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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

Criss Cross Applesauce

8/13/2018
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How do languages change and grow? Does every language acquire new words in the same way? Martha and Grant focus on how that process happens in English and Spanish. Plus, the stories behind the Spanish word "gringo" and the old instruction to elementary school students to sit "Indian Style." Finally, the English equivalents of German sayings provide clever ways to think about naps, procrastination, lemons, and more. Also: catawampus, raunchy, awful vs. awesome, Man Friday, and...

Duration:00:50:59

Whistle Pig (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2018

8/6/2018
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The stories behind slang, political and otherwise. The dated term "jingoism" denotes a kind of belligerent nationalism. But the word's roots lie in an old English drinking-house song that was popular during wartime. Speaking of fightin' words, the expression "out the side of your neck" came up in a feud between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa--and let's just say the phrase is hardly complimentary. Finally, a German publishing company has declared that the top slang term among that country's youth...

Duration:00:50:59

Up Your Alley - 30 July 2018

7/30/2018
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Martha and Grant have book recommendations, including a collection of short stories inspired by dictionaries, and a techno-thriller for teens. Or, how about novels with an upbeat message? Publishers call this genre "up lit." Plus, a clergyman ponders an arresting phrase in the book Peter Pan: What does the author mean when he says that children can be “gay and innocent and heartless”? Finally, watch out: if you spend money freely, you just might be called . . . . a dingthrift. Plus,...

Duration:00:50:59

Piping Hot - 23 July 2018

7/23/2018
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The game of baseball has always inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word "stuff," for example, can refer to a pitcher's repertoire, or to the spin on a ball, or what happens to the ball after a batter hits it. Also: nostalgia for summer evenings and fond terms for fireflies, plus a word to describe that feeling when your favorite restaurant closes for good. "Noshtalgia," anyone? And: homonyms, forswunk, sweetbreads, get on the...

Duration:00:50:59

Copacetic (Rebroadcast) - 16 July 2018

7/16/2018
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Brand names, children's games, and the etiquette of phone conversations. Those clever plastic PEZ dispensers come in all shapes and sizes -- but where did the word PEZ come from? The popular candy's name is the product of wordplay involving the German word for "peppermint." Also, the story behind that sing-songy playground taunt: "Neener, neener, NEEEEEEEEEEner!" Listen closely, and you'll hear the same melody as other familiar children's songs. Finally, the process of ending a phone...

Duration:00:50:59

Mustard on It (Rebroadcast) - 9 July 2018

7/9/2018
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When does a word's past make it too sensitive to use in the present? In contra dancing, there's a particular move that dancers traditionally call a gypsy. But there's a growing recognition that many people find the term gypsy offensive. A group of contra dancers is debating whether to drop that term. Plus, the surprising story behind why we use the phrase in a nutshell to sum things up. A hint: it goes all the way back to Homer's Iliad. And finally, games that feature imaginary Broadway...

Duration:00:50:59

Proof in the Pudding (Rebroadcast) - 2 July 2018

7/2/2018
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Have you ever offered to foster a dog or cat, but wound up adopting instead? There's an alliterative term for that. And when you're on the job, do niceties like "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" make you sound too formal? Not if it comes naturally. And what about the term "auntie" (AHN-tee)? In some circles, it's considered respectful to address a woman that way, even if she's not a relative. Also, the old saying "The proof is in the pudding" makes no sense when you think about it. That's because...

Duration:00:51:56

We have an attitude — 27 June 2018

6/27/2018
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In the 11 years Martha and I have been doing A Way with Words together, we’ve developed an attitude. It’s a positive attitude. It’s who we really are. It’s the attitude we take toward language, linguistics, and the people who use them. For example, we believe that if we all — you, me, everyone — try to perfect our understanding of language and how it’s truly used, we’ll all understand each other better, we’ll learn to respect other identities and other worldviews, and we will more...

Duration:00:01:02

Mimeographs and Dittos - 25 June 2018

6/25/2018
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How colors got their names, and a strange way to write. The terms "blue" and "orange" arrived in English via French, so why didn't we also adapt the French for black and white? Plus, not every example of writing goes in one direction across the page. In antiquity, people sometimes wrote right to left, then left to right, then back again -- the same pattern you use when mowing a lawn. There's a word for that! And: a whiff of those fragrant duplicated worksheets that used to be passed out in...

Duration:00:52:23

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