A Way With Words

Saturday, 2:00 p.m - 3:00 p.m. on KUOW2

A Way With Words is an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show about language examined through history, culture and family. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies.

Composer ID: 
5182a735e1c8bbce02e2bf27|5182a70fe1c89ec2617cc30a

Podcasts

  • Sunday, October 26, 2014 8:59pm

    This week on "A Way with Words": What's in YOUR spice rack? Say you're cooking up a pot of chili, and you need to add more of that warm, earthy, powdered spice. Do you reach for a bottle of KOO-min? KYOO-min? Or are you going to add KUMM-in? The pronunciation given in dictionaries may surprise you. Also: some people have a problem with using the word issue instead of problem. And if you're talking to a group of men and women, be careful about using the term you guys. Plus, sharp as a marshmallow sandwich, the phrase of an evening, what your paycheck has to do with salt, and tips for breaking bad grammar habits.

    FULL DETAILS

    Cumin, a spice often used in chili powder, is easy to think of as an exotic ingredient with an equally exotic pronunciation. But many dictionaries insist that its pronunciation rhymes with comin.'

    Someone on the dull side might be described as sharp as a marshmallow sandwich.

    If you're talking to group of people of mixed genders, it's fine to address them as You guys. After all, English lacks a distinctive second-person plural. Still, if the usage offends someone, it's best to address them in whatever way makes them feel comfortable.

    The gold or silver light you see shimmering on the water at night is called moonglade or moonwake. Similarly, the sun shining on the water is called sunglade or sunwake.

    Broken pieces of pottery, commonly known as shards, are also referred to as sherds by professional archaeologists.

    What word is both a verb meaning to make shiny and clean and a demonym for the people of an Eastern European country? Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski asks this and other questions in his game, Word Olympics.

    Dutch people are no more prone than anyone else to splitting the bill at a restaurant, so why is that practice called going Dutch?

    Listener K.C. Gandee, a whitewater rafting guide from Bethel, Maine, tipped us off to lingo from his world. Dead-sticking is when the guide is doing all the paddling and no one else is. A lily dipper is someone who barely paddles while everyone else works hard. Dump-trucking is when the raft nearly capsizes and everyone in it gets thrown out.

    When you have a habit of using a particular bit of poor grammar, rote exercises like writing out a script to practice may help you get past it. Practicing the correct usage by singing to yourself may work, too.

    To sip a mint julep on the veranda of an evening may be a distinctly Southern activity, but the phrases of an evening or of a morning, meaning "in the evening" or "in the morning," go back at least to the 1600s and the Diary of Samuel Pepys.

    If you're making a salary, be grateful that it's paid out in dollars and not salt. In antiquity, salt was a valuable commodity, and the term salary comes from the Latin salarium, the portions of salt paid to Roman soldiers.

    Open your kitchen cupboard or a cookbook, and chances are you'll come across a lot of spices and peppers with recognizable names that you still can't pronounce properly, like turmeric, cayenne, and habanero. We often give foreign-sounding inflections to foreign-looking words, and many times we're wrong.

    To do me a solid or do someone a solid, meaning "to do someone a favor," may be related to the slang term solid meaning "a trustworthy prison inmate."

    A listener from Madison, Wisconsin, has an issue with the word issue. She doesn't like it being used as a synonym for problem. But the American Heritage Usage Panel has come around to accepting the new use of issue, so if that's a problem, take issue with them.

    Tautologies in names are pretty funny, like the Sahara Desert, which basically means "Desert Desert," or the country of East Timor, which in Malay means "East East."

    Let's settle this once and for all: George Bernard Shaw is responsible for the sentiment behind the quote, "Youth is wasted on the young." But Fred Shapiro's Yale Book of Quotations indicates that the history of the saying isn't so simple.

    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.

  • Sunday, October 19, 2014 8:59pm

    This week on A Way with Words: The language of restaurant menus. Need a dictionary to get through a dinner menu? Research shows the longer the description of a particular dish, the more expensive it will be. Plus: What's the best way to use a thesaurus? DON'T -- unless, that is, you already know the definition of the word in question. From careless plagiarists to a former president, a look at the embarrassing results when people try using a big word they don't quite understand. Plus, the story behind "Hell's Bells," and what your clothes look like if they're "swarpy." Also, wake vs. awaken, this weekend vs. next weekend, rat-finking, balderdash, Hell's bells!, and widdershins.

    FULL DETAILS

    Whatever Roget's Thesaurus may have you believe, sinister buttocks is not a synonym for "left behind." But a growing number of students are blindly using the thesaurus, or Rogeting, trying mask plagiarism. And it's not working.

    Next Thursday could mean this coming Thursday or the Thursday after. And despite the push to make oxt weekend a term for the weekend after next, even grammarians haven't settled on what next refers to, so it's always important to clarify with the person you're talking to.

    Among Grant's candidates for his 2014 Words of the Year list are the phrases I can't even and Can you not.

    The origin of the exclamation Balderdash!, meaning "nonsense," isn't entirely known. It is clear, however, that back in the 17th century balderdash could refer to a frothy mix of liquids, such as beer and buttermilk, or brandy and ale, and later to a jumbled mix of words.

    The Irish writer Roddy Doyle has some good advice about using a thesaurus: "Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort."

    Our quiz guy John Chaneski is back with a game of wedding puns. For example, if Ella Fitzgerald married Darth Vader, she'd be, well, a kind of shoe, or something that might convey you to the top floor of a building.

    Hell's Bells!, an exclamation along the lines of darn!, is likely just variation of hellfire, and reinforced by its rhyme.

    Back when George W. Bush was a student at a New England prep school, he took to the thesaurus to impress a teacher, and wound up using a synonym for the wrong meaning tear. Hence, the telltale phrase lacerates falling from my eyes wound up in one of his papers.

    In addition to being the name of  a plastic toy from the 60's, the term rat fink was once used specifically to mean a narc or stool pigeon. Today, it's used generally to mean a despicable person.

    Like the boy when the calf ran over him, I had nothing to say, is an old saying describing someone who's speechless, and goes back to the mid-19th century.

    A caller whose wife is from eastern Kentucky says she uses the term swarpy to describe clothing that's too big, ill-fitting, and may even drag on the ground. This term probably derives from an old Scots verb "swap," meaning to "sweep" or "swing," or otherwise "move downward forcibly."

    Are we a proverb culture anymore? In a largely urban society, we're not likely to immediately recognize the meaning of the saying between hay and grass, meaning "weak" or "feeble."

    The longer the description of an item on a menu, the more expensive it'll likely be. In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Stanford University linguist Dan Jurafsky  shows that with each extra letter in a menu description, the price goes up about 69 cents. For a really comprehensive collection of menus, from the earliest Chinese American restaurants to old cruise ship menus, we recommend the New York Public Library's menu database.


    Spleeny, meaning "hypersensitive" or "hypochondriacal," is chiefly heard in New England and goes back to an old sense of the spleen affecting one's mood.

    The writer Clay Shirky tipped us off to a morbid bit of slang used in the dying business of print newspapers, where obituaries are referred to as subscriber countdowns.

    Widdershins, also spelled withershins, means "counterclockwise," and can also refer to someone or something that's off or backwards. Another word for "the opposite of widdershins," by the way, is deasil.

    Before you insult a man, try walking a mile in his shoes. That way, when you insult him, you're a mile away -- you have his shoes.

    For a good time, google wake vs. awaken. Perhaps the most vexing verb in English, the term for waking up still puzzles the experts.

    Ingrid Bergman once said, "a kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous."

    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.

  • Sunday, October 12, 2014 8:59pm

    What a difference pronunciation makes! The United States has a Department of Defense, and an individual might take classes in self-defense. So why do football and basketball coaches say they're proud of their . . . "DEE-fence?" Linguists have a theory about why. Also, some funny limericks to help you learn obscure words, and what you will and won't find on a desert island. Plus, kennings, cobwebs, crestfallen, catillate, cataglossism, and more.

    FULL DETAILS

    Do you think dictionaries of obsolete words with definitions in limerick form are cool? If you're annuent—meaning “nodding”—we'll take that as a "yes." You'll find lots of them at The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, also known as OEDILF.

    Sheep-dipping is a business term for when employees are made to drink the Kool-Aid, often at tedious briefings or sales seminars they're forced to attend.

    As the OEDILF notes, exspuition's an old word for spitting, which you can do either standing or sitting.

    We have a Department of Defense, and football teams have a defense, and chances are you don't pronounce those terms the same way. It likely has to do with sportscasters emphasizing of- and de- to differentiate the offensive and defensive sides of teams, and that's how the emphases took hold.

    Put a plate of milk in front of a cat, and you know that cat will catillate.

    Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game that changes Venn diagrams to zen diagrams.

    Bespoke, as in bespoke tailored clothing, comes from an old word meaning
    "spoken for"—to bespeak means to request or order a good or service.

    What could sound more romantic than French kissing? Perhaps its archaic synonym, cataglossism. Here's a limerick to help you remember this word.

    Most high schoolers hear the bell ring, and they know it's time for next period. But some students simply refer to each class as first bell, second bell, and so on. What did you call each class period?

    Steer clear of the flu. You'll groan on wet sheets. You will mew.

    When the crest of a rooster's comb falls down toward their beak, they appear sad, or crestfallen.

    Dubbing someone a knight by tapping their shoulder with a sword is a venerable tradition, but that didn't stop a wag from mocking it in limerick form with a groaner of a pun.

    Kennings are compound words that have metaphorical meanings, such as whale-road meaning "sea." They're often found in Anglo-Saxon poetry, such as The Seafarer and Beowulf, but there are modern ones as well, such as rugrats for "small children."

    Why steal something insignificant when you can brodie it? This slang term means basically the same thing.

    Cunctator is just a lesser-known term for a procrastinator—one that happens to fit into a funny limerick.

    Cobwebs are the same thing as spiderwebs, and they get their name from the old English term coppe, meaning "spider," which turns up in The Hobbit in a poem about an attercop.

    Many desert islands don't look like a desert at all. They're lush and green. That's because the term reflects the old sense of desert meaning "wild and uninhabited."

    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.

  • Sunday, October 5, 2014 12:17pm

    This week on "A Way with Words": Teaching our children, and some advice for writers. Suppose your child is eager to tackle a difficult subject--ancient Greek, for example--but you know his reach exceeds his grasp? The challenge is to support the child's curiosity without squelching it entirely. And: In just a few years, the United States will be 250 years old. But if a 200-year celebration is a "bicentennial," what do you call a 250-year anniversary? Plus, amusing typos, lay vs. lie, book-bosomed, palaver, I'm so sure!, and more.

    FULL DETAILS

    Aspiring screenwriters take note: A surefire requisite for breaking into the business has, and will likely always be, a love of words—fat, buttery words, like ones the Marx Brothers writer Robert Pirosh wrote about in his 1934 letter to MGM.

    It's been a while since Moon Unit Zappa and the Valley Girl craze slipped out of the popular eye, which is likely why the sarcastic quip, I'm so sure! had one listener tripped up.

    To get your fix of amusing typos like, "Illegally parked cars will be fine," and other errors that can't be mentioned on public radio, try the book Just My Typo.

    When you think about it, the saying I'm as old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth  makes a good deal of sense. It goes all the way back to the 18th century and Jonathan Swift's Polite Conversation.

    All writers should heed the advice of Stephen King: "If you don’t have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write."

    Bored? Then this quiz is for you. Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski hits us with a word game where all the answers begin with "ho" or "hum."

    The difference between the verbs lay and lie has always been tricky to master, but Bryan Garner has some helpful tips.

    People who can't manage to go anywhere without a book might be afflicted with abibliophobia, or perhaps they're just book-bosomed.

    You're probably aware that massive is simply a slang term for great or large. But for one professional balloon artist who thought that something massive has to contain actual mass, it took some convincing for him to accept that his giant balloon sculpture could, in fact, be massive.

    Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to some bad end, said people in the olden days regarding transgressive women. A variation on this saying pops up in a 1911 book called Folk-Lore of Women by one Reverend Thomas Thiselton-Dyer.

    Mark Twain famously said that he'd never write "metropolis" for 7 cents when he could write "city" for the same fee, and it stands as good advice for writers looking to make economical word choices.

    Grant's 7-year-old son has gotten into Ancient Greek, of all things. While it's a joy to teach your kids interesting things, a child's eagerness to learn also poses a challenge for parents. You don't want to squelch their curiosity by forcing things too hard.

    Store clerks: If someone asks for a case quarter in change, it means they don't want two dimes and a nickel or five nickels. They want a single 25-cent piece. Same for a case dollar, case dime, or case nickel. The customer is asking for a single bill or coin.

    The term palaver, meaning an idle or prolonged discussion, comes from the old Portuguese term palavra that British sailors picked up at West African ports in the 1700s, where palaver huts are places where villagers can gather to discuss local affairs.

    If you're still hung up on the lay vs. lie rule, here's a poem for you.

    We'll be celebrating the United States' 250-year anniversary in about 12 years, and if you're looking for a neat, shiny term for the event, how about bicenquinquagenary, or perhaps sestercentennial?

    Why do we eat a frozen dessert to celebrate being born? Because it's sherbert-day! Don't hate us.

    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.

  • Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:07pm

    Great news! A brand-new season of A Way with Words starts this weekend!

    The reason we're able to start another year of a show that informs, inspires, and connects listeners around the world? You.

    Make your tax-deductible donation now.

    You, our listeners, are this program's largest source of financial support. Your donations to the nonprofit which produces A Way with Words make a difference by helping make the show and distribute it to everyone, regardless of their ability to donate.

    We depend on your gifts to cover the cost of renting a studio, an engineer's time, website and podcast hosting, as well as our toll-free phone line, available throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

    Of course, you're also our greatest source of inspiration. Your calls, emails, letters, and conversations inspire us to keep the show going, year after year. Your enthusiasm, stories, and questions help us bring new perspectives and education about language to everyone.

    Make your gift today. Help us kick off this eighth season as an independent radio show — one that gets no funding from NPR — with a bang. Donate now.

    You can also donate by postal mail: Wayword, Inc., P.O. Box 632721, San Diego, CA 92163.

    Here's to another year of thoughtful conversation about language!

       &     

    Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett
    co-hosts and co-producers of A Way with Words

    P.S. Have you considered remembering A Way with Words in your will? It's an easy way to ensure the show keeps reaching listeners for years to come. We can help you with that. Find out how here.

    Photo by Andreas Cappell. Used under a Creative Commons license.