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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
Jul 27, 2014 -

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.
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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/
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Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

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Jul 20, 2014 -

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.

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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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Jul 13, 2014 -

SUMMARY

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.

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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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Jul 06, 2014 -

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.

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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

Jun 29, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": Someone should write a love letter to a new book called "Letters of Note." It's a splendid collection of all kinds of correspondence through the ages: Elvis Presley fans writing to the president, children making suggestions to famous cartoonists, a scientist's poignant love letter to his late wife. Then there's correspondence in the digital age: Grant and Martha talk about how to emphasize something in an email, and when it helps to use emoticons. Also, the fabric called blue jean is much, much older than you might think. Plus, Lord love a duck, man in the moon, bacon and eggs vs. eggs and bacon, white-liver widows, and a vinegar-and-ketchup sauce called julep.

FULL DETAILS

Letters of Note, a book based on the website of the same name, is a collection of funny, moving, and insightful letters from both famous people and nobodies.

Which comes first in this favorite breakfast combo: bacon and eggs, or eggs and bacon? Neither are totally idiomatic, but bacon and eggs is most common.

Emphasizing one word over another, especially in written correspondence, makes a huge difference in the meaning of a sentence. And if all caps or italics don't do the trick in an email, consider using an emoticon.

Since Adobe released the photo-editing program Photoshop in 1988, to photoshop has become a common verb, which got shortened to just shop. Now people are using the hashtag lazyshop, where you just describe the changes you would have made to a photo if you'd actually had the energy to photoshop it.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a name game for famous folks who could use a different surname because of their trade.

The term white-livered, like lily-livered, can describe someone timid.  But an old folk tradition, once common in the South, associates having a white liver or white spots on one's liver with an insatiable sexual appetite.  The terms white-livered widow, or white- livered widder refers to a woman who has a series of husbands who died shortly after they married, presumably because she simply wore them out physically.

The fabric called denim originated in the town of Nimes, France, hence the name. The fabric known as jean, originally from Genoa, Italy was popular long before Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis and teamed up in 1873 to make durable work trousers using jean and duck cloth. 

In 1958, when Elvis Presley joined the Army, some adoring fans sent a letter to President Eisenhower begging him not to let them shave The King's sideburns.

The word julep, from Persian terms meaning "rose water," usually refers to a mint-and-bourbon alcoholic beverage with a kick as strong as a Kentucky Derby winner. But one family from North Carolina has a sauce they call julep: a half-empty bottle of ketchup mixed with apple cider vinegar. We've never heard of such a thing — have you?

Two years after his wife died of tuberculosis at the age of 25, physicist Richard Feynman wrote her an extraordinarily touching letter that remained sealed until after his death.

Eudora Welty dropped the phrase man in the moon a couple times in her short story "Why I Live at the P.O." The phrase doesn't really reference the moon itself; it simply adds emphasis. Incidentally, seeing the image of a face or human figure in the moon is an example of pareidolia. 

Some of the best things in the book Letters of Note are letters from kids to adults. One young fan's plea to Charles Schultz that he remove a character from Peanuts was actually met with approval.

When someone says they should be bored for the hollow horn, it's typically a lighthearted way of saying they should have their own head examined. The saying comes from an old supposed disease of cattle that made them dull and lethargic, and diagnosed by boring a hole in one of their horns.

In an earlier episode, we talked about regretting what you name your child, and we got a call from a mother who named her son Bodie and found that the name didn't travel so well. In France, people thought his name was "Body."

The history of the exclamation Lord love a duck! is unclear, but it may be a euphemism for a rhyming curse word or for the mild oath For the love of Christ!

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:

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Jun 23, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": Some of us can't go anywhere without a book or something to read. And one fast food joint hears you: Chipotle is now printing the work of famous writers on their paper cups. Speaking of fast food, saying that someone is “two plums short of a Happy Meal” is one way to joke that they're not quite up to snuff. Plus, every first grader plays that little flute known as a "recorder"—but haven't you always wondered why it's called that? Plus, a word quiz for the summertime, South Carolina lingo, flout vs. flaunt, silent B's, a rare word for worry in the wee hours, and a big congrats to the Class of 2K14!

FULL DETAILS

You haven't played in the mud until you’ve done it in South Carolina, where a particularly fine, silty mud is called pluff.

In the 1930's, the catch phrase Now you’re cooking with gas, meaning "you're on the right track," was heard on popular radio shows at the behest of the natural gas industry, as part of a quiet marketing push for gas-powered stoves.

If you can make neither moss nor sand of something, then if you can't make sense of it. This phrase is particularly common in Northern England.

If someone is two plums short of a Happy Meal—or more commonly, two french fries short of a Happy Meal—they're they're not playing with a full deck. In fact, such good-natured teases are sometimes called fulldeckisms.

The class of 2014 is totally hooked into the future, which is why they're writing Class of 2K14 in their Snapchats.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has a seasonally appropriate game based on the first concert he ever attended: The Beach Boys' "Eternal Summer."

Count on the Germans to have a picturesque term for a pout: Schippchen, that face you make by sticking out your bottom lip, comes from a word that means "little shovel."

In South Carolina, if someone offers you a broadus or something for broadus, say "Yes, please!" It's a little extra something a store clerk might give to a customer. As we discussed in an earlier episode, this kind of "gift thrown in for good measure," is often called a lagniappe.

A kludge, or kludge, is "an inelegant workaround" or "a quick-and-dirty solution." This  term comes from the world of computing.

Joggling boards are no ordinary benches — they bounce, and you find them mostly in South Carolina. Hours of fun for the whole family!

The word climb has been sneaking by with that silent b for a while. But speakers of Old English pronounced the b in its predecessor, climban.

Dayclean, meaning "daybreak" or "dawn," is common among speakers of Gullah in South Carolina and Georgia.

If you suffer from abibliophobia, or a fear of not having something to read at all times, then Chipotle is the fast-food burrito joint for you. Thanks to a suggestion from writer Jonathan Safran Foer, prose by the likes of Toni Morrison, Sarah Silverman, George Saunders, and Michael Lewis is now printed on their cups and bags, and some of it's pretty good.

Rare word fans: uhtceare, from Old English words that mean "dawn" and "care," is a fancy term for those worries you fret over in the wee hours. Next time you find yourself lying awake at night worrying, try reading the melancholy 10th-century poem "The Wife's Lament," which contains a poignant use of uhtceare.

That little instrument we all played in first grade is called a recorder because in the 15th century, the word record also meant "to practice a tune," and was often applied to birds.

A listener from Bozeman, Montana, wonders: Is it lame to add the letters th to the end of adjectives to make new nouns like lameth?

To spit someone a big is to do someone a favor. Try that one out on your boss!

The word flout, originally meaning "to show contempt," pops up in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here's a hint to help you remember the difference between flout and flaunt: You can flaunt your bikini body on the beach, but if you do so in church, you'll flout the rules.

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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Jun 15, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": Your telephone is for talking, right? Or is it? We're guessing it's been a while since you sat next to a telephone waiting for it to ring. In fact, maybe you're one of those people who HATE to see that voicemail message light blinking. But for many of us, waiting for a text is a different. Also, California may be the "Dude!" capital of the country, but the term "dude" actually comes from New York City. And where exactly do you eat tweezer food? Plus, donning and doffing our clothes, tweezer food, the origin of kowtow, emcee, Arby's, and -orama, and modern etiquette for wedding invitations.

FULL DETAILS

Sorry, Californians—the word dude actually comes from New York City, and goes all the way back to the 1800s.

To kowtow, as in "to agree in an excessively eager or annoying way," comes from a Chinese term that means "to bow extremely low out of respect," from words that literally mean "knock head."

Flight crews have a word for colleagues who check into a hotel, slam the door behind them, lock it shut, and don't re-emerge until checkout time. They're called slam-clickers.

Addressing a wedding invitation to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith is pretty old-fashioned. It's more than appropriate these days to address both a husband and wife by their respective names. But if you're inviting someone who prefers the old-fashioned style, best to honor their preference.

When flight attendants use the terms feather, leather, or fin, they're talking about "chicken, beef, or fish."

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has sandwiched together the first letters of first and last names for a trivia game about famous folks.

Long before English speakers adopted the suffix -orama, as in Scoutorama and smell-o-rama, there was French word panorama referring to "a great display or spectacle." Panorama comes from Greek words that mean "whole view." University of Alabama professor Michael Piccone details the development panorama in French in his book Anglicisms, Neologisms, and Dynamic French. In English, panorama first referred to spectacular, long paintings slowly unscrolled before 19th-century audiences, and later inspired other words that likewise ended in -orama.

Firefighters don and doff their equipment, words that derive from "do on" and "do off." New York City firefighters' buff-colored uniforms apparently inspired our word buff, as in a fan — a reference to fire enthusiasts who would show up in buff-colored coats to watch firefighters at work.

A caller from Burlington, Vermont, has observed a slight change in the language of flight attendants' instructions, replacing your with that. Instead of saying "Put your coat in the overhead compartment," the ones on the airline she frequents say, "Put that coat in the overhead compartment." Linguistic anthropologist Barbara Clark has analyzed the scripted language of flight attendants and finds their deferential speech is calculated in part to gain the respect and loyalty of passengers.

Remember when teenagers used to sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring? Now ask  teenagers if they do anything but text.

Newscasters are going overboard with the euphemisms for death, like passed away, or simply passed. If someone died, it's fine to say exactly that.

Jagging around is a classic Pittsburghese term for "fooling around," or "to poke fun or play tricks." It's likely related to jaggerbush, meaning a "thorny bush."

You know when you go to a fancy restaurant and order something where every little ingredient looks like it was placed there with a tweezer? There's a term for that stuff: tweezer food.

Emcee, or "Master of Ceremonies," is one of many cases where the initials of something are spelled out phonetically, like okay, deejay, jaycee, or Arby's. Although every letter of the alphabet can be sounded out this way, few words fall into this category.

Some New York City street names also denote whole industries, such as Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

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/
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Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

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Jun 09, 2014 -

This week on "A Way with Words": Giving your baby an unusual moniker may seem like a great idea at the time. But what if you have second thoughts? One mother of a newborn had such bad namer's remorse, she poured out her heart to strangers online. Speaking of mothers and daughters: Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't write the "Little House on the Prairie" series alone. She had help from her daughter Rose—who turned out to be quite a demanding editor. And where in the world would you find an upstairs basement? Plus: scat singing, jook joints, makes no nevermind, from hell to breakfast, dog pound vs. animal shelter, and what you're supposed to do in an upstairs basement.

FULL DETAILS

Giving your baby an uncommon name may seem like a swell idea. But what if you're the parent of a newborn and you already have namer’s remorse?

A potch or putch is a slap, as in potch in tuchis. This term for spanking related to German Patsch, meaning "a slap." A listener in Springfield, New Hampshire, says her family also used the term potching around to describe her mischievous behavior as a toddler.

Scat singing doesn't have any relation to scat, as in "excrement." Musical scat probably derives from the sound of one of the nonsense syllables in such songs.

Sitzfleisch, from German words that literally mean "sit-flesh," refers to perseverance—the ability, in other words, to sit and endure something for a long period of time.

How is Betsy Ross like tight pants? Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski wants to know.

The term dog pound sounds a lot more menacing than animal shelter, until you learn that pound simply has to do with the idea of an enclosed space, as does a pond, which is often formed by enclosing a space and filling it with water.

A jook joint is a roadside establishment where all sorts of drinking, dancing, and gambling may occur. Zora Neale Hurston described them in her 1934 essay "Characteristics of Negro Expression," and the term probably derives from a West African term for "jumping around."

We've talked before about the term wasband, as in, ex-husband. A caller suggests another good term for that fellow: penultimate husband.

The emphatic exclamation from hell to breakfast goes back to the Civil War.

Here's a word unit palindrome to drop at a party: Escher drawing hands drew hands drawing Escher.

The Little House on the Prairie series was actually a collaboration between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who turns out to have been a bit of a bully.

What is the difference between a ghost and a spirit? English bibles use both Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit, depending on the translation. The modern idea of the Scooby Doo-type ghost came about much later.

In New England, a basement can technically be upstairs, since basement is another word for "bathroom."

Certain baby names come with the perpetual problem of being easily confused, like Todd and Scott.

Makes no never mind to me, meaning "I don't care," is part of the long history of the term nevermind.

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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Jun 01, 2014 -

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 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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May 25, 2014 -

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 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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May 14, 2014 -

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.

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