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A Way with Words



A radio program and podcast about language.



Last Build Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:21:39 +0000

 



The Last Straw

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:21:39 +0000

In this episode, books for word lovers, from a collection of curious words to some fun with Farsi. • Some people yell “Geronimo!” when they jump out of an airplane, but why? • We call something that heats air a heater, so why do we call something that cools the air an air conditioner? The [...]


Media Files:
http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~3/HOFTNazKCgc/171211-AWWW-The-Last-Straw.mp3




Gregarious Laughter

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A Burlington, Vermont, listener wants to settle a dispute: Can laughter be described as gregarious? This is part of a complete episode.



See A Man About a Horse

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A listener in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, recalls that his grandfather used to announce he was headed to the restroom by saying, “I have to go see a man about a horse.” An earlier version of the phrase is, “I have to go see a man about a dog.” These phrase are among many euphemisms [...]



Describing What It’s Like to Be Sick but Not Look Sick

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

If you’re living with a chronic illness or disability, you often have to ration your physical and mental energy. And if that illness isn’t readily apparent to others, it can be hard to explain how debilitating that process can be. On her website But You don’t Look Sick, writer Christine Miserandino, who has lupus, illustrates [...]



Leather Britches Beans

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia, says her Appalachia-born grandmother would occasionally say that it was time to string the leather britches or to hang up the leather britches. She was referring to preserving green beans. So why the leather and britches? This is part of a complete episode.



Book Recommendations for 2017

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

For the book lover on your gift list, Grant recommends the mix of magic in science in All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. He also likes the work of Firoozeh Dumas: It Ain’t So Awful Falafel, about an Iranian teenage girl living in California, as well as Dumas’s books for adults, [...]



Now What Gesture Should We use to Suggest Rolling Down a Car Window?

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A listener in Plaza, North Dakota, says he tried to signal some teenagers to lower their car window by moving his fist in a circle, but since they grew up with push-button window controls, they didn’t understand the gesture. What’s the best gesture now for communicating that you want someone to roll down their car [...]



Falling to Staves

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Someone who’s really hungry might say I’m falling to staves, meaning they’re famished. It’s a reference to the way a barrel falls apart if the metal hoops that hold them together are removed. This is part of a complete episode.



BANANA Acronym

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

The acronym NIMBY stands for “Not In My Back Yard.” A more emphatic version used among urban planners is BANANA, which stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. This is part of a complete episode.



Yelling Geronimo

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A man in Surprise, Arizona, wonders why people jumping into a pool sometimes yell “Geronimo!” The history of this exclamation goes back to an eponymous 1939 movie about the famed Apache warrior Geronimo. The film was popular on U.S. military bases, where the warrior’s name became a rallying cry. A widely circulated story goes that [...]



Inside Out Word Puzzle

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has an inside-out puzzle that’s clued by a short sequence of letters inside a longer one. For example, what holiday contains the letters KSGI? This is part of a complete episode.



Kids Misunderstand Things and Make Us Laugh

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

We’ve talked before about kids’ funny misunderstandings of words. Martha shares another story from a Dallas, Texas, listener. This is part of a complete episode.



Last Straw vs. Last Draw

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

What do you call that last small irritation, burden, or annoyance that finally makes a situation untenable? Is it the last straw or the last draw? Hint: it has nothing to do with a shootout at the OK corral. This is part of a complete episode.



Snuba

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Snuba is a portmanteau — a combination of snorkel and scuba — and refers to snorkeling several feet underwater while breathing through a long hose that’s attached to an air supply float on a raft. This is part of a complete episode.



Why Do We Call it Air Conditioning?

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Why do we use the term air conditioner to refer a machine for cooling air, when we use the word heater to describe a mechanism for heating air? The term air conditioning was borrowed from the textile industry, where it referred to filtering and dehumidifying. The first use of this term is in a 1909 [...]



Qaaltagh

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:51:47 +0000

There’s a word for the first person to walk through your door on New Year’s Day. The word is quaaltagh, and it’s used on the Isle of Man. This Manx term is one of many linguistic delights in a book Martha recommends for word lovers: The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words, [...]



Skedaddle

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 16:03:53 +0000

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 [...]


Media Files:
http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~5/UH2ZFd_e3h0/170508-AWWW-Skedaddle.mp3




Coast is Clear

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 16:00:59 +0000

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. • The phrase the coast is clear may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. • A dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado [...]


Media Files:
http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~5/tu_osZ-g8UI/170424-AWWW-Coast-is-Clear.mp3




Hidden Treasures

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 18:03:06 +0000

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. The letters show us how ordinary people spoke then. • Is there a single word that means the opposite of prejudice? Unhate? Or maybe [...]


Media Files:
http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~5/braVKVMXIEs/171120-AWWW-Hidden-Treasures.mp3




Go to Grass

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Go to grass is In the 1600s, go to grass meant to be knocked down. In the 1800s, the phrase was the equivalent of telling someone to die and go to hell. Go to grass has also been used to refer to a racehorse or working horse that’s been retired from service. A variant is [...]



Raise Your Words

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A saying attributed to the 13th-century poet Rumi goes, “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” This is part of a complete episode.



Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A woman in Council Bluffs, Iowa, says that when her mother was indicating that two things were roughly equal, she’s say they were six and one half dozen of the other. The more common version is six of one and half a dozen of the other or six of one, half a dozen of the [...]



Salisbury Steak

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Salisbury steak is named for Dr. James H. Salisbury, who prescribed what he referred to as “muscle pulp of beef” for Civil War soldiers suffering from so-called camp diarrhea. This is part of a complete episode.



Onus

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A woman in Suffolk, Virginia, is curious about the origin of the word onus, as in responsibility. The word onus is borrowed directly from Latin where it means burden. This Latin word is also the root of the words onerous, which describes something burdensome, and exonerate, meaning to free from a burden. This is part [...]



The Southern Stress on the First Syllable in Words like Cement and Police

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A man from Fort Smith, Arkansas, says his Canadian wife is baffled by his pronouncing the word cement as CEE-ment. Stressing the first syllable of such words as police, insurance, umbrella, and vehicle is an occasional feature of Southerners’ speech. This is part of a complete episode.



A Particular Civil War Letter

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Martha reads a special letter from the U.S. Civil War soldier who wrote this letter. This is part of a complete episode.



Bungalow Belt

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

An Indianapolis, Indiana, woman offers a followup to our discussions about various geographic belts around the country. The Bungalow Belt in Chicago refers to a strip of small brick bungalows just inside the city limits originally occupied by Catholic European immigrants. This is part of a complete episode.



Take the Devil Out of It

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A San Antonio, Texas, woman wonders about a tradition she grew up with. Before drinking an alcoholic beverage, you hand the drink to someone else to have a sip in order to take the devil out of it. This is part of a complete episode.



The Opposite of Prejudice

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A researcher in Port Jefferson, New York, wonders if there’s a single word that means the opposite of prejudice. Unhate? He suggests the word allophilia, a combination of Greek words that mean love or like of the other. This is part of a complete episode.



Hidden Treasure Word Game

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has us looking for Hidden Treasures, specifically terms for valuable items you might find in adjacent sounds in a sentence. For example, the name of a precious metal is hidden in the following sentence: “If you don’t reach your goal, don’t get discouraged.” This is part of a complete episode.



Bobbery

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

The term bobbery means a noisy disturbance or hubub. The word’s origin is disputed, although one explanation is that it comes from the Hindi exclamation “Bap re!” or literally, “Oh father!” This is part of a complete episode.



Puckeroo

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman says her family has long used the term nun puckeroo to designate a kind of vague, non-serious malaise. Neither Martha nor Grant knows that exact one, but the Dictionary of American Regional English gives similar jocular terms for such illness, including none-puck in Delaware and rum puckeroo in Rhode Island. Any [...]



Pill Meant Bullet

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

In the Private Voices corpus of American Civil War letters, the term pill is often used to mean bullet, although this slang term is at least a century older. This is part of a complete episode.



Origin of “Flea Market”

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A flea market is a type of bazaar, usually outdoors, where vendors of secondhand and discount goods sell their wares. But why flea market? The term probably reflects the influence of two linguistic strains: In 18th-century New York City, the Fly Market took its name from a similar-sounding Dutch word. Later, English speakers adopted the [...]



Civil War Letters

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Private Voices, also known as the Corpus of American Civil War Letters, is an online archive of thousands of letters written by soldiers during the U.S. Civil War. Because the soldiers lacked formal education and wrote “by ear,” the collection is a treasure trove of pronunciation and dialect from that time and place. One phrase [...]



Butterflies in Your Stomach

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 19:35:48 +0000

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. • 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 [...]


Media Files:
http://feeds.waywordradio.org/~r/awwwpodcast/~5/6Pe3hMRPZeA/171113-AWWW-Butterflies-in-the-Stomach.mp3




What is “Sterile” in “Sterile Area”?

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A Bay Area listener says she always giggles when she sees a sign in the Oakland airport that reads, “You are leaving a sterile area.” Among security experts, the term sterile specifically means an area that is officially under control and clear of threats. This is part of a complete episode.



Are Words Not in a Dictionary Really Words?

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A nonprofit that promotes literacy in Reno, Nevada, held a spelling bee in which adult competitors were asked to spell words from books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The author made up some of those words herself. But are they really words if they’re not in the dictionary? Yes, if it’s said or written [...]



The Greek Root “Stenos”

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

The word stenophagous means eating a limited variety of food. It derives from Greek stenos, meaning narrow, also found in stenography (literally, narrow writing) and stenosis, a medical term for abnormal narrowing. This is part of a complete episode.



What Do Some People Put the Dollar Sign After the Amount?

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A Dallas, Texas, listener is annoyed when he sees a price listed with the dollar sign after the amount, rather than before, as in 500$ rather than $500. In some parts of the world, however, the currency symbol routinely follows the number. This is part of a complete episode.



Vicenarian and Tricenarian

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

If you’re in your 20s, you’re a vicenarian. The word for someone in their 30s is tricenarian. This is part of a complete episode.



Looking Up Unfamiliar Words

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Martha shares an email from a listener from Delray Beach, Florida, about the rewards of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary. This is part of a complete episode.



Death Cleaning

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Death cleaning is the translation of a Swedish term, döstädning, describing a kind of de-cluttering later in life, when you downsize to make things easier for the next generation. It’s being popularized by The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning by Margareta Mangusson. This is part of a complete episode.



I Reckon in the US vs. UK

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

The phrase I reckon meaning I suppose is marked in the United States as rural, rustic or uneducated. The term is centuries old, however, and used widely in the United Kingdom. This is part of a complete episode.



Motorcycling Slang

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Skid lid, cage, and backyard are all slang terms from the world of motorcycle enthusiasts. A skid lid is a helmet, a cage is an automobile, and a backyard is a favorite place to ride. The phrase lay it down means to have a motorcyle accident. This is part of a complete episode.



Shoulder Season

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A woman in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders: Why is the less busy period in a tourist area known as the shoulder season? This is part of a complete episode.



Set of Twins

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

If you tell someone you have a set of twins, does that mean you have two kids or four kids? It depends on the meaning of the word set. This is part of a complete episode.



Exclamation Word Puzzle

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiet quiz involving words that are usually shouted. Suppose, for example, someone said, “Excuse me, Mr. Horse, I’d appreciate it if you stopped. What’s the exclamation suggested by this request? This is part of a complete episode.



Denarian

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

If you’re between the ages of 10 and 19, you’re a denarian. This is part of a complete episode.



Word for Being Excited but Anxious

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 16:51:47 +0000

A woman and her 10-year-old daughter are looking for a word that describes being excited but anxious. It’s not exactly twitterpated, and the Southernismlike a worm in hot ashes is vivid, but a phrase and not a single word. If a single word for this feeling exists, maybe it involves butterflies? This is part of [...]