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

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

Light-hearted conversation with callers from all over about new words, old sayings, slang, family expressions, and language change and differences, as well as word histories, etymology, linguistics, regional dialects, word games, grammar, books, literature, writing, and more. Listeners of all backgrounds can join author/journalist Martha Barnette and linguist/lexicographer Grant Barrett on the show with their language thoughts, questions, and stories: https://waywordradio.org/contact or words@waywordradio.org. Call any time toll-free 24/7 in the U.S. and Canada 1 (877) 929-9673 or worldwide +1 619 800 4443. Past episodes and show notes: https://waywordradio.org/.

Episodes

May 16, 2022 53 min

If you speak a second or third language, you may remember the first time you dreamed in that new tongue. But does this milestone mean you're actually fluent? And a couple's dispute over the word regret: Say you wish you'd been able to meet Albert Einstein. Can you regret that the two of you never met, or is there a better word for a situation over which you have no control? Can the word regret include simply longing for...

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Do you refer to your dog or cat as “somebody”? As in: When you love somebody that much, you don’t mind if they slobber. In other words, is your pet a somebody or a something? Also, for centuries, there was little consistency in the way many English words were spelled. But long before the printing press helped to standardize spelling, powerful historical forces were already shaping how those words looked on the page. Plus, Irish wor...

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The word filibuster has a long and colorful history, going back to the days when pirates roamed the high seas. Today it refers to hijacking a piece of legislation. Plus, the language of yoga teachers: When doing a guided meditation, you may hear your instructor speaking in a kind of continuous present, with phrases like Sitting comfortably and Breathing deeply instead of the simple imperatives to Sit comfortably and Breathe deeply....

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April 25, 2022 53 min

Sure, there's winter, spring, summer, and fall. But the seasons in between have even more poetic names. In Alaska, greenup describes a sudden, dramatic burst of green after a long, dark winter. And there are many, many terms for a cold snap that follows the first taste of spring: blackberry winter, redbud winter, onion snow, and whippoorwill storm, to name a few. Plus, the family that plays trivia games at home may end up cheer...

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Understanding the varieties of conversational styles can mean the difference between feeling you're understood and being insulted. "High involvement" speakers interrupt or talk along with someone else to signal their enthusiasm, while "high considerateness" speakers tend more toward thoughtful pauses and polite turn-taking. Adjusting your speaking style accordingly may improve not only your communication, but al...

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April 11, 2022 53 min

Centuries ago, monks who took a vow of silence developed their own hand signs, with hundreds of gestures, that are still in use today. Plus, how do speakers of different languages distinguish similar shades and tints of colors such as red, yellow, and blue? It’s complicated! And: you don’t really need those little rivets on your blue jeans, do you? There’s a word for decorative elements that no longer serve a practical purpose: ske...

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An anadrome is a word that forms a whole new word when you spell it backwards. For example, the word "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts." Some people's first names are actually anadromes. There's the girl named Noel in honor of her father Leon, and the woman named Edna who adopted the name Ande. Speaking of names, know anybody whose occupation fits their name? Maybe a college administrator named Dean,...

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March 28, 2022 53 min

Eels, orts, and Wordle! Sweden awarded its most prestigious literary award to a book about…eels. The Book of Eels reveals the mysterious life cycle of this sea creature and its significance for famous figures from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud. Plus, what’s an ort? It’s the last bit of food left on a dinner plate — and whether or not you finish it can be a matter of manners. Also, an audio puzzle inspired by the popular game Wordle. H...

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We take our voices for granted, but it’s truly miraculous that we communicate complex thoughts simply by moving our mouths while exhaling. A fascinating new book reveals the science, history, and linguistics involved in human speech. And although you might associate the term paraphernalia with drug use, the word goes all the way back to ancient Greece and the property of a new bride. Plus: you’re jogging through the woods and come ...

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March 14, 2022 53 min

Some people work hard to lose their accent in order to fit in. Others may be homesick for the voices they grew up with and try to reclaim them. How can you regain your old accent? Also, a compelling book about scientific taxonomy shows how humans use language to try to divide up and impose order on the word. And Uff-dah!is an expressive word that means “Gee whiz!” or “Oy vey!” It’s also handy when lifting heavy objects. Plus, piglo...

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For rock climbers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, the word send has taken on a whole new meaning. You might cheer on a fellow snowboarder with Send it, bro! — and being sendy is a really great thing. Plus: a nostalgic trip to Willa Cather’s’ Nebraska home inspires a reading from one of her classic books about life on the American prairie. And what do they call a sudden, heavy rain where you live? A gully-washer? A frog-stra...

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February 28, 2022 53 min

Some college students are using the word loyalty as a synonym for monogamy. Are the meanings of these words now shifting? Plus, a biologist discovers a new species of bat, then names it after a poet he admires. Also, warm memories of how a childhood library card becomes a passport to new worlds. And: for a spell vs. cast a spellthaw vs. unthaw, twice-cooked cabbage, a brain teaser in celebration of the great Stephen Sondheim, Dan...

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In Cockney rhyming slang, apples and pears is a synonym for “stairs,” and dustbin lids means kids. Plus, sniglets are clever coinages for things we don’t already have words for. Any guesses what incogsneeto means? It’s the act of trying to hide your sneeze while wearing a face mask. Also, how the vocabulary of science fiction influences our everyday conversation, from the tribble on your hat to vaccine development at warp speed! Pl...

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February 14, 2022 53 min

Need a slang term that can replace just about anynoun? Try chumpie. If you’re from Philadelphia, you may already know this handy placeholder word. And there’s Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, and … The Bronx — why do we add the definite article to the name of that New York borough? The answer lies in the area’s geography and local family lore. Plus, an Australian bullfrog that sounds like a banjo called a pobblebonk. Als...

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National Book Award winner Barry Lopez had wise advice for young writers. First, read widely and follow your curiosity. Second, travel or learn a foreign language. And third, find out what you truly believe, because if you’re not writing from your beliefs, then you’re just passing along information. And: if someone says they’re going to plant flags at a gravesite, they may not mean what you think. That’s because the word flag is al...

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What kind of book do people ask for most often in prison? Romance novels? No. The Bible? No. The most requested books by far are … dictionaries! A number of volunteer organizations gather and distribute used dictionaries to help inmates with reading, writing, and schoolwork. Plus: For some low-tech family fun, how about egg-tapping? Traditionally played after on Easter, the game involves smacking a hard-boiled egg against an oppone...

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Twice a day the River Thames recedes, revealing a muddy shoreline. Hobbyists known as mudlarks stroll the surface searching for objects that have found their way into the river over the centuries, everything from ancient Roman jewelry to modern wedding rings. A new book about mudlarking describes the irresistible appeal of searching for treasures and the stories behind them. Also, why do performers whisper the phrase toi, toi, toi ...

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January 17, 2022 53 min

Diamond dusttapioca snow, and sugar icebergs — a 1955 glossary of arctic and subarctic terms describes the environment in ways that sound poetic. And a mom says her son is dating someone who’s non-binary. She supports their relationship, but still struggles to use their preferred pronouns in a way that feels natural to her. Plus, A Way with Words is a show about language, right? How the word “right” contains a multitude of meanin...

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January 10, 2022 53 min

It was a dark and stormy night. So begins the long and increasingly convoluted prose of Edwards Bulwer-Lytton’s best-known novel. Today the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest asks contestants for fanciful first sentences that are similarly convoluted and over-the-top — often with hilarious results. Plus: George Orwell’s prescient novel 1984 gave us the terrifying image of Big Brother and helped popularize words like doublespeak and Orwel...

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Many of us struggled with the Old English poem “Beowulf” in high school. But what if you could actually hear “Beowulf” in the English of today? There’s a new translation by Maria Dahvana Headley that uses contemporary language and even internet slang to create a fresh take on this centuries-old poem — right down to addressing the reader as Bro! Also, what’s a word for feeling desperately lonely, but also comfortable in your solitud...

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