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About A Way With Words

A Way with Words is a lively hour-long public radio show about the English language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett take calls from listeners about linguistic disputes, grammatical pet peeves, the origins of words and phrases, and curious regional expressions.

PRXA Way With Words is produced by Wayword, Inc., and is distributed via PRX, The Public Radio Exchange.

You can support this program directly with a donation to A Way With Words.


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Most recent episode from the A Way With Words podcast
Apr 13, 2014 -

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 comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

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Apr 06, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": If everyone on the planet spoke a single language, wouldn't that make life a whole lot easier? For that matter, is a common world language even possible? Maybe for a minute or so—until new words and phrases start springing up. Also, did you ever wonder why the guy at your local coffee shop is a barista and not a baristo? There's a good grammatical reason. Finally, pass the gorp—we have the scoop on the name of this crunchy snack. Plus, gorp, double bubble, concertina wire, the story behind the movie title Winter's Bone, safe and sound, and a couple vs. a pair.

FULL DETAILS

The finalists at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament wear giant headphones to block out the noise of the crowd and color commentary. As it happens, the white noise being pumped into them is the pre-recorded sound of a United Nations cocktail party.

Male baristas aren't called baristos for the same reason that male Sandinistas aren't Sandinistos. There's a certain class of nouns in both Italian and Spanish where the definite article changes to indicate gender, but the noun stays the same.

If you need a password that contains at least eight characters and one capital, there's always Mickey Minnie Pluto Huey Louie Dewey Donald Goofy Sacramento.

Contrary to popular belief, gorp is not an acronym for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts. Earlier recipes for this crunchy snack contained all kinds of things, like soybeans, sunflower seeds, oats, pretzels, raisins, Wheat Chex and kelp, as in John McPhee's famous essay, "Travels in Georgia."

Working double bubble is when you get paid double for working overtime or outside your normal work hours, and it's a classic bit of British rhyming slang.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski invites his alter ego, Dr. Word, to present a quiz about Latin names for working stiffs.

If someone's impatiently pounding on your front door, you might respond Keep your pants on! The origin of this phrase is unclear, though it may be related to keep your shirt on, and other expressions that refer to partially disrobing before a fistfight.

To fill your boots means "to go after something with gusto." Similarly, the tableside injunction Fill your boots! is an invitation to chow down.

The idiom safe and sound tells the story of the English language in three words: safe comes from French, and sound is a Germanic word with the same root as Gesundheit, meaning "health."

Concertina wire, the coiled barbed wire that's compact and easy to move around, takes its name from the concertina, an accordion-like instrument.

You wouldn't say the NASA launched a space shuttle, or you watched March Madness on the CBS. Similarly, initialisms like NSA and FBI are sometimes said without the article, especially by insiders.

A quiddler is someone who wastes his energy on trifles.

If we ever settled on one universal language that everyone spoke, it would last about a minute before variants of slang started popping up.

The title Winter's Bone, an acclaimed film based on Daniel Woodrell's country noir novel, is an idiom the author created by personifying the season, which throws the main character a bone.

Oxford University doesn't really have a mascot, so a listener asks on our Facebook page: Why not call them the Oxford Commas?

A couple is not necessarily the same as a pair; it can certainly mean more than two, and it's always dependent on context.

A hawk in its prime state of fitness is known as a yarak, a word that may derive from a Persian word meaning "strength, ability."

To secrete means "to produce and discharge a fluid," a back-formation from secretion. But a similarly spelled verb means "to deposit in a hiding place." For both verbs, the pronunciation of the past tense, secreted, requires a long e in the middle.

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

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

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Mar 30, 2014 -

Springtime is the right time to feel twitterpated—you know, you're smitten beyond a crush. Speaking of relationships, are dog owners really owners, or should they call themselves something else, like guardian or human? And if you're up for a challenge, some adult spelling bee words, including ostreiform and langlauf. Plus, ollie ollie oxen free, toad-strangling rain, zugzwang, canceled vs. cancelled, and how to pronounce herbal, hyperbole, and inchoate.

 FULL DETAILS

Even adults can use a good spelling bee now and then. It's a good way to learn words like ostreiform, meaning "having the shape of an oyster," and langlauf, a "cross-country ski run."

Springtime is the right time to feel twitterpated. That is, smitten like a nutty, twittering bird.

Why do the Brits pronounce the H in herbal?

When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, it's called a toad-strangler. Depending on what part of the U.S. you're from, you might also call it other names, such as frog strangler, goose-drownder, or gullywasher.

The word yannigan, meaning "a member of a scrub team in baseball," may come from an alteration of "young one."

What do darts, flubs, and maids have in common? Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski puts it to us in a game of rhymes.

Did you say ollie ollie oxen free to draw people out of hiding during hide-and-seek? Or maybe you said one of the other versions of this phrase, such as all-ee, all-ee, in free, or Ole Ole Olson all in free.

If you've accomplished something, be proud! But is it condescending to say you're proud of someone when you had nothing to do with their success? A listener worries that the meaning of the word proud includes a sense of ownership.

In the Kiswahili language, the dead go into two categories: sasha for the recently departed, and zamani for spirits not known by anyone living.

How many L's go in past tense of cancel?

If you're mispronouncing words like inchoate and hyperbole, you can console yourself with the knowledge that you're most likely reading at a high level.

You have a dog. Are you its owner, or person, or Mommy dearest? What do you call yourself in reference to the pet?

The term zugzwang comes from chess, and refers to that situation where you can't make any desirable moves—like being between a rock and a hard place.

Ombrology is a fancy word for the study of toad-stranglers.

Why do we turn proper nouns, like JC Penney or Kroger, into possessives, as in, Penny's or Kroger's?

For all the gothic architecture fans out there—hold onto the term ogival, which means "having the form of a pointed arch."

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

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

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Mar 23, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": Is it cheating to say you've read a book if you only listened to it on tape? Over the centuries, the way we think about reading has changed a lot.There was a time, for example, when reading silently was considered strange. Plus, what do you call those soft rolls of dust that accumulate under the bed? Dust bunnies? Dust kitties? How about house moss? And the surprising backstory to every man's favorite accessory—the cummerbund. Also: saucered and blowed, skinflint, sporty peppers, tips for proofreading, and the Great Chai Tea Debate.

 FULL DETAILS

Is it cheating to say you've read a book when you've really just listened to the audiobook?

Chai tea is not redundant—just tasty. But that doesn't stop people from debating the question.

Long live Southern names! Classics like Henry Ritter Emma Ritter Dema Ritter Sweet Potatoe Creamatartar Caroline Bostick go way back, but the tradition is still alive and well.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski could make a fortune with some of the Apps he's created for this game.

If you thought cummerbunds served no purpose today, wait until you hear of their original use.

Don't be that kid who grows so frustrated with a neighborhood game that he takes the ball and storms home—you know, a rage-quitter.

Considering that the first alphabet goes back as far as 1600 BC, it's pretty remarkable how little has changed. Robert Fradkin, a classics professor at the University of Maryland's Robert Fradkin illustrates this point with helpful animations on his Evolution of Alphabets page.

Oh, adjectives. Sometimes you are indeed the banana peel of the parts of speech.

Skinflint, meaning stingy or tight-fisted, comes from the idea that someone's so frugal they would try to skin a piece of the extremely hard rock called flint.

You might refer to those soft rolls of dust that collect under your bed as dust bunnies, dust kitties, or woolies, but in the Deep South they're sometimes called house moss.

Chances are you're not familiar with most of the books that win the Nobel Prize in literature because most of them aren’t translated into English. Fortunately, Words Without Borders is doing something about that.

Saucered and blowed is an idiom meaning that a project is finished or preparations are complete, but it's not that odd—Bill Clinton's used it. It derives from the rustic practice of spilling boiling-hot coffee into a saucer and blowing on it to cool it down.

What do you think the chances are that Sporty Spice has tried a sport pepper?

Proofreading is a skill to be learned, but you can start with tricks like printing out the text, reading aloud, or moving down the page with a ruler, one line at a time.

As Alberto Manguel points out in his book A History of Reading, there was a time when reading silently was considered a strange habit.

Susurrous, meaning "having a rustling sound," derives from Latin susurrous, "whisper."

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

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

This text will be replaced

Mar 17, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": You're at a social gathering and meet someone you'd like to know better. What do you ask to get a real conversation going? Some people lead with "What do you do?," while others avoid talking about work entirely. Still others ask, "Where'd you go to high school?' Also, the fancy way linguists describe the sound of a kiss. And what does it really mean when someone "breaks bad"? Plus, alight and come in, rustle my jimmies, breaking bad, grammatical calques, mashtag potatoes, comprise vs. compose, bangs vs. fringe, virgas and virgules, and bad Bible jokes.

 FULL DETAILS

In the U.S., we say mwah for the kissing noise. In parts of South America, it's chuik. And for linguists, of course, it's a bilabial lingual ingressive click.

Is pussyfooting, as in "treading lightly," an offensive term?

Here's a widely applicable book review: The covers of this book are too far apart. It's attributed to Ambrose Bierce, although it's unlikely he actually came up with it.

There should be no dilemma about the spelling of dilemma. It's not dilemna, and it's a mystery why so many people were taught that way.

No need to ask your doctor about virga. That's just the term for "a diagonal streak of rain that evaporates before it hits the ground." It derives from the Latin for "rod," and is related to virgule, a fancy name for that punctuation mark otherwise known as a slash.

Our Quiz-Man John Chaneski has a game about the Batman villains who didn't make the cut. All of their names end in -er, like The Matchmaker and The Firecracker.

The term breaking bad means to raise hell, although if you weren't a Southerner, you might not have been aware that the rest of the country didn't know the phrase before Vince Gilligan, a Virginian, created the TV show by that name.

Mashtags are potato snacks, pressed into the shapes of social media characters. Because marketers need a way to make junk food appeal to teens.

A question for heterosexual guys: What words do you use to describe other men who are good-looking? Attractive? Handsome?

Stan Carey has an excellent example of book spine poetry up on his site, this one titled "Antarctica."

Alight and come in is an old-fashioned, hospitable phrase recalling a time when a visitor who's ridden a long way might be invited to hop off his horse and step inside for a meal. Variations include alight and look at your saddle and alight and look at your beast.

All of which reminds Martha, a preacher's kid, of the riddle "When were cigarettes mentioned in the Bible?" Answer: Genesis 24:64.

You're at a social gathering and meet someone you'd like to know better. What question you lead with to get a real conversation going?

The history of German and Yiddish speakers in the United States has lead to a wealth of calques, in which the grammar of one language is applied to another.

Beware the biblical pun: What kind of car did the three wise men drive? A Honda. They all came with one Accord.

Comprise is a tricky word, and its usage is in the process of changing. But there's an easy way to remember the traditional rule: Don't ever use comprised of. Just don't. Here's an example: The alphabet comprises 26 letters. You could also say The alphabet is composed of 26 letters.

Ever have that experience where you're scrolling through photos of cute babies on Facebook and then all of a sudden there's a picture of something gross that just rustles your jimmies?

When it comes to hair, what the British call fringe, people in the U.S. call bangs. The stateside version most likely has to do with the idea of a bangtail horse, meaning a horse whose tail has been cut straight across.

When was tennis mentioned in the Bible? When Joseph served in Pharaoh's court.

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

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

This text will be replaced

Mar 09, 2014 -

The Pope is tweeting in Latin! But can an ancient language adapt to a world of selfies and hashtags? Speaking of the future, cars are now talking to each other with V-2-V communication. And pit bull owners are trying to soften the image of their cute little dogs by calling them "pibbles." Plus, pizza bones, grand-nieces vs. great-nieces, pin vs. pen, sisu, blow a gasket, and write it on the ice.

FULL DETAILS

The Pope tweets in Latin! As it turns out, Latin is such an efficient language that it can compress a lot into 140 characters.

What do you call your brother's granddaughter? Your great-niece or your grandniece? The Thomasville, Georgia, man who claims to have the world's largest collection of photos of relatives riding camels wants an answer.

Thanks to Beyonce Knowles, who helped popularize the term bootylicious, the word surfbort is now a thing.

For at least one listener, the crust on a slice of pizza is the dashboard. Italians have a specific word for that: cornicione.

If you write it on the ice, what you write will be impermanent, or not to be counted on—the opposite of carved in stone.

Puzzlemaster John Chaneski remixes the news by anagramming one word in each headline. For starters, which word is an anagram in New Deal in Honeybee Deaths?

Finns say their word sisu meaning "guts" or "fortitude" characterizes their national identity. Does your culture have a such a word, like the Portuguese term saudade, perhaps?

In the 16th or 17th century, a gourmand might be known by the less pretentious term slapsauce. The same term has also meant "glutton."

Add blow a gasket to your list of Downton Abbey anachronisms.

Snowboarders flailing their arms in the air might be the last folks who still wind down the windows.

Pin vs pen is a classic example of the vowel merger specific to the Southern dialect.

What does one order when on a strict diet? How about a honeymoon salad: "lettuce alone!"

The Vatican has a long list of new Latin terms invented to denote things in the modern world, such as umbrella descensoria ("parachute) and ludus follis ovati (literally, "oval ball inflated with wind," otherwise known as rugby).

Heyna is Pennsylvanian for "innit."

Martha proposes the word miesta, a sort of combination of  "me-time" and a "siesta."

Fraught, meaning "loaded with worry or negative portent," related to the English word freight. It's perfectly fine to use fraught without the word with, as in This situation is fraught.

Pit bull owners have taken to calling their pooches pibbles in an effort to make them sound less threatening. In fact, they can make great pets.

Do people call you by a nickname without asking? A caller named Elizabeth is baffled when people she's just met insist on calling her Liz. 

V-2-V communication, meaning "vehicle to vehicle," is a great way for cars to prevent accidents, or to flirt with each other.

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

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders 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 2014, Wayword LLC.

This text will be replaced

Mar 02, 2014 -

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.



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

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Feb 24, 2014 -

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.



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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United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
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Feb 16, 2014 -

Hyperbolic Headlines Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity!!!! Or maybe not. You've seen those breathless headlines on the internet, like "You Won't Believe What This 7-year-old Said to The President!" They're supposed to lure you to another webpage—but now there's a backlash against such clickbait. Plus, the most beautiful word in the Icelandic language. And if being disgruntled means you're annoyed, does being gruntled mean you're happy? Plus, gleeking, balloon juice, belly stretchers, scared vs. afraid, peruse, belting out a song, acknowledging the corn, To Whom It May Concern, and that awkward silence in elevators.

FULL DETAILS

In Icelandic, the term for "midwife" literally translates as "light mother." Icelanders voted it the most beautiful word in their language. Similarly, in Spanish, the phrase for "give birth," dar a luz, translates literally as "give to light."

Gleek doesn't just mean "a fan of the TV show Glee." It's also a verb meaning to shoot a stream of saliva out from under your tongue.

Disgruntled means "unhappy," and gruntled means the opposite, although you almost never hear the latter. Playing with such unpaired words can be irresistible, whether you're a poet or an essayist for The New Yorker.

A century or so ago, balloon juice was college slang for "empty talk."

An Indianapolis caller wonders if there's any difference in meaning between the words scared and afraid.

Why did the chicken cross the basketball court? Spoiler alert: the answer is a groaner.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle involving expressions that pair famous people with the last syllables of their names. For example, what kind of drinking vessel might a mustachioed genius named Albert use?

The word peruse is such a confusing term that it's best to avoid it entirely. Some English speakers were taught it means "to read casually," while others were taught exactly the opposite.
 
If you take a job at an airline, beware if your new co-workers ask you go find them a belly stretcher—they're playing a practical joke on you.

The elevator doors close, and there's that awkward silence while you and your fellow passengers wait for the doors to reopen. Is there a word for that silence?

To confess the corn or acknowledge the corn is to admit that you are, or were, drunk.

A former copydesk chief points out the circular nature of dictionaries using citations from newspapers that in turn consult dictionaries and the AP Styleguide for questions of usage.

A lunch hook, in college slang from a century ago, meant "a hand"—as in, "I'm going to hook my finger through this doughnut hole."

We're so jaded by the clickbait titles directing us to sites like Upworthy that the site Downworthy is doing something about it. And imagine what it'd be like if serious literature got the same treatment.

To belt out a song onstage probably derives from the idea of belting your opponent in the boxing ring.

There's no hard-set rule about whether to capitalize the phrase To Whom It May Concern, though it may also be worth figuring out who you're addressing, and writing to them instead.

Did your teacher ever make you write a sentence over and over as punishment? That task is called a pensum.

A Somerville, Massachusetts, listener wonders about a phrase her family uses, freeze your caboogies off.  Its origin is unknown, and it's unclear whether it's related to another term for the backside, bahookie.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.



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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Feb 09, 2014 -

Is it time to replace the expression "the mentally ill"? Some argue that it's is stigmatizing and doesn't reflect the diversity of the human condition. And why do we say "put on your shoes and socks"? After all, it's your socks that go on first. Plus, why do we call a powerful person "the big cheese"? The answer has nothing to do with dairy products. Also, skitching, epizootics, horse kickles, nimrods, who vs. that, and Turkish proverbs.

FULL DETAILS

A father of five shared with us his kids' favorite joke even. (And yes, it's terribly corny.)

Calling a hotshot the big cheese comes from the word chiz, which in both Persian and Urdu means "thing."

Don't try this at home, but the winter pastime of grabbing a car's rear bumper and getting dragged along an icy road is called skitching.

A Turkish proverb about listening and paying attention: To one who understands, a mosquito is a lute. To one who does not understand, a drum and zurna are little.

Is it okay to say the person that did it, or should you say the person who did it? Both are fine, although who is probably preferable in that it acknowledges that person's humanity.

Our groovy Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about the language of the 1960's, updated for the Me Generation.

How did Nimrod, the name of a mighty hunter and a great grandson of Noah, come to mean a lamebrain idiot?

Smoking cigars is such an attractive act, it's sometimes known as herfing.

A caller thinks he once heard a word that means "attracted to shiny objects." The best we can do is neophilia.

Put on your shoes and socks. Born and bred. Lock and load. The reason that the words in these phrases are illogically ordered probably has something to do with the way one forms vowels in the mouth. If you think too hard about these terms, they start to look preposterous, the etymology of which has to do with putting things in the wrong order as well.

The mentally ill is a phrase that some observers think should be replaced.

The word whatnot has seen a resurgence in the last few years, especially on Twitter and whatnot.

With all its specialized notation and rules and means of expressing ideas, is it correct to say that chemistry is a language?

Another Turkish proverb along the lines of chickens and hatching: Do not roll up your trousers before reaching the stream.

You might want to check once a month for the imaginary ailment, the epizootic. You'd know it if you saw it—it's like the horse kickles, but you don't break out.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.



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:
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Feb 02, 2014 -

Dude! We're used to hearing the word "dude" applied to guys. But increasingly, young women use the word "dude" to address each other. Grant and Martha talk about linguistic research about the meaning and uses of "dude." Also, the story behind the term "eavesdropping." Originally, it referred to the act of standing outside someone's window. Plus: by and large, by the seat of your pants, drawing room, snowhawk, Netflix o'clock, glegged up, quarry, and that's all she wrote.

FULL DETAILS

You have 30 cows, and 28 chickens. How many didn't? (Yep, that's the riddle: How many didn't?)

Back in the 1930s, airplane pilots didn't have sophisticated instruments to tell them which way was up. When flying through clouds, they literally relied on changes in the vibrations in their seat to help them stay on course, flying by the seat of their pants. The phrase later expanded to mean "making it up as you go along."

The idiom by and large, an idiom commonly known to mean "in general," actually combines two sailing terms. To sail by means you're sailing into the wind. To sail large, means that you have the wind more or less at your back. Therefore, by and large encompasses the whole range of possibilities.

After a long day of work, you settle in to binge-watch House of Cards, only to discover that everyone else in your time zone wants to watch the same thing, bogging down the Netflix stream. That's Netflix o'clock.

Looking glegged up, with staring into space with the mouth agape, comes from glegged, which shows up in some old dialect dictionaries meaning "to look askance."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle about subtracting letters from words.

The term eavesdropping arose from the practice of secretly listening to conversations while standing in the eavesdrip, the gap between houses designed to keep rain dripping off one roof and onto the next.

That strip of snow that you can't quite reach down the middle of your car roof? That's a carhawk, since it looks like a mohawk of snow.

Our American Cousin, the farce being performed when President Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre, had some choice lines of bumpkin talk. One of them, "You sockdologizing old man-trap!," was the play's biggest laugh line, after which John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.

How about this riddle? A man leaves home. He goes a little ways and turns a corner. He goes a while and turns another corner. Soon, he turns one more corner. As he's returning home, he sees two masked men. Who are they?

Research shows that dude, once associated exclusively with males, is now often used in the vocative sense when addressing groups or individuals, including females.

Drawing room, known for people taking turns about it, is short for withdrawing room, as in, withdrawing from the dining room while it's being prepped or cleaned.

Of all the ways to propose to your girlfriend, one way to do it is by tattooing her name and the words Will you marry me? above your knee.

Cute, which comes from acute, once meant "shrewd and perceptive"—"sharp," in other words—rather than "adorable."

"The Quarry," a famous painting of a buck carcass by Gustave Courbet, is a hint to another definition of quarry: the guts of an animal given to dogs after a hunt.

An Apache proverb: It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.

That's all she wrote, a reference to old Dear John letters, pops up in this song by Ernest Tubb.

How do sports idioms translate to other languages in cultures where the sport isn't popular?

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.



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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