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A way with words

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A Shoo In (Rebroadcast) - 15 January 2018

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. FULL DETAILS Hiking in the mountains, Martha kept...

Duration: 00:50:59

Noon of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 January 2018

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

Naked as a Jaybird - 1 January 2018

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: 00:51:53

Hot Dog, Cold Turkey (Rebroadcast) - 25 December 2017

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: 00:52:11

There's more of everything!

Donate to help support A Way with Words all year long ... We’ve got a curious problem here at A Way with Words. Over the last decade, we’ve grown the show from just 12 stations in four states to more than 300 signals in 37 states. What that means is that our success is outpacing our resources! We have more listeners to help, more stations provide service to, more email, more phone calls, more of everything that it takes to run the business behind the...

Duration: 00:01:05

Brand Spanking New - 18 December 2017

Words of the year and correcting a mispronounced name. Taking a look back at some notable words and phrases from 2017: Remember path of totality? How about "milkshake duck"? Also, a committee has to choose a new mascot for a school's sports teams. They want to call them the Knights, as in the heroes in shining armor. But is the word knight gender-neutral? Finally, Finally, a Spanish-speaking man tries in vain to correct peoples' mispronunciation of his first name. But should he bother?...

Duration: 00:51:54

The Last Straw - 11 December 2017

Books for word lovers, plus the stories behind some familiar terms. Want a gift for your favorite bibliophile? Martha and Grant have recommendations, from a collection of curious words to some fun with Farsi. Plus, some people yell "Geronimo!" when they jump out of an airplane, but why that particular word? Also, we call something that heats air a heater, so why do we call something that cools the air an air conditioner? The answer lies in the history of manufacturing. Also, quaaltagh,...

Duration: 00:51:54

A gift for your language nerd!

Donate to support A Way with Words .... Here’s the perfect gift for your language nerd: a donation to A Way with Words. For more than ten years we’ve been producing fun episodes about words and language that are heard millions of times each year by people like your word nerd. Making the show takes money, of course. We don’t get any from NPR. And we don’t get any from your local station. We get much of our support from our podcast and radio fans. This...

Duration: 00:01:08

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 4 December 2017

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. FULL DETAILS You're trying to unscrew the stubborn lid on...

Duration: 00:51:40

Coast Is Clear (Rebroadcast) - 27 November 2017

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: 00:50:59

Hidden Treasures - 20 November 2017

Civil War letters and the opposite of prejudice. A new online archive of Civil War letters offers a vivid portrait of the everyday lives of enlisted men. These soldiers lacked formal education, so they wrote and spelled "by ear," and the letters show how ordinary people spoke back then. Plus, is there a single word that means "the opposite of prejudice"? How about "unhate"? Or maybe "allophilia"? Finally, there's an old joke that if you buy clothes at a flea market, they throw in the fleas...

Duration: 00:50:59

Butterflies in the Stomach - 13 November 2017

If you're not using a dictionary to look up puzzling words as you read them, you're missing out on a whole other level of enjoyment. Also, when you're cleaning house, why not clean like there's literally no tomorrow? The term "death cleaning" refers to downsizing and decluttering specifically with the next generation in mind. The good news is that older folks find that "death cleaning" enhances their own lives. Finally, you know when anticipating something has you extremely nervous but...

Duration: 00:50:59

Catch You on the Flip Side - 6 November 2017

Some countries have strict laws about naming babies. New Zealand authorities, for example, denied a request to name some twins Fish and Chips. Plus, Halley's Comet seen centuries before English astronomer Edmund Halley ever spotted it. That's an example of Stigler's Law, which says no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Funny thing is, Stigler didn't come up with that idea. Finally, anagrams formed by rearranging the letters of another word. But what do you call...

Duration: 00:50:59

All Verklempt - 30 October 2017

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 function. Also:...

Duration: 00:50:59

Hunk Waffle - 23 October 2017

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 - 16 October 2017

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 - 9 October 2017

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. FULL DETAILS Ducks on the pond,...

Duration: 00:50:59

Gone to Seed (Rebroadcast) - 2 October 2017

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...

Duration: 00:52:28

Hell's Half Acre (Rebroadcast) - 25 September 2017

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....

Duration: 00:52:15

Steamed Bun (Rebroadcast) - 18 September 2017

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: 00:52:28

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