If English isn’t your first language, there are lots of ways to learn it, such as memorizing Barack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. Martha and Grant talk about some of the unusual ways foreigners are learning to speak English. Also, a golfer wonders if it’s ever proper to say “I’m going golfing” rather than “I’m going to play golf.” And they share an easy way to remember the difference between lie and lay.

This episode first aired March 14, 2009.

Download the MP3.

 Unusual Ways to Learn English
If English isn’t your first language, there are lots of ways to learn it, such as memorizing Barack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. Martha and Grant talk about some of the unusual ways foreigners are learning to speak English. Here’s the The New Yorker article about Crazy English that Grant mentions.

 Pilot Language “Roger”
Why do aviators say roger to indicate they’ve received a message? A pilot phones the show about that, wilco, and similar language.

 Go Golfing vs. Play Golf
For some golfers, the phrase “go golfing” is as maddening as a missed two-foot putt. The proper expression, they insist, is “play golf.” A longtime golfer wonders whether that’s true.

 Intensifying Similes in English
“He’s sharp as the corner of a round table.” “She’s so sad she’s pulling a face as long as a fiddle.” If startling similes leaving you “grinning like a basket full of possum heads,” you’ll love the book Intensifying Similes in English, published in 1918. It’s available at no cost on the Internet Archive.

 Word Game “Odd One Out”
Quiz Guy Greg Pliska has a game called “Odd One Out,” the object of which is to guess which of four words doesn’t belong with the rest. Try this one: dove, job, polish, some.

 Etymology of Yo
“Yo!” Why did people ever start using the word yo! to get someone’s attention? Grant explains that in English there’s mo’ than one yo.

 Martha’s Tricks for Lay vs. Lie
It’s one of the biggest grammatical bugaboos of all, the one that bedevils even the most earnest English students: Is it lie or lay? Martha shares a trick for remembering the difference. See below for her clip-and-save chart of these verbs. Print it out and tape it to your computer. Better yet, laminate it and carry it in your wallet at all times. And if you choose to tattoo it onto some handy part of your body, by all means send us a photo so we can post it on the site.

 Neck of the Woods
How are things in your “neck of the woods”? And why heck do we say neck?

 A New Song of New Similes
Grant reads a few lines from a favorite poem: “A New Song of New Similes by John Gay. It also appears in the front of the book Intensifying Similes in English.

 Slang Quiz with Guy Jacobson
In this week’s installment of Slang This!, the president of the National Puzzlers’ League tries to pick out the slang terms from a list that includes poguey, pushover, noodles, and naff.

 Origin of Truckin’
In a 1936 episode of Jack Benny’s radio show, a woman says that her father sprained his ankle the night before while truckin’. This has an A Way with Words listener confused; she thought trucking was a term from the 1970s. Grant clears up the mystery, and along the way inspires Martha to bust some moves.

 Don’t Sass Me
Grant explains the connection between sauce and “don’t sass me.”

 The Intrusive “R”
Why do some people pronounce the word wash as “warsh”? Martha and Grant discuss the so-called “intrusive R” and why it makes people say “warsh” instead of “wash” and “Warshington” instead of “Washington.”

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

Photo by theilr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Martha’s Handy-Dandy, Clip-and-Save Chart for “Lie” and “Lay”

Lie — to “repose or recline”

  • Present Tense — Today I lie on the couch. (Today he lies on the couch.)
  • Past Tense — Yesterday I lay on the couch for two hours.
  • Part Participle — Every day this week, I have lain on the couch for two hours. (Every day this week, he has lain on the couch for two hours.)

Lay — to “put or place”

  • Present Tense — Today I lay my checkbook on the table. (Today he lays his checkbook on the table.)
  • Past Tense — Yesterday I laid my checkbook on the table.
  • Part Participle — Every day this week, I have laid my checkbook on the table. (Every day this week, he has laid his checkbook on the table.)

Note that this simple chart is for the first-person use of “lie” and “lay.” The pattern is somewhat the same with the third person, although we’ve listed exceptions in the examples above.

Present Tense
Past Tense
Past Participle
Lie
Lay
Lain
Lay
Laid
Laid

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

Intensifying Similes in English by T. Hilding Svartengren
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