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, April 13, 2014 1:56pm

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

    FULL DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

  • Sunday, April 6, 2014 2:49pm

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

    FULL DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A quiddler is someone who wastes his energy on trifles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

  • Sunday, March 30, 2014 6:16pm

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

     FULL DETAILS

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

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

    Why do the Brits pronounce the H in herbal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

  • Sunday, March 23, 2014 7:41pm

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

     FULL DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

  • Monday, March 17, 2014 9:49am

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

     FULL DETAILS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

Playlist

May 25, 2013

2:08 PM
Lights Out
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Lights Out 45rpm
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:12 PM
African Battle
Artist : Brownout
Album : African Battle 45rpm
Composer :
Label : Freestyle Records
2:13 PM
Try A Little Tenderness
Artist : Soul Flutes
Album : Trust In Me
Composer :
Label : A&M Records
2:21 PM
The Contender
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Make The Road By Walking
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:27 PM
The Traitor
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Make The Road By Walking
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:31 PM
Birds
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Make The Road By Walking
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:32 PM
Montego Sunset
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Make The Road By Walking
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:33 PM
Trust In Me
Artist : Soul Flutes
Album : Trust In Me
Composer :
Label : A&M Records
2:46 PM
Karina
Artist : Menahan Street Band
Album : Make The Road By Walking
Composer :
Label : Daptone
2:51 PM
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off
Artist : Ella Fitzgerald
Album : Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book
Composer :
Label : Verve