpkof). There's also a lengthy online discussion about this old folk tradition here.

http://en.allexperts.com/q/General-History-674/f/old-medicinal-practices-southern.htm

In an earlier episode (http://www.waywordradio.org/your-sweet-bippy/), Martha and Grant discussed what to call a person who doesn't eat fish. A listener calls with another suggestion: pescatrarian, from the Latin word that means "fish."

Why do spelling bees in the United States use so many bizarre, obsolete, ginormous, and Brobdinagian words? Webster's New International Dictionary, 3rd Edition, published in 1961, is still the standard for spelling bees, and thus contains some dated language. However, most unabridged dictionaries won't get rid of words even as they slip out of use.

Recent winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee included cymotrichous, stromuhr, Laodicean, guerdon, serrefine, and Uhrsprache. How many do you know? The whole list is here. (http://www.spellingbee.com/champions-and-their-winning-words)

Do you pronounce the words cot and caught differently? How about the words don and dawn, or pin and pen? The fact that some people pronounce at least some of these pairs identically is attributable to what's called a vowel merger. 

Why is New York City called the Big Apple? In the 1920s, a writer named John Fitzgerald used it in a column about the horse racing scene, because racetrack workers in New Orleans would say that if a horse was successful down South, they'd send it to race in the Big Apple, namely at New York's Belmont Park. For just about everything you'd ever want to know about this term, visit the site of etymological researcher Barry Popik. (http://www.barrypopik.com/)

A caller says her relative always used an interjection that sounds like "sigh" for the equivalent of "Are you paying attention?" The hosts suspect it's related to "s'I," a contraction of "says I." This expression open appears in Mark Twain's work, among other places.

Many teachers aren't crazy about cornergami. That's what you've committed if you've ever been without a stapler and folded over the corners of a paper to keep them attached.

The phrase in like Flynn describes someone who's thoroughly successful, often with the ladies. Many suspect it's a reference to the dashing actor Errol Flynn and his sensational trial on sex-related charges. That highly publicized trial may have popularized the expression, but it was already in use before that. It could perhaps be a case of simple rhyming, along the lines of such phrases as What do you know, Joe? and Out like Stout.

The foam sleeve you put around a can of ice-cold beer or soda sometimes goes by a name that sounds like the word "cozy." But how do you spell it? As with words that are primarily spoken, not written, it's hard to find a single definitive spelling. In fact, the word for this sleeve is spelled at least a dozen different ways.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Strange Spelling Bee Words (Rebroadcast) - 27 August 2012


The Secret Language of Gibberish (Rebroadcast) - 20 August 2012

2012-08-19
Length: 51s

What do pigs have to do with piggyback rides? Martha and Grant have the answer. They also get a lesson from a listener in the fine art of speaking gibberish. And what's the correct way to pronounce the name of the nut spelled p-e-c-a-n? Pee-KAHN or PEE-can?  The French have the Academie Francaise, but what authority do we have for the English language? Also, what you should do when someone yells, "Hold 'er Newt! She's headed for the barn!"

FULL DETAILS

Martha and Grant share some favorite unusual words. Omphaloskepsis is a fancy term for "navel-gazing," from the Greek omphalos, meaning "navel." The other is mumbleteenth, a handy substitute when a number is too embarrassing to mention, as in, "Socrates the omphaloskeptic questioned himself for the mumbleteenth time."   

Double-talk, or doublespeak, is a form of gibberish that involves adding "ib" or other syllables to existing words. This sort of wordplay may have originated among criminals using double-talk to communicate on the sly. 

You say pee-KAHN, I say PEE-can. Just how do you pronounce the name of the nut called a pecan? Actually, there are several correct pronunciations.

Window-shopping became popular pastime along New York's 5th Avenue back in the days when stores closed at 5 p.m. Passersby would stroll past, gazing at the window displays without intending to purchase anything. The French term for "window shopping," lecher les vitrines, literally translates as "window-licking."

The word plangent, which means "loud" and sometimes has a melancholy ring to it, is an apt descriptor for movie soundtracks.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski revives a classic game of word reversals called Get Back. What palindromic advice would you give to someone who ought to stay away from baked goods? How about shun buns? If, on the other hand, you've highlighted the pastries, then you've stressed desserts.

The word silly didn't always have its modern meaning. In the 1400s, silly meant happy or blessed. Eventually, silly came to mean weak or in need of protection. Other seemingly simple words have shifted meanings as the English language developed: the term girl used to denote either a boy or a girl, and the word nice once meant ignorant.

Is there an English language authority like the Royal Academy in Spain or the Academie Francaise? Dictionaries often have usage panels made up of expert linguists, but English is widely agreed to be a constantly shifting language. Even in France and Spain, the common vernacular often doesn't follow that of the authorities.

How do double rainbows form? Scientists at UCSD have explained that extra-large droplets, known as burgeroids because of their burger-like shape, have the effect of creating a double rainbow. Burgeroids, all the way!

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/12/science-shot-burgeroids-cause-do.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI

The word bummer originates from the German bummler, meaning "loafer," as in a lazy person. In English, the word bum had a similar meaning, and by the late 1960s, phrases like bum deal or bum wrap lent themselves to the elongated bummer, referring to something that's disheartening or disappointing.

Many in the South know a pallet to be a stack of blankets or a makeshift bed. The classic blues song "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" gives a perfect illustration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39RBm4tH9cA

The I vs. me grammatical rule isn't hard to remember. Just leave the other person out of the sentence. You wouldn't say me am going to a movie or Dad took I to a movie.

What's the difference between empathic and empathetic? Empathic is actually an older word, meaning that one has empathy for another, but the two are near-perfect synonyms, and thus interchangeable.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/rat-empathy/

Do you suffer from FOMO? That's an acronym fueled by Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites. It stands for "fear of missing out."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/17/hephzibah-anderson-fomo-new-acronym

http://wordspy.com/words/FOMO.asp

What does a piggyback ride have to do with pigs? Not much. In the 16th century, the word was pickaback, meaning to pitch or throw on one's back. It's changed spellings dozens of times over the past few centuries, but perhaps the word piggy has contributed to its popularity among children.

You know how it is when you encounter a word and then suddenly you start noticing it everywhere? One that's seemed to pop up is cray, or cray-cray, a slang variant of crazy.

http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/cray_cray/

Hold 'er Newt! This primarily Southern idiom means either "Hold on tight!" or "Giddy-up!" It apparently derives from the idea of a high-spirited horse. Variants of this expression include Hold 'er Newt! She's headed for the rhubarb and Hold 'er Newt! She's headed for the barn! Eric Partridge's 1922 Dictionary of Catch Phrases indicates that the name Newt was once jocularly used to mean an idiot.

Some classic advice for writers from Anton Chekhov: "Don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass."

http://writershandbook.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/a-glint-of-light-on-broken-glass/

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Secret Language of Gibberish (Rebroadcast) - 20 August 2012


By Jingo (Rebroadcast) - 13 August 2012

2012-08-12
Length: 51s

If your friend says she's coming to town "Sunday week," exactly when should you expect to see her? And what do you call those typographical symbols that cartoonists use in place of profanity? Martha and Grant have the answer. Plus grass widows, the linguistic phenomenon called creaky voice, the difference between insure and ensure, the roots of the term jingoism and what it means if someone warns You don't believe fat meat is greasy. Also, is it okay to make a noun out of a verb?

FULL DETAILS

Researchers have found that stress is a leading cause of plewds--you know, those drops of sweat popping off the foreheads of nervous cartoon characters. That's one of several cartooning terms coined by Mort Walker, creator of the Beetle Bailey comic strip. Martha and Grant discuss this and other coinages from The Lexicon of Comicana.

http://www.mortwalker.com/books7.html

If someone's coming to town Sunday week, when exactly should you expect them? This Scots-Irish term means "a week after the coming day mentioned."

What are those symbols cartoonists use in place of profanity? They're called grawlixes--good to know for the next time you play "Comic Strip Trope or Pokemon?"

Is it okay to make a verb out of a noun? Yes! It's estimated that twenty percent of English verbs started as nouns. Just think of the head-to-toe mnemonic: you can head off a problem, face a situation, nose around, shoulder responsibility, elbow your way into something, stomach a problem, foot the bill, or toe the line.

http://madshakespeare.com/2010/08/sunday-funnies-verbing-weirds-language/

http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/ideas/anthony-gardner/youve-been-verbed

Squeans are the little starbursts or circles surrounding a cartoon character's head to signify intoxication or dizziness.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called Categories. The challenge is to find the common thread that unites seemingly unrelated things. For example, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Jack Sparrow's crew, and Cherubim all fall into which category? The answer: Twins, Pirates, and Angels are all baseball teams!

What's a grass widow? In the 1500s,this term applied to a woman with loose sexual morals. Over time, it came to mean a woman who's been separated from her husband, or a divorcee.

If someone's jingoistic, they're extremely patriotic, often belligerently so. The term comes from a British song written in 1870 that uses the phrase By jingo! to conjure up enthusiasm for a British naval action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnCNJD3-e7g

The curved lines that follow the moving limbs of cartoon characters? Those are called blurgits or swalloops.

The admonition You don't believe fat meat is greasy means "Just go ahead and try me" or "Don't push your luck." This idiom is found almost exclusively among African-Americans. The idea is apparently that if you don't believe fat meat is greasy, you're someone who misses the obvious.
 
What's the difference between the words insure and ensure? To ensure means to make certain. Insure means to protect someone or something from risk, and should be used exclusively in a financial sense.

For some time now, linguists have been studying a style of speaking known as creaky voice. In the United States, it's heard particularly heard among young, white  women in urban areas. New research about this phenomenon, also known as vocal fry, has been making the rounds on the internet.

http://www.waywordradio.org/chicken-scratches-and-creaky-voice/

http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/15/get-your-creak-on-is-vocal-fry-a-female-fad/

Voila (not spelled wallah or vwala) is a good example of a borrowed word. Though French for "there it is," Americans often use it as a simple utterance, akin to presto or ta-da.

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/005052.html

Lock the bad guys up in the hoosegow! This slang term for a jail comes from the Spanish juzgado, meaning "tribunal." It's an etymological relative of the English words judge and judicial.

Did you know roly-polies, or pill bugs, aren't even bugs? They're isopods, meaning they have equal feet, and they're technically crustaceans.
 
Autocorrect mistakes abound, but have you ever made the errors yourself, such as typing the word buy when you meant by? Studies in Computer Mediated Communications have linked this phenomenon to the way we process words phonetically before typing them out.

Solrads are those lines radiating from the sun or a lightbulb in a comic strip, while dites are the diagonal lines on a smooth mirror.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: By Jingo (Rebroadcast) - 13 August 2012


Like a Boss (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2012

2012-08-06
Length: 51s

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . "witches knickers"? Well, what do YOU call those stray plastic bags littering the landscape? Also, what it means to do something "like a boss," how to hyphenate correctly, and why we say we have a "crush" on someone. What do you call when you meet someone for the first time, and they ask if you know so-and-so, just because you share an area code? Also, similes from the 1800s, a rule on hyphens, and the truth about what happens when you turn a bull loose in a china shop.

FULL DETAILS

What do you call those plastic shopping bags that litter the street? Some know them as witches britches or witches knickers. Others prefer urban tumbleweeds. In American Beauty, Ricky Fitts famously called one the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Either way, despite the effort to introduce reusable bags, the plastic variety continues to build up. Lori Robinson of Santa Barbara has even gone so far as to collect them from Tanzanian villages and distribute the more sustainable variety.

http://animprobablelife.com/2011/11/26/lori-robinson-bag-project-africa/

http://africainside.org/favorite-charities/one-wordplastics/

A clumsy person may be known as a bull in a china shop or a bull in a china closet. The former came into use first, in the early 1800s, but a bull in china closet is all the more evocative.  Plus, according to the MythBusters, a bull in a china shop is surprisingly nimble.

http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/db/animals/bull-china-shop-cause-dish-carnage.html

When did the expression to have a crush on someone come into use? The television series Downton Abbey has dropped this and other fun bits of language, but no need to worry about its historical accuracy- crush has been around since the early 1880s. To mash on someone or crash on someone are idioms in the same vein, and may derive from the idea of an emotional collision between two prospective flames.

As they say in Wasika, Minnesota, "If I don't see you in the future, I'll see you in the pasture."

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a new game entitled The Secrets of Nym. In AA, d.e.n.i.a.l. is said to stand for don't even notice I am lying, which is a backronym. An acoustic guitar could be considered a retronym. And an editor named Daily is an example of an aptronym.

When someone finds out where you're from, do they ask if you know so-and-so? The cynics out there may refer to this as the six degrees of stupid, but even urban dwellers can admit that the answer is yes more often than the odds would suggest. How do you respond in those cases, and is there a term for those questions?

The Spanish equivalent of our bull in a china shop analogy translates to "like an elephant in a pottery store."

Where does the meme like a boss come from? The original boss may be the rapper Slim Thug, whose 2005 track "Like A Boss", from the album Already Platinum (which never went platinum), lists the myriad tasks he performs like a boss (e.g. "When I floss/ like a boss"). In 2009, Andy Samberg of SNL and The Lonely Island made a video entitled "Like A Boss" featuring Seth Rogen, which describes further boss-like activities (e.g. "promote synergy/ like a boss").

A book of similes from the 1800s contains such gems as it's easy as peeling a hardboiled egg and it's as hard to shave as an egg.

Does evidence-based have a hyphen? Why, yes it does, because evidence-based often functions as an adjective. While style guides indicate that we're continuing to drop hyphens, evidence-based is an important one to keep intact, even when used after the verb (e.g. the research is evidence-based).
 
Here's another great simile: large as life and twice as natural. As in, did you really see Elvis? Yep, he was large as life and twice as natural.

It's been a puzzler tracking the origin of the saying good night, sleep tight, see you on the big drum. Perhaps it's an innocent mixup that takes from the Robert Burns poem "Tam o' Shanter", which reads, good night, sleep tight, I'll see you on the Brigadoon.

http://www.waywordradio.org/kit-caboodle/

http://www.robertburns.org.uk/Assets/Poems_Songs/tamoshanter.htm
 
You'd better behave, or I'll knock you from an amazing grace to a floating opportunity! This African-American saying, used as a motherly warning, first popped up in the 1930 play Mule Bone by Langston Hughes.

Infra dig, short for the Latin phrase infra dignitatum, means beneath one's dignity, or uncouth. Abbreviated Latin phrases like infra dig have become standard after old English schoolboys used to shorten them while studying classical texts.

Here are some easy similes: easy as winking, or easy as breathing. If you prefer a tough one, try as difficult to grasp as a shadow.

We all know the idiom slow as molasses, but slow as Moses does just as well. After all, he spent 40 years trekking to the Promised Land, and even described himself as slow of speech and of tongue.

The 19th Century French writer Adolphe de Lamartine said that written language is like a mirror, which it is necessary to have in order that man know himself and be sure that he exists.

In their song "The Old Apartment," The Barenaked Ladies sang, "crooked landing/ crooked landlord/ narrow laneway filled with crooks. This is an example of a polyseme, or one word that has multiple meanings. Similar to this is the syllepsis, wherein one word is applied to other words in different senses (e.g. Alanis Morissette: "you held your breath and the door for me").

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ggJS0p-QQc

http://rhetoric.byu.edu/figures/S/syllepsis.htm
 
Here's one that's sure to lull a restless child into sleep: night night chicken butt ham head yoo hoo!

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Like a Boss (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2012


A Murmuration of Starlings (Rebroadcast) - 30 July 2012

2012-07-29
Length: 51s

If you've ever eaten Flavor-Crisp Chicken, it was probably served with JoJo potatoes. And speaking of fried chicken, ever wonder why colonel isn't pronounced "KOH-loh-nell"? Grant and Martha have the answers to those nagging little questions, like the difference between a turnpike and a highway, and the rules on me versus I. Who's behind those eponyms in anatomy, and why are doctors phasing them out? Plus, a newsy limerick challenge, dog breed mashups, pallets, a little Spanglish, and a list of -ologies to fill a whole course catalog!

FULL DETAILS

What's your favorite -ology? Perhaps alethiology, the study of truth, from the Greek alethia? Theologians might concern themselves with naology, the study of holy buildings.

http://phrontistery.info/sciences.html

What are JoJo potatoes? Starting in the 1960s, fried potato wedges came to be known as JoJos, especially in the Northern states. JoJos were often served in restaurants that also made Flavor-Crisp Chicken, which requires a special type of deep fat fryer. JoJos are simply unpeeled potato wedges thrown in the fryer, but the name may derive from the idea of "junk," because the potato scraps were considered worthless until restaurateurs realized they could be marketed and sold.

http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/jo_jo_potatoes_jojo_potatoes/

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=563558

We'll keep this short: Perissology is the superfluity of words.

Why is colonel pronounced like "kernel"? The original form comes from Italy, where a colonello was in charge of a column of soldiers. As it moved from Italian to French, it took on an r sound, but the English translators reverted to the more etymologically correct Italian spelling. That's why it looks one way but sounds another.

What do you get when you mix a Shelty and a Cocker? A Shocker! Or how about a Dachshund and a Border Collie? That'd make it a Dashboard. We don't want to know what you'd call a cross between a Pit Bull and Shih Tzu.

Hope you've been checking the headlines, because our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a new set of current event limericks. What's been "occupied?" How long did the Kardashian marriage last? And who made ambiguous the definition of the word "winning"?

A thick blanket or stack of blankets is also called a pallet. The Dictionary of American Regional English says this term is most common in the South Midlands--such states as Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. In the New American Standard Translation of the Bible (John 5:8) Jesus says to a man who's been incapacitated for nearly 40 years, "pick up your pallet and walk." The term actually comes from French, where a pallet was a thick, woven mat of hay to lie on.

The usage of the word me vs. I will always be a point of debate. Grant and Martha contend that language works in the service of culture, and thus, there will always be informal settings where the words me and I are slung around interchangeably. Then again, there will also be classrooms, job interviews and the like, where my colleague and I completed the project is the better choice than me and my colleague completed the project.

Aesthetes might go for kalology, or "the study of beauty."

What's the difference between a turnpike and a highway? In the 1700s, privately funded roads were constructed in the Northeast to connect commercial centers, but tolls were charged in order to pay for the wood planks that covered the road; this was well before gravel or pavement came about. A turnpike itself is the bar on a turnstile, much like you'd see in a subway station or an amusement park; one pays the toll, then moves through the turnpike. On the other hand, freeways were the dirt roads that didn't require a toll.

Anatomy is full of eponyms--that is, names inspired by the name of a person. In this case, there are the fallopian tubes, the Achilles heel, and the eustachian tubes. But there's a movement in anatomy to replace eponyms with more scientific, descriptive names. Thus, fallopian tubes are now uterine tubes, and eustachian tubes are auditory tubes.

The Spanglish term frajo, meaning "cigarette," evolved over a couple of generations of Mexican-American language. Primarily thanks to Pachucos, sometimes known as Zoot Suiters, the term developed from the verb fajar, meaning "to wrap up or roll."

A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, and a beautiful video of a murmuration of starlings flying about has been described by Martha as "nature's ornithological lava lamp."

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/starling-flock/

If you're looking for a clever way to straddle the glass-half-empty line, try using litotes, or understated slights turned positive. For example, the guy you met for a blind date was really not unattractive.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-term/Litotes

If you're into fungus among us, you might enjoy uredinology, the study of rust molds.

Why do we refer to people of questionable sanity as nuts, nutty, or nut-cases? In the early 1600s, a nut was considered something "pleasing" or "delightful." Its meaning then transferred to someone who liked something pleasing, and then someone obsessed with that thing to the point of eccentricity or weirdness.
 
Zymology? That's the study of joining or fastening.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: A Murmuration of Starlings (Rebroadcast) - 30 July 2012


Not the Thongs You're Thinking Of (Rebroadcast) - 23 July 2012

2012-07-22
Length: 51s

Is it cool for parents to use their children's slang? What's wrong with the term "illegal alien"? Grant and Martha discuss possible alternatives. The catchphrase Who's Yehudi refers to the mysterious character who holds up strapless dresses, turns the light on in the fridge, and does lots of other things we can't see. But why Yehudi? Also, terms from the dictionary of anatomy, an idiom puzzle, putzing around, out of pocket, long in the tooth, and the ancient roots of the folksy expression even a blind pig can find an acorn. And what do you call the slobber marks a dog leaves on the windshield?

FULL DETAILS

Does your vocabulary mark you as old or outdated? Certain words really indicate generational gaps, like chronological shibboleths. For example, are thongs "sandals" or "panties"? And what do women carry around--a pocketbook, a purse, or a bag? Your answer likely depends on when you were born.

At what point is it inappropriate for parents to use the slang of their offspring? Can you call your son dude, or give your kids a beatdown in Scrabble? Living with children makes for a slang-filled home, so it becomes part of your regular speech. So long as your children aren't mortified, the hosts say, go for it.

Who is Yehudi, and what exactly does he do? In the 1930s on Bob Hope's radio show, there was a musical guest named Yehudi Menuhin. His name proved so catchy, along with sidekick Jerry Colonna's joking phrase, "Who's Yehudi?" that it entered the common vernacular, coming to refer to anyone, or anything, mysterious. Yehudi is, for example, the little man that turns on the light inside the refrigerator. He holds up strapless dresses. The Navy even had a secret project named Project Yehudi.

Charles Hodgson's Carnal Knowledge: A Naval Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy is chock-full of great terms. It's best to keep the lipstick within the vermillion border, or that line where the lips meet the skin. And be careful when applying around the wick, or the corner of the mouth.

http://www.amazon.com/Carnal-Knowledge-Dictionary-Anatomy-Etymology/dp/B004E3XEJ8

Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has a puzzle based on clues with everything but the but. For example, when likening someone to a house, we say the lights are on, but nobody's home. Or regarding a noisy political contest, it's all over but the shouting.

If someone's being a bit lazy, or just moseying aimlessly, we say they're putzing around. But the word put derives from the Yiddish for "penis." Plenty of Yiddish words have made their way into the common vernacular, especially in the Northeast. But before you open your mouth, it's important to be mindful of context and whom you're speaking to.

A physician wants to know: Is it politically correct to use the phrase illegal alien? The Society of Professional Journalists have decided, collectively, to use illegal immigrant. But even words like illegal or undocumented can often be inaccurate. If, for example, doctors are talking about a patient, they want to recognize the patient as an individual person, not a statistic.

http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla/society-of-professional-journalists-votes-to-end-use-of-term-illegal-alien_b40464

Speaking of those generational divides, did you know that Post-It notes haven't always been around? Martha shares a listener's funny email about that.
 
If you're having a tough time finding something, remember that even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while. This encouraging idiom actually comes from Ancient Rome, where the concept of a blind animal turning something up lent itself to the Latin saying that a blind dove sometimes finds a pea. An 18th-century Friedrich Schiller play employed the blind-pig-and-acorn version, and the play's translation into English and French brought it into modern speech.

What event in life introduced you to a whole new vocabulary? Going away to college, having a child, renovating a home, or even getting diagnosed with a medical condition  often exposes us to huge bundles of new words. If you're renovating a house for example, suddenly a whole slew of new words muscles its way into your vocabulary, such as backsplash, shoe moulding, quarter-sawn oak, sconce, grout, and bullnose.

What does out of pocket mean? The answer actually splits down racial lines. Among many African-Americans, if someone's out of pocket, they're out of line or unruly. For most Caucasian speakers, out of pocket is primarily used in business settings, meaning that someone is either unavailable or out of the office, or they're paying for something with personal money, rather than charging it to a company.

What do you call those slobber marks that dogs leave on the inside of car windows? Some of our favorites are woofmarks, dog schmear, and snot kisses.

Is your name a conversation piece? A listener by the name of H. Christian Blood shares his story growing up with a colorful name. And for those of you with a comment to make, Christian Blood would remind you that he's heard plenty of it over the years, so unless it's really something sharp and original, it's best not to waste your breath. And yes, his name is for real.

http://www.scu.edu/cas/classics/faculty/blood.cfm?p=4834

What crawled over your liver? This Pennsylvania Dutch idiom means "What's the matter with you?"

If someone's getting long in the tooth, it means they're getting old, or too old for their behavior. The metaphor of long teeth comes from horses. If you look at a horse's teeth and the extent to which their gums have receded, you can tell pretty accurately how old they are. It's the same source as that old advice Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, which means "if someone gives you a gift, don't inspect it too closely."

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Not the Thongs You're Thinking Of (Rebroadcast) - 23 July 2012


The Whole Kit and Caboodle (Rebroadcast) - 16 July 2012

2012-07-15
Length: 51s

Nothing brightens up an email like an emoticon. But is it appropriate to include a smiley face in an email to your boss? Also, what do time management experts mean when they say you should start each day by "eating the frog"? Plus, the story behind the phrase "the whole kit and caboodle," and some book recommendations for language lovers. If you see the trash can as half-full, are you an optimist or a pessimist? A puzzle involving breakfast cereals, the difference between adept and deft, and the origin of the political term solon. And what in the world is a hoorah's nest?

FULL DETAILS

Is it appropriate to use emoticons in business emails? After all, you wouldn't write a smiley face in a printed letter, right? Martha and Grant discuss the point at which you start using those little symbols in correspondence. Call it "The Rubicon on the Emoticon." Judith Newman has more observations about emoticons in business correspondence in this New York Times piece.

http://nyti.ms/pKguDN
 
Why are non-commissioned Naval officers called petty officers? After all, there's nothing petty about them. The term comes from the French petit, meaning "under, less than, or ranking below in a hierarchy." Petty comes up in myriad instances of formal language, such as petty theft, which is a lesser charge than grand larceny.

To summarize something, we often use the phrase all told. But should it be all tolled? The correct phrase, all told, comes from an old use of the word tell meaning "to count," as in a bank teller. All told is an example of an absolute construction--a phrase that, in other words, can't be broken down and must be treated as a single entity.

What do parents say when they tuck their children in at night? How about good night, sleep tight, and see you on the big drum? Have you heard that one, which may have to do with an old regiment in the British Army?

How do you manage your time? Perhaps by eating the frog, which means "to do the most distasteful task first." This is also known as carrying guts to a bear.

http://bit.ly/stoi5n

From Puzzle Guy John Chaneski comes a great game for the breakfast table in the tradition of such cereal names as Cheerios and Wheaties. What kind of cereal does a hedge fund manager eat? Portfolios! And what do Liberal Arts majors pour in their bowls? Humanities!

What is the difference between adept and deft? It's similar to that between mastery and artistry. Adept often describes a person, as in, "Messi is adept at dribbling a soccer ball." Deft, on the other hand, is usually applied to the product of an act, such as "deft brush strokes."

There are some words we just love to mispronounce, like spatula as spatular, which rhymes with "bachelor."

If someone plans to make hay of something, they're going to take advantage of it. It comes from the idiom make hay while the sun shines, based on the fact that moving hay can be a real pain when it's dark and damp.

Martha has a follow-up to an earlier call about why hairstylists advise clients to use product on their hair. At least in the food business, product often refers to the item before it's ready for consumption. For example, coffee grounds might be called product, but once it has been brewed, it becomes coffee.

If you see the trash can as half full, does that make you an optimist or a pessimist? Since it's half full of garbage, as opposed to daisies or puppies, it's questionable. On the other hand, in the tweeted words of Jill Morris: "Some people look at the glass as half empty. I look at the glass as a weapon. You can never be too safe around pessimists."

http://twitter.com/#!/JillMorris/statuses/128573375114256385

If we're talking about the whole lot of something, we call it the whole kit and kaboodle. But what's a kaboodle? In Dutch, a "kit en boedel" refer to a house and everything in it. For the sake of the English idiom, we just slapped the "k" in front.
 
The holiday gift season is coming up, and Grant and Martha have some book recommendations. For the family, Grant has two great children's books: The Three Pigs by David Wiesner, a meta-narrative based on the classic title characters, and Elephant Wish, a touching cross-generational story by Lou Berger, the head writer of Sesame Street. Martha recommends The Word Project: Odd and Obscure Words beautifully illustrated by Polly M. Law. Stop by your local bookseller and pick up a copy for your sweetheart, a.k.a. your pigsney!

http://amzn.to/w4TN3f
http://amzn.to/rxTZYw
http://amzn.to/ty9q6F

If something's messy, it looks like a hoorah's nest. But what's a hoorah? It beats us. All we know is, it leaves its nest in a real state of confusion, and does it well enough to inspire a popular idiom.

The Twitter hashtag #Bookswithalettermissing has proved to be a popular one. We discussed some great examples in an earlier episode.

http://www.waywordradio.org/missing-letter/

But why not take a letter off the author as well? As in, Animal Far by George Owell, the story about an animal that ran away, prompting a nonchalant farmer to say, "Oh, well." (The joke's doubly funny if you know that the name "George" comes from the Greek for "farmer.")

There's some confusion about the uses of at and by, particularly among those for whom English is a second language. Prepositions often cause trouble, because they don't translate perfectly. Nonetheless, it's important to know that in standard English, if someone is staying home, they're staying at home, not by home.

Here's a testy T-shirt slogan: "Polyamory is wrong! It's either multiamory or polyphilia. But mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!"

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2010/03/polyamory-is-wrong/

Solon often pops up in headlines as a label for legislators. It is actually an eponym, referring to Solon, an esteemed lawgiver from ancient Athens who lay much of the groundwork for the original democracy. Nowadays, however, the term solon is commonly used ironically, since our legislators don't display the noble disinterest that Solon did a few millennia ago.

The great Leonard Bernstein once said, "a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." What are your favorite quotes on writing?

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Whole Kit and Caboodle (Rebroadcast) - 16 July 2012


Why Do Auctioneers Talk So Fast (Rebroadcast) - 9 July 2012

2012-07-08
Length: 51s

Why do auctioneers talk so fast?  Martha and Grant discuss the rapid-fire speech of auctioneers, and how it gets you to bid higher. Also, why so many books have ridiculously long titles, where you'd have sonker for dessert, and an appreciation of that children's classic, "The Phantom Tollbooth." Plus, different from vs. different than, the origin of suss out, words that apparently entered English in 1937, and the many names for those little gray bugs that roll up into a ball.

FULL DETAILS

What do you call those little gray bugs that roll up into a ball? They go by lots of names: roly poly bugs, potato bugs, sow bugs, chiggypigs, dillo seeds, basketball bugs, bowling-ball bugs, and wood lice, to name a few.

If you're wondering why we capitalize the letter "I" when we don't capitalize the first letters of other pronouns, the answer's simple. It's easier to read. Martha recommends a book offering a detailed history of every letter of the alphabet. It's Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z, by David Sacks.

http://www.alphabet-history.com/work1.htm

Why do auctioneers talk so fast? The hosts say it's partly to put you into a trance, partly to increase the sense of urgency, and partly to sell off lots of items in a short amount of time. More details in an article in Slate magazine. You can learn some of the basics of auctioneering from videos on YouTube.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/11/why_do_auctioneers_talk_like_that.html

http://www.aristocratservices.com/The_Auctioneers_Chant.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCr96VtvS80

Over on wordorigins.org, etymologist Dave Wilton is going through the Oxford English Dictionary year by year to find the earliest citations for various words, which offer an unusual linguistic glimpse into that particular year. The year 1937, for example, is the first in which we see the terms four-by-four, cliffhanger, and iffy.

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/1739/

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "Double Dog Dare."

Why are book titles so incredibly long these days? A caller complains about book title inflation, usually consisting of a shorter title, followed by a colon and a longer subtitle that seems to sound important and ends with the words "and What To Do About It." Grant explains that such extra-long book titles are one form of search optimization by publishers and marketing departments. The more searchable keywords in the title, the more copies sold.

Which is correct: different from or different than. Martha explains that the grammatically correct choice is almost always different from.

Martha plays another round of the Books With A Letter Missing game.

http://www.waywordradio.org/missing-letter/

A caller in Hamburg, Germany wants to know where we got the term laundry list. Grant explains that it derives from a time when people of a certain class sent their laundry out to be cleaned. It's usually associated with a collection of things that are routine or involve drudgery or something negative. Funny how no one ever offers a laundry list of compliments.

More words that entered the language around 1937: spam, telecast, and oops.

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/1739/

The Phantom Tollbooth, the beloved children's book by Norman Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, turns 50 this year. There are two new 50th anniversary editions of the book. As Adam Gopnik notes in a New Yorker magazine article, the book is the closest thing American literature has to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/17/111017fa_fact_gopnik#ixzz1bCiS90OL

Martha shares her favorite passage from the book, a description of various kinds of silence.

http://books.google.com/books?id=T_0EtTjFHRIC&pg=PA152&dq=phantom+tollbooth+silence++or,+most+beautiful+of+all.+the+moment+utter+the+door+closes+and+you're+all+alone+in+the+whole+house?&hl=en&ei=NeCuTsa_GumYiQKliPGLCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=phantom%20tollbooth%20silence%20%20or%2C%20most%20beautiful%20of%20all.%20&f=false

Care for another helping of sonker? That's another name for deep-dish cobbler.
 
http://homepage.mac.com/ezzellk/Recipes/Pies/North_Carolina_Sonker-1550.html

There's a Sonker Festival each year in Surry County, North Carolina, one of the few places where you'll hear this regional term.

http://www.verysurry.com/blog/sonker-festival-2011/

More words that entered the lexicon around 1937: Yiddish bupkes, meaning "nothing," and "zaftig" meaning "plump," "soft," or "juicy."

What does the term suss out mean? It's often heard in police and journalistic jargon, and means to "take a forensic approach to finding out an answer." It probably derives from the verb "suspect."

Quisquillious describes something that's trashy or worthless. It derives from the Latin for "rubbish."

In the movie Avatar, the characters battle over a rare and valuable mineral called unobtanium. A mechanical engineer says he had a hard time getting into the movie because in his world, the word unobtanium means something different.

Martha quotes Steve Martin's aphorism about language: "Some people have a way with words. Some people not have way."

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Why Do Auctioneers Talk So Fast (Rebroadcast) - 9 July 2012


Things Parents Say (Rebroadcast) - 2 July 2012

2012-07-01
Length: 52s

Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound, well, of a certain age? Grant and Martha discuss slang that's often lost on a younger or older generation. Why is the entree the main course? Shouldn't it come first? And why is the letter k silent in knot and knight? Plus, the right way to say the, a remedy for the superstition of splitting the pole, names for the toes straight from Mother Goose, the difference between finished and done, and a special word quiz for all you zombie fans!

FULL DETAILS

Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound old? Are you using outdated slang? Changes in pop culture and lax speech are always marking the generational gap, from the sitcom characters we love to the way we say something's cool.

The "Doogie Howser" scene in the movie 50/50 is a perfect example.

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/mv-dtg3j/doogie_howser/

What's the difference between done and finished? If you've completed something, are you done? Or are you finished? Grant and Martha contend that there's no historical evidence to suggest a difference between the two, although finished is slightly more formal.

Why are main courses called entrees in the US? Why isn't the entree the first course of a meal? In 19th Century Britain, the entree came after a course of soup or fish, but before the main portion of the meal, such as a boar's head. Over time, the main course converged into one course, but the name entree stuck.

If it's ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.
 
Grant and Martha share some more terms that make a person sound old-fashioned these days. Ever get a blank stare when you mention the icebox?

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a zombiefied puzzle called Dead Reckoning. What's the problem with putting zombies in the legislature? A deadlocked government!

How do you pronounce garage? Does it rhyme with "barrage," or do you say it like the British so it rhymes with "carriage"? The variations abound, and they all work, so long as we know what you're talking about.

There's a rule for the pronunciation of the word the. If it's followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like "thee," as in, thee end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with "duh," as in the dog. That's thuh long and thuh short of it.

Some outdated words wind up coming back in cheeky and ironic ways. For example, kids these days likely know groovy from Austin Powers, not from the flower children.

It's a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn't each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there's a remedy: just say bread and butter! There's an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that (at minute 5:42).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uow_6qbssCc

And of course, there's a Facebook page devoted to keeping poles whole.

http://on.fb.me/pkMcmy

There's a story going around about a 19th Century priest named Giuseppe Mezzofanti who claimed to speak forty to fifty languages. Hyperpolyglots, or those who speak six or more languages fluently, offer some key insights into learnings language. Michael Erard chronicles all this in his linguistic cliffhanger, Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners.

http://bit.ly/lz1FOk

Is there a term for the way words feel when they're spoken that has nothing to do with their meaning? The word suitcase feels nice to say, unlike rural. Cellar door certainly has a different quality than moist ointment. Mouthfeel is an oft-noted concept. But in his book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr. says of his favorite term to enunciate: polyurethane foam. His reason? "It's just so sayable."

http://www.waywordradio.org/a-conversation-with-roy-blount-jr/

Depending on what generation you're from, "Get your rubbers!" could mean put on your galoshes. Or it could mean something else!

Did we ever pronounce the "k" sound in the words knot or know? The now-silent k underwent apheresis, from Greek meaning "to take off." In olden days, the word knight also had an initial-k sound, and a "kin-not" was the thing you tie. But nowadays, as Blount would say, the k in knot is silent, "like the p in swimming."

At one time, a boner was a mistake. And now, it's--you know. Beware of that outdated usage, grownups!

Do our toes have names? Mother Goose and Scandinavian nursery rhymes gave us variants of Tom Pumpkin, Long Larkin, Betty Pringle, Johnny Jingle, and Little Dick. Sounds cooler than big toe, no?

http://bit.ly/o3JieG

What dessert would you serve a baseball player? Why, a bundt cake, of course!

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Things Parents Say (Rebroadcast) - 2 July 2012


What's a Hipster?

2012-06-24
Length: 52s

Get out your skinny jeans and pass the PBR! Martha and Grant discuss the definition of the word hipster. Also, what happens when you pull a brodie? And why do we describe something cheap or poorly made as cheesy? Also, sawbucks, pulling a brodie, shoestring budgets, the origins of bootlegging, and cabbie lingo, including the slang word bingo.

FULL DETAILS

A former cabbie shares his favorite jargon, like green pea and making your nut. Someone waving down an occupied cab is known as a bingo, and the cabbie will usually tell the dispatcher to send another car. A San Diego cabdriver has gathered much more taxi slang here.

Is there any etymological connection between the dairy product and the adjective cheesy, meaning inferior, cheap, or otherwise sub-par? This descriptive term for something lowbrow or poorly made at one point had positive connotations in the 1800s, when something great could be said to be cheesy as a rare Stilton. Over time, though, cheesy took on the connotation of something unappealing, an apparent reference to a low quality, stinky cheese.

A shoestring budget is a spending plan that's as thin and spindly as a shoestring. Not surprisingly, the term gained popularity during the Great Depression.

A line from The Moor of Venice, that I would liefer bide, features an old word for rather that shares a root with the words love and leave, as in by your leave.

Cabbies are sometimes known to stretch their hood, which means to fib to the dispatcher about their location. Sometimes they have to drive out of bounds to pick up a fare.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a word puzzle based on so-called container clues, where the answer is divided into two words, one which is found inside the other. For this game, the answers are all Greek gods.

A Word-Book of Virginia Folk Speak from 1912 includes this gem: Bachelors' wives and old maid's children are the best people in the world.

What is a hipster? Is it an insult to call someone a hipster, even if they're, well, a hipster? Do hipsters identify themselves as hipsters? Grant traces the label from 1960s counterculture to today's skinny-jeaned Brooklyn paradox.

The handy term omnishambles means all in shambles, and has found its way from the British TV comedy The Thick of It to the floor of the House of Commons.

What is a cuculoris? This lighting grate, which also goes by such names as cookie, gobo, and dapple sheet, is used in photography to cast a dramatic shadow. There are lots of spellings of this word, including cucoloris, kookaloris, cookaloris, and cucalorus. The name may have to do with George Cukor, an early pioneer of the tool in old Hollywood.

Add this to your list of paraprosdokians: Two guys walked into a bar. The third one ducked.

Where does the term bootleg come from? Originally, smugglers tucked bottles of alcohol into their pants to sneak them onto Indian reservations to sell illegally. The term knockoff also refers to pants, and buttleg is a variant that can refer to contraband cigarettes.

Why do we call a ten-dollar bill a sawbuck? The support for woodworking known as a sawbuck folds out into the shape of an X, the same shape as the Roman numeral for ten. Hence, the slang term for the currency worth ten bucks.

Can you get away with calling a misspelled word a typo if you didn't know how to spell it in the first place? One variety of mistake is called a performance error, where the goof is somehow related to the machine or keyboard. A competence error occurs when someone doesn't know the difference between your and you're in the first place.

To spin a brodie or pull a brodie is to spin a doughnut in a car. The term derives from the name of Steve Brodie, who allegedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886. To do a brodie, originally meaning to jump or fall, came to mean any kind of stunt.

On the website A Poem From Us, people upload videos of themselves reading poetry from other writers. Here, David Jones reads "A Cradle Song" by William Butler Yeats.

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Share: What's a Hipster?


Crazy Crossword Clues - 18 June 2012

2012-06-17
Length: 51s

Should youngsters learn cursive handwriting in school? Plus, someone can be ruthless, but can that same person be ruthful? Which word refers to something larger, humongous or gargantuan? Also, funny newspaper corrections, a crossword quiz, Texas idioms, and new version of “Three Blind Mice” with an upgraded vocabulary.

FULL DETAILS

Even the best newspaper reporters make mistakes. Here’s an unfortunately funny correction about the My Little Pony character a young woman thinks about to cheer herself up. Another correction from the Centralia Morning Sentinel notes that a member of a Christian rock band was on, um, drums, not drugs.

What do you call that moment when you try to walk past someone on the sidewalk, but you both move in the same direction? Perhaps slidewalking, doing the sidewalk boogie, or stranger dancing? Martha votes for polkadodge.

In the military, a certain kind of duct tape is known as hundred-mile-per-hour tape because it can withstand 100-mph speeds.

Someone can be ruthless, but can that person be ruthful? Ruthful is indeed a word that derives from an old definition of ruth meaning “the quality of being compassionate.” But unpaired negatives, like ruthless, unkempt, uncouth, or disgruntled, are common words that lack positive correlatives in common speech.

A middle-school librarian caught the Arkansas Democrat Gazette messing up the title of the second book in the Hunger Games series. The newspaper then issued an abject apology.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has lifted some tricky puns from New York Times crossword puzzles for this word game. What's “a green org,” in three letters? How about a three-letter answer for “peas keeper”?

It seems there's a sesquipedalian version to the classic "Three Blind Mice" about a trio of rodents with impaired vision. Need a visual yourself? Try this one.

Should educators continue to teach cursive writing in school? For the sake of learning to read old documents and honing their hand-eye skills, many say “yes.” Most current teaching standards, however, require only keyboard training, not longhand.

Owe somebody money? How about you charge it to the dust and let the rain settle it? This is a useful idiom for friendly transactions where no payment is necessary.

It ain't no hill for a stepper like you is a popular idiom in the South meaning someone can finish the task at hand. Metaphorically, it means that you’re a fine horse that would have no problem stepping over that particular obstacle.

In the Army, a battle buddy is someone assigned to be your constant companion, and it's often shortened to just “battle.” Other words, like Upstate and cell, as in a mobile phone, have dropped the nouns they modified.

Which word is larger, humongous or gargantuan? Which refers to something larger? Grant and Martha agree with usage expert Bryan Garner that the word gargantuan is the larger of the two.

A correction in London’s Daily Mail notes that a Mr. Smith testified in court that he had “a dull life,” not “a dull wife.” Oops.

In Jamaica, the youngest child is commonly known as the wash-belly. In addition to being the youngest, the term can also connote that the wash-belly is lazy and spoiled. Frederic Cassidy traces this and other terms in his Dictionary of Jamaican English and Jamaica Talk.

Craig Silverman's book Regret the Error contains a maze of a correction that simply corrects an incorrect correction. You can also follow more recent collections of corrections on his blog at the Poynter Institute.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at http://sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Crazy Crossword Clues - 18 June 2012


Behind every hour is you -- we're celebrating five independent years!

2012-06-11

A Way with Words is celebrating its fifth anniversary as an independent program!

Thanks to your donations, the show is now heard across North America and around the world by more than a quarter-million listeners each week.

When we took over the show in 2007, we knew how to make radio. We knew what people wanted know about language. And we knew how to get the show out to stations.

But we didn't know how to pay for it. Fundraising? Donors? Sponsors? Magic?

It turned out that among our many thousands of listeners, there were many who cared about language and good radio. Ongoing annual support from listeners like them, and you, accounts for more than half of our operating budget. It is a crucial piece of our funding pie.

Give now to keep A Way with Words on the air for five more great years. Your tax-deductible donation is essential to our success.

Last year, also thanks to people like you, we made more new episodes than ever. You asked us to make more brand-new one-hour shows, so that's what we did.

But did you know that A Way with Words is more than a weekly hour of radio? If only it were that easy!

In fact, behind each hour of radio there are at least 120 hours of other work.

For every caller we talk to on the air, we respond to hundreds off-air, when we can, with answers, help, advice, and support. In fact, we get more than 15,000 listener phone calls and emails a year, and dearly wish we could respond to them all.

We also give public workshops, lectures, and presentations to all sorts of groups: business people, high school and college students, church groups, teachers, writers, and more.

We also spend even more hours each week on back-office business with vendors and stations, carefully managing where money goes: studio rental, file- and site-hosting, a radio engineer, a radio editor, and satellite distribution, an expense that increased by 50% this year.

All together, this work is how we fulfill our mission of helping people think about language in a new way.

A Way with Words receives no money from any public radio station, nor from NPR. Instead, we depend directly on listeners like you. We encourage you to support your local public radio station, of course, but we also ask you to support A Way with Words with a gift today.

Your donations are the fuel in our rockets. Make a tax-deductible donation to A Way with Words that will make a difference for hundreds of thousands of people every week.



A lot has changed since 2007. Then, smartphone web-browsing accounted for less than 1% of our website traffic. Now, smartphones and tablets account for almost 25%.

Then, social media didn't have the force and numbers that it does today. Now, a business (or a radio show) can't thrive unless it participates in Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites.

Then, podcasting was still growing and hadn't proved itself. Now, the landscape of online-only radio and podcasting is vast, and we're a part of it. We have to be visible and active in it.

So, after consulting with you, we're overhauling the website to emphasize and add what you told us was important:

Better searching of past answers, shows, and discussions. Easy access to parts of episodes for downloading or listening. Improved appearance on smartphones and iPads. Integration of social media. Simpler saving, sharing, and commenting.



It will be a full overhaul, from top to bottom. Every page will be changed, thousands of new pages will be added, and it will include a ton of new lexical and language content. We're super-excited about it!

Your donations are needed to support the cost of building the new website.

Click for a sneak preview of the front page of the new site, which will launch by July:



Thank you for everything you do for us. Your calls and emails matter a great deal. They energize, delight, and inform us. Without you and your support, we wouldn't have a show.

Here's to you and another great five years!

Best wishes and happy listening,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett
co-hosts of A Way with Words

You may also send tax-deductible donations by postal mail to:
Wayword, Inc.
P.O. Box 632721
San Diego, CA 92163

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Lousy with Diamonds - 11 June 2012

2012-06-11
Length: 51s

Can children adopted from other countries easily re-learn their native languages as adults? And if you're invited to an old-fashioned pound party, what should you bring? Also, regional names for those wheeled contraptions you use at the grocery, summer reading recommendations, and a breed of cat that's supposed to bring you riches and good luck. Plus, the Tour de Franzia (as in boxed wine), police slang from the 1940's, mnemonics, and a breed of cat that brings good luck and riches!

Always remember: Martha never ever makes ornery noises in church. That is, of course, a mnemonic for the spelling of "mnemonic."

When would you give a pounding to someone in need? When you're talking about a community coming together to give food staples to, say, the new family in town or a new bride and groom. The term pounding, also known as a pound party, derives from the early practice of bringing foodstuffs by the pound. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, once wrote about a pound party, albeit one with a surprise ending.

What slang do you use for "getting drunk"? Paul Dickson has collected his share of terms for being drunk, as have, surprisingly enough, college students. How about slizzered, schwasted, or riding in the Tour de Franzia?

If it's cold as all get-out, you'll probably want to get to someplace warmer. The "get-out" in this informal expression might refer to being out in front, as in "the winner of all cold days," or it could be a mashup of "Doesn't that beat all!" and "Get out!" It's just one of many terms we use to describe cold temperatures.

You don't want Dorothy Parker reviewing your novel — at least not when she's dropping zingers like "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force." Parker did have a way with words. How about this description of another birthday rolling around: "This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible, it was terrible with raisins in it."

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game about words with a silent "e" and their "e"-sound counterparts. For example, a walking stick and someone good at judging situations might be a canny guy with a cane. Or a guy with a noble title playing with a bathtub water fowl would be a duke with a ducky.

A Tacoma, Wash., police report from 1946 is chock-full of showy police slang, from the punk on the stem to the handle of the beefer. Read the whole thing here.

Can a child adopted from a foreign country at the age of eight easily relearn her first language as an adult? It seems so. Terri Kit-fong Au describes a group of Korean students in Australia who pick up Korean with ease.

What do you call the sign used in long division that looks a bit like an awning separating dividend and the divisor? How about a gazinta? As in, two gazinta four twice. Otherwise, you're stuck with boring terms like long division sign or division bracket.

Grant and Martha have summer reading suggestions. Grant's going through books by great women in show business — Tallulah Bankhead, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey. Martha finally got a Kindle, and is starting with Herman Melville's classic, Moby-Dick! A bit wary of tackling this leviathan of a novel? Nathaniel Philbrick makes an excellent case for why you ought to read Moby-Dick.

Do you call your cart at the grocery store a shopping cart, a shopping carriage, a grocery cart, or a buggy? The term buggy seems to be particularly widespread in the South.

What's a money cat? It's a regional term for "calico cat," and it's particularly common in Maine. The idea goes back to a bit of folklore that calicos bring you good luck.

To hox, or hocks, means to call dibs on something, as in "You better hox shotgun if you want to sit up front for the eight-hour drive to Grandma's!"

Here's a sly Southernism for Sundays: "Each one of his sermons is better than the next."

What do you say when you're frustrated? There's always, "I'll be jumped up and down, bowlegged, and Johnny Busheart!" Or "For cryin' out loud and weepin' in public!"

What does it mean to be lousy with, as in "She was lousy with diamonds"? Lousy comes from the English word louse, as in lice. To be lousy with means "to have lots of something."

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Two Shades of Grey - 4 June 2012

2012-06-03
Length: 51s

You've probably noticed how work always seems to expand to fill the time given to complete it. But did you know there's a term for that? Also this week, the New England exclamation So don't I!, gray vs. gray, stories in a building, being squiffy, having chops, getting involved in pull-hauls, nubby Pennsylvanians, and a modern Greek idiom about hiccups and burning ears.

FULL DETAILS

If you're feeling squiffy, it means you're drunk, especially in 19th century British slang. If someone has a golden gut, on the other hand, it means they have good business acumen.

If someone is being nibby or nubby, they're nosy. This Western Pennsylvania http://www.popularpittsburgh.com/pittsburgh-info/pittsburgh-culture/pittsburghese.aspx term goes back to the old Scottish term nib or neb, meaning nose.

 What does it mean to have chops? In the 1500s, chops was a slang term for the face or lips, but it carried into African-American jazz culture to mean that a brass or wind player had good embouchure. The idea is reflected in the old jazz musician's saying, "If you ain't got the chops for the dots, ain't nothing' happening." Having chops eventually came to mean having talent in other disciplines as well.

The New England phrase So don't I http://www.bu.edu/mfeldman/Boston/wicked.html, meaning you agree, is so embedded in the culture that it's now part of the regional stereotype. Linguist Laurence Horn http://books.google.com/books?id=7ESeXUD10c0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=laurence+horn&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vMG_T5HKLuTw6AGqvcGbCg&ved=0CFkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=so%20don't%20I&f=false work has discussed the phenomenon, as have we http://www.waywordradio.org/love-joe-floggers-so-dont-i/ !

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has an improvement on the hoary puzzle about words ending in gry http://www.snopes.com/language/puzzlers/gry.asp. For example, if someone has posted to Tumblr in a while, they might be feeling a bit bloggry. If you're in the mood to do some karaoke, you might be described as singry.

Why are floors of buildings called stories? One theory suggests that an Latin architectural term historia once referred to the stained-glass windows or the ornate statues around the edifice. But the etymology is unclear at best.

If someone's been talking about you in English, then metaphorically speaking, your ears must have been burning. If they were talking about you in Modern Greek, it's said that you must have been hiccuping.

If you're blowing the soot out, you might literally be clearing the soot out of a flue. By extension, it's a term that means "relieving stress."

The term pull-haul, meaning "a verbal conflict," is heard in New England, particularly Maine http://dare.news.wisc.edu/state-by-state/maine/. A 1914 citation in the Dictionary of American Regional English alludes to all the pull-hauling among churches when a new congregant moves to town.

Why do we adjust our working pace to the timelines we're given? The late Cyril Northcote Parkinson explained the phenomenon in his 1955 Economist piece http://www.economist.com/node/14116121, calling it Parkinson's Law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson's_law.

Squiffy, that British slang term for drunk, has also come to mean "askew." At a Roman orgy, for example, you might have found people wearing squiffy laurel crowns.

What do you call tourists in your hometown? In New England, they have leaf peepers. In Wisconsin, it's berry pickers or shackers, as in "people who rent cottages." Coastal areas have pukers, a reference to people who charter boats but then can't handle the waves. And in Big Sky, Montana, tourists are known as gapers.

Is there a term for words that sound like their first letter? Queue, jay, oh, and the like have been deemed by one listener homoepistulaverbumphones. Well, maybe.

What's the plural of pair? Is it correct to say two pairs of socks or two pair of socks? The most common usage is pairs, but it might depend on whether you think of the things as a unit, like socks.

Is there a visual difference between g-r-e-y and g-r-a-y http://grammarist.com/spelling/gray-grey/? The grey spelling is more common in the UK; gray is more common in the U.S. Many feel that grey has a delicate, silvery tint, while gray is more opaque, perhaps with warmer tones of red or brown. Martha and Grant disagree about this one.

The words anyways, spelled with an s, has come into vogue among writers looking to transition from stilted language into something more reader-friendly.

In Michigan, tourists are called trunkslammers for how often they slam their trunk unpacking and repacking over the course of a weekend trip.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Raining Cats and Dogs - 28 May 2012

2012-05-28
Length: 51s

Get out your umbrellas -- it's raining pitchforks and . . . bullfrogs? This week, it's odd expressions that mean "a heavy downpour." Also, holistic vs. wholistic, recurrence vs. reoccurrence, flash drive vs. thumb drive, whether it's good or bad to be jacked up, stomach Steinways and bunheads, and the origin of listless. And not to mince words, but what does the expression "not to mince words" really mean?

FULL DETAILS

In what profession would you deal with clams, footballs, hairpins, and axes? They're all slang terms used by classical musicians.

What's the origin of the term listless? Does it mean you can't find the piece of paper with the groceries you need? No. Listless shares a root with the English word lust. In its most literal sense, listless means "without lust," or "lacking want or desire."

Is being jacked up a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. To jack up means "to raise up," as with a car on a lift. But jack up also has a negative meaning, perhaps deriving from hijack or blackjack, suggesting that something's been hurt or cheated.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has some answers to classic songs in this week's puzzle about song titles in question form. For example, the answer "Because they're too dumb to stay out of it" answers the musical question from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"

What do we mean by the expression not to mince words? The New York Times' Paul Krugman http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/opinion/krugman-europes-economic-suicide.html often uses this idiom meaning "to be straightforward and blunt." The verb mince means "to make small," and is a linguistic relative of such words as diminish, miniature, and minute. Mincing is what you do when you're cutting onions into small pieces or diminishing the force of your speech by using euphemisms.

In an earlier episode http://www.waywordradio.org/horse-you-rode-in-on/, we discussed various meanings for the term stove up. One meaning of stove up is "to be in pain from work or exercise to the point where it's hard to move." Similarly, lots of athletes will get stoved fingers from getting them jammed with volleyballs or baseballs.

Do you store files on a flash drive, a thumb drive, a USB stick -- or perhaps on a monkey? What do you call the little device that holds flash memory and goes into the USB drive of a computer. Some come in wild forms http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/50-weirdest-usb-flash-drives-ever/, like sushi or animals.

Did you ever take lessons to play the stomach Steinway? You know, the accordion? That's another bit of musicians' slang sent in by a listener, along with the term bunhead http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/bunhead/, which means "a ballet dancer."

Which is the better term, recurrence or reoccurrence? A look at the corpus of American literature confirms that recurrence is far and away the more commonly used word denoting "something that occurs more than once." Some dictionaries don't even have entries for reoccurrence.

An old book of Virginia folk sayings contains such gems as "It's as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth," and "He can't spell A-B-L-E."

Is crick a Southern term? Surprisingly, crick, as in creek, is mostly used in New England and the Great Lakes region. The Northeast is also where you'll find people smoking boges, or boags. Both words for "cigarette," apparently derive from the verb "to bogart," discussed in an earlier episode http://www.waywordradio.org/bogarting-bangers/.

What do you call a fierce rainfall? There are lots of vivid terms in this country besides it's raining cats and dogs. Some Americans say It's raining pitchforks and hoehandles, or raining pitchforks and bullfrogs. Or they might call a heavy rain a toadstrangler, a ditchworker, or stumpwasher. In other countries http://www.omniglot.com/language/idioms/rain.php, this kind of cacophonous rain is denoted by lots of picturesque phrases involving imaginary falling things, including chair legs, female trolls, ropes, jugs -- and even husbands.

If something pertains to a whole system or body, is it holistic or wholistic? Despite that tempting "w," holistic is the correct term. It's an example of folk etymology http://books.google.com/books/about/Folk_etymology.html?id=e0wHAAAAQAAJ, the result of looking at the word whole and assuming that wholistic is the proper correlative.

If something's soft and fuzzy, why not call it suvvy? Grant collected that bit of slang during a recent appearance in Potsdam, NY. http://readme.readmedia.com/SUNY-Potsdam-Hosts-First-Ever-Lougheed-Kofoed-Festival-of-the-Arts/3807415

Everyone knows New Yorkers and Angelenos, but what do you call someone from Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Demonyms, or the names for people from a given place, can get pretty complicated, but there are seven rules as drawn by George Stewart http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/demonyms/, and Paul Dickson's book Labels for Locals http://books.google.com/books/about/Labels_for_Locals.html?id=MJpt4QCXWWoC has lots of other answers.

An old Chinese proverb says, he who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who does not remains a fool forever.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

We're also grateful for support from the University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Why Do Girls Wear Pink (Rebroadcast) - 21 May 2012

2012-05-21
Length: 51s

We all know that the color pink is for boys and the color blue is for girls--at least, that's how it was 100 years ago. Grant and Martha share the surprising history behind the colors we associate with gender. Plus, we go rollin' in our hooptie, play a game of guess-that-Google-search, and get some tips on how to avoid getting swindled by our real estate agent! Also, new terms for failed software upgrades, some sugar-coated snark from across the pond, and a new way to show sarcasm in a text message. Yeah. Sure.

FULL DETAILS

Hate it when a software upgrade is worse than the previous version? We call that a flupgrade, or a new-coke. As in, Skype really new-coked it with version 5.3.0. Come on, Skype!

What is a hooptie? Though it started in the 1960s as a term for a sweet new car, it became the common moniker for a beater, or a jalopy. Maybe Sir Mix-A-Lot said it best: "My hooptie rollin', tailpipe draggin'/ heat don't work, and my girl keeps nagging.'" 

http://bit.ly/1WCYn

If a lady is no better than she ought to be, her sexual morals may be in question. The saying, recently popularized by the BBC program Downton Abbey, is what's known as a charientism, or a bit of sugar-coated snark. By the way, if you'd like to hear more about such thinly veiled insults, check out this episode.

http://www.waywordradio.org/bless-your-heart/
 
If someone's in a swivet, they're flustered or in distress. You might be in a swivel, for example, if you're late for a meeting or you've shown up to the SAT without a No. 2 pencil.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game based on Google searches, or at least what Google thinks you're searching. For example, what do Elmo, pink, and plant all have in common? Google suggests them, in that order, after you've entered the words "tickle me."

Did the movie Avatar make you imagine creating an entirely new language, like Na'vi?  Conlang.org and the Language Creation Society have plenty of information on how to go about it and what others, including J.R.R. Tolkein have tried. Mark Rosenfelder's book, The Language Construction Kit, is a great resource for getting started.

http://tinyurl.com/yabd9br

http://bit.ly/7qxTuV

http://amzn.to/qES5lw

What does it mean to call for tender? This British phrase for soliciting a job is rarely seen in the United States, though tender, from the Latin for "to stretch or hold forth," is used in North America in two different senses: to tender, as in to offer, as well as the noun tender for something that's been issued, such as a dollar bill, hence legal tender.

What do you call an upgrade gone wrong? Perhaps the 'Puter Principle could be the software equivalent of the Peter Principle, which in business means that every employee in a hierarchy tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence.

If something's right on, it suits you to a tee. But why a tee? Tee, or the letter T, is short for tittle, or something really tiny. So if something's exactly perfect, it's right on point, with no room to spare. Or, simply, it suits you to a tee.

Why is pink a girl color and blue a boy color? Actually, in the 19th Century, pink used to be associated with boys, since it was a stronger, more decided color. Blue, on the other hand, was regarded as a girls' color, because it was considered dainty. It wasn't until the 1940s that marketers started to switch it around. Jeanne Maglaty has a great article about this in Smithsonian Magazine, called "When did Girls Start Wearing Pink?"

http://bit.ly/eDOeYg

To slake your thirst is to quench your thirst. But some people have been switching it to slate your thirst or other variants. It's a classic case of an eggcorn, or one of those words that people mishear, and then start pronouncing incorrectly; for example, when misheard, acorn can become eggcorn.

http://bit.ly/HG4m

What does it mean to gazump someone? This phrase, specifically meaning "to swindle a customer in a real estate deal," came about in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s before disappearing and then popping up again in England in the 1970s. Whether or not the term is in vogue, the practice seems to be a mainstay.

How do you indicate sarcasm in a text message or an email? If winky emoticons aren't your thing, try left-leaning italics, as recommended by sartalics.com.

http://bit.ly/reQ86l

The Arabic idiom in the apricot season translates to "in your dreams," presumably because the growing season for this fruit is so brief. Incidentally, the etymological root of "apricot," which means "to ripen early," is shared with the word precocious.

The Egyptian Arabic saying, ate the camel and all it carried, is the equivalent of "to eat someone out of house and home."

...

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University http://www.nu.edu/, which invites you to change your future today. More at nu.edu.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Books With a Letter Missing (Rebroadcast) - 14 May 2012

2012-05-14
Length: 51s

Remember those children's classics, the Velveteen Rabbi and The Little Price? The Twitterverse is abound with these books with a letter missing. And it turns out there's some pimping going on in our hospitals, but it's not what you'd think. Grant and Martha clear up the plead vs pleaded debate, touch on the use of product, and trace the history of shambles. Plus, a word puzzle with nursery rhymes, a map of regional grammar, and plenty of crazy vocab, from popinjays to the tee na na!

FULL DETAILS

There's a Twitter meme going around for books with a letter missing from the title. You can find them through the hashtag #bookswithalettermissing. Can't wait to read that romp about the sand-covered South, A Confederacy of Dunes.

http://huff.to/q9I0Ra
 
We usually brandish a weapon, or some object we can wave about. But the definition of brandish can be stretched to include more figurative types of weapons or objects (e.g. seductive body parts).

What does shambles mean? If your house is in shambles, it's a mess, but before the 1920s, the word shambles referred to a butcher's bloody bench.

What is a popinjay? Literally a parrot, this term is often used in a military context to refer to a vain or conceited officer with a Napoleon complex. And a bandbox boy? That once commonly referred to an officer who gave excessive attention to his grooming and dress. It's a reference to "the box used to transport uniforms."

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game of Name That Nursery Rhyme. The catch is, the text has been run through the translation site Babelfish. What happens when Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty go from English to Spanish to Chinese and back again?

What's the past tense of plead? Is it pleaded or pled? Within the legal profession, pleaded is preferred. But in our common vernacular, we tend to use the less traditional pled.

If something's right on the tee na na, it's just perfect. This phrase from New Orleans has popped up in myriad songs from the region. One interview with the musician Dr. John suggests that tee na na refers to the rear end, or tuchis. Martha speculates that tee na na may have to do with the phrase to a tee.

http://n.pr/cUbhzz

Lots of people have tweeted their own examples with the #bookswithalettermissing hashtag. Take, for example, that famous guide to Jewish sensuality, The Oy of Sex.

http://bit.ly/nqdFWk
http://bit.ly/qneRsF

What's the origin of the phrase God willing and the creek don't rise? It has to do with travel; back when wagons rode on low gravel roads, you couldn't pass if the creek level was high.

Regional grammar can be just as rich and diverse as regional vocabulary. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project has picked up on all the variations in American English usage and plotted them on a Google Map. Turns out that double modals and the positive anymore are popping up all over the country.

http://bit.ly/ocY6dk

Did your hairstylist recommend you use product? Is your company moving product this quarter? The term product is in vogue, mainly for the purpose of simplification.
 
Why do department stores label their infants' section Baby instead of Babies,' a la Men's or Women's? For one, the Baby department includes more than just clothes; they've got strollers and cribs and pacifiers. Also, the baby of the family has a unique singular identity, unlike the rest of the kids.

Where do we get the expression more than you can shake a stick at? It probably just derives from counting. Imagine herdsmen bringing in their cattle or sheep at the end of the day, pointing with a stick in order to do a headcount.

Another #bookswithalettermissing joke: Have you read the book about how 99 cent stores are changing the way we shop in America? It's called The Little Price.

Pimping med students is a common practice in hospitals. But not that kind of pimping; the term pimp, likely from the German pumpfrage, meaning "pump question," refers to the method of tough quizzing that doctors put their young residents through. It generally straddles the border between rigorous initiation and plain bullying.

http://bit.ly/orBACV
http://bit.ly/rdyrMs
http://nyti.ms/7evgWi

You know that book missing a letter about the young Southern woman finding peace in a storm? It's called One With the Wind.

...

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University http://www.nu.edu/, which invites you to change your future today. More at nu.edu.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Books With a Letter Missing (Rebroadcast) - 14 May 2012


Like a Bad Penny - 7 May 2012

2012-05-07
Length: 51s

What did you call the cliques in your high school? Were you a member of the nerds, the jocks, or maybe the "grits" or the "heshers"? Also, what's the meaning of the phrase "rolling in the deep"? Why do we say something's returned "like a bad penny"? And is it proper to refer to our recent economic problems "the Great Recession"? Plus, favorite letters of the alphabet, taking umbrage, fudgies vs. flatlanders, and washrag vs. washcloth.

FULL DETAILS

Now that the Encyclopedia Britannica is going to an online-only format, one of many things we'll miss is the accidental poetry on the books' spines http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2012/03/spinelessness_1.php. In the age of endless digital information, volumes like Accounting-Architecture and Birds-Chess point to the tomes that contain everything you'd need to know and nothing more.

The saying a bad penny always turns up has been turning up in English since the 15th century, when counterfeit pennies would often surface in circulation. As pennies have lost their luster, the phrase has lived on; see the line "Don, my bad penny," http://jonhammsome.tumblr.com/post/20867218191/don-my-bad-penny from this season of Mad Men.

What does rolling in the deep mean, as sung by Adele? In her Rolling Stone  http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/adele-opens-up-about-her-inspirations-looks-and-stage-fright-20120210 interview from February, she traces it to British slang for close friends that have each other's backs.

To take umbrage means to take offense or be annoyed at something. It comes from the Latin umbra, meaning "shadow," as in umbrella. So to take umbrage is to sense something shady, or suspect that one has been slighted.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game about words and phrases that involve furniture or parts of a house. For example, if you want to see your lover but you only have two hours, that's a tight window of opportunity. And if you invest in, say, smartphones for pets--only to see your savings go down the drain--we'd say you'll be taking a bath.

In high school, were you a jock or a nerd? How about a grit, or perhaps a Hessian? Grits, hashers, metalheads, greasers--the dudes with roughed-up denim jackets, metal boots, and cigarettes in their shirt pockets--are an essential part of the student body, but there doesn't seem to be a consensus about their name. What did you call that crowd?

Should The Great Recession be talked and written about as a proper noun? Recessions tend to be vague in their scale and timelines, so it's problematic to mention them as proper nouns. Perhaps the similarities in sound between Great Recession and Great Depression have encouraged this usage http://www.salon.com/2009/12/17/great_recession/ by government officials and members of the press.

In a previous show http://www.waywordradio.org/go-all-city/, we came upon a word mystery with a 1947 menu from Jackson, Mississippi that mentions tang. The mystery has been solved! It wasn't the drink, and it wasn't the fish; it was Cudahy Tang http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=19560627&id=60EvAAAAIBAJ&sjid=eEgDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1903,5357698, one of over a hundred knockoff brands of SPAM, a canned meat product.

Which is correct: washrag or washcloth? Whether you use one or the other isn't likely so much about regional dialects as class differences.

Due to their fondness for treats, tourists in some parts of Michigan are known as fudgies or conelickers. In Vermont and Colorado, they're called flatlanders. And Californians refer to the Arizona beachcombers and Zonies. What do you call tourists in your area?

Vaccines take their name from vaccinia, the virus that caused cowpox. It was the original ingredient used to vaccinate people against smallpox. Stefan Riedel, a pathologist at the Baylor University Medical Center, offers a detailed history of the centuries-long fight against smallpox here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/.

A collection of Virginia folkspeak from 1912 includes this zinger about a proud person: He doesn't know where his behind hangs. And here's a choice insult: I'd rather have your room than your company!

Do you have a favorite letter? The sound or typeface varieties of a letter can really catch us. For more about the visual and emotional properties of various letters, check out Simon Garfield's book about fonts, Just My Type. http://www.simongarfield.com/pages/books/just_my_type.htm Grant also recommends One-Letter Words by Craig Conley, a surprisingly lengthy dictionary of words made up of just one letter. http://www.oneletterwords.com/dictionary/

...

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University http://www.nu.edu/, which invites you to change your future today. More at nu.edu.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Like a Bad Penny - 7 May 2012


The Horse You Rode In On - 30 April 2012

2012-04-30
Length: 51s

What colorful language do you use to when you're angry and tempted to use a four-letter word? There's a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active, vibrant mind to cuss. Also, what it means to be stove up, the phrases the horse you rode in on, and it's all chicken but the gravy, plus a couple of handy synonyms for armpit. And when, if ever, can you trust Wikipedia? 

FULL DETAILS

The hadal zone, named for the Greek god Hades, refers to the deepest depths of the ocean floor. James Cameron's deep sea dive http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/james-cameron-historic-solo-drive recently made it down there. 

There's a difference between cursing and cussing: It takes a slow mind to curse, but an active and vibrant mind to cuss—especially when the cusswords sound like alapaloop palip palam or trance nance nenimimuality. What colorful language do you use to diffuse anger?

What's an oxter? It's another term for the underarm, primarily used in Northern England, Scotland, and Ireland http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-oxt1.htm. A bit nicer than armpit, isn't it? Oxter can also serve as a verb, as in, "We oxtered him out of the club." Need another synonym for that body part that also happens to rhyme with "gorilla"? Try axilla.

A pipe dream is "an unobtainable hope" or "an unrealistic fantasy."  The term originates from the idea of opium pipes, and the strange dreams one might incur while high on opium. Back in the 1890s when the term first showed up, opium pipes were a bit more common. 

Here are a few good skeuomorphs, or outdated aesthetic elements: We still refer to the ticking of a clock, even though we're surrounded by digital timekeeping devices, and the kids are working hard for those washboard abs http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/Washboard-Abs.jpg when they don't even know what a washboard is!

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Aye Aye, Captain about phrases with that long "I" vowel sound. For example, a colorless synonym for a fib would be a white lie, and another name for a mafioso might be a wise guy. 

What does it mean to be stove up? This phrase for sore or stiff has nothing to do with a stovetop; stove is actually the past tense of stave. To stave in a wooden boat is to smash a hole in its side, and thus, to be stove up is to be "incapacitated or damaged." These words are related to the noun stave, the term for one of those flat pieces of wood in a barrel. Similarly, to stave off hunger is to metaphorically beat it back, as if with a stick.

Common wisdom says that if you learn a second language by the age of ten, native speakers won't recognize that it's not your first. Even so, things like idioms or prepositions can often trip up even the most skilled second-language speakers, if their second language is English. 

A dish-to-pass supper, common in Indiana, is the same as a pot-luck supper or a covered-dish supper, but the term nosh-you-want drew a red flag when Grant went to visit the Wikipedia page for potluck http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potluck. It hadn't appeared in any other form of print, so luckily, the crisis has been averted, because Grant personally edited out this specious term.

The song "Old Dan Tucker" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-GHbDFrwlU has a long history in the United States, going back to the minstrel shows of the 1840s. Martha highly recommends the documentary Ethnic Notions http://newsreel.org/video/ETHNIC-NOTIONS about our country's complicated history with racially-charged imagery in theater and song, and the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Is it a good thing to be a voracious reader? We think so. Just take Shakespeare's notion of the replenished intellect in Love's Labour's Lost http://goo.gl/qzmw7

The idiom and the horse you rode in on, usually preceded by a far more unfriendly phrase, tends to be directed at someone who's full of himself and unwelcome to boot. It first pops up in the 1950s, and it's written on the spine of a book in Donald Regan's official portrait http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/28/magazine/on-language-of-high-moments-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. 

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia http://scienceblogs.com/retrospectacle/2008/01/mystery_solved_the_cause_of_ic.php, also known as brain freeze, is a variety of nerve pain that results from something cold touching the roof of the mouth. But some people who suffer from migraines actually find ice cream confuses the nerve in a way that eases the pain—how convenient!

How do you pronounce the word won? Does it rhyme with sun or Juan? Some people, depending on their regional dialect, may hypercorrect their vowels and pronounce certain words in an unusual way. 

What is a buster? As TLC sang http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av7m_Pgt1S8, "A scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly, also known as a buster." That is, a buster is that guy on the fringe who's always putting on airs. The word may come from the old term gangbusters, which originally applied to police officers or others who took part in breaking up criminal gangs.

If something's all chicken but the gravy, then it's all good. This colloquialism pops up in an exchange from a 1969 Congressional record. 

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense. 

...

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University http://www.nu.edu/, which invites you to change your future today. More at nu.edu.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone: 

United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673

London +44 20 7193 2113

Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Site: http://waywordradio.org/

Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/

Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/

Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/

Skype: skype://waywordradio 

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The Horse You Rode In On - 30 April 2012


Shank of the Evening - 23 April 2012

2012-04-23
Length: 51s

What time is it if it's "the crack of chicken"? And when exactly is the "shank of the evening"? How do you pronounce the word spelled H-O-V-E-R? Did Warren G. Harding really coin the word normalcy? Also, a name game, sports nicknames, flounder vs. founder, Laundromats vs. washaterias, Black Dutch, nosebaggers, medical slang terms, and a look back at the joys of the early internet.


FULL DETAILS

When a car rolls slowly through a stop sign, it's often called a California stop or a California roll http://www.waywordradio.org/mute-point/. But the Midwest has its own monikers for this sneaky move, including the farmer stop, the Chicago stop, and "no cop, no stop."

How early do you have to wake up to see what one listener calls the crack of chicken? It seems to be a twist on the term crack of dawn. Other terms for this early-morning time are o'dark thirty and the scratch of dawn.

Did President Warren G. Harding coin the term normalcy in his famous Return to Normalcy speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXETeWS6ub8? Turns out the word normalcy was already in use before President Harding made it famous, but it's now become largely obsolete, while its synonym, normality, is generally the preferred term. Harding is also credited with--or blamed for--bringing the term hospitalization into the common vernacular.

In his book, Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush http://books.google.com/books?id=Dh0wM9DNjbAC&pg=PA124&dq=allan+metcalf+presidential+voices+belittle&hl=en&sa=X&ei=x0-LT6CRHumI2gW8obHpAg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=presidents%20as%20neologists&f=false, Allan Metcalf points out that U.S. presidents have contributed or popularized quite a few neologisms to the English language.

In Texas, the California stop is also known as an Okie yield sign, an Okie crash sign, and a taxpayer stop.

What does it mean to be gorked or crimped? These slang terms for high on drugs or crumpled in on oneself are used by hospital and Emergency Medical Services workers in a darkly comedic sense, often help cope with the stress of such traumatic work and to build solidarity among co-workers.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of aptronyms for people whose names fit certain locations or conditions. For example, a guy hanging onto a wall might be named Art. Or what do you call a woman between two buildings? Ally!

The racial descriptor Black Dutch http://www.genealogymagazine.com/blackdutch.html is one used by members of a certain ethnic group, like Cherokee Indian or African-American, that feel their identity will be viewed as more acceptable by those they're around if they use a different adjective. Black Irish and Black German are also used.

What's the difference between flounder and founder? To flounder is "to struggle or thrash about," while to founder is "to sink or to fail." Surprisingly,  the verb flounder shares no etymological root with the fish, though the image of a flounder flapping helplessly about on the shore may have influenced our sense of the word.

Skeuomorphs are aesthetic elements of design that no longer correlate with their original function. Computer software is full of skeuomorphs; for example, the save button that we're all used to is a picture of a floppy disc. But then, who uses floppy discs any more?

With Linsanity and Tebowing sweeping the country, we're thinking about other great sports nicknames. Unfortunately, it seems that with unique names taking up a greater percentage of children born, there's no longer as much practical demand for nicknames. Still, the Babe, Magic, and The Refrigerator http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/sports/great-sports-nicknames-like-magic-are-disappearing.html?pagewanted=all live on in legend.

The increasingly musty expression "like a broken record" has caused some confusion among digital natives who've heard of broken records only in terms of sports!

Ben Zimmer published a brilliant collection of internet memes from the past twenty years in a the journal American Speech. Memes like facepalming http://static.divbyzero.nl/facepalm/doublefacepalm.jpg and the O, rly? owl http://i1.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/000/015/orly.jpg have allowed us to communicate otherwise unwritable sentiments via the internet.

How do you pronounce the word hover? In England, it rhymes more with clobber than lover. If you want to learn how to say "My hovercraft is full of eels" in lots of different languages, head on over to Omniglot. http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/hovercraft.htm

It's the shank of the evening! But when is that, exactly? This phrase is typically suggests that the night is far from over, shank being an old word for something straight, or the tail end of something. But as the Dictionary of American Regional English notes, in the South, evening is considered "the time between late afternoon and dusk."

If you're on vacation, watch out for nosebaggers! This mid-19th century slang term refers to tourists who go to resort areas for the day but bring their own provisions and don't contribute to the local economy. A modern nosebagger might be the type of person who cracks open a soda can at the movies.

Do you wash your clothes at a Laundromat or a washateria? http://pics3.city-data.com/businesses/p/1/2/8/1/4151281.JPG A chain of Laundromats in Texas that dated from 1930 to 1950 had the name Washateria, and it took hold as a general term, especially in Texas.

A couple more variations of the California stop: the jackrabbit and the California slide.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University http://www.nu.edu/, which invites you to change your future today. More at nu.edu.

We’re also grateful for support from the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Shank of the Evening - 23 April 2012


Going All City (Rebroadcast) - 16 April 2012

2012-04-16
Length: 51s

Have you been dining on a budget lately? Martha recommends the necessity mess, potato bargain, and other tasty regional foods that won't break the bank. Plus, what's a doomaflatchie? And what do you have to do before you rest on your laurels? Grant and Martha share idioms, proverbs, and paraprosdokians, those sayings that take a sudden, unexpected turn. Plus cryptic crosswords, graffiti slang, and new ways to read your favorite magazines.

FULL DETAILS

Dining on a budget? Just whip up some necessity mess or a potato bargain. That's a pork, onion, and potato stew popular in Eastern Massachusetts. Or how about some Georgia ice cream? It's a North Florida term for grits. Martha shares a generous serving of fun food names from the Dictionary of American Regional English.

http://dare.wisc.edu/

http://bit.ly/oDZcJQ

If you've accomplished something, go ahead and rest on your laurels. Martha traces this idiom back to Ancient Greece, where victors were crowned with a wreath of bay leaves from the bay laurel tree. In the 16th Century, to retire on one's laurels referred to "resting after an accomplishment." Like many inherited idioms, it's often said today with a tongue in one's cheek.

The old Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella really knew how to set the soup outside! A baseball fan recalls this overheard phrase from a game in the 60s between the Cardinals and the Dodgers, when Campy smacked one over the fence. Grant estimates that this usage of soup comes from the old slang term for nitrous oxide, a component in souping up cars. Over time, soup came to refer to any enhanced display of muscle or strength.

What would you bring to a pitch-in? An Indiana transplant shares this newly acquired term for a potluck dinner. Martha points out that the Dictionary of American Regional English has a map showing the distribution of the term, and it's limited almost exclusively to Indiana.

If something's a peach out of reach, it's something lovely that you want but just can't have. A listener shares this and other idioms from the American South.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game of cryptic crossword clues called Double Definition. For example, if the clue is "trim a tree," the answer is "spruce." Or try this one: "crazy flying mammals." Did you come up with "bats"?

What does it mean to grok the data? A listener from the medical device business wonders about the techie word grok, which first popped up in Robert Heinlein's 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

http://bit.ly/qSPABU

To grok data means to understand all the information you're looking at. Grant also mentions Jeff Prucher's Brave New Words, a dictionary of science fiction terms that have made their way into the English language.

http://wywd.us/ng2QdG

New York seems to have a doguero on every street corner. Grant shares this Spanglish term for "a hot dog vendor."

What's it called when saying becomes sayin'? It's not a trick question; it's simply called an abbreviation. Grant and Martha settle an English major's confusion about the possibility of a trickier term. With words like o'er, a shortening of over, the apostrophe can also be called an apologetic apostrophe, but it's still just an abbreviation.

The old Yiddish word bupkis, referring to something of little or no value, has of late been split up for dramatic effect. As in, that's worth all of a bup and a kis!
 
What's a doomaflatchie? A listener shares this alternate for doohickie, thingamajig, doodad, or any other one of those whatchamacalits.

You can listen to the Tim McGraw song about his doomaflatchie here.
 
http://tinyurl.com/3aq4hp6

If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. Listeners share some of their favorite paraprosdokians. It's not the first time Martha and Grant discussed paraprosdokians.

http://www.waywordradio.org/sugar-for-a-dime/

As ubiquitous as social media and blogs have become, people are still reading long form journalism! Grant shares some great ways Twitter has enabled the spread of long essays from sources like The Atlantic and Wired. In addition, services like Readability and Instapaper have streamlined the distribution of articles to our myriad devices.

http://bit.ly/aeqNxp

http://bit.ly/aAVXT4

http://bit.ly/dADCNG

It takes some work for a writer to go all city--a graffiti writer, that is. An art supplies dealer from Dallas shares some vocabulary from the world of street art. For example, the old act of photographing trains from benches gave birth to the term benching, and the act of tagging or doing graffiti is also known as bombing. Grant discusses the related term going all city.

http://bit.ly/cutX0r

http://abcn.ws/qIRs0R

http://tinyurl.com/3wfeq6r

Everyone knows about Tang as that orange kick in a glass, but could it also be an entree? A listener from Plano, Texas, found an elderly relative's plan for family meals from 1947, which lists tang with molasses as a main course. If you've heard of tang the food, shoot us a message.

If a meeting gets pushed back, does it get postponed to a later time or rescheduled for a sooner one? Grant explains that push back is generally understood to mean "reschedule for a later date," but Martha recounts a scenario where the opposite definition caused a debacle with deadlines. As always, when in doubt, seek clarification.

Knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Thank you to our listeners for this and other modern proverbs.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Going All City (Rebroadcast) - 16 April 2012


The College Slang Party (Rebroadcast) - 9 April 2012

2012-04-09
Length: 51s

What would you wear to an ABC party? Hint: the letters stand for "Anything But Clothes." Any guesses what you'd wear to a tight-and-bright party? Martha gives a taste of the college party terminology from a slang collection compiled by Penn State student Emily Grier.

http://bit.ly/qpxAB0

Are you left hanging by the invitation Do you want to come with?  A Milwaukee native is proud of this regionalism, which means "Do you want to come along?" Grant explains that it may derive from the German verb mitkommen, a single word that literally means to "come with."

If what you're going to say isn't more beautiful than silence, don't say it. Martha shares this proverb, translated from the original Arabic.

If you suffer from restless nights of tossing and turning, you may have a case of the mollycobwobbles. A listener shares this hand-me-down term from her grandmother. Grant explains she may well have combined two English terms dating about 150 years back: mulligrubs and collywobbles. The aptly named affliction usually consisted of the jitters, the shakes, or even the yips.

http://bit.ly/p4RNrX

That little basket that your strawberries and blueberries come in? It's called a punnet. Just so you know.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska addles our brains with a puzzle called Odd Couples. See if you can figure out these strange celebrity pairings who share last names. "Anyone? Bueller, Bueller, Bueller" and "Bueller is Bueller is Bueller," for example, forms the odd couple of Ben and Gertrude Stein. And who else could hit home runs in the bedroom like Babe and Dr. Ruth?

Looking for something that curls your hair, cleans your teeth, and makes childbirth a pleasure? A listener's mother used that saying in reference to every miracle potion from WD-40 to vinegar. Grant explains that the first known version of this in print dates back to 1919 in Mrs. Lucretia Graves' Exits from the Pearly Gates, where the advertisements for opium-type substances had less cheek and more sincerity. Grant notes that Google Books has a wealth of examples of old ads that took the saying and used even more elaborate versions to promote everything from tequila to hypnosis.

http://bit.ly/p41EsZ

Is boughten a past tense form of to buy? Grant gives his blessing to its use in informal conversation, but when it comes to formal writing, the word you want is bought.

What are the college kids up to these days? Apparently, they're busy at darties, or "day parties." Martha shares this collegiate portmanteau from Emily Grier's list.

Can sentences end with a preposition? Yes! Grant assures a listener that all experts, including the most conservative of linguists and lexicographers, agree that a preposition as the last word in a sentence is something up with which we shall put.

http://bit.ly/dWii20

Tell your Mom the sterling silver stud above your lip isn't "that dumb thing." It's called a Monroe piercing, in honor of Marilyn's famed beauty mark.

Though the Spanish language, among others, has its quirks and foreignisms, the English language really can't be touched when it comes to complicated and irregular spelling. Thus, spelling bees are primarily an English-language phenomenon. Grant mentions a few "where are they now?" stories about past Scripps Bee winners. The common thread? If these kids had the discipline to compete in such a high-pressure event, they tend to carry those traits beyond the spelling arena and into their successes later in life.

http://abcn.ws/mlEtro

http://ti.me/oz9OjK

If something is mathematical, is it cool? According to a mother of two middle-schoolers, that's exactly what it's come to mean among the younger set. Then again, irony is also pretty hip. But could her kids be using a piece of ironic slang with confused sincerity? Ahh! Meta-irony! So cool!

http://bit.ly/n1V8Ff

If someone's balloon has lost its string, it means "they've come unmoored". Something unusual or odd has come about in their character. Patrice Evans used the illustration in his description of Tracy Morgan in an article for Grantland (no relation to our show's co-host).

http://es.pn/jyvuej

He thinks he's a wit, and he's half right. Though some might attribute the quote to Shakespeare, it's nowhere to be found in the concordances. Grant explains how many of these witticisms have been tumbled about by old newspaper columnists, humorists, and vaudeville performers. Though their origins are muddled, they're still a joy to hear and say.

So, can a sentence begin with the word so? Which ones? So is oftentimes used in place of therefore to conclude an explanation, but more people are using it as a general sentence-starter, in the same vein as well. Grant notes that while seemingly misused language may be grating to the ear, it's more productive not to peeve about it, but instead to record it and add it to the rest of the data we collect about our language. Ultimately, we learn about each other by doing so.

http://bit.ly/o2rtSQ

Martha shares a British article that begins, "Boffins have discovered a strange new type of spongy mushroom." But what, you may ask, is a boffin? The word boffin denotes an intellectual with a specific expertise and general lack of social aptitude. Grant adds anorak to the list of terms for nerds with minimal aptitude for cocktail-party conversations. Here's to you, boffins and anoraks!

http://bit.ly/iyly1W

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
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Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: The College Slang Party (Rebroadcast) - 9 April 2012


Him and I or Him and Me (Rebroadcast) - 2 April 2012

2012-04-02
Length: 51s

If someone offered you a croaker with an old man's face, would you accept? You should! Croaker is a slang term for "hundred dollar bill." And did you ever wonder why we turn UP the A.C. to bring the temperature down? Grant and Martha ponder that question. Plus, the tricky debate over me vs. I, the byzantine story behind the word byzantine, whether paper toweling is a real noun, and a couple of name games. Also, Grant recommends some dictionaries and teaching guides for the new school year.

FULL DETAILS

Ever know somebody whose name makes you do a double-take, like a family physician named Dr. Hurt? An Albany, N.Y. listener shares a game of more positive aptronyms. For example, what do you name your daughter if you want her to be a lawyer? How about "Sue"?

Do you use paper towels or paper towelling? While a listener insists her husband's wrong for his use of paper towelling, Grant explains how certain nouns take a gerund ending. For example, clothes derive from clothing, and the side of a house adorns siding. In the same way, why not tear a paper towel off a roll of paper towelling?

A veteran broadcaster recalls a brilliant example of sesquipedalian language. Fifty years ago, he stubbed his foot on the beach and a group of college boys told him to go to his parents and get an anatomical juxtaposition of the orbicular ors muscles in the state of contraction on the unilateral calcification of the carbuncular metatarsal. Go get, in other words, "a kiss on the foot."

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a Grant and Martha version of The Odd Man Out Game, wherein one term doesn't belong in the list of four. Take Martha, Irving, Denzel, and Booker. Which one doesn't fit? It's Irving, because "Washington" is his first name, not his last.

Does turning up the A.C. make a room cooler or warmer? A listener grapples with multiple meanings of the word "up." Martha suggests saying, "Turn up the air conditioning," not "turn up the air conditioner," just as you say "turn up the heat," not "turn up" the heater. Grant observes that the English language is imperfect, and we often have to clarify our statements to make sure people understand us.

When it comes to proper grammar, "Where you at?" ain't where it's at. A mother is concerned that her child will pick up such malapropisms as "Where you at?" and "My mother and me went to the store." Grant argues that the redundant "at" has become such a part of our colloquial speech that it isn't to be chided in informal usage. However, for those formative years of language learning, Grant recommends the book Learner English by Michael Swan.

http://wywd.us/learningles

What do you name your baby if you want her to become a bank teller? "Penny." And if it's a boy? Try "Bill."

If someone offered you a croaker with an old man's face, would you take it? Here's a hint: the face belongs to Benjamin Franklin. A Louisiana native shares this rare term for " a hundred dollar bill." Grant suspects that it may derive from the French verb croquer, meaning, "to be crisp." It's mostly used in informal settings, such as horse tracks and neighbor-to-neighbor transactions. What terms do you use for the Benjamins? Here's a whole stash.

http://wywd.us/croakersnmore

If you're looking for dictionary recommendations, you've tuned to the right program! For comprehensive, desk-dwelling dictionaries, Grant likes the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th Edition, a two-volume set, and the brand-new American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition, which contains original etymologies, illustrations, and plenty of guides and charts. The latter publication took nearly ten years to complete, and its authority is worth the investment.

http://tinyurl.com/3c9dkfb

http://tinyurl.com/yvs5cb

When a minister asked, "Who gives this woman to be married?" the father regrettably answered, "Her mother and me." Well, he regretted it after his daughters ribbed him about his improper grammar--specifically, his disregard for the implied verb. As in, "My wife and I do give this young woman to be married." Grant and Martha confirm that the implied verb is indeed what seals the deal. Alas, the "me vs. I" squabbles continue!

http://bit.ly/9IC2uZ

A physician heard a broadcaster use the term byzantine to describe the current health care system, and wonders about the origin of this adjective. Martha notes that the Byzantine Empire, which began in the 4th Century A.D., was notable for its convoluted system of government officials and titled nobility. Additionally, Byzantine art is known for its intricacies and elaborate details. Thus, the word has come to refer to anything exceptionally complicated or intricate.

What do you name your future ophthalmologist? "Iris"!

If a married couple moves because one spouse is relocated for work, is it correct to say the other spouse following them? A listener wonders about the implications of the term "follow," and how that dynamic works in today's day and age. Married couples often view themselves as a team of two equals, and sometimes words like "follow" can connote unintended ideas of subservience. Grant and Martha point out that, as relationship dynamics change, so does our language.

If you'd like your son to become a statistician, Martha suggests naming him . . . wait for it  . . . "Norm"!

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Him and I or Him and Me (Rebroadcast) - 2 April 2012


Rock Paper Scissors - 26 March 2012

2012-03-26
Length: 51s

Does the thought of going without your cellphone fill you with separation anxiety? Grant and Martha coin some monikers for this modern-day phobia. Also, what's the best way to win at the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors? Where might you fry eggs in a spider, and where would you refer to a Band-Aid as a plaster? Could sending your child to a language immersion school help the whole family learn a new language? Where'd we get the expression When in Rome, do as the Romans do? Also, Yiddish proverbs and slang from the streets to Capitol Hill.

FULL DETAILS

How would you feel if someone took away your smartphone? Nomophobia, the suggested moniker for that anxiety produced by the separation between one and their phone, has been circulating on the internet for a few years after being cooked up by a market research firm. Is there a better term for that awful feeling?

What exactly is gobbledygook, and where does the word come from? Texas Congressman Maury Maverick coined the word http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-gob1.htm in 1944 to describe the frustrating jargon used by policymakers in Washington, which reminded him of the sound of turkeys gobbling away. Incidentally, his grandfather Samuel August Maverick, also inspired a term that became popular during the 2008 U.S. elections. http://www.waywordradio.org/maverick-and-gobbledygook-minicast/

What's the best way to win at Rock, Paper, Scissors? Grant delves into the game's various monikers http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/ask-a-historian/23932, its roots going back centuries in Europe and Asia, and the role it plays among children learning about fairness. Studies have even been done to figure the most advantageous moves in competition http://www.worldrps.com/: statistically, scissors is your best bet http://www.worldrps.com/advanced.html.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called Words of the Year, based on phrases containing each month's three letter abbreviation. So, an ancient demonym would be TroJAN, for January, and a Derby Day cocktail would be a Mint JULep, for July.

What does it mean to redd up the home? This phrase is most common in Pennsylvania, and reflects the presence of early Scots-Irish settlers there. The expression means to "pick up" or "tidy up."

What's the difference between a plaster and a Band-Aid? One's a term used in England for "adhesive bandage," and the other is an American brand name that's almost completely generalized. The use of plaster for this type of bandage in Britain is allusion to the traditional use of sticky pastes to ensure the bandage stayed in place.

The Yiddish Project https://twitter.com/#!/YiddishProject on Twitter translates Yiddish proverbs into English, such as, "Ask advice from everyone but act with your own mind." It's not far from Martha's favorite advice from her North Carolina-born father: "Milk all the cows you can and then churn your own butter."

Should route be pronounced to rhyme with root or stout? There's no evidence to suggest that it can't, or shouldn't, rhyme with stout -- although anyone who's traveled Route 66 might beg to differ.

A collection of Bethlehem, Pa., slang from The Chatauquan http://books.google.com/books?id=qsVZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA561&dq=chautauqua+%22coffee+soup%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CoFmT5ieBoaRsAKziuW2Dw&ved=0CEUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=chautauqua%20%22coffee%20soup%22&f=false, published in 1888, contains such gems as first, meant to be used interchangeably with just, as in "She is first eight years old," and coffee soup, bread with coffee poured over it.

We've received plenty of feedback about language immersion schools, and many who've attended say that not only did they learn both English and another language fluently by 3rd or 4th grade, but often the whole family picked up some of the new language, too.

Where does the phrase jonesing for come from? Heroin addicts first introduced the phrase in the early 1960s, but like many bits of slang, it soon left its original subculture and entered the mainstream vernacular.
 
The Southern idiom don't that tear the rag off the bush? http://www.word-detective.com/2010/03/04/rag-off-the-bush-to-take-the/ has been used when scandalous relationships are revealed, but it's also applicable to anything surprising. It's similar to "Don't that beat all?" and "Doesn't that take the cake?" Its etymology is uncertain, although it may have to do with old-fashioned shooting contests, in which someone would drape a rag on a bush as a target, and the winner would be the one who knocked it off.

Chiasumus http://www.waywordradio.org/pickles-and-ice-cream/, also known as antimetabole, is a somewhat symmetrical expression like John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” or "Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you." The great philosopher Alfred E. Newman once bequeathed to us a bit of wisdom with a somewhat similar structure: We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But wait, what did the Romans do, anyway, and where does that phrase come from? It pops up at least as early as St. Augustine's writings in the late 4th century, when he moved from Rome to Milan and inquired of a bishop as to whether he should keep his old routines.

Why are skillets also called spiders http://www.journalofantiques.com/hearthjan01.htm ? Centuries ago, the three-legged, long-handled pans used for frying actually resembled spiders, and the name stuck.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Rock Paper Scissors - 26 March 2012


Mute Point - 19 March 2012

2012-03-19
Length: 51s

What do you call it when you roll through a stop sign without ever coming to a complete stop? A California stop, a Michigan stop -- or something else? And if someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? Also, Puddin Tame, the outmoded design elements called skeuomorphs, a clever Spanish proverb, moot vs. mute point, and the meaning of the military slang term "go hermantile."

FULL DETAILS

Why do we make a hand crank motion when asking someone to roll down their window? After all, in most cars these days, that's done with the press of a button. An outmoded gesture like this is similar to a skeuomorph, http://skeuomorphseverywhere.com/post/3242801306/velcro-tap-shoes-with-buckles a design element that still used even though it no longer has a function. For example, iPhones still use images of old handsets or tape recorders to indicate phone and voicemail functions.

What's your name? I'm Puddin Tame, ask me again and I'll tell you the same! This and other rhymes, such as "What's your number? Cucumber!" derive from French, English, and American children's folklore that dates to at least as early as the 17th century. Iona and Peter Opie have collected a bundle of these children's sayings. http://books.google.com/books?id=sdWwHbOf4oAC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=iona+and+peter+opie+puddin+tane&source=bl&ots=HnFvI-mc4S&sig=6Yr0FO-iplK86ghakn5RXMK-b5s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vaZbT-rGMMX20gGw69znDA&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

What's it called when someone rolls through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop? People across the country have coined terms like California stop, New York stop, and Michigan stop as a way of expressing pride in their local delinquencies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VVlTTqIgdY

Like the famous murmuration of starlings, http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/starling-flock/ a dole of doves is another beautiful collective noun from the aviary world. http://palomaraudubon.org/collective.html

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of geographic and astrological portmanteaus. For example, if you're looking for something with a spongy-pointed marker in Pittsburgh, how about a Felt Tip Pennsylvania? Or if someone born in June is in putting on makeup, chances are they'd wear Geminishadow.

A Vermont kindergarten teacher discusses unusual vocabulary with his class. He's trying to revive apricity, which means the warmth of the sun in the winter. This term comes from the Latin meaning "to bask in the sun." This caller hopes people will warm to the idea.

If someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? And is it better to be a voracious reader of nonfiction rather than novels? The word voracious, which shares a root with devour and carnivore, might connote a lack of discernment when it comes to eating, but if one reads voraciously, it's typically a point of pride. What other gustatory tropes are there in the ways we talk about reading and eating?

El pez se muere por la boca is a wise and vivid Spanish proverb. It means "the fish dies by its mouth."

In the Navy and the Marines, if someone goes hermantile, they're engaging in crazy behavior. This slang expression is of uncertain origin. It goes back to World War I but has stayed almost exclusively within the military's lexicon and writings related to the Navy or the Marines.

Asafetida, the plant used in asafidity bags http://www.waywordradio.org/spelling-bee-words/ meant to ward off disease, is also a common ingredient in Indian cooking http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/06/spice-hunting-asafoetida-hing.html, and it's said to counterbalance heavy spices and relieve stomach cramps.

Why can't you tear the tag off a mattress? And why do old books say that the right of translation into foreign languages including the Scandinavian is reserved? These bits of jargon, not necessarily intended for the consumer, have seeped into our language because of nuanced copyright laws and the like.
 
How do you pronounce moot point? Does it sound like mute, or rhyme with toot? The correct answer is the latter.

Here's another fun skeuomorph: Martha's father bought an exercise bike for the den, but the pedals have reflectors on them.

Why do we speak to babies in high pitched voices? Often our eyes grow wide, we give big smiles, and we talk in exaggerated, singsongy voices because these are the things that infants respond to. Chances are this parental cooing has gone on since time immemorial.

....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. Learn more at nu.edu. http://nu.edu

We're also grateful for support from The University of San Diego. Since 1949, USD has been on a mission not only to prepare students for the world, but also to change it. Learn more about the college and five schools of this nationally ranked, independent Catholic university at sandiego.edu. http://sandiego.edu

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Mute Point - 19 March 2012


Why Do Auctioneers Talk So Fast? - 7 November 2011

2011-11-06
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Why do auctioneers talk so fast?  Martha and Grant discuss the rapid-fire speech of auctioneers, and how it gets you to bid higher. Also, why so many books have ridiculously long titles, where you'd have sonker for dessert, and an appreciation of that children's classic, "The Phantom Tollbooth." Plus, different from vs. different than, the origin of suss out, words that apparently entered English in 1937, and the many names for those little gray bugs that roll up into a ball.

FULL DETAILS

What do you call those little gray bugs that roll up into a ball? They go by lots of names: roly poly bugs, potato bugs, sow bugs, chiggypigs, dillo seeds, basketball bugs, bowling-ball bugs, and wood lice, to name a few.

If you're wondering why we capitalize the letter "I" when we don't capitalize the first letters of other pronouns, the answer's simple. It's easier to read. Martha recommends a book offering a detailed history of every letter of the alphabet. It's Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z, by David Sacks.

http://www.alphabet-history.com/work1.htm

Why do auctioneers talk so fast? The hosts say it's partly to put you into a trance, partly to increase the sense of urgency, and partly to sell off lots of items in a short amount of time. More details in an article in Slate magazine. You can learn some of the basics of auctioneering from videos on YouTube.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2010/11/why_do_auctioneers_talk_like_that.html

http://www.aristocratservices.com/The_Auctioneers_Chant.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCr96VtvS80

Over on wordorigins.org, etymologist Dave Wilton is going through the Oxford English Dictionary year by year to find the earliest citations for various words, which offer an unusual linguistic glimpse into that particular year. The year 1937, for example, is the first in which we see the terms four-by-four, cliffhanger, and iffy.

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/1739/

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "Double Dog Dare."

Why are book titles so incredibly long these days? A caller complains about book title inflation, usually consisting of a shorter title, followed by a colon and a longer subtitle that seems to sound important and ends with the words "and What To Do About It." Grant explains that such extra-long book titles are one form of search optimization by publishers and marketing departments. The more searchable keywords in the title, the more copies sold.

Which is correct: different from or different than. Martha explains that the grammatically correct choice is almost always different from.

Martha plays another round of the Books With A Letter Missing game.

http://www.waywordradio.org/missing-letter/

A caller in Hamburg, Germany wants to know where we got the term laundry list. Grant explains that it derives from a time when people of a certain class sent their laundry out to be cleaned. It's usually associated with a collection of things that are routine or involve drudgery or something negative. Funny how no one ever offers a laundry list of compliments.

More words that entered the language around 1937: spam, telecast, and oops.

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/1739/

The Phantom Tollbooth, the beloved children's book by Norman Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, turns 50 this year. There are two new 50th anniversary editions of the book. As Adam Gopnik notes in a New Yorker magazine article, the book is the closest thing American literature has to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/17/111017fa_fact_gopnik#ixzz1bCiS90OL

Martha shares her favorite passage from the book, a description of various kinds of silence.

http://books.google.com/books?id=T_0EtTjFHRIC&pg=PA152&dq=phantom+tollbooth+silence++or,+most+beautiful+of+all.+the+moment+utter+the+door+closes+and+you're+all+alone+in+the+whole+house?&hl=en&ei=NeCuTsa_GumYiQKliPGLCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=phantom%20tollbooth%20silence%20%20or%2C%20most%20beautiful%20of%20all.%20&f=false

Care for another helping of sonker? That's another name for deep-dish cobbler.
 
http://homepage.mac.com/ezzellk/Recipes/Pies/North_Carolina_Sonker-1550.html

There's a Sonker Festival each year in Surry County, North Carolina, one of the few places where you'll hear this regional term.

http://www.verysurry.com/blog/sonker-festival-2011/

More words that entered the lexicon around 1937: Yiddish bupkes, meaning "nothing," and "zaftig" meaning "plump," "soft," or "juicy."

What does the term suss out mean? It's often heard in police and journalistic jargon, and means to "take a forensic approach to finding out an answer." It probably derives from the verb "suspect."

Quisquillious describes something that's trashy or worthless. It derives from the Latin for "rubbish."

In the movie Avatar, the characters battle over a rare and valuable mineral called unobtanium. A mechanical engineer says he had a hard time getting into the movie because in his world, the word unobtanium means something different.

Martha quotes Steve Martin's aphorism about language: "Some people have a way with words. Some people not have way."

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2011, Wayword LLC.

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Share: Why Do Auctioneers Talk So Fast? - 7 November 2011


You Sound Old - 31 October 2011

2011-10-31
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound, well, of a certain age? Grant and Martha discuss language that's often lost on a younger or older generation. Why is the entree the main course? Shouldn't it come first? And why is the letter k silent in knot and knight? Plus, the right way to say the, a remedy for the superstition of splitting the pole, names for the toes straight from Mother Goose, the difference between finished and done, and a special word quiz for all you zombie fans!

FULL DETAILS

Ever drop a reference that just makes you sound old? Are you using outdated slang? Changes in pop culture and lax speech are always marking the generational gap, from the sitcom characters we love to the way we say something's cool.

The "Doogie Howser" scene in the movie 50/50 is a perfect example.

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/mv-dtg3j/doogie_howser/

What's the difference between done and finished? If you've completed something, are you done? Or are you finished? Grant and Martha contend that there's no historical evidence to suggest a difference between the two, although finished is slightly more formal.

Why are main courses called entrees in the US? Why isn't the entree the first course of a meal? In 19th Century Britain, the entree came after a course of soup or fish, but before the main portion of the meal, such as a boar's head. Over time, the main course converged into one course, but the name entree stuck.

If it's ten of five, what time is it? Is it the same as ten till five? Why, yes it is! Ten of five, or ten till five, are both appropriate ways to say 4:50.
 
Grant and Martha share some more terms that make a person sound old-fashioned these days. Ever get a blank stare when you mention the icebox?

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a zombiefied puzzle called Dead Reckoning. What's the problem with putting zombies in the legislature? A deadlocked government!

How do you pronounce garage? Does it rhyme with "barrage," or do you say it like the British so it rhymes with "carriage"? The variations abound, and they all work, so long as we know what you're talking about.

There's a rule for the pronunciation of the word the. If it's followed by a word whose first letter is a vowel, sticklers say it should be pronounced like "thee," as in, thee end. If followed by a consonant, it rhymes with "duh," as in the dog. That's thuh long and thuh short of it.

Some outdated words wind up coming back in cheeky and ironic ways. For example, kids these days likely know groovy from Austin Powers, not from the flower children.

It's a common superstition: do not split a pole. That is, if two people are walking down the street, they shouldn't each walk around a different side of a lamppost, telephone pole, or mailbox. But if they do, there's a remedy: just say bread and butter! There's an old Merrie Melodies cartoon of panthers doing that (at minute 5:42).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uow_6qbssCc

And of course, there's a Facebook page devoted to keeping poles whole.

http://on.fb.me/pkMcmy

There's a story going around about a 19th Century priest named Giuseppe Mezzofanti who claimed to speak forty to fifty languages. Hyperpolyglots, or those who speak six or more languages fluently, offer some key insights into learnings language. Michael Erard chronicles all this in his linguistic cliffhanger, Babel No More: The Search for Extraordinary Language Learners.

http://bit.ly/lz1FOk

Is there a term for the way words feel when they're spoken that has nothing to do with their meaning? The word suitcase feels nice to say, unlike rural. Cellar door certainly has a different quality than moist ointment. Mouthfeel is an oft-noted concept. But in his book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr. says of his favorite term to enunciate: polyurethane foam. His reason? "It's just so sayable."

http://www.waywordradio.org/a-conversation-with-roy-blount-jr/

Depending on what generation you're from, "Get your rubbers!" could mean put on your galoshes. Or it could mean something else!

Did we ever pronounce the "k" sound in the words knot or know? The now-silent k underwent apheresis, from Greek meaning "to take off." In olden days, the word knight also had an initial-k sound, and a "kin-not" was the thing you tie. But nowadays, as Blount would say, the k in knot is silent, "like the p in swimming."

At one time, a boner was a mistake. And now, it's--you know. Beware of that outdated usage, grownups!

Do our toes have names? Mother Goose and Scandinavian nursery rhymes gave us variants of Tom Pumpkin, Long Larkin, Betty Pringle, Johnny Jingle, and Little Dick. Sounds cooler than big toe, no?

http://bit.ly/o3JieG

What dessert would you serve a baseball player? Why, a bundt cake, of course!

--

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Share: You Sound Old - 31 October 2011


Why Do Girls Wear Pink? - 24 October 2011

2011-10-23
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

We all know that the color pink is for boys and the color blue is for girls--at least, that's how it was 100 years ago. Grant and Martha share the surprising history behind the colors we associate with gender. Plus, we go rollin' in our hooptie, play a game of guess-that-Google-search, and get some tips on how to avoid getting swindled by our real estate agent! Also, new terms for failed software upgrades, some sugar-coated snark from across the pond, and a new way to show sarcasm in a text message. Yeah. Sure.

FULL DETAILS

Hate it when a software upgrade is worse than the previous version? We call that a flupgrade, or a new-coke. As in, Skype really new-coked it with version 5.3.0. Come on, Skype!

What is a hooptie? Though it started in the 1960s as a term for a sweet new car, it became the common moniker for a beater, or a jalopy. Maybe Sir Mix-A-Lot said it best: "My hooptie rollin', tailpipe draggin'/ heat don't work, and my girl keeps nagging.'" 

http://bit.ly/1WCYn

If a lady is no better than she ought to be, her sexual morals may be in question. The saying, recently popularized by the BBC program Downton Abbey, is what's known as a charientism, or a bit of sugar-coated snark. By the way, if you'd like to hear more about such thinly veiled insults, check out this episode.

http://www.waywordradio.org/bless-your-heart/
 
If someone's in a swivet, they're flustered or in distress. You might be in a swivel, for example, if you're late for a meeting or you've shown up to the SAT without a No. 2 pencil.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game based on Google searches, or at least what Google thinks you're searching. For example, what do Elmo, pink, and plant all have in common? Google suggests them, in that order, after you've entered the words "tickle me."

Did the movie Avatar make you imagine creating an entirely new language, like Na'vi?  Conlang.org and the Language Creation Society have plenty of information on how to go about it and what others, including J.R.R. Tolkein have tried. Mark Rosenfelder's book, The Language Construction Kit, is a great resource for getting started.

http://tinyurl.com/yabd9br

http://bit.ly/7qxTuV

http://amzn.to/qES5lw

What does it mean to call for tender? This British phrase for soliciting a job is rarely seen in the United States, though tender, from the Latin for "to stretch or hold forth," is used in North America in two different senses: to tender, as in to offer, as well as the noun tender for something that's been issued, such as a dollar bill, hence legal tender.

What do you call an upgrade gone wrong? Perhaps the 'Puter Principle could be the software equivalent of the Peter Principle, which in business means that every employee in a hierarchy tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence.

If something's right on, it suits you to a tee. But why a tee? Tee, or the letter T, is short for tittle, or something really tiny. So if something's exactly perfect, it's right on point, with no room to spare. Or, simply, it suits you to a tee.

Why is pink a girl color and blue a boy color? Actually, in the 19th Century, pink used to be associated with boys, since it was a stronger, more decided color. Blue, on the other hand, was regarded as a girls' color, because it was considered dainty. It wasn't until the 1940s that marketers started to switch it around. Jeanne Maglaty has a great article about this in Smithsonian Magazine, called "When did Girls Start Wearing Pink?"

http://bit.ly/eDOeYg

To slake your thirst is to quench your thirst. But some people have been switching it to slate your thirst or other variants. It's a classic case of an eggcorn, or one of those words that people mishear, and then start pronouncing incorrectly; for example, when misheard, acorn can become eggcorn.

http://bit.ly/HG4m

What does it mean to gazump someone? This phrase, specifically meaning "to swindle a customer in a real estate deal," came about in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s before disappearing and then popping up again in England in the 1970s. Whether or not the term is in vogue, the practice seems to be a mainstay.

How do you indicate sarcasm in a text message or an email? If winky emoticons aren't your thing, try left-leaning italics, as recommended by sartalics.com.

http://bit.ly/reQ86l

The Arabic idiom in the apricot season translates to "in your dreams," presumably because the growing season for this fruit is so brief. Incidentally, the etymological root of "apricot," which means "to ripen early," is shared with the word precocious.

The Egyptian Arabic saying, ate the camel and all it carried, is the equivalent of "to eat someone out of house and home."

--

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Share: Why Do Girls Wear Pink? - 24 October 2011


Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels (rebroadcast) - 19 September 2011

2011-09-18
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

If you say to someone the Spanish equivalent of you're giving me green hairs (me sacas canas verdes), it means that person is making you angry. In Japan, the phrase that literally translates as "one red dot" refers metaphorically to "the lone woman in a group of men." Martha and Grant discuss colorful idioms around the world, plus: making money hand over fist, taking wooden nickels, names for the end of a loaf of bread, and where a sneeze may evoke the response, Scat, Tom! Get your tail out of the gravy!

FULL DETAILS

If you say to someone the Spanish equivalent of you're giving me green hairs (me sacas canas verdes), it means that person is making you angry. In Japan, the phrase that literally translates as "one red dot" refers metaphorically to "the lone woman in a group of men." Martha and Grant discuss these and other idioms collected online in Alan Kennedy's Color/Language Project.

http://www.starchamber.com/colors/color-idioms.html

Is it proper to speak of servicing a customer, or does that sound too suggestive? Is it okay to use the word utilize instead of use? Is it pretentious to use the term formulate instead of simply form?

What do you call the end piece of a loaf of bread? Names for that last slice include heel, bread butt, kissing crust, bunce, skirk, krunka, truna, tumpee, canust, the nose, and in Spanish, codo, which means "elbow."

In Spanish and French, if you have the equivalent of "a white night," it means you didn't get much sleep. In Sweden, if you have a "white week," it means you didn't drink a drop of alcohol.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a puzzle about portmanteau words called "Say Can You See."

Why do we say someone is making money hand over fist? Does it have to do with two competitors putting one hand over the other on a baseball bat to determine who's up first? Or does it have to do with pulling a rope?

More great color idioms, this time from Serbo-Croatian: In that language, a phrase that translates as I can't see a white cat means "I'm very tired," and to stare like a calf at a colorful door means to "look upon something with surprise and wonder."

A Dallas man says his father, who served in Vietnam, signed letters back home to the family with the phrase Don't take any wooden nickels. The hosts explain that this expression means  "don't let anyone swindle you."

In Mandarin Chinese, if you're big red and big purple, it means you're "famous and popular."

Scat, Tom! Get your tail out of the gravy! In some parts of the country, especially the South, people say this after someone sneezes. But what does a cat warming its tail in the gravy boat have to do with sneezing?

Some foreign idioms involving color have been adopted whole into English. A case in point: French bete noire. Literally, it means "black beast," and it's used figuratively now in English to mean anything particularly disliked or avoided.

Grant recommends two blogs about writing well and copyediting: Merrill Perlman writes The Language Corner blog for the Columbia Journalism Review.

http://www.cjr.org/language_corner/

And Philip B. Corbett of the New York Times reports on actual grammatical and usage mistakes in that newspaper in his blog, After Deadline.

http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/after-deadline/

An Indianapolis listener has a copy of a wedding poem that refers to the thrice-happy pair. Is a thrice-happy pair three times as happy as anyone else? Martha explains that the idea goes all the way back to Roman poetry. Here's an example from a translation of Horace's Ode 1.13.

http://bit.ly/g4QwP0

Does the expression petered out have to do with the Apostle Peter denying he knew Jesus? Au contraire. Petered out may derive from the French peter, meaning to "pass gas." Another theory is that the expression originated in mining and the use of saltpeter in explosives.

A fan of the TV series "West Wing" was puzzled by a character's use of the term pulchritude. It's a pretty ugly term for a word that means "beauty." Check out what some other commenters are saying about the word.

http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeschooling/2010/10/pulchritude/

Is it grammatically correct for a high school football team to call itself the Vanguards? A Wisconsin listener argues that Vanguard is already a plural noun.

--

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Share: Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels (rebroadcast) - 19 September 2011


Burrito Baby (rebroadcast) - 12 September 2011

2011-09-11
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

More and more college students are getting pregnant--with burrito babies. Grant talks about new terms for "a full stomach" and other examples of campus slang. Also, is it safe to play on the macadam? Also, overegging the pudding, what it means to be gobsmacked, the difference between who and whom, apostrophe placement, how to pronounce coup de grace, and the embarrassing results when a smartphone mistakenly autocorrects text messages.

FULL DETAILS

Remember the classic children's story "Where the Wild Thongs Are"? (We didn't think so.) That's just one of the autocorrect horror stories that can happen when smartphones mistakenly correct a text message. Martha and Grant discuss several more.

http://damnyouautocorrect.com/

If someone is gobsmacked, they're totally surprised. The term may come from the same Gaelic root that gave us the Everlasting Gobstopper.

http://taoism.about.com/b/2008/12/29/everlasting-gobstopper.htm

Should the sign on the boys' bathroom at a school read Boy's Room or Boys' Room? The hosts clarify where to put the apostrophe.

"A fifth-year senior"? That term is so 2007. These days, college students just refer to that extra year of school as taking a victory lap. Grant shares this and other examples of campus slang collected by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor Connie Eble.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of demonyms. What do you call someone from a certain place? If you're from Cambridge, for example, you're a Cantabrigian.

If someone has overegged the pudding, they've overstated the case. This may explain why a lawyer from Lawrence, Kansas, found the phrase in a judicial opinion.

A motivational Chinese idiom translates as "ride the cow, look for the horse."

Are the names Aaron and Erin pronounced the same? A bicoastal listener insists they should sound different. A longer discussion about Erin vs. Aaron is on the Straight Dope message board.

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-133780.html

The word sic, meaning "thus" in Latin, is placed in the text when an author knowingly quotes a misspelled word or otherwise incorrect statement.

A native of Southern Pennsylvania has always used the term macadam in place of asphalt. Martha traces the word from an old gravel road to the modern day tarmac.

A Japanese idiom, referring to someone who takes credit for another's work, translates as "doing sumo in someone else's underwear."

If you say, "The worm has turned," it means you've lost patience. Grant and Martha explain that this expression goes back to the old proverb "Tread on a worm and it will turn."

More and more college students are getting pregnant with burrito babies. Grant explains that that this slang term simply means that someone's stomach is full from a hefty meal.

What is the proper use of the French term coup de grace? Grant and Martha explain how the term has been twisted, both in pronunciation and meaning.

How can you tell the difference between who and whom? A listener shares a chant learned in grade school to remember the proper usage.

Grant shares a bit of military humor related to cumshaw, the art of procuring what you need in ingenious ways: "There is only one thief in the army. Everyone else is just trying to get their stuff back."

You know the feeling when something hurts so good? A massage therapist looks for a term that describes this mix of pleasure and anguish. Sensanguish? Hedonalgia, maybe?

Grant shares Tom Swifties sent in by listeners: "Aw, shucks, I dropped the toothpaste," Tom said crestfallenly, and "I've located the experts," Tom said profoundly.

--

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Share: Burrito Baby (rebroadcast) - 12 September 2011


One Space or Two (rebroadcast) - 5 September 2011

2011-09-05
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Is typing two spaces after a period "totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong?" Martha and Grant disagree. Also, is the language of the movie "True Grit" historically accurate? Also, shut your pie-hole, Southern grammar, Oh my Lady Gaga, and a little town called Podunk.

FULL DETAILS

How many spaces go after a period?  Your schoolteacher may have taught you to use two, but others strongly disagree.

 http://www.slate.com/id/2281146/

Shut your piehole! means "Shut your mouth!" Need more slang terms for the mouth? For starters, there's potato trap, tater trap, tatty trap, bun trap, gingerbread trap, kissing trap, fly trap, rattle trap, baconhole, and cakehole.

Where is Podunk?  Grant explains that a columnist in the 1800s used the name for his series called "Life in the Small Town of Podunk," referring to a generic backwoods American town.

A listener shares a phrase he learned in Peru that translates as "more lost than a hard-boiled egg in ceviche." It describes someone who's lost or clueless.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game worthy of the Saturday puzzle called "Cryptic Crosswords".

Is the formal language in "True Grit" (2010) historically accurate?  The hosts discuss why the Coen brothers would do away with contractions to set a tone for the movie.

A transplant from Zimbabwe finds the word irregardless annoying and ungrammatical. Grant explains that regardless of its status, "irregardless" is needlessly redundant.

The phrase oh, my goodness may be a dated way to express surprise or disbelief.  A listener asks for a contemporary replacement.

Multiple modals, as in the phrase "I thought y'all may would have some more of them," have their own logic and are well understood by many in the American South.

The Database of Multiple Modals compiled by Paul Reed and Michael Montgomery is here.

http://casdemo.cas.sc.edu/modals_d/

If you call someone a card, it means they're funny or quick-witted.  Grant and Martha discuss the metaphors inspired by the language of playing cards.

What do you serve to a lawyer coming to dinner?  A listener shares her riddle for the "What Would You Serve" game?

Have you been asked to trip the light fantastic?  This phrase, meaning "dance the night away", dates back to a poem by John Milton from 1640.

Martha shares the German slang term niveaulimbo, meaning "a limbo of standards".

 Why is the word pound abbreviated lb.?  A listener from Tijuana, Mex., learns that the answer relates to his native Spanish as well as the Latin term for "weighing."

Martha reads a love sonnet by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Here's the text of the original Spanish, with an English translation by Mark Eisner.

http://www.redpoppy.net/poem37.php

And here's a lovely audio rendering of the poem in Spanish.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJhxNhy3BVA

--

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Share: One Space or Two (rebroadcast) - 5 September 2011


Seeing The Elephant (rebroadcast) - 29 August 2011

2011-08-29
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

This week on "A Way with Words": If you've "seen the elephant," it means you've been in combat. But why an elephant? Also, Martha and Grant discuss some funny idioms in Spanish, including one that translates as "your bowtie is whistling." And what names do you call YOUR grandparents?

FULL DETAILS

If you're in Bangladesh, the expression that translates as "oiling your mustache in anticipation of the jackfruit tree bearing fruit" makes perfect sense. In English, it means "don't count your chickens."

A discussion thread on Reddit with this and many other examples has Martha and Grant talking about odd idioms in other languages.

http://bit.ly/ifBbAQ

A Marine stationed in California says that growing up in North Carolina, he understood the expression fixin' to mean "to be about to."

Some office workers say their word processor's spellchecker always flags the words overnighted and overnighting. Are those words acceptable in a business environment?

"You really love peeled potatoes." That's a translation of a Venezuelan idiom describing someone who's lazy. Grant and Martha share other idioms from South America.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "Blank My Blank."

A woman in Burlington, Vt., says her mother used to use the expression Land o' Goshen! to express surprise or amazement. Where is Goshen?

A Yankee transplant to the South says that restaurant servers are confused when he tells them, "I'm all set." Is he all set to continue his meal, or all set to leave?

A woman in Eau Claire, Wis., remembers a ditty she learned from her mother about "thirty purple birds," but with a distinctive pronunciation that sounds more like "Toidy poipel blackbirds / Sittin' on a coibstone / Choipin' and boipin' / And eatin' doity oithworms."

Here's the Red Hot Chili Peppers version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fw8YywYatA

Martha offers excellent writing advice from the former editor of People magazine, Landon Y. Jones. His whole article is here:

http://bit.ly/gVRekI

A former Texan wonders if only Texans use the terms Mamaw and Papaw instead of Grandma and Grandpa.

Martha shares some Argentine idioms, including one that translates as "What a handrail!" for "What a bad smell!"

A West Point graduate says he and fellow members of the military use the expression He has seen the elephant to mean "He's seen combat." Grant explains that this expression originated outside the military.

Do you flesh out a plan or flush out a plan?

Another Argentine idiom goes arrugaste como frenada de gusano. It means "You were scared," but literally, it's "You wrinkled like a stopping worm."

--

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Share: Seeing The Elephant (rebroadcast) - 29 August 2011


Eastern Seaboard West Coast (rebroadcast) - 22 August 2011

2011-08-22
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Shadowdabbled. Moon-blanched. Augusttremulous. William Faulkner often used odd adjectives like these. But why? Grant and Martha discuss the poetic effects of compressed language. Also, African-American proverbs, classic children's books, pore vs. pour, and the double meaning of the word sanction.

FULL DETAILS

Amid the stacks of new titles at the library, Grant picks out The Wind in the Willows to read with his son. The hosts discuss the appeal of classic children's books.

A bi-coastal listener wonders about the terms West Coast and Eastern Seaboard. Why don't we say Californians live on the Western Seaboard?

Does an avid reader pore or pour over a book?

There is always a person greater or lesser than yourself. Grant shares this and other African-American proverbs.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski borrows a classic game from Joseph Shipley called Twin Ends.

 The expression that smarts, meaning "that hurts," dates back over a thousand years.

Does sanction mean "a penalty" or "an approval"?  Well, both. Martha explains the nature of contranyms, also known as Janus words. Here's an article about them in the periodical Verbatim.

www.verbatimmag.com/27_2.pdf

Listeners share their suggestions for the game What Would You Serve?  Hosting a golfer for dinner? Tea and greens should be lovely!

William Faulkner used adjectives like shadowdabbled, Augusttremulous, and others that can only be described as, well, Faulknerian. Grant and Martha trade theories about why the great writer chose them.

The University of Virginia has an online audio archive of Faulkner's during his tenure as that school's Writer-in-Residence.

http://faulkner.lib.virginia.edu/

Here's a 1956 interview with Faulkner about the art of writing. It ran in The Paris Review.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4954/the-art-of-fiction-no-12-william-faulkner

In a previous episode, we wondered how U-turn might translate in different languages. One listener explains that in Hebrew, drivers make a horseshoe or a hoof-turn.

The Century Dictionary contains a list of amended spellings from the late 1800s that only creates more of the confusion it set out to alleviate.

  Which is correct: We appreciate your asking or We appreciate you're asking?

A new transplant to Dallas wants to assimilate into the Texan way of speaking without offending the locals or forcing any new vocabulary.

Ever hear a broadcast where the announcer enunciates a little too precisely?  Grant and Martha discuss the effect of softening syllables, such as "prolly" for "probably," and "wanna" for "want to."

--

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Share: Eastern Seaboard West Coast (rebroadcast) - 22 August 2011


Red Light, Green Light (minicast) - 17 Aug. 2011

2011-08-16
Length: 11s

Hot traffic talk! A caller is looking for a word for the point at which you have to reach in order to make it through a stoplight before it turns red.

--

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Share: Red Light, Green Light (minicast) - 17 Aug. 2011


Nerd vs Geek (rebroadcast) - 15 August 2011

2011-08-15
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

What do the words marathon, paisley, and bikini have in common? They're all words that derive from the names of places. Martha and Grant talk toponyms. Also, what's the difference between a nerd and a geek? Why do some Marines greet each other with the word "Yambo"? And what do you call the crust that forms at the corners of your eyes after a night's sleep?

FULL DETAILS

What do the words marathon, paisley, and bikini have in common? They're all words that derive from the names of places. Martha and Grant talk about these and other toponyms.

What's the difference between a nerd and a geek? An Ohio professor of popular culture wants to talk about it.  Here's the Metafilter thread mentioned in that discussion.

http://bit.ly/Nl38h

Here's a Venn Diagram about nerds, geeks, dorks, and dweebs.

http://bit.ly/aJxb9E

In the Pacific Northwest, the term spendy means "expensive."

Grant has an update on the jocular pronunciation of "skedooly" for the word schedule. The original discussion about it is here:

http://waywordradio.org/chester-drawers/

Puzzle Guy John Chaneski presents a quiz called "Repeat after Me." It's a quiz that's neither so-so nor too-too.

A Marine at Camp Pendleton says that while in Iraq, he and his buddies heard the greeting "Yambo!" from Ugandan troops there. Now they use it with each other, and he wonders about its literal meaning. Martha explains that it's a common Kiswahili term.

In the novel Jane Eyre, characters sometimes speak whole sentences in French. A high school English teacher says her students wonder if there's a term for inserting whole sentences from another language into fiction. Grant talks about the use of foreignisms and loanwords.

Martha has a crazy crossword clue sent by a listener: "Camel's Nemesis." Twelve letters. Got it?

Residents of Maine are called "Mainers," people in Texas are "Texans," those in Wisconsin are "Wisconsinites," and people in Phoenix are . . . Phoenicians"? Grant and Martha explain that there are consistent rules for the naming the locals. The book they reference is Paul Dickson's Labels for Locals.

http://bit.ly/eXeAWx

Martha and Grant offer gift recommendations for language lovers:

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, by Guy Deutscher

http://bit.ly/bSjZON

OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, by Allan Metcalf

http://bit.ly/igLJn8

Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers

http://www.lostinlexicon.com/

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

http://www.deborahfallows.com/

What do you call the crust that forms in the corners of your eyes when you sleep? Sleepydust, sleepysand, eyejam, slam, eye boogers, eye potatoes, sleep sugar, eye crusties, sleepyjacks. An Indiana man wonders if anyone else uses his family's term for it, cat butter.

Is the proper phrase toe the line or tow the line?

Grant talks about how that great American export, the word OK, was part of the first conversation on the surface of the moon.

You upgrade your software, and instead of working better, it's worse. Is there a word for that phenomenon? Downgrade? Oopsgrade? How about Newcoked?

Poutrage is a new term for "acting outraged when you're really not.
 It's sort of like accismus, "the pretended refusal of something actually very much desired."

--

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Share: Nerd vs Geek (rebroadcast) - 15 August 2011


Infix is Just Another Word for Fanfreakintastic (minicast) - 3 Aug. 2011

2011-08-03
Length: 7s

What's the one word that comes to mind when you hear the name J. D. Salinger? "Masterpiece"? "Recluse"? How about the "F-word"? 

An Indianapolis listener came across an article about Salinger's use of that word, and that got him wondering about the linguistic terms for inserting at least one extra syllable into a word to make it more emphatic.

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Share: Infix is Just Another Word for Fanfreakintastic (minicast) - 3 Aug. 2011


Of Pupae and Pupils (minicast) - 10 Aug. 2011

2011-08-03
Length: 3s

A question from a listener on the “A Way with Words” Facebook page has Martha musing about the entomological and etymological connections between the word pupil and the pupal stage of an insect’s life.

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Share: Of Pupae and Pupils (minicast) - 10 Aug. 2011


Cannibal Sandwich Anyone (rebroadcast) - 1 August 2011

2011-08-01
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Ready for some crazy crossword clues? The hosts discuss some clever ones, like "Hula hoop?" (3 letters). Also, is the correct term jury-rigged or jerry-rigged? Why are Marines called Gyrenes? When someone points out the obvious, do you say "Duh!" or do you say "No DUH!"? And what, pray tell, is in a cannibal sandwich?

FULL DETAILS

Grant shares some diabolically clever crossword clues. Have at 'em: Hula hoop? (3 letters). A city in Czechoslovakia? (Four letters). Want to try more? Check out these clues here and here.

http://www.crosswordese.com/ccotm.html

http://barelybad.com/xwdcuteclues2002.htm 

Hankering for a cannibal sandwich? An Appleton, Wis., woman has fond memories of raw ground round steak on top of rye bread, topped with salt, pepper, and onion. She wonders if it's a regional dish.

When someone points out the blindingly obvious, a listener might respond with Duh! There are other options, too, including No duh!, Doy!, and Der! Grant creates an online survey to find out which terms people tend to use.

If you're not yet old enough to understand homophones, you can wind up with some funny misunderstandings. Martha shares a listener's story about avoiding cotton candy as a child, fearing that it was literally made of cotton.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz based on descriptions of characters in novels.

Something that's repaired in a makeshift, haphazard fashion, is said to be jury-rigged. Martha discusses the expression's likely nautical origin and Grant tells how a different term, jerry-built, led to the variation jerry-rigged.

Crazy crossword clues, Round 2: "Letters from your parents"? (3 letters) and "Sound elicited by an electric can opener" (5 letters).

An officer from Camp Pendleton is curious about Gyrene, a slang term for "Marine." Grant says it may derive from the Greek word for "tadpole."

Martha relates a story from a listener in Valdosta, Ga., about her four-year-old's misunderstanding of a homophone.

Need to type something in Linear B or Mayan? Want to make Japanese emoticons? Now you can. Grant explains why the release of Unicode 6 has many word lovers doing the happy dance.

When speakers of foreign languages try to adapt their own idioms into English, the results can be poetic, if not downright puzzling. A Dallas listener shares some favorite examples from his Italian-born wife, including "I can put my hand to the fire," and "The watermelon isn't always red on the inside."

Crazy crossword clues, Round 3: Cover of the Bible? (2 words). Source of relief? (7 letters).

When did the word slick become a positive word meaning "cool" or "excellent"?

--

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Share: Cannibal Sandwich Anyone (rebroadcast) - 1 August 2011


Guess What (rebroadcast) - 25 July 2011

2011-07-25
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

English is full of unusual terms, both old (eleemosynary, favonian) and new (flyway, catio). Also, the Swahili term that means "sleep like a log," the multiple meanings of the word joint, what it means to play gooseberry, cowpies and horse biscuits, and how to punctuate the expression "Guess what."

FULL DETAILS

Thinking about a flyaway, or will you spend the weekend gazing out at the catio? Grant explains these new terms.

Is subscribing just for magazines and podcasts, or can you subscribe to an idea? A husband and wife disagree over whether the latter is grammatically correct.

The Swahili phrase nililala fofofo means "to sleep really well." Literally, though, it translates as "to sleep like a log." Are the English and Swahili idioms related?

In French, tenir la chandelle means "to act as a chaperone," though literally it's "to hold the candle." Another expression that means "to chaperone" is the antiquated English phrase "to play gooseberry."

License-plate bingo, anyone? Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a radio version.

"Who is 'she'? The cat's mother?" A Davis, Ca., man remembers his mother's indignant use of this expression, and he's curious about the origin.

Should you pronounce the word coyote with two syllables or three?

A Northern California caller that discovers that in Britain, an invitation to share a joint doesn't mean what it does back home.

Eleemosynary is the title of a play by Lee Blessing. The play celebrates this and other unusual words, including sortilege, charivari, ungulate, favonian, and logodaedaly. Martha saw a production at San Diego's Moxie Theater, and takes the opportunity to discuss those words, plus the fizzy roots of moxie.

Guess what! Or would that be Guess what? A Honolulu listener asks about the right way to punctuate this interjection. Should you use an exclamation mark or a question mark? How about an interrobang or a pronequark?

A Texas listener says his family often describes a great meal as larrupin'. What does that mean, exactly?

Grant talks about FOIA ("pronounced FOY-uh"), a bit of journalists' jargon.

Cowpies, horse biscuits, buffalo chips, horse dumplings -- why do so many names for animal droppings have to do with food? A caller wonders this, and whether the term cowpie would be an anachronism in a Civil War novel.

--

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Share: Guess What (rebroadcast) - 25 July 2011


Beanplating the Lunatic Fringe (rebroadcast) - 18 July 2011

2011-07-18
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

In this week's episode, "It was bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." Martha and Grant discuss their favorite first lines from novels. Also this week, Palmer Housing, beanplating, meeting cute, bad billboard grammar, and what it means when someone says you look like a tree full of owls. And which is correct: another thing coming or another think coming?

FULL DETAILS

Some novels grab you from the get-go. "I am an invisible man." "Call me Ishmael." "The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting." Martha and Grant discuss some of their favorite first lines.

You're falling asleep, then suddenly snap awake. There's a term for that: hypnagogic startle or hypnic jerk.

A North Carolina listener reports seeing a billboard that read, "Be Stronger Connected to Your Son." Bad grammar or good advertising?

When is your golden birthday? It's when your age and the date match, such as turning 23 years old on the 23rd day of the month.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle involving inverted M's and W's called "Turn the Worm."

Among many African-Americans, the term Palmer Housing means, "walking with an unusual gait." A screenwriter connects some dots in his own family's history when he asks about the origin.

In the film industry, the expression meet cute refers to "an overly precious first encounter between the romantic leads."

A man named Kris wants to name his son Qhristopher. Have a problem with that?

Grant shares some favorite bad first lines from novels.

The hosts tackle a longstanding mystery about the word shoshabong.

A favorite quotation from George Eliot: "Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact."

Is the correct phrase another think coming or another thing coming?

Grant reveals the surprising origin of the term lunatic fringe.

The term like a tree full of owls describes someone's appearance. What does it mean, exactly? And why owls?

Need a great synonym for "overthinking"? Try beanplating.

--

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Share: Beanplating the Lunatic Fringe (rebroadcast) - 18 July 2011


Who is Chester Drawers - 11 July 2011

2011-07-08
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Some of the world's most famous writers had to support themselves with day jobs. Martha and Grant discuss well-known authors who toiled away at other trades. Also this week, Eskimo kisses, the frozen Puerto Rican treat called a limber, how the word fail ended up as a noun, the phrase I'm efforting that, and where you would throw a houlihan. And what's a chester drawers?

FULL DETAILS

Some of the world's greatest writers had to do their work while holding down a day job. William Faulkner and Anthony Trollope toiled as postal clerks. Zora Neal Hurston trained as an anthropologist. Vladimir Nabokov was a lepidopterist who curated a butterfly exhibit at Harvard. Literary historian Jack Lynch tells the stories of these and others in his new book, Don't Quit Your Day Job: What the Famous Did That Wasn't.

http://bit.ly/aT4oXe

An Indianapolis newspaperman complains about his colleagues' use of the phrase I'm efforting that.

A woman in Racine, Wis., says her father and his fellow bus drivers always pronounced the word schedule as "skeh-DOO-lee." Is that an accepted pronunciation?

Todd Purdum's recent Vanity Fair article on the presidency contains intriguing beltway slang, including gaggle and full lid.

http://bit.ly/cXgmIj

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game called "Word Search."

 A woman of Puerto Rican descent wonders about limber, the name of the savory frozen treat popular in her homeland. Was it really named in honor of aviator Charles Lindbergh?

A man in Huntington Beach, Ca., ponders his teenager's frequent use of the words fail and epic fail. Grant explains what this has to do with linguistic bleaching, and discusses some funny fails on failblog.org.

http://failblog.org/

Martha has an example of a linguistic false friend: In Latvian, the word vista means "chicken."

On a recent episode of "Mad Men," a character said "keep me in the loop." Was that phrase really around in the 1960s?

Everyone knows old proverbs, but what about modern ones? Here's an aphorism attributed to William Gibson: "The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed." The hosts discuss some others.

After a San Diego man used the term Eskimo kiss with his preschooler, they both wondered about its origin.

An Indiana woman is puzzled about a phrase in the old western song, "I Ride An Old Paint": "I'm goin' to Montana to throw the houlihan." What's a houlihan? You'll find one version of the lyrics here.

http://to.pbs.org/bmHyw2

Here are different interpretations of this cowboy classic by Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie.

http://bit.ly/9h03hD

http://bit.ly/9cEqws

On an earlier show, Martha mentioned the popular detergent in the Middle East called Barf. Martha shares email from listeners who say that although the word spelled the same as English "barf," the Farsi pronunciation is somewhat different.

http://www.waywordradio.org/a-gazelle-on-the-lawn/

Ever hear anyone refer to a wooden dresser as a chester drawers? A woman who grew up in St. Louis only recently learned that not everyone uses this term.

Martha reports that, during her recent attempt at learning to surf, she picked up lots of surfing lingo in between wipeouts. Here's a handy glossary of such terms, including tombstoning and pearling, both of which she did quite a bit.

http://bit.ly/da7hqe

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Share: Who is Chester Drawers - 11 July 2011


A Yankee Dime - 4 July 2011

2011-07-01
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Remember misunderstanding certain words as a child? Maybe you figured "cat burglars" only stole cats, or assumed guerrilla fighters must be angry apes. Martha and Grant discuss childhood misunderstandings about language. Also this week, Yankee dimes, culch piles, hanging crepe, educational rubrics, and whether the language you speak influences the way you think.

FULL DETAILS

There's a point when children understand just enough of their native language to be confused by homophones and metaphors. What misunderstandings do you remember? Maybe you thought cat burglars stole only cats, or that you might be swept out to sea by the undertoad? The hosts discuss childhood misunderstandings about language.

Some business owners give their establishments names like "Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe." What most people don't realize is that the letter Y in this case is a vestige of a letter we no longer use, and has a "th" sound. More about this letter here.

http://bbc.in/9Vy8Ba

A woman from upstate New York says her stepfather used to keep small dishes in various rooms to collect small odds and ends like paper clips and rubber bands. He called them culch piles. Martha has the story on this term.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle based on the candy called "Mentos." It's called Mento Stimulation. Example: What kind of minty candy would be appropriate for musicians?

A North Carolina man says he was surprised as a child when he did a chore for his grandmother, and the Yankee dime she promised him turned out to be a peck on the cheek.

A Texas caller says her child's middle-school teacher insists that students should never begin a sentence with a preposition. The hosts are shocked, shocked.

Martha describes a funny linguistic misunderstanding she had while trying to read Harry Potter in Spanish.

Predictive text on cellphones can result in some amusing accidental substitutions. The word for that: textonym.

Does the language you speak shape how you think? The hosts discuss an essay on that topic adapted from the new book "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," by Guy Deutscher.

http://nyti.ms/chDUjO

Reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, an Indiana listener is stopped short by the sentence "She carried a tray of charlotte." Who or what is charlotte?

Someone who paints a negative or pessimistic picture is said to be hanging crepe. Martha has the origin.

The word rubric derives from a Latin word for "red." Originally, it referred to red letters used as section headings in religious texts and the like. Rubric has since become a term used in modern educational jargon, as in grading rubric.

What's the connection?

--

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Share: A Yankee Dime - 4 July 2011


Tweet Nothings - 13 June 2011

2011-06-13
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

How much humor and personality can you pack into a 140-character update? A lot, it turns out. Martha and Grant talk about funny Twitter feeds. Also this week, the origins of skosh and can't hold a candle, why dragonflies are sometimes called snake doctors, whether the word pre-plan is redundant, and how technology is affecting the experience of reading.

FULL DETAILS

Martha and Grant share some of their latest guilty-pleasure reading from Twitter feeds that show just how much meaning can be compressed into 140 characters. Cases in point: @veryshortstory and @GRAMMARHULK.

http://twitter.com/veryshortstory

http://twitter.com/GRAMMARHULK

He can't hold a candle to someone means that he can't possibly compare to the other person. The hosts explain where this phrase comes from.

A zoo tour guide wants a specific word to describe how elephants procure hydration.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski presents a puzzle called "This, That, and the Other."

A Facebook newbie asks if it's okay to misspell words on purpose when communicating via social media.

The mother of eight-year-old twins wonders why one of her girls habitually adds Dun-dun-DUN! to sentences in everyday conversation. The hosts suspect it's related to the audio element known as a "sting" in television and movie parlance, like this one in the famous "Dramatic Prairie Dog" video clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHjFxJVeCQs&NR=1

The term skosh means "a small amount," and derives from a Japanese word that means the same thing.

Remember when the expression "reading a book" meant, well, actually reading a book? Martha and Grant discuss a Los Angeles Times series about how electronic devices are changing the way we read.

http://lat.ms/auLP0c

The distinctive shape of the dragonfly has inspired lots of different nicknames for this insect, including snake doctor, devil's darning needle, skeeter hawk, spindle, snake eyes, and ear sewer, the last of which rhymes with "mower."

What's the correct term for the male lover of a married woman? The hosts share suggestions from listeners, including paramour and Sancho.

A firefighter is annoyed by his boss's use of the term pre-plan.

Martha shares the term hit and giggle, a bit of sports slang term she picked up while working as an announcer at this year's Mercury Insurance Open tennis tournament.

--

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Share: Tweet Nothings - 13 June 2011


Tend to the Rat-Killin' - 6 June 2011

2011-06-06
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Anagrams, rebuses, cryptograms, Jumble -- Martha and Grant swap stories about the games that first made them realize that playing with words and letters can be fun. Also this week, what's a jitney supper and where do you eat graveyard stew? The hosts explain the origin of the term “hang fire” and why Alaskans sound like they're from the Midwest, and take on a debate about whether an egregious falsehood is a bald-faced lie or a bold-faced lie.

FULL DETAILS

What games first made you realize that words and letters make great playthings? Martha describes puzzling, as a child, over the odd combination of letters, F-U-N-E-X, until she finally figured out the joke. Grant talks about discovering anagrams as a youngster, and how word puzzles in the newspaper became a daily ritual.

An office worker in Indianapolis is mystified when a British colleague sends an email telling her to "hang fire." The hosts explain the expression has to do with faulty firearms.
 
"Call up to 24 hours in advance to make a reservation." Do those instructions mean you can call until 24 hours before the deadline, or that you should call within 24 hours of it. When a San Diego listener assumed it was the former, she had an unpleasant surprise.

Did you know the POTUS (President of the United States) has a BOTUS? Grant explains what a BOTUS is.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska's game this week is "Name Dropping."  The answer for each set of clues will be a word that has a common first name hidden somewhere in it; when that name's removed, the remaining letters spell a new word. For example, the first clue is "one of the seven deadly sins," the second is "the grain consumed by one-fifth of the world's inhabitants." Subtract the latter from the former, and you get a woman's name.

A Charlottesville, Virginia, caller says that when she was a child and recovering from an illness, her mother fed her a kind of milk toast she called graveyard stew. Is that strange name unique to her family?

During the health care debate in Congress, there was lots of talk about an up-or-down vote. A Montana listener finds this expression annoying.  What's wrong with plain old "vote"?

In youth slang, "totes" is short for "totally." Grant talks about new, lengthened version of this slang shortening.

A Carlsbad, California, couple has a running debate over whether an egregious whopper is correctly called a bold-faced lie or a bald-faced lie.

The Library of Congress is archiving the entire content of Twitter. Grant explains why that's a gold mine for language researchers like David Bamman at Tufts University. You can see some of the results Bamman's compiled at Lexicalist.com.

http://www.lexicalist.com/

What do you eat at a jitney supper? Jitney?

Why do people from Alaska sound like they're from the Midwest?

A caller who grew up in Arkansas says his mother used a colorful expression instead of "mind your own business," which was “tend to your own rat-killing.” Grant talks about that and a similar phrase, go on with your rat-killing, meaning "Finish what you were saying."

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/

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Everything is Tickety-Boo - 9 May 2011

2011-05-09
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

News reports that the makers of Scrabble were changing the rules to allow proper names left some purists fuming. The rumors were false, but they got Grant thinking about idiosyncratic adaptations of the game's rules. Also this week, the origins of the terms picket lines and hooch, why actors go up on their lines, terms for diarrhea of the mouth, and what we mean when we say there's an 800-lb. gorilla in the room.

FULL DETAILS

Some families have their own idiosyncratic rules for Scrabble. Grant talks about the rules in his house.

What do we mean when we say there's an 800-lb. gorilla in the room?

An Indianapolis listener says her family often refers to strong liquor as hooch, and wonders where that term comes from. The hosts trace the term's path from an Indian village in Alaska.

Grant follows up on his chickpea vs. garbanzo poll, and shares an email on the subject from the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska reprises his game called Initiarithmetic. The object is to guess a set of items associated with certain numbers, as in "There are 12 m__________ in the y___________." Here's another: "76 t___________ in the b__________ p____________." If you missed the first Initiarithmetic game, it's here:

http://www.waywordradio.org/like-a-duck-on-a-june-bug/

An SAT prep teacher in Santa Cruz, California, hears lots of teen slang in his work, and is struck by a new use of the term legit.

What's a synonym for diarrhea of the mouth? A caller swears she heard the word on an earlier episode, but can't recall it. The hosts try to help. Tumidity? Multiloquence? Logorrhea?

Several decades ago, the expression tickety-boo was commonly used to mean "all in order," "correct," or "just dandy." Although it's rarely heard, a caller who once lived in Florida says her boss there often used it. Does it derive from Hindi? By the way, if you just can't get enough of this expression, check out Danny Kaye singing "Everything is Tickety-boo."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzVCahrtaWI

Grant quizzes Martha about some odd terms: three sisters garden, weak-hand draw, and strimmer.

In the theater, actors who forget their lines are said to go up or to go up on their lines. But why go up?

A listener from Bethel, Maine, calls with a riddle she heard at summer camp: The maker doesn't want it, the buyer doesn't use it, and the user never sees it. What is it? She proceeds to stump the hosts with a puzzle: What adjective requires five letters to form the superlative?

A Fort Worth listener wonders about a claim she saw in a 1930s magazine. The article said that traditionally, a picket line was an area between the front lines of two opposing armies where soldiers might safely venture out to pick berries without fear of being attacked. Might that be connected to the modern sense of picket line meaning a group of striking workers or protesters?

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/

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The Ultimate Slang Dictionary - 2 May 2011

2011-05-02
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

When it comes to language, who's the decider? Grant explains how grammar rules develop. Also, what's tarantula juice, and what's the difference between a muffin top and a smiley? The hosts discuss these and other terms from Jonathon Green's new Dictionary of Slang. Why do we call a waste of taxpayer money a boondoggle? What does it mean to be cotton to someone? And what's happening if we have a touch of the seconds? Plus, funny movie mistakes, a quiz in limerick form, regional terms for lanyards, and a new spin on the musical joke brown chicken, brown cow.

FULL DETAILS

Can you guess what a smiley is? Or how about tarantula juice? You could, of course, happen upon someone with a muffin top drinking inferior whisky, or you could look these terms up in Jonathon Green's new Historical Dictionary of Slang. Green spent decades assembling this three-volume collection of slang from the United States, Great Britain, and every other nook and cranny of the English-speaking world. Grant explains what has linguists so excited about its publication.

http://bit.ly/ienVE3

If you preface a statement with "I'm not trying to be racist, but," does that then make it okay? And is there a term for such disclaimer?

It's always fun to catch moviemakers' blunders. Say you're watching an epic about ancient Rome and spot a toga-clad extra who forgot to remove his wristwatch. That's an anachronism. But what do you call something that's geographically incorrect. Take, for example, an exterior shot of what's supposed to be Dunder Mifflin's Scranton office, but includes a fleeting glimpse of a palm tree? That's called an anatopism (accent on the second syllable), from the Greek topos, meaning "place."

For an excellent timewaster along these lines, Grant recommends moviemistakes.com. (Yo, "The Nativity Story"! Everyone knows maize wasn't grown in Nazareth during the time of Christ. Anatopic FAIL!)

http://bit.ly/39Ji

Understandings aren't just for epistemologists and marriage counselors. In the 18th Century, the slang term understandings was a jocular name for "boots" or "shoes." Later, the word also came to be a joking term for "legs."

Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a set of Topical Limericks from the world of media and entertainment.

A listener from Dallas wonders about the origin of I'm not cotton to, meaning "I'm not in favor of" or "I don't get along with." Though it sounds like a classic Southern phrase, Martha traces it all the way back to England, where the verb to cotton had to do with textile work. Saying I'm not cotton with or I don't cotton to means that you don't get along with something.

What do you call those convenient props in illustrations and movies that cover up the proverbial naughty bits? A listener remembers an old illustrated copy of The Emperor's New Clothes that made clever use of twigs and berries for covering, well, the twigs and berries. Martha opens the kimono on the rare term antipudic, from the Latin pudor meaning "shame." It's the source also of the English words impudent and pudenda.

Alfred Hitchcock specifically referred to his own use of antipudic devices regarding the shower scene in Psycho. And of course, nobody makes better use of antipudic devices than Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery.

http://bit.ly/Zikak

Listeners emailed us in response to a call on the sonorous bow-chicka-wow-wow cliche, and we're glad they did. We learned that country star Trace Adkins has a song called "brown chicken, brown cow" that uses puppets to demonstrate just what it means to take a roll in the hay. We're sure it'd have Statler and Waldorf whipping out their opera binoculars.

http://waywordradio.org/a-murphy-a-melvin-and-a-wedgie/

http://bit.ly/fNoots

Who is Boo-Boo the Fool? A listener wonders if this African-American character has any relation the Puerto Rican fool, Juan Bobo. Martha draws a connection to the Spanish term bobo, meaning "fool," and its Latin root balbus, meaning "stammerer". Grant notes that the name Bobo has been extremely common for clowns since at least the 1940s, and the bobo/clown/jester character is prevalent in most all cultural folklores, be they African, South American, or Anglo-European.

When it comes to language, a listener from Dallas wants to know, as a fellow Texan might put it, "Who's the decider"? Grant explains that nobody makes the rules about language--and everybody does. For those seeking professional guidance, a whole community of lexicographers, dictionaries, and style guides offers rules and provenance on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. However, on a daily basis all the users of a language implicitly write the rules by choosing words and syntax that have semantic clarity for the people they're trying to communicate with. You could go to a reference book, or you could say something to your neighbor, then judge by their reaction whether or not you made sense.

Your mother gave you life, and you gave her . . . a boondoggle? Or is it a lanyard? Or maybe a gimp? Grant assures a listener there are several terms for that long key fob you made at summer camp out of plastic yarn. Boondoggle seems to have originated among Boy Scouts in the Rochester, N.Y., area in the 1930s, and was later picked up by those in politics to mean "a wasteful debacle." Grant also shares a French term for these summer-camp crafts, scoubidou, pronounced just like the cartoon dog, but apparently no relation.

Nobody writes more movingly about lanyards than poet Billy Collins.

http://bit.ly/YqF7g

If you get an email called Life in the 1500s, hit "delete"! Grant explains that the etymology provided is not entirely accurate. That's what this show is for. Also, if you're getting an email that says Free Money, Click Here, you shouldn't trust that either. That's what jobs are for.

Snopes.com has a good debunking of these linguistic urban legends.

http://bit.ly/fJQD

A college senior has invented a word to describe that anxiety we feel when there's unfinished work looming over us. He calls it desgundes. As in, that twenty-year-old in the library making a three-foot boondoggle must likely be dealing with some inner desgundes.

An Indianapolis listener says his father used to often speak of "leaving this veil of tears." His son wonders about the origin of that phrase. Grant and Martha explain the term is actually vale, a synonym for valley. In some translations, Psalm 84 refers to traveling through a vale of tears.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

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Sufficiently Suffonsified (rebroadcast) - 31 Jan. 2011

2011-01-31

Last word in dictionaries, Japanese idioms, word puzzle, stump-jumper, more Tom Swifties, hog heave, more...…

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Word Up! - 17 Jan. 2011

2011-01-17

Can you correct someone's grammar without ruining a new relationship?…

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Down A Chimney Up (rebroadcast) - 10 Jan. 2011

2011-01-10

Redd up a table, out like Lottie's eye, word puzzle, riddles, woobies and blankies, poems and poetry, a Spanish proverb, more.…

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The Thought Plickens (rebroadcast) - 3 Jan. 2010

2011-01-03

Criteria vs. criterion, word puzzle, history of OK, David Pogue, bike-shedding, tohubohu, crayon pronunciation, more...…

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Cut to the Chase - 27 Dec. 2010

2010-12-27

Sketchy, such a pill, superlative quiz, cut to the chase, on the QT, doorknobbing, more.…

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Too Much Sugar for a Dime - 20 Dec. 2010

2010-12-20

Is the term "Oriental" offensive? Many people think so.…

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Anaheim, Asuza, and Cuck-a-monga (Rebroadcast) - 6 Dec. 2010

2010-12-06

The funny story behind why plain-talking Texans say, 'We're going to tell how the cow ate the cabbage.'…

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Zig-Zag and Shilly-Shally (Rebroadcast) - 29 Nov. 2010

2010-11-29

Who in the heck comes up with the names of paints?…

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A Roberta of Flax - 22 Nov. 2010

2010-11-22

We have collective nouns for animals, so why not collective nouns for plants?…

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NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz - 16 Nov. 2010

2010-11-16

NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz stops by with a quiz about slang and anagrams.…

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Words of the Year - 15 Nov. 2010

2010-11-15

Is the phrase "it is what it is" annoying or merely philosophical?…

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Lunatic Fringe - 25 Oct. 2010

2010-10-25

Martha and Grant discuss favorite first lines from novels.…

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Drinking Terms (minicast) - 6 Oct. 2010

2010-10-06

An interview with slang lexicographer Paul Dickson about drinking language.…

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A Louse in a Wrestling Jacket - 4 Oct. 2010

2010-10-03

How to pronounce niche, the regional terms doppick and nixie, the origins of towheaded and frenetic, and a phrase familiar to many African-Americans, and more...…

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A Gazelle on the Lawn (rebroadcast) - 13 Sept. 2010

2010-09-14

What do you say when someone has food in their teeth? Plus: fire words, meet the baby parties, pronunciatio of "realtor," honyocks, more...…

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Spendthrift Snollygosters (rebroadcast) - 16 Aug. 2010

2010-08-16

False friends, graydar, CamelCase, spendthrift, pommy, word puzzle, "refer back," more...…

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The Language of Less Than Three (rebroadcast) - 9 Aug. 2010

2010-08-09

Limericks, love poems, cousins once removed, scissorbill, knock on wood, more...…

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A Whole Nother (rebroadcast) - 26 July 2010

2010-07-26

Fake AP Stylebook, Tom Swifties, thinkers-uppers, O' in Irish names, riddles, more...…

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Cellar Door (minicast) - 19 July 2010

2010-07-20

Is "cellar door" the most beautiful combination of words in the English language?…

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Picklebacks and Mountweazels (rebroadcast) - 12 July 2010

2010-07-12

Phrases we hate, raring to go, mothers-in-law, jakey bum, word puzzle, slang quiz, jungftak, and more...…

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What's the Possessive of Y'all? (minicast) - 8 July 2010

2010-07-08

Is it y'all's? Y'alls? Y'alls's? What do all ya'll think?…

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Crash Blossoms: When Words Collide (rebroadcast) - 5 July 2010

2010-07-05

Funny headlines, selling like hotcakes, unthaw, white noise, knucklehead, fomites, and more.…

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Not to Be Confused with Hieronymus (minicast) - 30 June 2010

2010-06-30

What's a "boche"?…

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The Fighting Kewpies, Un-hunh! (rebroadcast) - 28 June 2010

2010-06-28

Odd school mascots, nauseous vs. nauseated, grunts and utterances, colorblind, a word puzzle, more...…

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Forte or For-tay: Is Pronunciation Your Strong Suit? (minicast) - 24 June 2010

2010-06-24

How do you pronounce "forte"?…

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Keep Your Tail Over the Dashboard (rebroadcast) - 21 June 2010

2010-06-21

James Ellroy, criminal slang of the 1930s, brand-new, hear-hear, griage, skycraper workers, a puzzle, and more...…

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Are You Annoyed by Embololalia? (minicast) - 18 June 2010

2010-06-18

​Um, are you, like, one of those people who, um, get, like, really annoyed, by, um, you know, like, um, lots of filler words?…

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Season and Sea Change (minicast) - 18 June 2010

2010-06-18

Is it "C change" or "sea change"?…

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Get Your Nickels Together for a Jitney Supper - 7 June 2010

2010-06-07

Hang fire, bald-faced, anagrams, Alaskan accents, and more...…

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Bless Your Heart - 31 May 2010

2010-05-31

Backhanded compliments, free reign vs. free rein, back forty, slang quiz with Ken Jennings, goosey night, more...…

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Hit the Pickle Button - 10 May 2010

2010-05-10

Criminal nickanames, seditty, riddles, puzzles, pools of silver light, keyboard tricks, more...…

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X, Y, and Zed (Rebroadcast) - 26 April 2010

2010-04-26

Some teachers are using a controversial tactic to get young students reading...…

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Pardon Our French - 19 April 2010

2010-04-19

South African words, pardon one's French, a word puzzle, supposedly vs. supposably, round-heeled, more...…

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Awkward Turtle - 5 April 2010

2010-04-05

Horseradish, zarf, word quiz, college slang, w as a vowel, ignoramus, and more...…

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Gyros and Sheath Cakes (Rebroadcast) - 29 March 2010

2010-03-29

Pronunciation of "gyros," weird words "poozley" and "blinger," sheet vs. sheath cakes, dictionaries and usage guides, more...…

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Jan Freeman, Write it Right - 4 March 2010

2010-03-04

Language columnist Jan Freeman explains where Ambrose Bierce got his ideas about language.…

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Jack Lynch, Author of The Lexicographer's Dilemma - 22 Jan. 2010

2010-01-22

Literary historian Jack Lynch offers a narrative about the evolution of grammar rules in his latest book.…

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Ken Jennings: Not-So-Trivial Pursuits (minicast) - Jan. 12, 2010

2010-01-12

Grant interviews 'Jeopardy!' champion Ken Jennings about the grueling nature of TV quiz shows.…

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Nicknames Give Me the Heebie-Jeebies and the Vapors (Rebroadcast) - 11 Jan. 2010

2010-01-11

Everybody has a nickname, and there's usually a story to go with them.…

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Squeejawed Red-heads and Grockles (Rebroadcast) - 4 January 2010

2010-01-04

Just how far back could you go and still understand the English people were speaking?…

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See A Man About A Horse (Rebroadcast) - 28 Dec. 2009

2009-12-28

Onion hteadlines, tide one over, commentate, dinner vs. supper, word puzzle, charny, more...…

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Like Death Eating a Cracker (rebroadcast) - 25 Apr. 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

[This episode first aired May 1, 2010.]

SUMMARY

Digital timepieces may be changing the way we talk, at least a little. There's Bob o'clock (8:08), Big o'clock (8:19), and even Pi o'clock. Also this week, what do you call that gesture with…

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A Pickle Short of a Jar (rebroadcast) - 20 Apr. 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

[This episode first aired April 10, 2010.]

SUMMARY

A few pickles short of a jar, a few peas short of a casserole, two French fries short of a Happy Meal -- this week, Martha and Grant discuss these and other full-deckisms, those c…

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A Murphy, a Melvin, and a Wedgie (rebroadcast) - 29 March 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

[This episode first aird March 13, 2010.]

When it comes to joining Facebook affinity groups, grammar lovers have lots of choices. Take, for example, the group whose motto is Punctuation saves lives. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lets-eat-Gra…

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Sailor's Delight (rebroadcast) - 21 March 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

[This episode first aired March 6, 2010.]

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning." Martha talks about this weather proverb, which has been around in one form or another since ancient times. Grant shares …

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Qi, Qat, and Za: Great Scrabble Words - 14 March 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

Need a good Scrabble word? Grant shares some of his favorites, and invites listeners to challenge him on "Words with Friends." Also, why do we call those classic screwball films madcap comedies? And what does it mean to walk in a cro…

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It's in My Wheelhouse - 7 March 2011

0000-00-00
Length: 51s

SUMMARY

What was your first word? Grant and Martha talk about how children acquire language. Also, if you say that something's in your wheelhouse, you mean that it's within your area of expertise. But why "wheelhouse"? And what does it mean …

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A Way with Words

A Way with Words is an upbeat and lively public radio show about language examined through history, culture, and family. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies. Email your language questions for the show to words@waywordradio.org. Or call with your questions toll-free *any* time in the U.S. and Canada at (877) 929-9673. London: 020 3286 5677. Mexico City: 55 8421 8567. From anywhere in the world: (619) 800-4443. Skype to the user name "wayword." Join the discussions on our website and hear all past shows: http://waywordradio.org/. Also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wayword.

A Way with Words


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