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A Way with Words

A lively radio program about words and language, broadcast on many NPR stations and heard by podcast around the world. It's more than grammar!

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2016 21:56:19 +0000


Scat Cat

Sat, 17 Sep 2016 15:21:12 +0000

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 cigar” gets traced back to an old carnival [...]

We have the results!

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:50:37 +0000

Help support A Way with Words broadcasts and podcasts by making a donation now. Dear friends, Last week we sent out a simple survey to tens of thousands of A Way with Words listeners and fans. Our goal: to find out your consensus on the state of the English language: negative, positive or neutral? We [...]

Pop Stand

Sat, 30 Jul 2016 03:49:31 +0000

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 games, how is it that the very same [...]


Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

The glow in the eyes of some animals is called eyeshine, and the adjective that describes such shimmering in a cat’s eyes is chatoyant, from French for “cat.” This is part of a complete episode.

Blow This Pop Stand

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

“Let’s blow this popsicle stand” is an adaptation of “Let’s blow this pop stand,” meaning to leave a place, and in a way that’s showy. Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One. This is part of a complete episode.

Kettle of Vultures

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

A hike in San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park has Martha pondering terms for turkey vultures. A flock of vultures in flight is called a kettle, a committee, or a volt, while a group of vultures feeding on carrion is called a wake. This is part of a complete episode.

Forked End Down

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

A listener in Springfield, Illinois, recalls that an elderly relative would respond to the question “How are you?” with the answer “Forked end down.” By that, he meant, “I’m fine.” If you’ve ever drawn a stick figure, you know that the forked end is where the feet are, so forked end down means someone’s feet [...]


Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

A caller from Vermont says his Mississippi-born grandfather always called him a pussle-gut, and admonish him about an unseen wampus cat. The former, also spelled puzzle-gut, simply means “a fat or pot-bellied person,” the pussle being related to pus, as in the bodily ooze. American folklore is full of stories about the wampus cat, a [...]


Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

Having retired as a New York book editor, and looking for a way to fill her time, Ann Patty embarked on the study of college-level Latin. She chronicles those studies and the life lessons learned in Living with a Dead Language: My Romance with Latin. Someone who begins to learn late in life is called [...]

Bott’s Dots

Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:51:47 +0000

“Bott’s dots” are little round pavement markers, named for California highway engineer Elbert D. Botts. This is part of a complete episode.