A Way with Words is a lively hour-long public radio show about language, on the air since 1998. Author Martha Barnette and dictionary editor Grant Barrett take calls about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well.
Starting this year, Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants not only have to spell words correctly. A controversial new rule means they'll have to answer vocabulary questions, too. Also, when it comes to reading text, do you prefer "paper" or "plastic"? Some research suggests that comprehension is slightly better when you read offline instead of on a screen. And the term winkle out, plus bike slang, the military origin of I've got your six, why the word awfully isn't awful, and where you'll find onion snow.FULL DETAILSThe Scripps National Spelling Bee, long beloved for its youngsters stammering out words like appoggiatura, is about to change this year, when they're also forced to define words like appoggiatura. Officials added two rounds of computerized vocabulary tests to the early rounds of the tournament. In some circles, though, this new rule spells C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-SY.If someone's got your six, it means they've got your back. This expression comes from the placement of numbers on an analog clock, and appears to have originated with military pilots.Is there such thing as a half a hole? Most holes are whole holes, but even half holes are whole holes, if you think about it. In any case, it's a fun conundrum, sort of like asking someone if they're asleep. Children's book author Robert McCloskey had some fun with a similar idea in a little ditty in one of his Homer Price stories.Michel de Montaigne once wrote, "A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears." This is a classic example of chiasmus, or a reversal of clauses that together make a larger point.Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska takes a break from his music career to bring us a game called Initia-rithmetic. For example, if he says there are 4 P's depicted on M.R., what do those initials stand for? The answer to that one is, you might say, monumental.Lesley Tweedie from Chicago, Illinois, owns a bike shop, and shares some slang from her workplace. A boomerang bike is one of those bikes that goes out the door and comes back 20 minutes later for another repair. JRA refers to those instances when someone was just riding along when something broke down. And a bikeochondriac is someone who comes in claiming there's something wrong with it, but the wrench (a bike mechanic) just can't find the problem.When someone's fly is down, do you say XYZ for "Examine your zipper"? For a change of pace, you might try another euphemistic expression used the Southern United States and South Midlands: Is your finger sore? As in, Is your finger too sore to zip up your pants?What Americans call a cold draft, the British call a cold draught. Noah Webster deserves most of the responsibility for changing the British spelling. Regardless of how they're spelled, both words rhyme with "daft," not "drought." In parts of Pennsylvania, a late-spring dusting of light snow is called onion snow. It's a reference to the way little green onion shoots are poking through the white. Is an iPad just a magazine that doesn't work? The now-classic video of a child thumbing over a magazine to no effect comes to mind given a recent article in Scientific American about our comprehension of things read on e-readers as opposed to printed books. As it turns out, we retain slightly more when reading a real book.Awfully might seem like an awful choice for a positive adverb, as in awfully talented, but it makes sense given the history of awful. Once intended to mean filled with awe, it's now a general intensifier. The process of semantic weakening has meant that awfully, along with terribly and horribly, has become synonymous with the word very. Actually, the word very went through a similar process. Very derives from Latin verus, "true," and is cognate with verify.Amber from Berlin, New Hampshire, works in a prison, and wants to know why those ominous double sets of prison doors are called by the feminine-sounding name sallyport. Going back to the 1600s, a sallyport was a fortified entrance to a military structure. The name comes from Latin salire, meaning "to go out" or "to leave."If something needs to be carefully extracted, you'll want to winkle it out. This Britishism comes from winkles, those edible snails that must be gingerly pulled out of their shells.Keep the ishpee out of your mouth. One caller's parents used to shout Ishpee! when he or his siblings would try and eat dirt, marbles, or whatever they found on the floor. He wonders if this expression is unique to his family. It may be related to the exclamation Ish!, which is used particularly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, when encountering something really disgusting. Ish may derive from similar-sounding words expressions of disgust from Scandinavian languages.This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.....Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.--A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donateGet your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:Email: [email protected]: United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673London +44 20 7193 2113Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donateSite: http://waywordradio.org/Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/Newsl
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 DETAILSHaving trouble sneezing? You may be suffering from arrested sternutation, also known as a sneeze freeze!Is it still cleaning if you just throw things in a closet? Terms for this practice include making a lasagna, shame cleaning, or stuffing the comedy closet. Just be careful not to end up with a Fibber McGee catastrophe. Is there a connection between the ancient Greek muse and the word amused? No. The muses were mythological figures who inspired the likes of Homer, while amuse comes from the Latin word for "staring stupidly," as in, "to be distracted by mindless entertainment."Why do we sneeze when we go from a dark theater to the bright outdoors? The photic sneeze reflex is a genetic trait many of us have, as part of the Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helo-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, the backronym for ACHOO!You don't know siccum, meaning "you don't know anything," is an idiom common in the Northwest. It's a shortened form of he doesn't know come here from sic 'em, as in a dog that doesn't know how to obey commands.Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for all of us who fancy the blank tiles in Words With Friends. Given a word and two blank tiles, place one on either end to form a new word. For example, at least two new words can be made by adding a letter to either end of the word eight.If someone's a hoopie, it means they're less than sophisticated. This term was used in the Ohio River Valley to refer to the bumpkins from West Virginia who performed menial work with barrels, hammering their hoops into place.How should news organizations refer to elected officials, past and present? There's not much consensus among print and broadcast companies, but most organizations have their own set of rules. For example, NPR's policy is to refer to the current president as President Barack Obama the first time he's mentioned in a news story, and thereafter as Mr. Obama. Here's a proverb about the days on which you sneeze. "Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger. Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger..." But wait, there's more!What kind of slang will you find at the gym? The old standby, jacked, meaning "muscular," may derive from the lifting motion of a car jack. January joiners are those well-meaning souls who make new year's resolutions to get in shape, and stop showing up a week later. Cardio queens are the ladies in fancy sweatsuits taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while reading a magazine.What's it called when a fit of sneezing takes hold? Try ptarmosis, from the Greek ptarmos for "sneeze." Or sternutamentum, meaning rapid, spasmodic sneezing.Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who's written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by identifying personal and regional distinctions in a suspect's language. Though far from a silver bullet, the practice seems to have a solid place in the future of law enforcement.If someone still has their blueberry money, chances are they're a bit stingy. This term from the Northeast refers to those who've held onto the change they made picking and selling blueberries as a kid. What's the origin of the warning phrase “down goes your shanty!”? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, "If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty." It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house!If you sneeze at the end of a meal, you may be afflicted with snatiation. It's that tickle in the nose you feel when you're full.Why do people use the phrase going forward when talking about the future? Although it sometimes carries legitimate meaning, the expression is often just a pleonastic bit of business jargon that ends up on plenty of lists of people's pet peeves.Is the synonym for pamphlet spelled f-l-y-e-r or f-l-i-e-r? Both. In the UK, it’s flyer, and in the US, flier is preferred.This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.....Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.--A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donateGet your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:Email: [email protected]: United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673London +44 20 7193 2113Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donateSite: http://waywordradio.org/Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/Skype: skype://waywordradio Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.
How did the word "gay" go from meaning "happy" to "homosexual"? Martha and Grant discuss the evolution of this word. Also, why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? Plus, imeldific, gone pecan, random Scrabble words, and the difference between borrow and lend. And the etiquette of striking up a conversation with a stranger in an English pub: Whatever you do, don't introduce yourself or try to shake hands. FULL DETAILSWhen you're playing Scrabble or Words with Friends, do you ever try random letters and hope they stick? One listener scored a few points when he managed to play the word haverels that way. Turns out it's an old term from Scotland and Northern England meaning "those who talk foolishly or without sense."Why are elementary schools sometimes called grammar schools? The earliest schools, called scolae grammaticales, were connected to monasteries. They were meant for teaching Latin grammar. The term declined in popularity during the 1960's.What's the plural of cyclops? If you have a group of those one-eyed mythical monsters, your best bet is cyclopes, pronounced "sye-KLOH-peez."If something's gaudy and excessive, Filipinos might call it imeldific. It's a slang term inspired by Imelda Marcos and her legendary shoe collection.What's the difference between borrow and lend, or between borrow and loan? The real difference between these verbs is which direction the thing is traveling. Something similar happens with teach vs. learn and bring vs. take.Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle called "I Don't Think So, M-W." The name is a nod to Merriam-Webster's word of the day email, which often uses puzzling example sentences, like this one: "Lying in my tent that night, I could hear the campfire crackling and the crickets __________ and none of the city sounds I was accustomed to." Good luck filling in that blank.If a command begins or ends with the word please, does that make the order optional? The hosts agree that generally it's polite to honor such a request despite the phrasing.How did the word gay come to mean both "happy" and "homosexual"? In the late 1800's, the term gaycat was used in hobo culture to refer to an inexperienced hobo who might take on an older mentor for help, often another male. Over time, there was a convergence between gay as slang for "homosexual" and "gay" from the French term for "happy." Paronomasia's just another word for pun, and Martha can't resist offering an example.What is a road warrior? This term for someone who travels a lot or commutes a long distance is also used by some to refer to military personnel who are retired on active duty, also known as r.o.a.d.Grant pops a riddles from an 1835 collection titled The Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, and Connundrums by Peter Puzzlewell. Hmmmm.Step into a traditional English pub, it'll be a while before everyone knows your name. A long while, in fact. The rules of conversational engagement are different in the UK from what you'd find in a place like Cheers. Kate Fox's Passport to the Pub: The Tourist's Guide to Pub Etiquette spells out many of the customs. For example, at English pubs, it's better not to go for a handshake when a simple "Hi" will do. Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK addresses these differences in her blog Separated By a Common Language.If someone's gone pecan, they're doomed, defeated, and down on their luck. This idiom, common in New Orleans, probably caught on because of its rhyme.Here's a slang word for being drunk you might not have heard of: high-lonesome.When someone talks about Hollywood or Wall Street, they're probably not talking about a California city or a Manhattan street. It's an example of what rhetoricians call metonymy. Metonyms like The White House or Downing Street are often used as substitutes for a group of people or an industry.What is a bingo? If you're a taxi driver, a bingo is someone you don't pick up because your cab is already occupied. Another bit of cabbie slang is bunco. That's when they arrive at an agreed-upon address but no passenger shows up.The term dried plums has come into vogue since prune seems to have some negative connotations. Why do some town names end in ham? Effingham, Illinois; Birmingham, Alabama; Gotham City, U.S.A. They all derive from the Old English ham meaning "home" or "homestead." This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.....Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.--A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donateGet your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:Email: [email protected]: United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673London +44 20 7193 2113Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donateSite: http://waywordradio.org/Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/Skype: skype://waywordradio Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.
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 DETAILSWhat's your favorite schoolyard rhyme? Maybe it's the singsong taunt that goes "Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider." Or the romantic standby about two lovebirds sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Some playground chants are rude, others are crude, and many involve figuring out that whole business about the birds and the bees.If you're an empty nester, you've probably wondered about a term for one's grown offspring. Do you use the term adult children? How about kid-ults? Since the 1960's, the latter has also been used in the marketing and advertising world. There, kid-ults often refers to, for example, the kind of grownup who enjoys reading Harry Potter. This term combining the words kid and adult is an example of a portmanteau word, or what linguists call a blend.How do you pronounce ogle? Is it oh-gle? Oogle? By far the best pronunciation is the former. But older slang dictionaries do include the verb oogle. All of these words connote the idea of looking on with desire, often with a sexy up-and-down glance.It's time for a round of Name that Tune! What familiar song, translated into Shakespearean English, begins "Oh, proud left foot that ventures quick within, then soon upon a backward journey lithe"? There's much more to these overwrought lyrics, which come from Jeff Brechlin's winning entry in a contest sponsored by The Washington Post. The newspaper asked readers to submit familiar instructions in the style of a famous writer. The results are pretty funny.Just in time for the new movie season, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game involving one-word movie titles that have won Best Picture Academy Awards. For example, which Oscar-winning film is titled with a man's middle name that means "for the love of God"?Does a statement have to be true to be a fact? When it comes to the difference between facts and opinions, some may argue that facts are merely claims that can be proven true or false. Most dictionaries, however, assert that in order for an assertion to be a fact, it must be true.What does it mean to look like a dog chewing waspers? Or like a possum eating persimmons? And what does it mean when someone says, "He was grinning like a mule eating briars?" These idioms, which have been recorded in Kentucky and Virginia, refer to people chewing with their mouths open in a less-than-civilized fashion. In all of these examples, the one who's masticating is showing lots of teeth -- rather like a beagle trying to eat a sliding glass door.Time for more Name that Tune: What song, often sung in rounds, inspired this high-falutin' first line? "Propel, propel, propel your craft, progressively down the liquid solution."Why does the prefix in- sometimes make a synonym rather than an antonym? In the case of invaluable, the prefix is still a negation, since it suggests that something's value is incalculable. Michael Quinion's website affixes.org shows how in- prefixes have been corrupted over time. Yikes! Come to think of it, what if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?Do children still need to learn cursive? Many listeners now in their twenties say they didn't learn cursive in school and have trouble reading it. Others view it as a lost art, akin to calligraphy, which should be learned and practiced for its aesthetic value.What is a dog-and-pony show? This disparaging term goes back to the 1920s, when actual dog and pony shows competed with far more elaborate circuses. Many times the dog-and-pony offerings served as a front to hoochie-coochie shows or tents serving illegal alcohol. Over time, in the worlds of politics, business, and the military, the term was transferred to perfunctory or picayune presentations. Is it correct to say "I have no ideal" instead of "no idea"? In Kentucky, this use of ideal is common across education and socioeconomic lines. Flustrated, a variant of frustrated that connotes more anger and confusion, is also common in the Bluegrass State. Grant explains the liquidity of the letters L and R, the sounds of which are often confused in English."Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was black as ink, it chewed the paper off the walls and spit it in the sink." There's a variation you probably missed on the playground! What's the difference between agreeance vs. agreement? While agreeance is a word, it hasn't been used since the 19th century, whereas agreement is both correct and common. Best to go with agreement.This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.....Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.--A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donateGet your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:Email: [email protected]: United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673London +44 20 7193 2113Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate<br
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 DETAILSNancy Friedman's blog Fritinancy is a great source of information about how products get their names. For example, the names Twitch and Jitter were rejected before the creators of Twitter finally settled on the famous moniker.The idiom I've got a wild hair, which dates to the 50’s, means you're itching to do something. It's pretty literal: just think about those itchy stray hairs under your collar after a haircut.Is it fussy and pretentious to use the word whom instead of who? If you think so, you'll be heartened by writer Calvin Trillin's observation on the difference between whom and who: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."Which is correct: use or utilize? The answer depends on the context. The word utilize carries an additional shade of meaning, suggesting that you’re using something in a way it’s not ordinarily employed. For example, you would use a stapler to staple, but you might utilize a stapler as a paperweight. In any case, if you want to be grammatically correct, use is your safest bet.One of comedian Megan Amram’s hilarious tweets made Martha wonder about how M&M's got their name. In 1940, Forrest Mars and an heir to the Hershey fortune, Bruce Murrie, created a candy similar to the European chocolates called Smarties. The American version takes its name from the initials of the candymakers' last names, Mars and Murrie.Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game full of Colbertisms, in honor of how comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his own name, with a silent "T" at the end. Why not drop the "T" off all words ending in "RT"? Why do newspaper reporters end articles with the number "30"or the three-pound-sign symbol "###"? No one knows for sure, although that never stopped journalists from debating the origin of this way of ending a story. We do know that this practice arose in a bygone era when reporters typed their copy directly onto paper and handed it over to copyboys, and needed a way to indicate the last page. In 2007, a vestige of this old practice figured in an amusing correction in the New York Times.What is the best way to write an apology to a customer, especially if you’re handling complaints for a corporation. Some tips: be sincere, and make sure your wording makes clear that you understand the consumer's complaint and that your company takes responsibility for the mistake and wants to make things right. Aspirin is now a generic drug, but it was once a brand-name product made by Bayer. It's just one of many genericized trademarks, also known as proprietary eponyms, which includes not only aspirin, but kerosene, dry ice, and cellophane.What is juju? Is there such a thing as good juju, or is it only possible to have bad juju? This African term for a "charm" or "spell" took off during the Back-To-Africa movement in the 1960's, and has been mentioned in connection with international soccer matches.Is it true that the drug heroin was once marketed to families? Yes! In the 1890’s, heroin, a substitute for morphine, was hailed as a tremendous help to patients with tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the time. Heroin eased the terrible suffering of tuberculosis by suppressing the respiratory system and thus the painful coughing fits associated with the disease. Nineteenth-century German doctors used the term heroisch ("heroic") to describe powerful drugs, and the German company that would later make Bayer aspirin dubbed this promising new drug Heroin. Before the drug's addictive nature and damaging effects were known, heroin was marketed specifically for children, resulting in some rather astonishing Spanish-language ads.If a waiter needs a table for two, they might call for a two-top. This restaurant lingo, referring to the amount of place-settings needed, comes from a larger body of terms. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential is a good source of additional slang from kitchens around the world.If you cut something to the quick, it means you're getting at its very essence. It comes from the Old English word, cwicu, meaning alive. It the source of the quick in the phrase the quick and the dead, as well as the words quicksilver ("living silver"), and quicksand ("living sand"), and the quick of your finger, the tender part under the fingernail.Hallmark Cards got its name from Joyce C. Hall, who bought an engraving shop along with his brothers in 1910. Would it have taken off had they just called it Hall Cards?Why do we say that we have a doctor’s appointment instead of an appointment with a doctor? After all, we don’t say we have accountant’s appointments or attorney’s appointments. It seems that the possessive term has become lexicalized after many years of common use.This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.....Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.--A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donateGet your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:Email: words@w
Love this podcast entertaining AND enlightening. I always learn something new from Martha and Grant. Wish my local public radio station carried it, too.
Reviewed on 6/5/2012
love this on NPR
so glad that this is available on podfeed. i fell in love with this radio show when i randomly caught it during a XC road trip. my local NPR station doesn't carry it; i'm happy it's here. so witty, clear, informative, fun, and interesting!
Reviewed on 7/27/2009
One of the best shows on public radio is available for free on the my iPod.