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

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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 origins, regional dialects, family expressions, books, literature, folklore, and speaking and writing well. Email your language questions for the show to words@waywordradio.org. Or call with your questions toll-free *any* time in the U.S. and Canada at (877) 929-9673. From anywhere in the world: +1 (619) 800-4443. Hear all past shows for free: http://waywordradio.org/. Also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wayword.
168 Episodes
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An artist asks strangers to write haiku about the pandemic, and gets back poetic, poignant glimpses of life under lockdown. Plus, the new book Queenspotting features the colorful language of beekeeping! Bees tell each other about a good source of nectar by doing a waggle dance, and when a queen bee is ready to mate, she flies around followed by a drone comet. Also, do you refer to that savory red stuff dripped over your pasta as sauce? Or gravy? In some circles, that's a hotly debated topic! And: a brain teaser about homographs, dog a door, granny beads, skinnymalink, embrangle, euphemisms for urination and defecation, Dry up and bust, and I'm gonna cloud up and rain all over you. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 as an ax, but this slang term was applied to other musical instruments before it was ever used for guitars. And: we need a word for that puzzling moment when you're standing there wondering which recyclables are supposed to go in which bin. Discomposted, anyone? Plus, tickle bump, dipsy doodle, dark as the inside of a goat, thickly settled, woodshedding, and ish. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
In 1971, when a new public library opened in Troy, Michigan, famous authors and artists were invited to write letters to the city's youngest readers, extolling the many benefits of libraries. One of the loveliest was from E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web. Plus, you may think navel-gazing is a relatively new idea -- but it goes back at least to the 14th century, when meditating monks really did look like they were studying their bellies! Also, why don't actors in movies say goodbye at the end of a phone conversation? For that matter, why don't some people answer their smartphones with "Hello"? Plus, a poetic puzzle, duke's mixture, small as the little end of nothing, Chesapeake Bay crabbing lingo, omphaloskepsis, nightingale, light a shuck, bumpity-scrapples, the big mahoff, and If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn't bump his butt. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 reading aloud to children, what's the best way to present a dialect that's different from your own? Finally, recycling our trash demands close attention. Professionals in the recycling business say it's important to be sure that an item is truly recyclable. If you're only guessing when you toss it in the blue bin, then you're engaging in wishcycling -- and that does more harm than good.  Plus, T Jones, diegetic vs. non-diegetic, affixes, solastalgia, and since Sooki was a calf. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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. Plus, the strange story behind the English words "grotesque" and "antic": both involve bizarre paintings found in ancient Roman ruins. Finally, the whirring sound of a Betsy bug and a moth's dusty wings give rise to picturesque English words and phrases. Plus millers, keysmash, subpar, placer mining, dinklepink and padiddle, machatunim and consuegros, and to clock someone. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
There was a time when William Shakespeare was just another little 7-year-old in school. Classes in his day were demanding -- and all in Latin. A new book argues that this rigorous curriculum actually nurtured the creativity that later flourished in Shakespeare's writing. Don't know Latin? You can still adapt those approaches to stretch and hone your own mind. Plus, why do we refer to an unpredictable person as a loose cannon? The answer lies in the terrifying potential of a large weapon aboard a warship. And when a delivery driver's wife teases him about cavorting with strumpets, he asks: What exactly IS a strumpet? All that, plus picayune, sit on a tack, the many meanings of fell, a Spanish idiom about oysters and boredom, pickthank, a puzzle about rhyming words, a terrifying passage from Victor Hugo, tacos called mariachis, and the juice was worth the squeeze. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 environment. Also, why do we use the term "mob scene" to refer to an unruly crowd? This term originated in the world of theater. Finally: the Basque language spoken in the westernmost Pyrenees has long posed a linguistic mystery. Its origins are unclear and it's unlike any other language in the region. But Basque is enjoying something of a revival in a surprising place . . . Idaho. Plus, sun dog, ob-gyn, mob scene, George, Double George, Geezum Pete, and somersault vs. winter pepper.   Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 tiny mythical creatures called trolls and modern-day mischief-makers, plus the stories behind the color names we give to horses. Finally, wise advice about fending off despair: learn something new. Also, grinslies, personal summers, cowboy slang, smell vs. odor, orient vs. orientate, trolls and trolling, and just for fun, some agentive and instrumental exocentric verb-noun compounds. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 mouthing your words as YOU speak? That conversational behavior can be disconcerting, but there may be good reasons behind it. Finally, a punk rock band debates the pronunciation of a word that means "tribute": is it HOM-age, OM-age, or something else entirely? Plus, chevrolegs, Pat and Charlie, on fleek, hornswoggle, 20-couple, coinkydink, and the correct way to say Nevada. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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, waterfalling, pegan, up a gump stump, spendthrift, vice, cabochon, cultural cringe, welsh, and neat but not gaudy.   Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 stick, back friend, farblonjet, and taco de ojo.   Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 elementary schools. Do you call them mimeographed pages or ditto sheets? Also, three-way chili, hangry, frogmarch, the cat may look at the queen, hen turd tea, and the  rhetorical backoff I'm just saying. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
The adjective canine refers to dogs, and feline refers to cats. But how does English address other groups of animals? Plus, cabin fever has been around much longer than the current pandemic. That restless, antsy, stir-crazy feeling goes back to the days when you could find yourself literally cooped up all winter in a cabin on the wild frontier. Finally, in Hungarian, there's a whole genre of silly jokes that involve a character called the aggressive piglet, with a punchline screamed in your most obnoxious voice. What did the aggressive piglet say when he fell into a well? Tune in for the answer, plus a brain teaser about names hidden inside phrases, apple box, lie bump, possum vs. opossum, flat as a flitter vs. flat as a flivver, vespertilian, asinine, and how to pronounce tinnitus. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 chopped liver, a German word for pout, and the land of the living. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
Cat hair may be something you brush off, but cat hair is also a slang term that means "money." In the same way, cat beer isn't alcoholic -- some people use cat beer as a joking term for "milk." And imagine walking on a beach with a long stretch of shoreline. With each step, the ground makes a squeaking sound under your feet. There's a term for the kind of sand that makes this yip-yip-yip sound. It's called barking sand. Plus, a listener describes some of the English she heard in a small Alaskan coastal town. It's a rich mixture of fishermen's slang, along with the speech of native people, and the Norwegians who settled there. All that, and a triple-threat puzzle, paternoster lakes, barely vs. nearly, comprised of vs. composed of, cark, kittenball, the pokey, happy as a boardinghouse pup, and close, but no tomato. Podcast listeners who donate to A Way with Words make new episodes possible. Give today! https://waywordradio.org/donate/ ... Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 statues, good craic, prepone, agathism and agathakakological, and the positive use of I don't care to. Podcast listeners who donate to A Way with Words make new episodes possible. Give today! https://waywordradio.org/donate/ ... Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
Have you ever googled your own name and found someone else who goes by the very same moniker? There's a word for that: googleganger. Plus, the language of hobbyists and enthusiasts: If you're a beekeeper, you call yourself a beek, and if you're an Adult Fan of LEGOs you may refer to yourself as an AFOL. Finally, what will you get if you order a bag of jo jos? In parts of the United States, you may just get a blank look -- but in others, ask for some jo jos and you'll get a nice, warm bag of tasty potato wedges. Also, a sunny-side-up puzzle, pulchritude, a bridge to in Brooklyn to sell you, baby's breath, synanthrope, antidisestablishmentarianism, Believe you me, and You cannot cover the sun with a finger. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 buttons, betsubara, both vs. bolth, straight vs. shtraight, mlem, hoosegow, sticky bottle and magic spanner, all served up with a helping helping of caster sugar. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
One secret to writing well is . . . there is no secret! There's no substitute for simply sitting down day after day to practice the craft and learn from your mistakes. Plus, childhood mixups around word definitions can lead to some funny stories. After all, if you didn't know any better, why wouldn't you assume a thesaurus is a prehistoric creature? Finally, the word groovy wasn't always positive. In the 1880s, it meant just the opposite: someone stuck in a rut or in a groove. Plus: in the meantime, jetty, thick as inkle-weavers, keg of nails, sauna, sofa vs. couch, chirurgeon, fat chance, and a newfangled brain teaser about archaic words. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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 dead nuts. Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @wayword. Our listener phone line 1 (877) 929-9673 is toll-free in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere in the world, call +1 (619) 800-4443; charges may apply. From anywhere, text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673. Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation.
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Comments (21)

Mariejose

Why do Americans say "time period"? And what's up with "it will get worse before it gets better"? Two questions in my list for Martha and Grant

Jul 12th
Reply

Kelsey Wood

the little boy who called in asking about the term loose cannon was so adorable!

Jun 9th
Reply

Ali

Hi, I'm Ali and I'm a non-native English speaker, newly came across this podcast in an article and actually found that awesome although naturally my knowledge of English is not as deep as yours. The root of words, their meanings and too many words which are even new to native speakers, that really feels amazing. just wanted to say its wonderful show and good luck guys👍

Jun 1st
Reply

Foreverlee

ooh delight! The squash story!!!! the 😁🥰 The caller was the best and reminds me of how I want to be in the future. You are awesome, Mary Gordon. Blessings to you all. Love the poem. I Love words, thanks so much.

Feb 17th
Reply

Mary Gatlin Bell

Never heard kimble. In Minneapolis in the '60s-'70s, the walk your caller describe was called " the "pimp limp". with that in mind I was taken aback to see Obama doing a modified version, wonder if a political strategist suggested it as a way to seem "blacker", or if he picked it up in his community organizing days. Back in the day no one would decide doing the pimp limp would enhance their image.

Aug 19th
Reply (1)

Jim123bcb HD

I love the show, I love learning more about language in general <3

Jul 8th
Reply

East End Hitchhiker

Great show love it!

May 8th
Reply

Tomasz Jurewicz

Just sploot and listen to this show! It's extremely informative and entertaining.

Dec 20th
Reply

Baby Cakes

When you do the quizzes can you please give a 5 to 10 second pause so we can play along with you both! Your both to fast for us novices out here.

Dec 16th
Reply

Baby Cakes

I think hope is used in Driving Miss Daisy.

Dec 11th
Reply

Baby Cakes

There is still turnpikes in OK on I44 going to Tulsa and on another hwy on the way to OK city.

Dec 11th
Reply

Alisha Truemper

great episode!

Oct 22nd
Reply

Oso Wallman

Chee yoo on Moana

Jun 24th
Reply

Kieron Finn

Binning uni https://www.instagram.com/p/Bjy7Q7wgSBX/njz iij

Jun 9th
Reply

Jonathan Goodman

mx

Apr 14th
Reply

Jonathan Goodman

thanks v. g

Apr 14th
Reply

Kestrels Call

Thank you! I was curious about what Bones meant by flop sweat!

Feb 1st
Reply

Phúc Anh Trần Nguyễn

Great!

Dec 22nd
Reply

Knew Yennaration

The X could be an example of extended arms wanting a hug and the O could be the shape of the mouth

Sep 5th
Reply

Xiaobao Tang

great

Sep 3rd
Reply
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