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A Way With Words

PRX

Public radio's lively hour-long program about the English language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett take calls from listeners about linguistic disputes, grammatical pet peeves, the origins of words and phrases, and curious regional expressions.

Public radio's lively hour-long program about the English language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett take calls from listeners about linguistic disputes, grammatical pet peeves, the origins of words and phrases, and curious regional expressions.
More Information

Location:

San Diego, CA

Networks:

PRX

Description:

Public radio's lively hour-long program about the English language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett take calls from listeners about linguistic disputes, grammatical pet peeves, the origins of words and phrases, and curious regional expressions.

Twitter:

@wayword

Language:

English

Contact:

Wayword, Inc. P.O. Box 632721 San Diego, CA 92163 1 (877) 929-9673


Episodes

Knuckle Down (Rebroadcast) - 18 March 2019

3/18/2019
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A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So why is it a pejorative term for those of a certain political persuasion? Also, is there something wrong with the phrase "committed suicide"? Some say that the word "commit" is a painful reminder that, legally, suicide was once considered a criminal act. They've proposed a different term. Finally, a word game inspired by that alliteratively athletic season, March Madness. Plus, rabble rouser vs. rebel rouser, BOLO, feeling punk, free...

Duration:00:51:21

Dirty Laundry - 11 March 2019

3/11/2019
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When you had sleepovers as a child, what did you call the makeshift beds you made on the floor? In some places, you call those bedclothes and blankets a pallet. This word comes from an old term for "straw." And: What's the story behind the bedtime admonition "Sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite"? Plus, when grownups are talking about sex or money, they may remind each other that "little pitchers have big ears." It's a reference to the ear-shaped handle on a jug, and the knack kids...

Duration:00:51:27

Lie Like A Rug (Rebroadcast) - 4 March 2019

3/4/2019
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The words we choose can change attitudes--and change lives. A swing-dance instructor has switched to gender-neutral language when teaching couples. He insists that using words like "leader" and "follower" actually works better than using gendered terms. But not everyone agrees. Plus, a pithy observation about how stray comments can seem meaningless at the time, but can lodge in other people like seeds and start growing. Plus, slang you might hear in Albuquerque, sufficiently suffonsified,...

Duration:00:51:33

Keep Your Powder Dry - 25 February 2019

2/25/2019
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Jacuzzi and silhouette are eponyms – that is, they derive from the names of people. An Italian immigrant to California invented the bubbly hot tub called a jacuzzi. And the word silhouette commemorates a penny-pinching treasury secretary who lasted only a few months in office and was associated with these shadow portraits. Also, if the words strubbly, briggling, and wabashing aren’t already in your vocabulary, they should be – if only because they’re so much fun to say. Only one of them...

Duration:00:51:43

One Armed Paper Hanger - 18 February 2019

2/18/2019
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The emotional appeal of handwriting and the emotional reveal of animal phrases. Should children be taught cursive writing in school, or is their time better spent studying other things? A handwritten note and a typed one may use the very same words, but handwritten version may seem much more intimate. Plus, English is full of grisly expressions about animals, such as "there's more than one way to skin a cat" and "until the last dog is hung." The attitudes these sayings reflect aren't so...

Duration:00:51:44

Hair on Your Tongue - 11 February 2019

2/11/2019
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If you speak both German and Spanish, you may find yourself reaching for a German word instead of a Spanish one, and vice versa. This puzzling experience is so common among polyglots that linguists have a name for it. Also, the best writers create luscious, long sentences using the same principles that make for a musician's melodious phrasing or a tightrope walker's measured steps. Finally, want to say something is wild and crazy in Norwegian? You can use a slang phrase that translates as...

Duration:00:51:44

Train of Thought - 4 February 2019

2/4/2019
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Chances are you recognize the expressions Judgment Day and the root of all evil as phrases from the Bible. There are many others, though, some of which may surprise you: the powers that be and bottomless pit first appeared in scripture. Plus, there's a term for when the language of a minority is adopted by the majority. When, for example, expressions from drag culture and hip-hop go mainstream, they're said to have covert prestige. And the language of proxemics: how architects design spaces...

Duration:00:51:47

Colonial English - 28 January 2019

1/28/2019
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The anatomy of effective prose, and the poetry of anatomy. Ever wonder what it'd be like to audit a class taught by a famous writer? A graduate student's essay offers a taste of a semester studying with author Annie Dillard. Also, what did George Washington sound like when he spoke? We can make a few guesses based on his social class and a look at dialect changes in colonial America. Plus, where is your body's xiphoid (ZIFF-oyd) process? Also: inept vs. ept, ruly vs. unruly, gruntled vs....

Duration:00:51:55

Pig Latin (Rebroadcast) - 21 January 2019

1/21/2019
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This week on "A Way with Words": Grant and Martha discuss the L-word--or two L-words, actually: liberal and libertarian. They reflect different political philosophies, so why do they look so similar? Also, is the term expat racist? A journalist argues that the word expat carries a value judgment, suggesting that Westerners who move to another country are admirable and adventurous, while the term immigrant implies that someone moved out of necessity or may even be a burden to their adopted...

Duration:00:52:31

Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2019

1/14/2019
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Echoes of the Greatest Generation, and a tasty bite of history. The language and melodies of military marching songs can connect grown children with their parents who served. Is there a collection of those military cadences somewhere? Also, a story about a woman sifting through her parents' love letters from World War II, and a puzzling phrase to describe an awkward love triangle: "running a sandy." Finally, is Northern Spy the name of a military operation or a kind of apple? The surprising...

Duration:00:52:18

Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2019

1/7/2019
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Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she can think of sound old-fashioned. Is there a better term than malarkey, poppycock, or rubbish? Also, listeners step up to help a caller looking for a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes makes it hard for her to remember words....

Duration:00:52:12

Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 31 December 2018

12/31/2018
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Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to anyone online. Finally, the art of accepting apologies. If a co-worker is habitually late but apologizes each time, what words can you use to accept their latest apology but also communicate that you never want it to happen again? FULL...

Duration:00:52:21

Space Cadet - 24 December 2018

12/24/2018
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We have books that should be on every language lover's wish list, plus a couple of recommendations for history buffs. Plus: how did the word boondoggle come to denote a wasteful project? The answer involves the Boy Scouts, a baby, a craft project, and a city council meeting. Plus, wordplay with palindromes. Instead of reversing just individual letters, some palindromes reverse entire words! Like this one: You can cage a swallow, but you can't swallow a cage, can you? Also, squeaky clean,...

Duration:00:52:07

Howling Fantods - 17 December 2018

12/17/2018
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Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing drug-laced dollar bills, or that AM radio stations only broadcast in the morning? A Twitter thread prompts those and other funny confessions. And: a moving new memoir by Kansas writer Sarah Smarsh touches on the connection between vocabulary and class. Plus, the inventive language of writer David Foster Wallace: Even if you've never heard the...

Duration:00:52:08

Cootie Shot - 10 December 2018

12/10/2018
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Perfect sentences and slang that tickles your mind. A new book of writing advice says that a good sentence "imposes a logic on the world's weirdness" and pares away options for meaning, word by word. Plus, your musician friend may refer to his guitar as an ax, but this slang term was applied to other musical instruments before it was ever used for guitars. And: we need a word for that puzzling moment when you're standing there wondering which recyclables are supposed to go in which bin....

Duration:00:51:56

Boss of Me (Rebroadcast) - 3 December 2018

12/3/2018
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If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city's name looks familiar doesn't mean you should assume you know how the locals pronounce it. The upstate New York town spelled R-I-G-A isn't pronounced like the city in Latvia. Turns out lots of towns and streets have counterintuitive names. Finally, why do we describe being...

Duration:00:52:52

Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 26 November 2018

11/26/2018
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A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . . you can guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation. Finally, the words "coffee" and "sugar" both come from Arabic, as does another familiar word: ghoul. There's a spooky story about its origin. Also, freckle, diamond in the rough, spur of the moment, literary limericks, the pronunciation of...

Duration:00:51:55

Bottled Sunshine - 19 November 2018

11/19/2018
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If you catch your blue jeans on a nail, you may find yourself with a winklehawk. This term was adapted into English from Dutch, and means "an L-shaped tear in a piece of fabric." And: What's your relationship with the books on your shelves? Do the ones you haven't read yet make you feel guilty -- or inspired? Finally, we're all used to fairy tales that start with the words "Once upon a time." Not so with Korean folktales, which sometimes begin with the beguiling phrase "In the old days, when...

Duration:00:51:56

Care Package - 12 November 2018

11/12/2018
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Sending someone a care package shows you care, of course. But the first care packages were boxes of food and personal items for survivors of World War II. They were from the Committee for American Remittances to Europe, the acronym for which is CARE. Also: Montgomery, Alabama is home to the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This profoundly moving structure commemorates the thousands of African-Americans lynched between 1877 and 1950 in acts of racial terror. The word lynch itself...

Duration:00:51:55

Hell for Leather (Rebroadcast) - 5 November 2018

11/5/2018
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Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it ever okay to call someone a lady? Or is woman always the better term? Plus, surprising stories behind some familiar car brands. Chances are you've been stopped in traffic behind a car named for an ancient Persian deity -- or passed by an automobile that takes...

Duration:00:51:56