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

  • Monday, September 1, 2014 7:44am

    SUMMARY

     

    Today's most popular dog names are Max and Bella. In the Middle Ages, though, dogs would answer to names like Amiable. Or Nosewise. Or even . . . Clench. And is the term redneck derogatory? Some folks proudly claim that name. They say it's high time they were redneckcognized. Also, the origin of the phrase rule of thumb, whistling Dixie, the eephus pitch, terms for flabby underarms, and craptastic substitutes for swear words, like Sacapuntas!

     

    FULL DETAILS

     

    Grant and Martha recently served as expert spellers at the San Diego Council on Literacy's annual Adult Spelling Bee, but don't let the age group or philanthropic mission fool you—spelling bees are always i-n-t-e-n-s-e. The word Rorschach shall forever haunt them, but they also took away a new favorite—homologate, meaning to sanction or officially approve. As in, "I'm Joe Blow, and I homologated this message."

     

    There comes a time in life where waving hello means showing off some flabby underarm, but we have some slang to make "flabby underarm" sound a little less icky. A hi-Betty takes its name from the idea of someone waving hi to a friend named Betty. They're also known as hi-Helens, bingo wings, bat wings, and flying squirrels. 

     

    A while back we asked listeners what they call tourists in their neck of the woods, and we've heard back about tourons, which combines tourists and morons, and in the Florida panhandle, folks from out of town are known as sand dollars for bringing along their pocketbooks.

     

    Where does the term redneck come from, and is it derogatory? It goes back at least to the 1830s where it pops up in the Carolinas to refer to a farmer that works in the sun. Over time, people like listener Richard Ramirez of Fort Worth, Texas, have taken it as a term of pride, denoting their authenticity and work ethic. The reality series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has furthered the cause with her call to redneckognize!  As always, whether such a term is offensive depends on who's saying it, and to whom.

     

    Grant dug up an old book of English proverbs, with gems like Novelty always appears handsome, and New dishes beget new appetites. Perhaps you can consider those before lining up for that new iPhone.

     

    Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a quiz for all the fans out there--as in fans of Star Trek, or The X-Files, or trains. Come to think of it, what would you call a fan of A Way with Words?

     

    Baseball fans know the eeuphus pitch—that arcing lob made famous by Rip Sewell in the 1946 All-Star Game. Before that, the word eephus referred to insider information. Jim Strain in La Mesa, California, even uses it as a verb, as in, that dog's not allowed on the couch, but he'll eephus his way on somehow.

     

    Do you have junk in your frunk? As in, the front trunk, found on cars like this zippy Tesla.

     

    Where does rule of thumb come from? The idiom referring to a practical measure based on experience was never actually a law, though it does pop up in legal opinions suggesting that it'd be okay to let a man beat his wife if the stick was less than a thumb in width. 

     

    If you need to release some tension but don't want to curse, try shouting Sacapuntas! This Spanish word for "pencil sharpener" falls into a colorful line of curses that aren't actually curses. For plenty of others, turn to Michelle Witte's book The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing.

     

    The term daisy cutting, which refers to the low action trot that Arabian and Thoroughbred horses do, is reminiscent of the low grounder in baseball known as a daisy cutter and even the Daisy Cutter explosive, which shoots low-flying shrapnel. 

     

    According to vetstreet.com, the top ten female puppy names from 2012 include Bella, Daisy, Lucy, Molly and Lola. Notice anything odd? They're all human names! Gone are the days of pets named Fluffy and Pooch; in are the days of human children named after fruits and vegetables. In the Middle Ages, though, you might run into dogs that answer to Amiable, Trinket, Nosewise, Holdfast, and Clench. For more about pet ownership back then, check out historian Kathleen Walker Meikle's book Medieval Pets.

     

    Do you have spizerinctum (or spizzerinctum) and huckledebuck? These terms for passion and energy, respectively, are fun examples of false Latin, meaning they replicate the look and mouthful of Latin words but aren't actually Latin. Huckledebuck, which can also mean commotion or craziness, has been in use for over one hundred years, but still hasn't been cited in any dictionaries.

     

    You ain't just whistling Dixie, and that's the truth! Whistling Dixie, which refers to a wistful carelessness, comes from the song that originated in minstrel shows and from which the South takes its nickname. But if you say someone ain't just whistling Dixie, it means they're not kidding around.

     

    Come on over for dinner, we'll knock a tater in the head or something! This lovely form of a dinner invite came to us from Vera, a listener in British Columbia who heard it while living in Arkansas.

     

    Elbow grease isn't a product you can buy at the hardware store. If a task demands elbow grease, that just means whatever you're doing requires hard work.

     

    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/.

     

    --

     

    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 2013, Wayword LLC.

  • Sunday, August 24, 2014 3:57pm

    It's the Up Goer Five Challenge! Try to describe something complex using only the thousand most common words in English. It's a useful mental exercise that's harder than you might think. Also, if you want to make a room dark, you might turn off the lights. But you might also cut them off or shut them. You probably know the experience of hearing or seeing a word so long that it ceases to make sense. But did you know linguists have a term for that? Plus, cumshaw artists, the history of Hoosier and beep, and the debate over whether numbers are nouns or adjectives.

    FULL DETAILS

    Who uses the phone book these days, right? The people of Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia do! And not only are their names printed, but so are their nicknames. If you're looking to call Carrots, Lettuce Leaf, Moose, Diesel, or Hose, they're all in there.

    What makes a word a word? If something's not in the dictionary, you might not be able to use it in Scrabble. But dictionaries aren't the last word on whether a word is legitimate. If you use a word that someone else understands, then it's a word. So when Johnny from East Hampton, New York, called to ask if his made-up term micronutia, meaning "something even smaller than minutia," was a real word, he was happy with our answer.

    We've all had the experience of saying a word over and over again until it starts to sound like nonsense. Linguists call this semantic satiation, although you might also think of it as Gnarly Foot phenomenon. Stare at your foot long enough, and you'll start to wonder how such a bizarre-looking thing could ever be attached to your body. Something similar happens with language.

    A bleeble is that little sound or word they throw into a radio broadcast, like the call letters, that serves as a brief signature.

     Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game using three-word phrases linked by the word and. For example, what idiom could be described literally as a country carnival found in the center of town? Hint: this phrase could also be used to describe a good bet.

    Is Hoosier a derogatory term? People from Indiana proudly embrace it, but in the dialect island that is the St. Louis area, the word means someone who is uncouth or uncultured. In Southern Appalachia, the related words hoodger, and hoojer still refer to a rustic, ill-mannered person from the hills.

    How do you make a room dark? Do you shut the lights, cut the lights, or turn off the lights? "Shut the light," as Bob Dylan sang, may derive from old lanterns on which you'd shut a little door. They're all correct, though even the most common phrase, turn off the light, sounds weird when you think about it. After all, you're not turning anything if you're flipping a switch up and down.

    In architecture and design, an affordance is a part of something that serves a function, like the handle on a cup or the notch in a dictionary where you put your thumb. In language we have affordances, too, such as words that indicate a place for someone else to speak or respond.

    Is a number a noun or an adjective? Even dictionary editors struggle with how to classify parts of speech. Like color, such words often lie along a spectrum, and asking at what point the number seven goes from a noun to an adjective is like asking at what point blue becomes purple.

    A while back, we talked about bookmashes—the found poetry formed by book spines stacked on top of each other. On our Facebook page, Irvin Kanines shared her bookmash: Shortcuts to Bliss/ Running with Scissors/ Naked/ Why Didn't I Think of That?

    Try to explain something while only using the thousand most common words in English. It's harder than you might think. This comic from xkcd points out the difficulty in describing a space ship called the Up Goer Five, and an Up-Goer Five Text Editor points out what words don't fit. The challenge becomes even more fun if you're trying to describe complex subjects like science or engineering.

    Tracy from Sherman, Texas, wonders why her dad always used cabbage as a verb to mean "to pilfer or swipe." This term goes back to at least the 18th century, when the verb to cabbage had to do with employee theft. Specifically, it referred to the way dressmakers would cut fabric for a garment and keep the excess for themselves, perhaps rolling it into a little ball that looked like, well, cabbage. Today, a student might sneak in a cabbage sheet to cheat on a test.

    To hoodwink, or put something over on someone, derives from the act of thieves literally throwing a hood on victims before robbing them, thereby making them wink, which has an archaic meaning of "to close one's eyes."

    Sue in Eureka, California, was working at the grocery store during Senior Day when she reminded an elderly customer that the woman might be eligible for a discount. The shopper responded, "Thanks for the tap on the shoulder." Did that mean Sue had said something offensive? No. A tap on the shoulder is simply a way of alerting a stranger to something, since the shoulder is an appropriate body part to touch on someone you don't know.

    Think you know Downton Abbey? Try using the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to describe the plot using the thousand most common words in English! Your description probably won't sound much like the Dowager Countess.

    When did we start using the word beep? After all, today we have car horns, microwaves and other electronic gizmos that beep, but before the early 1900s, nothing ever beeped. It makes you wonder: How did people back then know their Hot Pocket was ready?

    We spoke earlier about cumshaw artists, or people who get things done by crafty stealing or bartering. Alan Johnson from Plano, Texas, told us a story from his Air Force days in Vietnam, when he and some comrades stole a bunch of plywood by sneaking onto a Navy base and loading it into the truck. When a Naval officer saw them, they started unloading it and explaining how they'd come to drop off some excess wood. So the officer told them to get their wood out of there! Classic cumshaw artistry.

    This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

    Phone:
    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, August 17, 2014 7:32pm

    Remember a few years ago when Amazon introduced that mysterious device called a Kindle? People worried that electronic readers would replace traditional books. Turns out the death of the hardcover was greatly exaggerated. Also, the expression "bump and grind" doesn't always mean what you think. Plus, the origin of jet black, the roots of fugacious, a game called Goin' to Texas, and how to punctuate the term y'all. And is there anything express about espresso?

    FULL DETAILS

    Remember the olden days of 2007, when Amazon first introduced the Kindle? Oprah named it her Favorite New Gadget. Some people thought e-readers signaled the death of hardback books, but as Nicholas Carr notes in the Wall Street Journal, only 16% of Americans have purchased an e-book, while 60% say they have no interest in them at all. What is clear is that no matter the medium, people are reading more in general.

    "I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump n' grind," sings the R&B star R. Kelly, referring to the hip-thrusting dance that's all the rage with kids these days. While some people use the phrase the old bump and grind to refer to the daily grind of workaday life, it's probably better not to use it unless your job involves, well, bumping and grinding.

    Alan from Austin, Texas, asks: How do y'all punctuate the contraction of you all? Is it y'all or ya'll? You'd think it'd follow the pattern of she'll and we'll, but y'all is an exception to the rule.

    A while ago we talked about the drink called a suicide, also known as a Matt Dillon. That's when the bartender pours whatever's dripped on the bar mat into a shot glass and some lucky fellow downs it. We've heard lots of variations from listeners, including the Jersey Turnpike, the Gorilla Fart, the Buffalo Tongue and the Alligator Shot. Strangely enough, it's yet to be called the Tasty.

    Our Master of Quiz John Chaneski has a game from his home borough of Brooklyn. For this quiz, he gives us the definition of a word, plus its Brooklynese definition. For example, "a couple with no children" and "a synonym of ponder" are both known as what?

    Why do we say something is jet black? It doesn't have anything to do with aircraft. The jet in jet black is the name of a black semi-precious stone, which in turn takes its name from the part of Syria where it was found in abundance in antiquity.

    Dan Henderson of Sunnyvale, California, sent us a great cartoon of two guys at a bar. One says to the other, "Explain to me how comparing apples and oranges is fruitless?"

    Is master a gender-neutral title? James from Seattle, Washington, hosts a local pub quiz night, where he's known as the Quizmaster. But, he wonders, would it be appropriate to call a woman a Quizmaster? Of course! Many titles, like Postmaster or even actor, have come to be gender-neutral. We wouldn't say Quizmistress because mistress has taken on a specific connotation--namely, the female lover of a married man. For more on gender and language, Grant recommends University of Michigan professor Ann Kurzan's book Gender Shifts in the History of English.

    Hey kid, hey kid, give 'em the saliva toss, the perspiration pellet, the damp fling, deluded dip, the good ol' fashioned spitball! An essay on baseball slang from 1907 sent Martha off on a search for more of these wet ones.

    In Chicano English, the word barely, which traditionally means "just happened," can also mean "almost didn't happen," as in I just barely got here. This locution apparently reflects the fact that in Spanish, the word apenas can mean either one of these. The Chicano use of the barely in this sense is a calque, or loan translation, which occurs when a pattern from one language gets transferred to another.

    Our earlier conversation about sign language reminded Martha of this quote from Helen Keller: "Once I knew only darkness and stillness…my life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."

    One of our listeners was visiting the Orchid House at the San Diego Zoo and happened across the word fugacious, meaning "blooming only briefly." The word can also apply to one's mood, and shares a Latin root with "fleeting" words like refuge, fugitive and subterfuge.

    Is there an express in espresso? Nope. Cafe espresso is literally "pressed-out coffee." So the name espresso has nothing to do with the speed with which espresso is made. The term express, on the other hand, as in express train, derives from the idea of "directly," or "specific to a particular destination." It's the same express as in expressly forbidden, meaning "specifically forbidden."

    Mary, from Royal Oaks, Michigan, says she once confused a friend by offering to relieve her of snow shoveling duties with the question, Can I spell you? This usage of spell, which refers to substituting for a period of time, has been deemed archaic by Merriam Webster, although we believe it's alive and well.

    Bill Watkins from Tallahassee, Florida, is having a tough time knowing which setting to use on his microwave. He figures this moment of indecision while standing there with your finger poised over the buttons deserves a name. His suggestion: microwavering.

    What do you call that children's game where you hold hands and spin around until you're too dizzy to stand? Sally Jarvis, who grew up in Eastern Arkansas, says she and her childhood playmates called it Going To Texas.

    Latin phrases are commonly misused, but there's perhaps no better example than Vampire Butters' butchering of per se, which simply means "in itself," in this episode of South Park.

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

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

    --

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

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

    Email: words@waywordradio.org

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

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

    Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.

  • Sunday, August 10, 2014 7:09pm

    When somebody sneezes, you say, Bless you or Gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something--or are they?  Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit fanciers, a quiz about animal noises, and where to find a purple squirrel. And what's so humbling about winning an award?

    FULL DETAILS

    When you think of the word binky, a child's pacifier probably comes to mind. But it's also a term known among rabbit fanciers. It refers to when bunnies frolic and jump around.

    When somebody sneezes, you say, "Bless you" or "Gesundheit," but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say excuse me. A commenter on Paul Davidson's blog sets a good rule of thumb: bless anything that looks like it hurt.

    A listener from Fairfield, Connecticut wonders why she changes her accent and diction when family members from the Middle East are in town. Actually, everyone does this. It's a matter of imitating those around us in order to make ourselves feel part of a group. After all, the human response to someone who sounds like us is to like them more.

    Here's a quiz: Is a purple squirrel a) a diving board trick, b) a cocktail, or c) a rare job candidate with all the right qualifications? The answer is c. There have, however, been reports of purple squirrels of the sciurine variety.

    Is Hiya a legitimate way to say hello? Sure. The Dictionary of American Regional English has citations for this greeting going back to 1914, but it's heard both in the United States and the United Kingdom.

    Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has quiz based on animal sounds. What sort of wild party would a sheep throw? Or what five-masted ship do golden retrievers sail on? Tip: For this game, animal sounds are just as important as advanced vocabularies.

    This awards season, many winners will say they're humbled by the honor. Ann from Burlington, Vermont, wonders: Shouldn't they feel, well, honored? What's so humbling about winning awards? Grant argues that saying "I'm humbled" is truly a mark of humility to express doubt about your worthiness. Martha would rather hear them just say "I'm honored" or "I'm grateful."

    What's the best time to schedule a dentist appointment? Why, tooth-hurty, of course!

    If you've had enough to eat, you might say you've had gracious plenty. This expression goes back to the early 1800s, and serves the same purpose as saying you're sufficiently suffonsified and or you've had an elegant sufficiency.

    A San Diego listener of Mexican descent says a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film has her wondering about the term Mexican standoff. Is it just a duel? A three-way duel, complete with guns? The end of a 1-1 doubleheader in baseball? Over time, it's had all of these definitions. But the term appears to derive from a derogatory use of Mexican to describe something inferior or undesirable, and therefore should be avoided.

    Beware of linguistic false friends, also known as false cognates. You wouldn't want to say you're feeling embarazada in Spanish, unless you want to say you're pregnant. And don't order the tuna in Spain unless you want to hear a musical group made up of college kids. A kind of false friend exists within English as well—noisome doesn't mean noisy, it means icky, and bombastic doesn't mean booming, it means fluffy or ostentatious, deriving from bombast, a kind of cotton padding.

    In Zen Buddhism, the term all one refers to a state of enlightenment that's the opposite of isolated and alone. The word alone, however, comes from the idea of "all on one's own." The word alone also gives us lone, lonely and lonesome, through a process called misdivision.

    Is the phrase right on just an outdated relic of hippie talk, or is it making a comeback? The Journal of American Folklore traces it back to at least 1911, but it gained traction among African-Americans and hippies in the '60s and '70s, and now exists as a fairly common term of affirmation.

    In an earlier episode, we talked about those huge palmetto bugs known as gallon-nippers.We heard from Dell Suggs in Tallahassee, Florida, who says he knows them simply as gallinippers. This term for a really large mosquito goes back to the early 1700s, and plenty of variations, like granny-nipper, have been tossed about. What do you call those mosquitoes the size of a racquetball where you live?

    How come left-handers get the term southpaw, but righties aren't known as rightpaws? Because being right-handed is the default setting, the fun terms really just exist for the variants. In Australia, lefties are known as mollydookers, and the word sinister actually comes from the Latin term for "left."

    Do you pronounce crayon like crown? This common variation tends to be a Midlands pronunciation. Actually, Americans may pronounce this word several ways, as this dialect map shows.

    This week’s 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, August 3, 2014 2:30pm

    Did you ever wonder why we capitalize the pronoun "I," but not any other pronoun? There's a reason, and it may not be what you think. Also, the romantic story behind our term "halcyon days," the origin of the phrase "like white on rice," and the linguistic scuttlebutt on the word scuttlebutt. Plus, a pun-laden word game, hold your peace vs. hold your piece, nixie on your tintype, and no skin off my nose.

    FULL DETAILS

    Listeners have been posting photos of themselves with their favorite words on our Word Wall, including some that are new to us. For example, epalpebrate might be a good one to drop when describing the Mona Lisa in Art History class, since it means without eyebrows. And Menehune is a term for the tiny, mischievous people in Hawaiian folklore.

    If it's no skin off your nose, there's no harm done. This idiom, which the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms suggests may come from boxing, means the same thing as no skin off my back or no skin off my ear. If you have other idioms in this vein, share them with us!

    What's the difference between speak your piece and speak now or forever hold your peace? While speaking your piece refers to a piece of information you want to share, holding your peace relates to keeping the peace. This is a simple case of a collision of idioms.

    For years, teachers have warned against using the word ain't, apparently with some success. Emily Hummell from Boston sent us a poem that may have contributed: Don't say ain't/ your mother will faint/ your father will fall in a bucket of paint/ your sister will cry/ your brother will sigh/ the cat and dog will say goodbye. Did your parents or teachers have another way of breaking children of the habit of saying ain't?

    Have you heard the latest scuttlebutt around the water cooler? This term for gossip, which comes from the water-filled cask in a ship, is a literal synonym for water cooler talk!

    On our Word Wall, one listener fancies ginnel: the long, narrow passage between houses you find in Manchester and Leeds. Have you shared your favorite word yet?

    Our Puzzle Maestro John Chaneski has a great variation of his classic Tom Swifty game, based on adjectives that fit their subject. For example, how did the citizens feel upon hearing that the dictator of their small country shut down the newspapers? Beware of puns!

    Does capitalizing the pronoun I feel like aggrandizing your own self-importance? Timna, an English Composition professor at an Illinois community college, reports that a student contested refused to capitalize this first person pronoun, arguing that to do so was egotistical. But it's a standard convention of written English going back to the 13th century, and to not capitalize it would draw even more attention. When writing a formal document, always capitalize the I. It's a pronoun, not a computer brand.

    If you want to sound defiant, you could do worse than exclaiming, Nixie on your tintype! This phrase, meaning something to the effect of spit on your face, popped up in Marjorie Benton Cooke's 1914 classic, Bambi. Kristin Anderson, a listener from Apalachicola, Florida, shares this great poem that makes use of the phrase.

    Do you know the difference between flotsam and jetsam? In an earlier episode, we discussed flotsam, which we described as the stuff thrown off a sinking ship. But several avid sailors let us know that jetsam's the stuff thrown overboard, while flotsam is the remains of a shipwreck. Thanks, crew.

    Paula from Palm City, Florida, wants to know: What's so cute about buttons, anyway? Like the expressions cute as a bug and cute as a bug's ear, this expression seems to derive from the fact that all of these things are delicate and small. She raises another interesting question: Are the descriptors beautiful and attractive preferable to cute and adorable after a certain age? We want to hear your thoughts!
     
    The weeks on either side of the winter solstice have a special place in Greek mythology. In the story of Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus, she marries Ceyx, who arrogantly dares to compare their relationship to that of Zeus and Hera. Such hubris is never a good thing in Greek myth, and Zeus causes his death. But the gods eventually take pity on the mortal couple, changing them into birds known for their devotion to each other. Those birds, named after Alcyone, were said to nest on the surface of the sea during calm weather, giving rise to our term halcyon days.

    Is white on rice a racist idiom? No! It simply means that if you're on top of your tasks like white on rice, it means you've got it covered the way rice is covered in whiteness. In Geneva Smitherman's Talkin and Testifyin, she relays a lyric from Frankie Crocker that goes Closer than white's on rice; closer than cold's on ice. Now that's close!

    If something's got you feeling ate up, then you're consumed by the notion that it didn't go perfectly. You're overwhelmed, obsessed, or maybe you're just exhausted. However, among members of the Air Force, ate up has long meant gung ho, as in, that pilot's ate up, he loves flying so much.

    Via Maud Newton's Twitter feed comes this gem from The Sea, by William John Banville: The past beats inside me like a second heart. If you see a great quote somewhere, tweet it to us!

    How conversational fillers such as like and you know creep into our vernacular? Like most verbal ticks and pieces of vocabulary, we pick these things up from those around us. But contrary to some folks' opinions, the use of like and you know don't decrease one's credibility. When used appropriately, they actually make it easier for people to relate to 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.