back arrowView show

Coast is Clear (Rebroadcast) - 20 May 2019

51:15

Episode description

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. And the phrase "the coast is clear" may originate in watching for invaders arriving by sea. Plus, a dispute over how to pronounce the name of a savory avocado dip. Finally, one more place where people are starting sentences with the word "So"--during prayers at church. Also: elbow clerk, smitten, Tennyson's brook, fussbudget vs. fuss-bucket, clinomania, and 50k south of Woop Woop.

Listen to all episodes for free: https://waywordradio.org/  Support the show to keep episodes coming: https://waywordradio.org/donate  Your responses, questions, and comments are welcomed at any time!  https://waywordradio.org/contact  words@waywordradio.org  Listener line 1 (877) 929-9673 toll-free in the US and Canada  Text/SMS +1 (619) 567-9673  Copyright Wayword, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.

episodes iconMore Episodes

Off the Turnip Truck - 23 September 2019

September 23rd, 2019

51:01

It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when people disagreed over the best word to use when answering the phone. Alexander Graham Bell suggested answering with Ahoy! but Thomas Edison was partial to Hello. A …

Loaded For Bear - 16 September 2019

September 16th, 2019

51:01

One way to make your new business look trendy is to use two nouns separated by an ampersand, like Peach & Creature . . . or Rainstorm & Egg. A tongue-in-cheek website will generate names like that for you. And: …

All Verklempt (Rebroadcast) - 9 September 2019

September 9th, 2019

51:01

SUMMARY

Of all the letters in the alphabet, which two or three are your favorites? If your short list includes one or more of your initials, that's …

Hunk Waffle (Rebroadcast) - 2 September 2019

September 3rd, 2019

51:01

Decisions by dictionary editors, wacky wordplay, and Walt Whitman's soaring verse.  How do lexicographers decide which historical figures deserve a mention or perhaps even an illustration in the dictionary? The answer …

Pants On Fire (Rebroadcast) - 26 August 2019

August 26th, 2019

51:01

A highly anticipated children's book and the epic history behind a familiar vegetable. Fans of illustrator Maurice Sendak are eagerly awaiting the publication of a newly discovered manuscript by the late author. And …

Frozen Rope (Rebroadcast) - 19 August 2019

August 19th, 2019

51:01

Where would you find a sports commentator talking about high cheese and ducks on a pond? Here's a hint: both terms are part of what make the language …

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 12 August 2019

August 12th, 2019

51:01

Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a …

Smile Belt (Rebroadcast) - 5 August 2019

August 5th, 2019

51:01

The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is …

Mrs. Astor's Horse - 29 July 2019

July 29th, 2019

51:01

"What has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but isn't a cat?" Answer: a kitten! A 1948 children's joke book has lots of these to share with kids. Plus: an easy explanation for the difference between …

A Shoo-In (Rebroadcast) - 22 July 2019

July 22nd, 2019

51:01

This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from …

At First Blush - 15 July 2019

July 15th, 2019

51:01

Book recommendations and the art of apology. Martha and Grant share some good reads, including an opinionated romp through English grammar, a …

Noon Of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 July 2019

July 8th, 2019

51:01

Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!" What's the term for that kind of practical joke? Is it a …

Gift Horse - 1 July 2019

July 1st, 2019

51:01

The edge of the Grand Canyon. A remote mountaintop, or a medieval cathedral. Some places are so mystical you feel like you're close to another dimension of space and time. There's a term for such locales: thin places. …

Naked as a Jaybird (Rebroadcast) - 24 June 2019

June 24th, 2019

51:01

What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you're …

Had the Radish - 17 June 2019

June 17th, 2019

51:01

This week on A Way with Words: Your first name is very personal, but what if you don't like it? For some people, changing their name works out great, …

Hot Dog, Cold Turkey (Rebroadcast) - 10 June 2019

June 10th, 2019

51:01

Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we …

Abso-Bloomin-Lutely - 3 June 2019

June 3rd, 2019

51:15

The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, …

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 27 May 2019

May 27th, 2019

51:15

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 …

Niblings and Nieflings - 13 May 2019

May 13th, 2019

51:34

How do actors bring Shakespeare's lines to life so that modern audiences immediately understand the text? One way is to emphasize the names of people and places at certain points. That technique is called billboarding. …

Gone to Seed (Rebroadcast) - 6 May 2019

May 6th, 2019

51:35

Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. Some restaurants now advertise that they sell "clean" sandwiches. But that doesn't mean they're condiment-free or the lettuce got an extra rinse. In …

Kite in a Phonebooth - 29 April 2019

April 29th, 2019

51:15

Stunt performers in movies have their own jargon for talking about their dangerous work. They refer to a stunt, for example, as a gag. Across the …

Hell's Half Acre (Rebroadcast) - 22 April 2019

April 22nd, 2019

51:38

Hundreds of years ago, the word girl didn't necessarily mean a female child. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the term "girl" could refer to a child …

Steamed Bun (Rebroadcast) - 15 April 2019

April 15th, 2019

51:36

This week on "A Way with Words”: The language we use to cover up our age, and covering up a secret message. Do you ever find yourself less-than-specific about your age? Listeners share some of their favorite phrases for …

Kids Are Asking - 11 April 2019

April 11th, 2019

26:14

Questions from young listeners and conversations about everything from shifting slang to a bizarre cooking technique. Kids ask about how to talk about finding information on the internet, how tartar sauce got its name, …

Strawberry Moon - 8 April 2019

April 8th, 2019

51:38

We asked for your thoughts about whether cursive writing should be taught in schools -- and you replied with a resounding "Yes!" Here's why: Cursive …

Charismatic Megafauna (Rebroadcast) - 1 April 2019

April 1st, 2019

51:35

Choosing language that helps resolve interpersonal conflict. Sometimes a question is really just a veiled form of criticism. Understanding the …

Spill the Tea - 25 March 2019

March 25th, 2019

51:22

If someone urges you to spill the tea, they probably don't want you tipping over a hot beverage. Originally, the tea here was the letter T, as in …

Knuckle Down (Rebroadcast) - 18 March 2019

March 18th, 2019

51:23

A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So why is it a pejorative term for those of a certain political persuasion? Also, is there …

Dirty Laundry - 11 March 2019

March 11th, 2019

51:29

When you had sleepovers as a child, what did you call the makeshift beds you made on the floor? In some places, you call those bedclothes and …

Lie Like A Rug (Rebroadcast) - 4 March 2019

March 4th, 2019

51:35

The words we choose can change attitudes--and change lives. A swing-dance instructor has switched to gender-neutral language when teaching couples. …

Keep Your Powder Dry - 25 February 2019

February 25th, 2019

51:45

Jacuzzi and silhouette are eponyms – that is, they derive from the names of people. An Italian immigrant to California invented the bubbly hot tub called a jacuzzi. And the word silhouette commemorates a penny-pinching …

One Armed Paper Hanger - 18 February 2019

February 18th, 2019

51:46

The emotional appeal of handwriting and the emotional reveal of animal phrases. Should children be taught cursive writing in school, or is their time …

Hair on Your Tongue - 11 February 2019

February 11th, 2019

51:46

If you speak both German and Spanish, you may find yourself reaching for a German word instead of a Spanish one, and vice versa. This puzzling …

Train of Thought - 4 February 2019

February 4th, 2019

51:49

Chances are you recognize the expressions Judgment Day and the root of all evil as phrases from the Bible. There are many others, though, some of which may surprise you: the powers that be and bottomless pit first …

Colonial English - 28 January 2019

January 28th, 2019

51:57

The anatomy of effective prose, and the poetry of anatomy. Ever wonder what it'd be like to audit a class taught by a famous writer? A graduate student's essay offers a taste of a semester studying with author Annie …

Pig Latin (Rebroadcast) - 21 January 2019

January 21st, 2019

52:33

This week on "A Way with Words": Grant and Martha discuss the L-word--or two L-words, actually: liberal and libertarian. They reflect different …

Whistle in the Dark (Rebroadcast) - 14 January 2019

January 14th, 2019

52:20

Echoes of the Greatest Generation, and a tasty bite of history. The language and melodies of military marching songs can connect grown children with …

Fickle Finger of Fate (Rebroadcast) - 7 January 2019

January 7th, 2019

52:14

Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woman …

Stars and Garters (Rebroadcast) - 31 December 2018

December 31st, 2018

52:21

Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox" …

Space Cadet - 24 December 2018

December 24th, 2018

52:09

We have books that should be on every language lover's wish list, plus a couple of recommendations for history buffs. Plus: how did the word …

Howling Fantods - 17 December 2018

December 17th, 2018

52:10

Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing …

Cootie Shot - 10 December 2018

December 10th, 2018

51:58

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 …

Boss of Me (Rebroadcast) - 3 December 2018

December 3rd, 2018

52:54

If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in order to find your own metaphors and perspective. Plus, just because a …

Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 26 November 2018

November 26th, 2018

51:57

A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can …

Bottled Sunshine - 19 November 2018

November 19th, 2018

51:58

If you catch your blue jeans on a nail, you may find yourself with a winklehawk. This term was adapted into English from Dutch, and means "an L-shaped tear in a piece of fabric." And: What's your relationship with the …

Care Package - 12 November 2018

November 12th, 2018

51:57

Sending someone a care package shows you care, of course. But the first care packages were boxes of food and personal items for survivors of World War II. They were from the Committee for American Remittances to Europe, …

Hell for Leather (Rebroadcast) - 5 November 2018

November 5th, 2018

51:58

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the …

Ding Ding Man - 29 October 2018

October 29th, 2018

51:57

In 1803, a shy British pharmacist wrote a pamphlet that made him a reluctant celebrity. The reason? He proposed a revolutionary new system for …

Take Tea for the Fever - 22 October 2018

October 22nd, 2018

51:36

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 …

Sun Dog - 15 October 2018

October 15th, 2018

51:36

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 …

Oh For Cute - 8 October 2018

October 8th, 2018

51:01

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 …

Coinkydink - 1 October 2018

October 1st, 2018

51:01

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 …

Sweet Dreams (Rebroadcast) - 24 September 2018

September 24th, 2018

51:01

In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weekend went to when the boss is on his way. Plus, English speakers borrowed …

Gangbusters (Rebroadcast) - 17 September 2018

September 17th, 2018

51:01

Sensuous words and terms of endearment. Think of a beautiful word. Now, is it simply the word's sound that makes it beautiful? Or does its appeal …

XYZ PDQ (Rebroadcast) - 10 September 2018

September 10th, 2018

51:01

How often do you hear the words campaign and political in the same breath? Oddly enough, 19th-century grammarians railed against using campaign to …

Hang a Ralph (Rebroadcast) - 3 September 2018

September 3rd, 2018

51:01

The names of professional sports teams often have surprising histories -- like the baseball team name inspired by, of all things, trolley-car …

You Bet Your Boots (Rebroadcast) - 27 August 2018

August 27th, 2018

51:01

You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more--and make sure to include a wide variety …

Pink Slip (Rebroadcast) - 20 August 2018

August 20th, 2018

51:01

This week on "A Way with Words": The language of political speech. Politicians have to repeat themselves so often that they naturally develop a …

Criss Cross Applesauce (Rebroadcast) - 13 August 2018

August 13th, 2018

51:01

How do languages change and grow? Does every language acquire new words in the same way? Martha and Grant focus on how that process happens in English and Spanish. Plus, the stories behind the Spanish word "gringo" and …

Whistle Pig (Rebroadcast) - 6 August 2018

August 6th, 2018

51:01

The stories behind slang, political and otherwise. The dated term "jingoism" denotes a kind of belligerent nationalism. But the word's roots lie in …

Up Your Alley - 30 July 2018

July 30th, 2018

51:01

Martha and Grant have book recommendations, including a collection of short stories inspired by dictionaries, and a techno-thriller for teens. Or, …

Piping Hot - 23 July 2018

July 23rd, 2018

51:01

The game of baseball has always inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word "stuff," for …

Copacetic (Rebroadcast) - 16 July 2018

July 16th, 2018

51:01

Brand names, children's games, and the etiquette of phone conversations. Those clever plastic PEZ dispensers come in all shapes and sizes -- but …

Mustard on It (Rebroadcast) - 9 July 2018

July 9th, 2018

51:01

When does a word's past make it too sensitive to use in the present? In contra dancing, there's a particular move that dancers traditionally call a …

Proof in the Pudding (Rebroadcast) - 2 July 2018

July 2nd, 2018

51:58

Have you ever offered to foster a dog or cat, but wound up adopting instead? There's an alliterative term for that. And when you're on the job, do niceties like "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir" make you sound too formal? Not …

We have an attitude — 27 June 2018

June 27th, 2018

1:01

In the 11 years Martha and I have been doing A Way with Words together, we’ve developed an attitude.

It’s a positive attitude. It’s who we really are.

It’s the attitude we take toward language, linguistics, and the …

Mimeographs and Dittos - 25 June 2018

June 25th, 2018

52:25

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 …

Spicy Jambalaya - 18 June 2018

June 18th, 2018

51:58

Teen slang from the South, and food words that are tricky to pronounce. High schoolers in Huntsville, Alabama, give Martha and Grant an earful about …

A request from Martha — 13 June 2018

June 13th, 2018

1:12

A request from Martha. - 13 June 2018

Have you ever wanted to know who we really are? How Grant and I really see ourselves?

Well, for one thing, we …

Chopped Liver — 11 June 2018

June 11th, 2018

51:58

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 …

Busted Melon (Rebroadcast) - 4 June 2018

June 4th, 2018

52:25

When writing textbooks about slavery, which words best reflect its cold, hard reality? Some historians are dropping the word "slave" in favor of …

Truth and Beauty - 28 May 2018

May 28th, 2018

51:01

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 …

Jump Steady (Rebroadcast) - 21 May 2018

May 21st, 2018

51:19

Secret codes, ciphers, and telegrams. It used to be that in order to transmit information during wartime, various industries encoded their messages letter by letter with an elaborate system--much like today's digital …

Dessert Stomach - 14 May 2018

May 14th, 2018

51:01

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 …

Scat Cat (Rebroadcast) - 7 May 2018

May 7th, 2018

51:01

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." At …

Far Out, Man - 30 April 2018

April 30th, 2018

51:01

An Ohio community is divided over the name of the local high school's mascot. For years, their teams have been called the Redskins. Is that name …

Beat the Band (Rebroadcast) - 23 April 2018

April 24th, 2018

51:01

This week on "A Way with Words": This week on "A Way with Words": Can language change bad behavior in crowded places? The Irish Railway system has launched ad campaign to encourage passengers to be more generous at …

Brollies and Bumbershoots - 16 April 2018

April 16th, 2018

51:01

If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In …

Cool Your Soup - 9 April 2018

April 9th, 2018

51:01

According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it's important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on …

Put on the Dog - 2 April 2018

April 2nd, 2018

51:01

Why isn’t “you’re welcome” the default response to “thank you” for everyone? Plus lies that kids tell, Philadelphia lawyercowbellyskutch

Fighting Artichokes (Rebroadcast) - 26 March 2018

March 26th, 2018

51:01

What’s in a mascot name? Maybe you’re a fan of the Banana Slugs, or you cheer for the Winged Beavers. Perhaps your loyalty lies with the Fighting Artichokes. There are some strange names for sports team out there. But …

Burn Bag (Rebroadcast) - 19 March 2018

March 19th, 2018

51:01

This week on "A Way with Words": Slang from the 19th century. The slang coming out of Victorian mouths was more colorful than you might think. A 1909 …

Gee and Haw - 12 March 2018

March 12th, 2018

51:01

The highly specialized vocabulary of people who work outdoors, like farmers and fishermen, can bring us closer to the natural world. Also, a woman …

Gung Ho - 5 March 2018

March 5th, 2018

51:01

The stories behind symbols and expressions around the world. The peace symbol popular during 1960's antiwar demonstrations had been around for …

Flop Sweat (Rebroadcast) - 26 February 2018

February 27th, 2018

51:01

Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a …

Smile Belt (Rebroadcast) - 19 February 2018

February 19th, 2018

51:01

The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is …

Crusticles and Fenderbergs - 12 February 2018

February 12th, 2018

51:01

A second-generation Filipino-American finds that when he speaks English, his personality is firm, direct, and matter-of-fact. But when he speaks with family members in Tagalog, he feels more soft-spoken, kind, and …

Bun in the Oven - 5 February 2018

February 5th, 2018

51:01

Family words, and words about being in a family way. How many different ways ARE there to say you're have a baby on the way? Sure, you can say you're pregnant, or that you're great with child. But there are lots of …

Flying Pickle - 29 January 2018

January 29th, 2018

51:01

How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels of …

Happy as Larry - 22 January 2018

January 22nd, 2018

51:01

New research shows that you may be less influenced by superstitious behavior like walking under ladders or the magic of four-leaf clovers if you're reading about it in another language. And: sometimes not cursing will …

A Shoo In (Rebroadcast) - 15 January 2018

January 15th, 2018

51:01

This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from …

Noon of Night (Rebroadcast) - 8 January 2018

January 8th, 2018

51:01

Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!" What's the term for that kind of practical joke? Is it a …

Naked as a Jaybird - 1 January 2018

January 1st, 2018

51:55

What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yourself reading the words and definitions and play them back while you're …

Hot Dog, Cold Turkey (Rebroadcast) - 25 December 2017

December 25th, 2017

52:13

Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do we …

There's more of everything!

December 21st, 2017

1:04

Donate to help support A Way with Words all year long https://waywordradio.org/donate

...

We’ve got a curious problem here at A Way with Words. Over the last decade, we’ve grown the show from just 12 stations in four …

Brand Spanking New - 18 December 2017

December 18th, 2017

51:56

Words of the year and correcting a mispronounced name. Taking a look back at some notable words and phrases from 2017: Remember path of totality? How about "milkshake duck"? Also, a committee has to choose a new mascot …

The Last Straw - 11 December 2017

December 11th, 2017

51:56

Books for word lovers, plus the stories behind some familiar terms. Want a gift for your favorite bibliophile? Martha and Grant have recommendations, …

A gift for your language nerd!

December 8th, 2017

1:07

Donate to support A Way with Words https://waywordradio.org/donate

....

Here’s the perfect gift for your language nerd: a donation to A Way with Words.

For more than ten years we’ve been producing fun episodes about …

Skedaddle (Rebroadcast) - 4 December 2017

December 4th, 2017

51:42

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 …

Loading ...

Download the RadioPublic app for
 FREE and never miss an episode.

Get it on Google PlayDownload on the App Store