A Way with Words
About This Show
A Way with Words is a fun and funny radio show and podcast about language. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about linguistics, slang, new words, jokes, riddles, word games, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. Email your language questions for the show to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call with your questions toll-free *any* time in the U.S. and Canada at (877) 929-9673. From anywhere in the world: +1 (619) 800-4443. Hear all past shows for free: http://waywordradio.org/. Also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wayword.
Most Recent Episode
Spur of the Moment (Rebroadcast) - 22 May 2017
5 days ago
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 guess the rest. But there was a time when these goofy jokes were a brand-new craze sweeping the nation. Finally, the words "coffee" and "sugar" both come from Arabic, as does another familiar word: ghoul. There's a spooky story about its origin. Also, freckle, diamond in the rough, spur of the moment, literary limericks, the pronunciation of divisive, and a cold vs. the flu.
In 1936, newspapers across the United States breathlessly reported on a new craze sweeping the nation: knock-knock jokes -- and they were at least as corny as today's version. A seventh-grader from Colorado wonders where the word freckle comes from. This word's origin is a bit murky, but appears to be related to old Scandinavian term rooted in the idea of "scattering," like the seeds that freckles resemble. The German word for these bits of pigment is Sommersprossen, literally, "summer sprouts." A native New Yorker who lived as a boy with his grandmother in South Carolina recalls coming home late one day and offering a long-winded excuse, prompting his grandmother to declare, Boy, you're as deep as the sea! She probably meant simply that he was in deep trouble. Our earlier conversation about the word ruminate prompts a Fort Worth, Texas, listener to send a poem that his aunt, an elementary-school teacher, made him memorize as a child: A gum-chewing boy and a cud-chewing cow / To me, they seem alike somehow / But there's a difference -- I see it now / It's the thoughtful look on the face of the cow. What's the meaning of the phrase diamond in the rough? Does it refer to a rose among thorns, to unrealized potential? The phrase derives from the diamond industry, where a diamond in the rough is one taken from the ground but still unpolished. The word diamond is an etymological relative of adamant, meaning "unbreakable," as well as adamantine, which means the same thing. Looking for an extremely silly knock-knock joke? Here's one that's as silly as they come: Knock, knock. Who's there? Cows go. Try figuring out the rest. Quiz Guy John Chaneski's challenge involves phrases of two words, each of which ends in the letter a. For example, if you mix nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, you get a yellow, fuming, corrosive liquid that e