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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 word ...
 
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The words tough, through, and dough all end in O-U-G-H. So why don't they rhyme? A lively new book addresses the many quirks of English by explaining the history of words and phrases. And: have you ever been in a situation where a group makes a decision to do something, only to discover later that no one really wanted to do that thing in the first …
 
What happens in a classroom of refugee and immigrant youngsters learning English? Their fresh approach to language can result in remarkable poetry -- some of which is collected in the anthology England: Poems from a School. Also, new language among healthcare professionals: the term cohorting describes the act of grouping patients with COVID-19 in …
 
This week on "A Way with Words": When there's no evening meal planned at home, what do you call that scramble to cobble together your own dinner? Some people apply acronyms like YOYO -- "you're on your own" -- or CORN, for "Clean out your refrigerator night." Plus, when a barista hands you hot coffee in a paper cup, you may ask for a sleeve to put …
 
An ornithologist says there's a growing movement to change the name of a pink-footed bird currently called the flesh-footed shearwater. The movement reflects a growing understanding that using flesh-colored for "pink" fails to acknowledge the full range of human skin color. Plus, is hooligan an anti-Irish slur? Some people might perceive it that wa…
 
In 1971, when a new public library opened in Troy, Michigan, famous authors and artists were invited to write letters to the city's youngest readers, extolling the many benefits of libraries. One of the loveliest was from E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web. Plus, you may think navel-gazing is a relatively new idea -- but it goes back at least to…
 
There was a time when William Shakespeare was just another little 7-year-old in school. Classes in his day were demanding -- and all in Latin. A new book argues that this rigorous curriculum actually nurtured the creativity that later flourished in Shakespeare's writing. Don't know Latin? You can still adapt those approaches to stretch and hone you…
 
A librarian opens a book and finds a mysterious invitation scribbled on the back of a business card. Another discovers a child's letter to the Tooth Fairy, tucked into a book decades ago. What stories are left untold by these forgotten, makeshift bookmarks? Also: a "cumshaw artist" is the wily member of a military unit who knows the shortcuts of pr…
 
Youngsters want to know: What's the difference between barely and nearly, and what's so clean about a whistle, anyway? Plus, adults recount some misunderstandings from when they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Kids do come up with some surprisingly creative interpretations of words and phrases the rest of us take for granted! Read full show notes,…
 
Cat hair may be something you brush off, but cat hair is also a slang term that means "money." In the same way, cat beer isn't alcoholic -- some people use cat beer as a joking term for "milk." And imagine walking on a beach with a long stretch of shoreline. With each step, the ground makes a squeaking sound under your feet. There's a term for the …
 
You know that Yogi Berra quote about how Nobody ever comes here; it's too crowded? Actually, the first person to use this was actress Suzanne Ridgeway, who appeared in several movies with The Three Stooges. A new book shows that many well-known quotes were first spoken by women, but misattributed to more famous men. Also: a handy scientific word th…
 
Have you ever googled your own name and found someone else who goes by the very same moniker? There's a word for that: googleganger. Plus, the language of hobbyists and enthusiasts: If you're a beekeeper, you call yourself a beek, and if you're an Adult Fan of LEGOs you may refer to yourself as an AFOL. Finally, what will you get if you order a bag…
 
Throwing cheese and shaky cheese are two very different things. In baseball, hard cheese refers to a powerful fastball, and probably comes from a similar-sounding word in Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi. Shaky cheese, on the other hand, is a slang term for Parmesan cheese, which many of us grew up shaking out of a can. Also, why is a movie preview called a …
 
One secret to writing well is . . . there is no secret! There's no substitute for simply sitting down day after day to practice the craft and learn from your mistakes. Plus, childhood mixups around word definitions can lead to some funny stories. After all, if you didn't know any better, why wouldn't you assume a thesaurus is a prehistoric creature…
 
Old. Elderly. Senior. Why are we so uncomfortable when we talk about reaching a certain point in life? An 82-year-old seeks a more positive term to describe how she feels about her age. And: a linguist helps solve a famous kidnapping case, using the vocabulary and spelling in a ransom note. Plus, old library books often contain inscriptions and oth…
 
She sells seashells by the seashore. Who is the she in this tongue twister? Some claim it's the young Mary Aning, who went on to become a famous 19th-century British paleontologist. Dubious perhaps, but the story of her rise from seaside salesgirl to renowned scientist is fascinating. Also: countless English words were inspired by Greek and Roman m…
 
Read full show notes, hear hundreds of free episodes, send your thoughts and questions, and learn more on the A Way with Words website: https://waywordradio.org/contact. Be a part of the show: call 1 (877) 929-9673 toll-free in the United States and Canada; worldwide, call or text/SMS +1 (619) 800-4443. Email words@waywordradio.org. Twitter @waywor…
 
Join Martha and Grant of A Way with Words, the public radio show and podcast about language, for a live video Q&A and chat on Wednesday, July 14, at 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific. They're bursting with answers to questions from the show's voluminous mailbag, and they'll take live questions from you! The event is free, but you must register in adva…
 
A hundred years ago, suffragists lobbied to win women the right to vote. Linguistically speaking, though, suffrage isn't about "suffering." It's from a Latin word that involves voting. Plus: military cadences often include Jody calls, rhyming verses about the mythical guy who steals your sweetheart while you're off serving the country. But just who…
 
Imagine telling someone how to get to your home, but without using the name of your street, or any other street within 10 miles. Could you do it? We take street names for granted, but these words are useful for far more, like applying for a job or bank loan -- and they're a powerful record of who and what we value. Plus, a third-grader asks why the…
 
One of the most powerful words you'll ever hear -- and one of the most poignant -- isn't in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means "the last surviving member of a species." The surprising story behind this word includes a doctor in a Georgia convalescent center, a museum exhibit in Australia, the Tasman…
 
Don't move my cheese! It's a phrase middle managers use to talk about adapting to change in the workplace. It comes from a popular 1990s business book featuring a fable about mice and tiny humans inside a maze and how they respond when their chewy food source is relocated. Plus, the origin story of the name William, and why it's I in Spanish. And a…
 
You may have a favorite word in English, but what about your favorite in another language? The Spanish term ojala is especially handy for expressing hopefulness and derives from Arabic for "God willing." In Trinidad, if you want to ask friends to hang out with you, invite them to go liming. Nobody's sure about this word's origin, although it may in…
 
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 …
 
Ribbon fall. Gallery forest. You won't find terms like these in most dictionaries, but they and hundreds like them are discussed by famous writers in the book Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape. The book is an intriguing collection of specialized vocabulary that invites us to look more closely at the natural world -- and delight in its …
 
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 Brea…
 
The word "hipster" might seem recent, but it actually originated in the 1930s, and referred to jazz aficionados who were in the know about the best nightclubs and cool music. Speaking of music, a professional musician reports that it's sometimes hard for him to relax and enjoy the performance of others because he's tempted overanalyze it. Do langua…
 
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 …
 
Is there something inherent in English that makes it the linguistic equivalent of the Borg, dominating and consuming other languages in its path? No, Not at all. The answer lies with politics and conquest rather than language itself. Plus: a brand-new baby may be lovingly placed in a giraffe and spend time in the Panda room, but where is that? That…
 
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 occupati…
 
Books were rare treasures in the Middle Ages, painstakingly copied out by hand. So how to protect them from theft? Scribes sometimes added a curse to the first page of those books that was supposed to keep thieves away -- and some were as vicious as they were creative! Also: if you spot a typo in a published book, should you contact the publisher? …
 
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 Gre…
 
The new Downton Abbey movie is a luscious treat for fans of the public-television period piece, but how accurate is the script when it comes to the vocabulary of the early 20th century? It may be jarring to hear the word swag, but it was already at least 100 years old. And no, it's not an acronym. Also, a historian of science sets out to write a bo…
 
For rock climbers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, the word "send" has 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…
 
So you've long dreamed of writing fiction, but don't know where to begin? There are lots of ways to get started -- creative writing classes, local writing groups, and books with prompts to get you going. The key is to get started, and then stick with it. And: which part of the body do surgeons call "the goose"? Hint: you don't want a bite of chicke…
 
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 everyda…
 
Unwrap the name of a candy bar, and you just might find a story inside. For instance, one chewy treat found in many a checkout lane is named after a family's beloved horse. And: 50 years ago in the United States, some Latino elementary students were made to adopt English versions of their own names and forbidden to speak Spanish. The idea was to he…
 
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…
 
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 fascinating new book about internet language says this disagreement is worth remembering when we talk about how greetings are evolving…
 
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? Traditional…
 
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: in the traditions of several African countries, names for babies are often inspired by conditions at the time of their birth, like a period…
 
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…
 
"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 immigrate with an i, and emigrate with an e. And ....a story about storks. The ancient Greeks revered these birds for the way they…
 
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! Al…
 
Book recommendations and the art of apology. Martha and Grant share some good reads, including an opinionated romp through English grammar, a Spanish-language adventure novel, an account of 19th-century dictionary wars, and a gorgeously illustrated book of letters to young readers. Plus, what's the best language for conveying a heartfelt apology? I…
 
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. And: did you ever go tick-tacking a few nights before Halloween? Tic-tacking refers to pranks like tapping ominously on windows with…
 
What's it like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico to Canada? You'll end up with sore muscles and blisters, and great stories to tell. Along the way, you'll also pick up some slang, like NoBo, SoBo, Yo-yo . . . and Hike Naked Day, an annual event that's, well, pretty much what it sounds like. Plus, which came first, the color or…
 
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, but for others, it may create more problems than it solves. And: at least three towns in the U.S. were christened with names formed by spelling a word backwards. There's a name for such names: they're…
 
Astronauts returning from space say they experience what's called the overview effect, a new understanding of the fragility of our planet and our need to reflect on what humans all share as a species. A book about the end of the universe offers a similar change in perspective -- along with some fascinating language. Plus, a recipe for a delicious d…
 
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, suppose you could invite any two authors, living or dead, to dinner. Who's on your guest list and why? Plus, anchors aweigh! The slang of sailors includes the kind of BOSS you'd better dodge, a barn you sail…
 
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. And: Anyone for an alphabet game? A pangram is a sentence that uses EVERY letter of the alphabet at least once. There's the one abo…
 
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