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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.


A Way with Words (Series)

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Cool Your Soup (#1495)

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

Soup_small In English, if someone's terrified, they might be shaking like a leaf. In Spanish, the phrase is temblar como un flan, or to tremble like a flan. The Spanish phrase darle la vuelta a la tortilla literally means to flip the tortilla, but metaphorically it means to turn the tide, as in an athletic contest where the losing team finds a way to start winning.

Is the word mac actually an acronym for macaroni and cheese? No, just a shortening of the term. If it mac were an acronym, however, it would be a recursive acronym, or one that refers to itself.

A San Antonio, Texas, listener recalls that when she was a youngster, she'd pester her mother by asking the name of lots and lots of rocks on the ground. Her mother eventually began referring to those specimens as leaverites--as in leave 'er right there. The term is popular among geology enthusiasts.

The saying You might as well save your breath to cool your soup is centuries old. Variants include save your breath to cool your porridge and save your breath to cool your pottage. In all those cases, it's a wry way to suggest that someone to be less long-winded.

A San Diego, California, man is having a dispute with his wife, who is a linguist. How exactly do you pronounce the word exactly?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle inspired rhyming terms with the eee-aww, eee-aww, eee-aww sounds of police sirens. For example, what sound does a donkey make?

A podcast listener in Buenos Aires, Argentina, wonders about the differences between the words compassion, sympathy, and empathy.

The Spanish phrase estar en la edad del pavo literally translates as to be in the age of the turkey--to be, in other words, at that awkward age. Comer pavo, literally to eat turkey, means to sit alone at a dance because no one has asked you to join them. The Spanish word pavo comes from Latin word pavo, which means peacock, and is the source of the English word pavonine, which means resembling a peacock or having coloration similar to a peacock's.

An Omaha, Nebraska, man asks about the origin of the term bear-caught, which applies to someone with sunstroke or heat exhaustion. The point of popularization for this expression appears to be the 1965 book by Donn Pearce and subsequent movie, Cool Hand Luke.

In many cultures, tugging at one's lower eyelid is an expression of skepticism, as if to indicate that the person is being watchful and alert and won't be taken in. In the United States, the gesture may be accompanied by a phrase like Do you see the green of my eye? In France, it's accompanied by mon oeil, or my eye, and in Japan, this action is referred to as akanbe or red eye.

In a 1994 interview in The Paris Review, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe offered some great advice about having faith in your process as a writer based on his own experiences as an undergraduate.

To be jonesing for something means to be craving it. The phrase arose in 1960's drug culture, but beyond that, there are competing stories about its origin.

The cut-and-paste feature in word-processing programs makes it easy to rearrange text. But in the past, some writers literally cut and pinned their copy. At the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries, you can see the pins Jane Austen used to fasten together parts of pages from her unfinished novel, The Watsons.

A listener in Fargo, North Dakota, ask which is correct: graduated from high school or graduated high school? Increasingly, the former is falling by the wayside.

 A member of our Facebook group posted a photo of a box that left him completely puzzled until he realized that if you look at the word spoons upside down, it spells suoods.

A Lakeland, Florida, woman wonders about the use of the term floodin' or flooding to describe someone wearing pants that are too short, as in He's floodin.' There are many terms for such ill-fitting pants, including flash-flooders, flood pants, floods, high waders, and high waters, all based on the image of keeping one's pants above the ankles in order to avoid getting them wet in a flood.

In English, women give birth; in Spanish, they give to the light, expressed as dar a luz or dar a la luz. Another luminous word, alumbrando, is applied to a woman who is giving birth.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.