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A Way with Words, a fun show about language examined through history, culture, and family. Credit:
A Way with Words, a fun show about language examined through history, culture, and family.

A Way with Words is an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show about language examined through history, culture, and family. Journalist/author Martha Barnette and linguist/lexicographer Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, new words, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, jokes and riddles, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies.

There are no carriage fees. You can begin carrying the program right away. Email or call Grant Barrett for details: grant@waywordradio.org, 646 286 2260.

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Moon Palace (#1552)

From A Way with Words | Part of the A Way with Words series | 54:00

6303898890_404ccb4e7c_w_small Just as books at independent bookshops are carefully curated and hand-sold, the names of the stores themselves often reflect the owner's personal vision and preferences, such as The Wild Detectives in Dallas, Texas;  Wild Rumpus and Moon Palace in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Tin Can Mailman in Arcata, California; the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado; and in San Diego, such stores as The Book Catapult and Run for Cover, as well as Mysterious Galaxy and Verbatim. When author Connie Schultz asked Twitter users for their favorite independent-bookshop names, readers responded with dozens more.


Patricia in Midland, Georgia, says her mother always used the phrase black-hearted buzzard to denote someone who was evil or otherwise up to no good. Is that just her expression?


Rachel from Harrogate, Tennessee says that when she was growing up in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, she and her fellow musicians used the term B-flat as slang for "ordinary" or "average." In the 1938 publication New York Panorama, a guidebook to New York State put out by the Works Progress Administration, there's a section on the language of jazz in New York City, which includes a definition of B-flat as "dull" and another for G-flat, meaning "brilliant." B-flat is also slang for "bedbug."


Another evocative indie bookstore name: Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. And how can you resist walking into an establishment with a sign outside that says "Book People"? There are at least two stores with that name in the United States: one in Austin, Texas and another in Richmond, Virginia.


Quiz Guy John Chaneski's game is based on the names of cities and states where the National Puzzlers' League has held its annual convention over the past few years. Attendees came up with a punny moniker for each that incorporates the con- in convention. For example, the 1999 convention was held at the Big Sky Resort near the town of Bozeman, so puzzlers jokingly called that gathering Contana. The 2012 convention was held in one of two famous Portlands. What state-related nickname did they give to that event?


Terry, a health-care worker in Traverse City, Michigan, says she and her colleagues use the term cohorting to describe the act of grouping patients with COVID-19 in designated facilities. But they're not sure what word to use to denote reintegrating them into the general population after treatment. Normalization? Decohorting?


Nesh is a dialectal term in England that means "soft" or "tender."


Bill in Surrey, New Hampshire, says his father used to tell him to hold tightly to something, such as a rope, by urging him to muckle on to it. He rarely heard the word again until a Scotsman visited his farm and admiringly noted that Bill's dog was a fine muckle beast. Are those terms related?


What common English word can mean "reddish," "whitish," or "bluish"? Answer: livid.


The vast majority of young students at Oxford Spires Academy in England are refugees and economic migrants. According to teacher Kate Clanchy, this mixture of cultures and languages creates something magical, including some remarkable poetry in English. Clanchy has published some of them in an anthology, England: Poems from a School. They include the wistful, sensuous "My Mother Country" by Rukiya Khatun, a 17-year-old from Bangladesh.


In parts of the Southern United States, the leave-taking phrases Come and go home with me, Come go home with us, and Come home with us don't mean that the departing guest is literally inviting the host to come along. The host's equivalent is often something like You ought to just spend the night, which usually isn't a literal invitation, either. Both are simply courteous ways of saying that it's time for the gathering to wind down.


A griph is an obsolete term for puzzle or enigma. This word's etymology is a puzzle itself, although it appears to trace back to Ancient Greek griphos, meaning "fishing basket."  


Susan, a librarian in Grant County, Kentucky, says her spouse, who is from the Cincinnati area, uses the expression Please? to mean "How's that?" or "Come again?" or "Excuse me?" to get someone to repeat a statement. This dialectal feature is largely associated with Cincinnati and other areas heavily settled by German immigrants. It's what linguists call a calque, or loan translation, from German, where the word Bitte, or "please," is used in exactly the same way.


In nautical lore, Fiddler's Green is the mythical place where dead mariners go to enjoy of a life of leisure, with plenty of song, dancing, flirting, and rum. It may be tempting to connect this expression with mariners' term fid, or a "tool for splicing rope," but the two are unrelated.


This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.