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A Way with Words — language, linguistics, and callers from all over

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, produced by Stefanie Levine

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A Way with Words is a fun and funny radio show and podcast about language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about linguistics, slang, new words, jokes, riddles, word games, grammar, old sayings, word ...Show More

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Lie Like A Rug (Rebroadcast) - 4 March 2019

51:35 | Mar 4th

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 ter...Show More

Keep Your Powder Dry - 25 February 2019

51:45 | Feb 25th

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 o...Show More

One Armed Paper Hanger - 18 February 2019

51:46 | Feb 18th

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, ...Show More

Hair on Your Tongue - 11 February 2019

51:46 | Feb 11th

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 lu...Show More

Train of Thought - 4 February 2019

51:49 | Feb 4th

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...Show More

Colonial English - 28 January 2019

51:57 | Jan 28th

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 Was...Show More

Pig Latin (Rebroadcast) - 21 January 2019

52:33 | Jan 21st

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 argue...Show More

Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2019

52:20 | Jan 14th

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 a...Show More

Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2019

52:14 | Jan 7th

Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she...Show More

Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 31 December 2018

52:21 | Dec 31st, 2018

Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to a...Show More

Space Cadet - 24 December 2018

52:09 | Dec 24th, 2018

We have books that should be on every language lover's wish list, plus a couple of recommendations for history buffs. Plus: how did the word boondoggle come to denote a wasteful project? The answer involves the Boy Scouts, a baby, a craft project, an...Show More

Howling Fantods - 17 December 2018

52:10 | Dec 17th, 2018

Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing drug-laced dollar bills, or that AM radio stations only broadcast in the morning? A Twitter thread pro...Show More

Cootie Shot - 10 December 2018

51:58 | Dec 10th, 2018

Perfect sentences and slang that tickles your mind. A new book of writing advice says that a good sentence "imposes a logic on the world's weirdness" and pares away options for meaning, word by word. Plus, your musician friend may refer to his guitar...Show More

Boss of Me (Rebroadcast) - 3 December 2018

52:54 | Dec 3rd, 2018

If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city's name looks familiar doesn't ...Show More

Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 26 November 2018

51:57 | Nov 26th, 2018

A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation....Show More

Bottled Sunshine - 19 November 2018

51:58 | Nov 19th, 2018

If you catch your blue jeans on a nail, you may find yourself with a winklehawk. This term was adapted into English from Dutch, and means "an L-shaped tear in a piece of fabric." And: What's your relationship with the books on your shelves? Do the on...Show More

Care Package - 12 November 2018

51:57 | Nov 12th, 2018

Sending someone a care package shows you care, of course. But the first care packages were boxes of food and personal items for survivors of World War II. They were from the Committee for American Remittances to Europe, the acronym for which is CARE....Show More

Hell for Leather (Rebroadcast) - 5 November 2018

51:58 | Nov 5th, 2018

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it ever okay to ...Show More

Ding Ding Man - 29 October 2018

51:57 | Oct 29th, 2018

In 1803, a shy British pharmacist wrote a pamphlet that made him a reluctant celebrity. The reason? He proposed a revolutionary new system for classifying clouds--with Latin names we still use today, like cumulus, cirrus, and stratus. Also: when read...Show More

Take Tea for the Fever - 22 October 2018

51:36 | Oct 22nd, 2018

Silence comes in lots of different forms. In fact, says writer Paul Goodman, there are several kinds: There's the noisy silence of "resentment and self-recrimination," and the helpful, participatory silence of actively listening to someone speak. Plu...Show More

Come see Martha and Grant live!

0:00 | Oct 17th, 2018

We're launching our first national tour!   Join A Way with Words, public radio's lively show about language, for a fantastic evening! Slang, dialect, etymology, language change, new words, and a whole lot more.   We'll explore the amazing oddities of...Show More

Sun Dog - 15 October 2018

51:36 | Oct 15th, 2018

A clever pun can make the difference between a so-so phrase and a memorable one. The phrase "the last straw" refers to an old fable about too many items in a load, but it takes on a whole new meaning in a public-awareness campaign about the environme...Show More

Oh For Cute - 8 October 2018

51:01 | Oct 8th, 2018

A stereotype is a preconceived notion about a person or group. Originally, though, the word stereotype referring to a printing device used to produce lots of identical copies. If you suspect there's a connection, you're right!  Also, the link between...Show More

Coinkydink - 1 October 2018

51:01 | Oct 1st, 2018

Sometimes it's a challenge to give a book a chance: How many pages should you read before deciding it's not worth your time? There's a new formula to help with that decision -- and it's all based on your age. And: Have you ever noticed someone mouthi...Show More

Sweet Dreams (Rebroadcast) - 24 September 2018

51:01 | Sep 24th, 2018

In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weekend went to when the boss is on his way. Plus, English speakers borrowed the words lieutenant and precipi...Show More

Gangbusters (Rebroadcast) - 17 September 2018

51:01 | Sep 17th, 2018

Sensuous words and terms of endearment. Think of a beautiful word. Now, is it simply the word's sound that makes it beautiful? Or does its appeal also depend on meaning? Also, pet names for lovers around the world: You might call your beloved "honey,...Show More

XYZ PDQ (Rebroadcast) - 10 September 2018

51:01 | Sep 10th, 2018

How often do you hear the words campaign and political in the same breath? Oddly enough, 19th-century grammarians railed against using campaign to mean "an electoral contest." Martha and Grant discuss why. And, lost in translation: a daughter acciden...Show More

Hang a Ralph (Rebroadcast) - 3 September 2018

51:01 | Sep 3rd, 2018

The names of professional sports teams often have surprising histories -- like the baseball team name inspired by, of all things, trolley-car accidents. Plus, some questions to debate at your next barbecue: Is a hot dog a sandwich if it's in a bun? A...Show More

You Bet Your Boots (Rebroadcast) - 27 August 2018

51:01 | Aug 27th, 2018

You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more--and make sure to include a wide variety of publications. But what if you just don't have that kind of time? Martha and Grant show how to learn...Show More

Pink Slip (Rebroadcast) - 20 August 2018

51:01 | Aug 20th, 2018

This week on "A Way with Words": The language of political speech. Politicians have to repeat themselves so often that they naturally develop a repertoire of stock phrases to fall back on. But is there any special meaning to subtler locutions, such a...Show More

Criss Cross Applesauce

51:01 | Aug 13th, 2018

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 elementa...Show More

Whistle Pig (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2018

51:01 | Aug 6th, 2018

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 ex...Show More

Up Your Alley - 30 July 2018

51:01 | Jul 30th, 2018

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...Show More

Piping Hot - 23 July 2018

51:01 | Jul 23rd, 2018

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 afte...Show More

Copacetic (Rebroadcast) - 16 July 2018

51:01 | Jul 16th, 2018

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 Germa...Show More

Mustard on It (Rebroadcast) - 9 July 2018

51:01 | Jul 9th, 2018

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 co...Show More

Proof in the Pudding (Rebroadcast) - 2 July 2018

51:58 | Jul 2nd, 2018

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...Show More

We have an attitude — 27 June 2018

01:01 | Jun 27th, 2018

It’s a positive attitude. It’s who we really are. Go to https://waywordradio.org/mission .

Mimeographs and Dittos - 25 June 2018

52:25 | Jun 25th, 2018

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....Show More

Spicy Jambalaya - 18 June 2018

51:58 | Jun 18th, 2018

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"! A...Show More

A request from Martha — 13 June 2018

01:12 | Jun 13th, 2018

Have you ever wanted to know who we really are? How Grant and I really see ourselves? Go to https://waywordradio.org/mission .

Chopped Liver — 11 June 2018

51:58 | Jun 11th, 2018

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 celes...Show More

Busted Melon (Rebroadcast) - 4 June 2018

52:25 | Jun 4th, 2018

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 bil...Show More

Truth and Beauty - 28 May 2018

51:01 | May 28th, 2018

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 physicis...Show More

Jump Steady (Rebroadcast) - 21 May 2018

51:19 | May 21st, 2018

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 som...Show More

Dessert Stomach - 14 May 2018

51:01 | May 14th, 2018

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...Show More

Scat Cat (Rebroadcast) - 7 May 2018

51:01 | May 7th, 2018

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 ci...Show More

Far Out, Man - 30 April 2018

51:01 | Apr 30th, 2018

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 wa...Show More

Beat the Band (Rebroadcast) - 23 April 2018

51:01 | Apr 24th, 2018

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 yo...Show More

Brollies and Bumbershoots - 16 April 2018

51:01 | Apr 16th, 2018

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 de...Show More

Cool Your Soup - 9 April 2018

51:01 | Apr 9th, 2018

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 tor...Show More

Put on the Dog - 2 April 2018

51:01 | Apr 2nd, 2018

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 h...Show More

Fighting Artichokes (Rebroadcast) - 26 March 2018

51:01 | Mar 26th, 2018

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 orig...Show More

Burn Bag (Rebroadcast) - 19 March 2018

51:01 | Mar 19th, 2018

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 ...Show More

Gee and Haw - 12 March 2018

51:01 | Mar 12th, 2018

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...Show More

Gung Ho - 5 March 2018

51:01 | Mar 5th, 2018

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 enthusiasti...Show More

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 26 February 2018

51:01 | Feb 27th, 2018

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 ...Show More

Smile Belt (Rebroadcast) - 19 February 2018

51:01 | Feb 19th, 2018

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 b...Show More

Crusticles and Fenderbergs - 12 January 2018

51:01 | Feb 12th, 2018

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...Show More

Bun in the Oven - 5 February 2018

51:01 | Feb 5th, 2018

Family words, and words about being in a family way. How many different ways ARE there to say you're have a baby on the way? Sure, you can say you're pregnant, or that you're great with child. But there are lots of other terms. How about clucky, awkw...Show More

Flying Pickle - 29 January 2018

51:01 | Jan 29th, 2018

How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels of all your canned foods and scattering cornflakes in your bed? That tradition has almost died out, but...Show More

Happy as Larry - 22 January 2018

51:01 | Jan 22nd, 2018

New research shows that you may be less influenced by superstitious behavior like walking under ladders or the magic of four-leaf clovers if you're reading about it in another language. And: sometimes not cursing will catch someone's ear even more th...Show More

A Shoo In (Rebroadcast) - 15 January 2018

51:01 | Jan 15th, 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 storie...Show More

Noon of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 January 2018

51:01 | Jan 8th, 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...Show More

Naked as a Jaybird - 1 January 2018

51:55 | Jan 1st, 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 re...Show More

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

52:13 | Dec 25th, 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...Show More

There's more of everything!

01:04 | Dec 21st, 2017

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 mo...Show More

Brand Spanking New - 18 December 2017

51:56 | Dec 18th, 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. Th...Show More

The Last Straw - 11 December 2017

51:56 | Dec 11th, 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 t...Show More

A gift for your language nerd!

01:07 | Dec 8th, 2017

Donate to support A Way with Words https://waywordradio.org/donate .... 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. ...Show More

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 4 December 2017

51:42 | Dec 4th, 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 R...Show More

Coast Is Clear (Rebroadcast) - 27 November 2017

51:01 | Nov 27th, 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 se...Show More

Hidden Treasures - 20 November 2017

51:01 | Nov 20th, 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...Show More

Butterflies in Your Stomach - 13 November 2017

51:01 | Nov 13th, 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 ...Show More

Catch You on the Flip Side - 6 November 2017

51:01 | Nov 6th, 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 exa...Show More

All Verklempt - 30 October 2017

51:01 | Oct 30th, 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 peopl...Show More

Hunk Waffle - 23 October 2017

51:01 | Oct 23rd, 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 ...Show More

Pants on Fire - 16 October 2017

51:01 | Oct 16th, 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,...Show More

Frozen Rope - 9 October 2017

51:01 | Oct 9th, 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 res...Show More

Gone to Seed (Rebroadcast) - 2 October 2017

52:30 | Oct 2nd, 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 "cle...Show More

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

52:17 | Sep 25th, 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...Show More

Steamed Bun (Rebroadcast) - 18 September 2017

52:30 | Sep 18th, 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...Show More

Charismatic Megafauna (Rebroadcast) - 11 September 2017

52:17 | Sep 11th, 2017

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 shoul...Show More

Knuckle Down (Rebroadcast) - 4 September 2017

52:30 | Sep 4th, 2017

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...Show More

What Kids Know and Want to Find Out - 1 September 2017

29:04 | Sep 1st, 2017

Our youngest listeners have questions about everything from love to one of their favorite foods. Kids ask why we might end a text with the letters xoxo, what the word "canoodle" means, and how pizza got its name. And it turns out that when it comes t...Show More

Lie Like a Rug (Rebroadcast) - 28 August 2017

51:01 | Aug 28th, 2017

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 ter...Show More

Pig Latin (Rebroadcast) - 21 August 2017

51:01 | Aug 27th, 2017

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 argue...Show More

Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 August 2017

51:01 | Aug 14th, 2017

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 a...Show More

Chocolate Gravy (Rebroadcast) - 7 August 2017

51:01 | Aug 7th, 2017

Say you have an acquaintance you always see at the dog park or the playground. But one night, you run into them at the movies, and for a moment, it's confusing. Is there a word for that disorienting sense of someone or something being out of place? Y...Show More

Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 31 July 2017

51:14 | Jul 31st, 2017

Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she...Show More

Flop Sweat - 24 July 2017

51:01 | Jul 24th, 2017

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 ...Show More

Smile Belt - 17 July 2017

51:53 | Jul 17th, 2017

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 b...Show More

A Shoo-In - 10 July 2017

51:53 | Jul 10th, 2017

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 storie...Show More

Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 3 July 2017

51:54 | Jul 3rd, 2017

Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to a...Show More

Noon of Night - 26 June 2017

52:38 | Jun 26th, 2017

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...Show More

Boss of Me (Rebroadcast) - 19 June 2017

52:36 | Jun 19th, 2017

If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city's name looks familiar doesn't ...Show More

Sunny Side Up (Rebroadcast) - 12 June 2017

52:38 | Jun 12th, 2017

Baseball has a language all its own: On the diamond, a snow cone isn't what you think it is, and Three Blind Mice has nothing to do with nursery rhymes. And how do you describe someone who works at home while employed by a company in another city? Ar...Show More

Naked as a Jaybird - 5 June 2017

51:01 | Jun 5th, 2017

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 re...Show More

Hot Dog Cold Turkey - 29 May 2017

51:01 | May 29th, 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...Show More

Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 22 May 2017

51:01 | May 22nd, 2017

A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation....Show More

Hell For Leather (Rebroadcast) - 15 May 2017

51:01 | May 15th, 2017

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it ever okay to ...Show More

Skedaddle - 8 May 2017

51:01 | May 8th, 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 R...Show More

Pop Stand (Rebroadcast) - 1 May 2017

51:01 | May 1st, 2017

When it comes to learning new things, what's on your bucket list? A retired book editor decided to try to learn Latin, and ended up learning a lot about herself. There's a word for someone who learns something late in life. And when it comes to card ...Show More

Coast Is Clear - 24 April 2017

51:01 | Apr 24th, 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 se...Show More

Punch List (Rebroadcast) - 17 April 2017

51:01 | Apr 17th, 2017

Books for sale, books for free, and wisdom passed down through the ages. Libraries aren't just repositories for books -- they're often a great place to find gently used volumes for sale. Or you can always visit a "little free library," one of those n...Show More

Sweet Dreams (Rebroadcast) - 10 April 2017

51:01 | Apr 8th, 2017

In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weekend went to when the boss is on his way. Plus, English speakers borrowed the words lieutenant and precipi...Show More

Gone To Seed - 3 April 2017

51:01 | Apr 3rd, 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 "cle...Show More

Hell's Half Acre - 27 March 2017

51:01 | Mar 27th, 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...Show More

Steamed Bun - 20 March 2017

51:01 | Mar 20th, 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...Show More

Gangbusters (Rebroadcast) - 13 March 2017

51:01 | Mar 13th, 2017

Sensuous words and terms of endearment. Think of a beautiful word. Now, is it simply the word's sound that makes it beautiful? Or does its appeal also depend on meaning? Also, pet names for lovers around the world: You might call your beloved "honey,...Show More

XYZ PDQ (Rebroadcast) - 6 March 2017

51:01 | Mar 6th, 2017

How often do you hear the words campaign and political in the same breath? Oddly enough, 19th-century grammarians railed against using campaign to mean "an electoral contest." Martha and Grant discuss why. And, lost in translation: a daughter acciden...Show More

Hang a Ralph (Rebroadcast) - 27 February 2017

51:01 | Feb 27th, 2017

The names of professional sports teams often have surprising histories -- like the baseball team name inspired by, of all things, trolley-car accidents. Plus, some questions to debate at your next barbecue: Is a hot dog a sandwich if it's in a bun? A...Show More

Charismatic Megafauna - 20 February 2017

51:01 | Feb 20th, 2017

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 shoul...Show More

Knuckle Down - 13 February 2017

51:01 | Feb 13th, 2017

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...Show More

Lie Like A Rug - 5 February 2017

51:01 | Feb 6th, 2017

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 ter...Show More

Pig Latin - 29 January 2017

51:01 | Jan 30th, 2017

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 argue...Show More

You Bet Your Boots (Rebroadcast) - 23 January 2016

51:01 | Jan 23rd, 2017

You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more--and make sure to include a wide variety of publications. But what if you just don't have that kind of time? Martha and Grant show how to learn...Show More

Pink Slip (Rebroadcast) - 16 January 2017

52:19 | Jan 16th, 2017

This week on "A Way with Words": The language of political speech. Politicians have to repeat themselves so often that they naturally develop a repertoire of stock phrases to fall back on. But is there any special meaning to subtler locutions, such a...Show More

Criss-Cross Applesauce (Rebroadcast) - 9 January 2016

52:19 | Jan 9th, 2017

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 elementa...Show More

Flee Fly Flo - 2016 December 31

52:19 | Jan 2nd, 2017

SUMMARY Wrapping up 2016 with words from the past year and some newsy limericks. Bigly and Brexit were on lots of lips this year, as well as an increasingly popular Danish word that means "cozy." Also, Quiz Guy John Chaneski sums up the year in newsy...Show More

We've come a long way!

01:28 | Dec 30th, 2016

In 2007, the public media organization that created A Way with Words had a problem. They loved our show but a deep recession meant the station couldn't afford to keep producing it. So they canceled it. That could have been the en...Show More

Whistle Pig (Rebroadcast) - 26 December 2016

52:19 | Dec 26th, 2016

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 ex...Show More

Copacetic (Rebroadcast) - 19 December 2016

52:19 | Dec 19th, 2016

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 Germa...Show More

Whistle in the Dark - 12 December 2016

51:14 | Dec 12th, 2016

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 a...Show More

Chocolate Gravy - 5 December 2016

51:14 | Dec 5th, 2016

Say you have an acquaintance you always see at the dog park or the playground. But one night, you run into them at the movies, and for a moment, it's confusing. Is there a word for that disorienting sense of someone or something being out of place? Y...Show More

Mustard On It (Rebroadcast) - 28 November 2016

51:14 | Nov 28th, 2016

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 co...Show More

Fickle Finger of Fate (#1459)

51:14 | Nov 21st, 2016

Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that's fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she...Show More

Stars and Garters - 14 November2016

51:14 | Nov 14th, 2016

Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" and "butterfingers." Also, the life's work of slang lexicographer Jonathon Green is now available to a...Show More

Proof in the Pudding (Rebroadcast) - 7 November 2016

51:14 | Nov 7th, 2016

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...Show More

Boss Of Me - 31 October 2016

51:19 | Oct 31st, 2016

If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a city's name looks familiar doesn't ...Show More

Sunny Side Up - 24 October 2016

51:14 | Oct 24th, 2016

Baseball has a language all its own: On the diamond, a snow cone isn't what you think it is, and Three Blind Mice has nothing to do with nursery rhymes. And how do you describe someone who works at home while employed by a company in another city? Ar...Show More

Spur of the Moment - 17 October 2016

51:19 | Oct 17th, 2016

A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation....Show More

Hell For Leather - 10 October 2016

51:14 | Oct 10th, 2016

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it ever okay to ...Show More

Busted Melon (Rebroadcast) - 3 October 2016

51:19 | Oct 3rd, 2016

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 bil...Show More

Jump Steady (Rebroadcast) - 26 September 2016

51:19 | Sep 26th, 2016

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 som...Show More

Scat Cat (Rebroadcast) - 19 September 2016

51:19 | Sep 19th, 2016

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." A lot of them, it seems, went to Catholic school. Maybe that's a clue? Plus, the saying "Close, but no cig...Show More

Listening Is Only Half Of It - 18 September 2016

00:57 | Sep 19th, 2016

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There's Something About A Way with Words... - 14 September 2016

00:43 | Sep 14th, 2016

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Tennessee Top Hat (Rebroadcast) - 12 September 2016

51:19 | Sep 12th, 2016

It's hard enough to get a new word into the dictionary. But what happens when lawmakers get involved? New Jersey legislators passed a resolution as part of an anti-bullying campaign urging dictionary companies to adopt the word "upstander." It means ...Show More