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Spicy Jambalaya - 18 June 2018

6/18/2018
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Teen slang from the South, and food words that are tricky to pronounce. High schoolers in Huntsville, Alabama, give Martha and Grant an earful about their slang -- including a term particular to their hometown. All we can say is: Don't be a "forf"! And: How do you pronounce the name of that tasty Louisiana specialty: Is it JUM-buh-lye-yah or JAM-buh-lye-yah? And which syllable do you stress when pronouncing the spice spelled T-U-R-M-E-R-I-C? Finally, the word spelled W-A-T-E-R is of course...

Duration:00:51:56

A request from Martha — 13 June 2018

6/13/2018
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A request from Martha. - 13 June 2018 Have you ever wanted to know who we really are? How Grant and I really see ourselves? Well, for one thing, we believe that talking about language should be about the variety of its possibilities. It shouldn’t be about limiting, or condemning, the different language of other people. Isn’t it cool that there are more than 15 pronunciations of water in the United States? Isn’t it fascinating that our language preserves the footprints of historical...

Duration:00:01:13

Chopped Liver — 11 June 2018

6/11/2018
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There's a proverb that goes "Beloved children have many names." That's at least as true when it comes to the names we give our pets. "Fluffy" becomes "Fluffers" becomes "FluffFace" becomes "FlufferNutter, Queen of the Universe." Speaking of the celestial, how DID the top politician in California come to be named Governor Moonbeam, anyway? Blame it on a clever newspaper columnist. And: still more names for those slowpokes in the left-turn lane. Plus munge and kludge, monkey blood and...

Duration:00:51:56

Busted Melon (Rebroadcast) - 4 June 2018

6/4/2018
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When writing textbooks about slavery, which words best reflect its cold, hard reality? Some historians are dropping the word "slave" in favor of terms like "enslaved person" and "captive," arguing that these terms are more accurate. And raising a bilingual child is tough enough, but what about teaching them three languages? It's an ambitious goal, but there's help if you want to try. Plus, a class of sixth-graders wonders about the playful vocabulary of The Lord of the Rings. Where did...

Duration:00:52:23

Truth and Beauty

5/28/2018
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Vocabulary that trickles down from the top of the world. Malamute, kayak, and parka are just some of the words that have found their way into English from the language of indigenous people in northern climes. Also, the surprising language of physicists: in the 1970s, some scientists argued that two quarks should be called "truth" and "beauty." Finally, the many layers of words and worlds we invoke when we describe someone as "the apple of my eye." Plus, to have brass on one's face, frozen...

Duration:00:50:59

Jump Steady (Rebroadcast) - 21 May 2018

5/21/2018
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Secret codes, ciphers, and telegrams. It used to be that in order to transmit information during wartime, various industries encoded their messages letter by letter with an elaborate system--much like today's digital encryption. Grant breaks down some of those secret codes--and shares the story of the most extensive telegram ever sent. Plus, we've all been there: Your friends are on a date, and you're tagging along. Are you a third wheel--or the fifth wheel? There's more than one term for...

Duration:00:51:17

Dessert Stomach - 14 May 2018

5/14/2018
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Funny cat videos and cute online photos inspire equally adorable slang terms we use to talk about them. When a cat leaves its tongue out, that's a blep. A boop is a gentle tap on its nose. Also, when is a salamander not a salamander? The name of this animal once referred to a mythical beast that was impervious to fire. Now it also refers to heating devices. And: the story of how the Italian term for a dish towel became a word heard halfway across the world in Rome, New York. Plus, Bozo...

Duration:00:50:59

Scat Cat (Rebroadcast) - 7 May 2018

5/7/2018
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The dilemma continues over how to spell dilemma! Grant and Martha try to suss out the backstory of why some people spell that word with an "n." At lot of them, it seems, went to Catholic school. Maybe that's a clue? Plus, the saying "Close, but no cigar" gets traced back to an old carnival game. And the French horn isn't actually French—so why in the world do we call it that ? Plus, a word game based on famous ad slogans, the plural form of the computer mouse, a Southern way to greet a...

Duration:00:50:59

Far Out Man - 30 April 2018

4/30/2018
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An Ohio community is divided over the name of the local high school's mascot. For years, their teams have been called the Redskins. Is that name derogatory -- or does it honor the history of Native Americans in that area? And: You know when you're waiting in line to make a left turn at a traffic light, but the driver ahead of you is so busy with their cell phone that you end up having to sit through another red light? There ought to be a word for that, right? Maybe there is. Finally, the...

Duration:00:50:59

Beat the Band (Rebroadcast) - 23 April 2018

4/24/2018
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This week on "A Way with Words": This week on "A Way with Words": Can language change bad behavior in crowded places? The Irish Railway system has launched ad campaign to encourage passengers to be more generous at boarding time. For example, have you ever rummaged through your belongings or pretended to have an intense phone conversation in order to keep someone from grabbing the seat next to you? Then you're busted -- there's a word for that! Also, one of America's top experts on garage...

Duration:00:50:59

Brollies and Bumbershoots - 16 April 2018

4/16/2018
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If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In Britain, it's a brolly. Plus, a man who works a ski resort shares the vocabulary he and coworkers use to describe grooming the snow. And there's more than one way to pronounce the name of the bread that you pile with lox and cream cheese. Also: strong like bull, whistle britches, long suit and strong suit, homey and homely, wet behind the ears, and...

Duration:00:50:59

Cool Your Soup - 9 April 2018

4/9/2018
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According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it's important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on your own and teach yourself. Also, some Spanish idioms involving food: What does it mean to flip the tortilla or to eat turkey at a dance? Plus, a conversation about the difference between compassion and sympathy. Also recursive acronyms, bear-caught, leaverites, jonesing, mon oeil, Jane Austen's pins, high-water pants, and save your breath to...

Duration:00:50:59

Put on the Dog - 2 April 2018

4/2/2018
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A young patron's sense of wonder prompts a moving tweet by a staffer at the Toronto Public Library. The phrases to put on the dog and putting on the dog refer to ostentatious behavior, and in particular to dressing in a flashy way. But what do dogs have to do with stylish clothing? Our discussion about the many ways to say someone is pregnant prompts a listener to share another one he picked up from broadcaster Paul Harvey: infanticipating. A woman in San Diego, California, says that...

Duration:00:50:59

Fighting Artichokes (Rebroadcast) - 26 March 2018

3/26/2018
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What’s in a mascot name? Maybe you’re a fan of the Banana Slugs, or you cheer for the Winged Beavers. Perhaps your loyalty lies with the Fighting Artichokes. There are some strange names for sports team out there. But what’s even stranger is the origin of the word mascot itself. It’s from a 19th-century opera! And: the host of a television show about gardening is tired of using the verb “to plant,” and is desperate for an alternative. But coming up with one is harder than you might think!...

Duration:00:50:59

Burn Bag (Rebroadcast) - 19 March 2018

3/19/2018
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This week on "A Way with Words": Slang from the 19th century. The slang coming out of Victorian mouths was more colorful than you might think. A 1909 collection of contemporary slang records clever terms for everything from a bald head to the act of sidling through a crowd. Plus, how to remember the difference between CAV-al-ry and CAL-va-ry. And: what's the best way to improve how introverts are perceived in our society? For starters, don't bother asking for help from dictionary editors....

Duration:00:50:59

Gee and Haw - 12 March 2018

3/12/2018
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The highly specialized vocabulary of people who work outdoors, like farmers and fishermen, can bring us closer to the natural world. Also, a woman who trains sled dogs discusses the words she uses to communicate with her animals. You may be surprised to hear that "Mush!" is not one of them! Finally, if you're getting ready to go rock climbing, you'll first want the beta--a word with roots in the technology of video recording. Plus church key, browse line, smeuse, nitnoy, mommick, zawn,...

Duration:00:50:59

Gung Ho - 5 March 2018

3/5/2018
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The stories behind symbols and expressions around the world. The peace symbol popular during 1960's antiwar demonstrations had been around for decades. It originated in the antinuclear movement in the UK. Also, why do we say someone who's enthusiastic is all "gung ho"? The term derives from Chinese words meaning "work together." It was popularized by a Marine officer who admired the can-do spirit of Chinese industrial collectives. Plus, a tasty spin on stuffed foccacia that originated in...

Duration:00:50:59

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 26 February 2018

2/26/2018
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Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a hard "g." But why? And: Mark Twain and Helen Keller had a devoted friendship. When he heard accusations that she'd plagiarized a story, Twain wrote Keller a fond letter assuring her that there's nothing new under the sun. Finally, a well-crafted message header makes email more efficient. A subject line that contains just the word "Question" is...

Duration:00:50:59

Smile Belt (Rebroadcast) - 19 February 2018

2/19/2018
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The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is called the corona, from the Latin word for "crown" -- just like the little crown on a bottle of Corona beer. Plus, the phrase "throw the baby out with the bathwater" contains a vivid image of accidentally tossing something -- and so does the phrase "to fly off the handle." But where did we get the expression "to hell in a handbasket"? The origin...

Duration:00:50:59

Crusticles and Fenderbergs - 12 January 2018

2/12/2018
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A second-generation Filipino-American finds that when he speaks English, his personality is firm, direct, and matter-of-fact. But when he speaks with family members in Tagalog, he feels more soft-spoken, kind, and respectful. Research shows that when our linguistic context shifts, so does our sense of culture. Also: why do we describe movies that are humorously exaggerated and over-the-top as "campy"? This type of "camp" isn't where your parents sent you for the summer. It derives from...

Duration:00:50:59