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Playlist: A Way with Words's Portfolio

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.


A Way with Words (Series)

Produced by A Way with Words

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Walkie Talkie (#1541)

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

32474633088_1cb7fca886_w_small This episode is supported in part by Yabla, language immersion through engaging videos and patented learning technology, for Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese and English. Stream real TV shows enjoy and learn at the same time! For a free trial, visit yabla.com/awaywithwords.

What's the first really big word you remember learning? For one listener, the word was conflagration. For Martha, it was logical, a word she repeated after watching "Sylvester the Cat" cartoons, followed in short order by theological.

Erica from Troy, Tennessee, wonders if the word boondocks, meaning "a remote place" is related to the name of frontier explorer Daniel Boone. Out in the boondocks or out in the boonies, derive from the Tagalog word for "mountain," bundok, which was picked up by American servicemembers in the Philippines, and popularized among and by the U.S. Marines.

Gwen, a sixth-grader in Rosalia, asks for clarification about the meaning and proper usage of the word indifferent.

On our Facebook group, listeners share the first big words they remember learning, including concentrate and physician.

Adriana from Miami, Florida, says she and her Cuban-American use the terms Fulano, Fulanito, and Fulanito de Tal as the Spanish equivalent of John Doe. These terms for "so and so" came into Spanish from Arabic fulan, which likely goes back to an Egyptian term meaning "this person." The Spanish versions of Tom, Dick, and Harry include Fulano, Mengano y Zutano and Sultano, Perengano y Perensejo. Other terms in Spanish for "John Doe" are Juan Perez, Fulano Fulani, and Juan de los Palotes, or "John of the big sticks."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski's puzzle this week was inspired by the name for that two-way radio, the walkie-talkie. If you named other objects using the same repetitive pattern, you'd refer to a pair of socks as feety-heaties. Following that same pattern, if you consider that one of the biggest types of batteries is the one that supplies your car with electricity, that automotive component might be called by what rhyming name?

Cynthia in Rancho Santa Fe, California, asks: Do filmmakers use linguistic consultants to ensure that no character uses a term that wouldn't have been around by the time the story is taking place?

Beth in Springhill, Tennessee, wonders which is correct to denote a particular grouping of furniture: bedroom suit or bedroom suite? Both are correct, although their use varies from region to region. If you don't want to invite controversy, just use refer to that furniture as a bedroom set.

Jennifer in Omaha, Nebraska, is curious about the origin of the phrase to be in the soup, meaning "to get into trouble."

One of the most powerful and most poignant words you'll ever hear isn't in dictionaries yet, although it probably will be eventually. An endling is the last surviving member of a species. The story of its origin is a marvelous one, involving a Georgia convalescent center, a letter to the editor in the journal Nature, a museum exhibit in Australia involving the now-extinct thylacine, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and much more. Historian Dolly Jorgensen has written compellingly about this word, as has essayist Elena Passarrello in her book Animals Strike Curious Poses.

Shona in San Diego, California, is puzzling over why we don't pronounce the w in the word two. The answer has to do with its etymological origins and the fact that spelling doesn't change as quickly as pronunciation.

Mark in Bostonia, California, works in a machine shop where a sign warned: Beware of coolant and swarf. The word swarf refers to filings or dust created from machine work. Swarf can also function as a verb meaning "to cover with dust or grit or powder." It comes from an Old English word meaning "to rub" or "to scour," the source also of English swerve.

Olivia from Denver, Colorado, is musing about her use of the term good people, as in She's good people. This phrase is what linguists call an extragrammatical idiom, meaning the phrase makes sense even though it's not grammatically correct. Other examples include She's real people, She's nice people, She's great people, or simply She's people. Something similar occurs in Spanish with a phrase like Juan es buena gente.

This episode is hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.