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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

Coast is Clear (Rebroadcast) - 20 May 2019

5/20/2019
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In the military, if you've "lost the bubble," then you can't find your bearings. The term first referred to calibrating the position of aircraft and submarines. And the phrase "the coast is clear" may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. Plus, a dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado dip. Finally, one more place where people are starting sentences with the word "So"--during prayers at church. Also: elbow clerk, smitten, Tennyson's brook, fussbudget vs....

Duration:00:51:13

Niblings and Nieflings - 13 May 2019

5/13/2019
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How do actors bring Shakespeare's lines to life so that modern audiences immediately understand the text? One way is to emphasize the names of people and places at certain points. That technique is called billboarding. And: Anyone for an alphabet game? A pangram is a sentence that uses EVERY letter of the alphabet at least once. There's the one about the quick, brown fox, of course. But there's a whole world of others, including pangrams about Brexit, emoji, and a pop singer behaving, well...

Duration:00:51:32

Gone to Seed (Rebroadcast) - 6 May 2019

5/6/2019
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Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. Some restaurants now advertise that they sell "clean" sandwiches. But that doesn't mean they're condiment-free or the lettuce got an extra rinse. In the food industry, the word "clean" is taking on a whole new meaning. Plus, a Marine veteran wonders about a phrase he heard often while serving in Vietnam: "give me a Huss," meaning "give me a hand." Finally, some surprising idioms used in Greece today. For example, what does...

Duration:00:51:33

Kite in a Phonebooth - 29 April 2019

4/29/2019
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Stunt performers in movies have their own jargon for talking about their dangerous work. They refer to a stunt, for example, as a gag. Across the country in Brooklyn, the slang term brick means "cold," and dumb brick means "really cold." Plus: the East and Central African tradition that distinguishes between ancestors who remain alive in living memory, and all the rest who have receded into the vast ocean of history. In this sense, all of us are moving toward the past, not away from it....

Duration:00:51:13

Hell's Half Acre (Rebroadcast) - 22 April 2019

4/22/2019
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Hundreds of years ago, the word girl didn't necessarily mean a female child. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the term "girl" could refer to a child of either sex. Only later did its meaning become more specific. Plus, some people think that referring to a former spouse as an ex sounds harsh or disrespectful. So what DO you call someone you used to be involved with? Finally, the story behind the real McCoy. This term for something that's "genuine" has nothing to do with the famous feud. Also,...

Duration:00:51:36

Steamed Bun (Rebroadcast) - 15 April 2019

4/15/2019
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This week on "A Way with Words”: The language we use to cover up our age, and covering up a secret message. Do you ever find yourself less-than-specific about your age? Listeners share some of their favorite phrases for fudging that number, like: "Oh, I'm 29, plus shipping and handling." Plus, since ancient times, people have hidden messages in clever ways. Nowadays, coded messages are sometimes concealed in pixels. Finally, uber-silly German jokes: Did you hear the one about the two...

Duration:00:51:34

Kids Are Asking - 11 April 2019

4/11/2019
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Questions from young listeners and conversations about everything from shifting slang to a bizarre cooking technique. Kids ask about how to talk about finding information on the internet, how tartar sauce got its name, and if the expression high and dry describes something good or something bad. Yes, kids often know more than their parents! Listen to all episodes for free: https://waywordradio.org/ Support the show to keep episodes coming: https://waywordradio.org/donate Your...

Duration:00:26:12

Strawberry Moon - 8 April 2019

4/8/2019
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We asked for your thoughts about whether cursive writing should be taught in schools -- and you replied with a resounding "Yes!" Here's why: Cursive helps develop fine motor skills, improves mental focus, and lets you read old handwritten letters and other documents. Plus: finding your way to a more nuanced understanding of language; the more you know about linguistic diversity, the more you embrace those differences rather than criticize them. Finally, a brain game using translations of...

Duration:00:51:36

Charismatic Megafauna (Rebroadcast) - 1 April 2019

4/1/2019
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Choosing language that helps resolve interpersonal conflict. Sometimes a question is really just a veiled form of criticism. Understanding the difference between "ask culture" and "guess culture" can help you know how to respond. And what words should you use with a co-worker who's continually apologizing for being late--but never changes her behavior? Finally, charismatic megafauna may look cuddly, but they're best appreciated from a distance. Plus, in like Flynn, gradoo, champing,...

Duration:00:51:33

Spill the Tea - 25 March 2019

3/25/2019
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If someone urges you to spill the tea, they probably don't want you tipping over a hot beverage. Originally, the tea here was the letter T, as in truth. To spill the T means to pass along truthful information. Plus, some delicious Italian idioms involving food. The Italian phrase that literally translates Eat the soup or jump out the window! means Take it or leave it, and a phrase that translates as We don't fry with water around here! means We don't do things halfway! Also: why carbonated...

Duration:00:51:20

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