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A Way with Words

A radio program and podcast about language.

Last Build Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2017 21:37:17 +0000


Chocolate Gravy

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 15:43:00 +0000

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? Yes! Plus: the term sea change doesn’t have [...]

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Fickle Finger of Fate

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 15:08:13 +0000

A young woman wants a family-friendly way to describe a statement that’s fraudulent or bogus, but all the words she can think of sound old-fashioned. Is there a better term than malarkey, poppycock, or rubbish? Also, listeners step up to help a caller looking for a succinct way to explain that a brain injury sometimes [...]

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Flop Sweat

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 22:30:32 +0000

Gerrymandering draws political boundaries to tip elections towards certain political parties. Originally, the word was pronounced “GARY-mandering” with a hard “g.” But why? And why did it change? • Mark Twain and Helen Keller had a devoted friendship. When he heard accusations that she’d plagiarized a story, Twain wrote Keller a fond letter assuring her [...]

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Around the Gool

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

A woman in Monkton, Vermont, says that when she and her 91-year-old mother return from a leisurely drive, her mother will proclaim, “That was a nice ride around the gool.” The phrase going around the gool appears in the Dictionary of American Regional English in a 1990 citation from Vermont. It appears to come from [...]


Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

To groak is an obscure verb that means “to look longingly at something, as a dog begging for food. In the Scots language, it’s more commonly spelled growk. This is part of a complete episode.


Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

We’ve talked before about surprising local pronunciations of things like towns or streets. A term or pronunciation that distinguishes locals from outsiders is called a shibboleth. The word derives from the biblical story of the warring Gileadites and Ephraimites. Gileadites would demand that fleeing Ephraimites pronounce the word shibboleth in a certain way, and if [...]

Buy You A Beer vs. Pay You a Beer

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

A San Diego, California, man recalls working on a cruise ship with a Canadian who insisted the proper phrase is not Let me buy you a beer, but Let me pay you a beer. Is that construction ever correct? This is part of a complete episode.

Mark Twain and Helen Keller

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

Mark Twain and Helen Keller enjoyed a close, enduring friendship. When he learned that she was mortified was accused of plagiarism, he sent her a fond letter as touching as it was reassuring. This is part of a complete episode.

New Yorkers Stand Line

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

A New York City man wonders if there’s any truth to the story that New Yorkers say they stand on line, as opposed to in line, because of lines painted on the floor at Ellis Island. Although such lines are useful for managing large queues, the origin of this usage is uncertain and cannot be [...]

Poke Fish Dish

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:51:47 +0000

Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner has written about the popular fish dish called poke, which takes its name from a Hawaiian word that means “to cut crosswise.” Many other foods take their names for the way they’re sliced, including mozzarella, feta, scrod, schnitzel, and even the pea dish called dahl, which goes back [...]