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Episodes

Loaded For Bear - 16 September 2019

9/16/2019
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One way to make your new business look trendy is to use two nouns separated by an ampersand, like Peach & Creature . . . or Rainstorm & Egg. A tongue-in-cheek website will generate names like that for you. And: in the traditions of several African countries, names for babies are often inspired by conditions at the time of their birth, like a period of grief or wedding festivities, or the baby's position when leaving the womb. In Zambia, for example, many people go by the name Bornface,...

Duration:00:50:59

All Verklempt (Rebroadcast) - 9 September 2019

9/9/2019
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SUMMARY Of all the letters in the alphabet, which two or three are your favorites? If your short list includes one or more of your initials, that's no accident. Psychological research shows we're drawn to the letters in our name. And: if you doubt that people have always used coarse language, just check out the graffiti on the walls of ancient Pompeii. Cursing's as old as humanity itself! Plus, just because a sound you utter isn't in the dictionary doesn't mean it has no linguistic...

Duration:00:50:59

Hunk Waffle (Rebroadcast) - 2 September 2019

9/3/2019
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Decisions by dictionary editors, wacky wordplay, and Walt Whitman's soaring verse. How do lexicographers decide which historical figures deserve a mention or perhaps even an illustration in the dictionary? The answer changes with the times. Plus, a tweet about basketball that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. It goes: "LaBron has played more career minutes than MJ, Shaq, Hakeem, Ewing, and others. Crazy how we never expect him to get fatigued in a game." Turns out there's an...

Duration:00:50:59

Pants On Fire (Rebroadcast) - 26 August 2019

8/26/2019
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A highly anticipated children's book and the epic history behind a familiar vegetable. Fans of illustrator Maurice Sendak are eagerly awaiting the publication of a newly discovered manuscript by the late author. And speaking of children's literature, some wise advice from the author of Charlotte's Web, E. B. White: "Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears." Plus, when is a mango not a mango? If you're in Southern Indiana, you may not be...

Duration:00:50:59

Frozen Rope (Rebroadcast) - 19 August 2019

8/19/2019
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Where would you find a sports commentator talking about high cheese and ducks on a pond? Here's a hint: both terms are part of what make the language of America’s pastime so colorful. And: a government official in New Zealand proposes a new, more respectful term for someone with autism. Plus, the roots of that beloved Jamaican export, reggae music. Also, hang a snowman, goat rodeo, jimson weed, work-brickle vs. work-brittle, OK vs. okay, and banana bag. Listen to all episodes for free:...

Duration:00:50:59

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 12 August 2019

8/12/2019
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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) - 5 August 2019

8/5/2019
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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 of...

Duration:00:50:59

Mrs. Astor's Horse - 29 July 2019

7/29/2019
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"What has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but isn't a cat?" Answer: a kitten! A 1948 children's joke book has lots of these to share with kids. Plus: an easy explanation for the difference between immigrate with an i, and emigrate with an e. And ....a story about storks. The ancient Greeks revered these birds for the way they cared for each other. They even had a legal requirement called the Stork Law, which mandated that Greek adults look after their elderly parents....

Duration:00:50:59

A Shoo-In (Rebroadcast) - 22 July 2019

7/22/2019
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This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from Sara Pennypacker's book Pax. And are there word origins? Well, does a duck swim? We'll hear the stories of polka, smarmy, bully pulpit, and the exes and ohs we use to show our affection. Plus! Sarcastic interrogatives, the echo questions we give as answers to other people's no-duh queries. Listen to all episodes for free:...

Duration:00:50:59

At First Blush - 15 July 2019

7/15/2019
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Book recommendations and the art of apology. Martha and Grant share some good reads, including an opinionated romp through English grammar, a Spanish-language adventure novel, an account of 19th-century dictionary wars, and a gorgeously illustrated book of letters to young readers. Plus, what's the best language for conveying a heartfelt apology? Ideally, an apology won't be the end of a conversation. Rather, it will be the beginning of one. Plus, a brain-busting word quiz, snow job, clean...

Duration:00:50:59

Noon Of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 July 2019

7/8/2019
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Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!" What's the term for that kind of practical joke? Is it a crank call or a prank call? There's a big difference. Also, if someone has a chip on his shoulder, he's spoiling for a fight -- but what kind of chip are we talking about? Potato? Poker? Hint: the phrase arose at a time when there were many more wooden structures around....

Duration:00:50:59

Gift Horse - 1 July 2019

7/1/2019
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The edge of the Grand Canyon. A remote mountaintop, or a medieval cathedral. Some places are so mystical you feel like you're close to another dimension of space and time. There's a term for such locales: thin places. And: did you ever go tick-tacking a few nights before Halloween? Tic-tacking refers to pranks like tapping ominously on windows without being caught, or tossing corn kernels all over a front porch. Also, horses run throughout our language, a relic of when these animals were...

Duration:00:50:59

Naked as a Jaybird (Rebroadcast) - 24 June 2019

6/24/2019
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What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you're doing other chores. Plus, book recommendations for youngsters. Finally, military slang, and the one-word prank that sends Army recruits running--or at least the ones who are in on the joke! Also: fanboys, technophyte, galoot, landsickness, to have one's habits on, Zonk!, and a...

Duration:00:50:59

Had the Radish - 17 June 2019

6/17/2019
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This week on A Way with Words: Your first name is very personal, but what if you don't like it? For some people, changing their name works out great, but for others, it may create more problems than it solves. And: at least three towns in the U.S. were christened with names formed by spelling a word backwards. There's a name for such names: they're called ananyms. Plus, the Iowa town with a curious name: Welcome to the town of What Cheer! And: a brain game involving kangaroo words, had the...

Duration:00:50:59

Hot Dog, Cold Turkey (Rebroadcast) - 10 June 2019

6/10/2019
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Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we say they quit "cold turkey"? This term's roots may lie in the history of boxing. Plus, a transgender listener with nieces and nephews is looking for a gender-neutral term for the sibling of one's parent. Finally, the words "barber" and "doctor" don't necessarily mean what you think. They can both be weather words, referring to very different...

Duration:00:50:59

Abso-Bloomin-Lutely - 3 June 2019

6/3/2019
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The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who's on your guest list and why? Plus, anchors aweigh! The slang of sailors includes the kind of BOSS you'd better dodge, a barn you sail into, and the difference between the Baja Ha-Ha and the Baja Bash. All that, and a brain game about body parts, conked out and zonked out,...

Duration:00:51:13

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 27 May 2019

5/27/2019
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The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten." So why don't their names correspond to where they fall in the year? The answer lies in an earlier version of the Roman calendar. The sweltering period called the "dog days" takes its name from the movements of a certain star. A new book offers an insider's view of the world of dictionary editing. Listen to all episodes for free: https://waywordradio.org/ Â...

Duration:00:51:13

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