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A Year of Words

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Hockey mom? Staycation? Recessionista? What’s your choice for Word of the Year 2008? Also, what expression do you use to describe when it’s raining but the sun is still shining?

This episode first aired November 15, 2008.

Nominations for 2008 Word of the Year

 It’s that time again, when people start thinking about a new or resurgent word or phrase that best captures the spirit of the past year. And what a year! We heard the words bailout and lipstick more times than we’d ever dreamed, and saw also the rise of invented words like staycation and recessionista. What are your nominations for 2008’s Word of the Year?

Speaking English with a Foreign Accent

 Do English-speaking foreigners understand you better if you speak English with a foreign accent? A Californian says that on a recent visit to Armenia, he discovered the locals had an easier time if he spoke English with an Armenian accent. Is this okay or could it be seen as condescending?


 Buckaroo is an English word adapted from the Spanish word vaquero, meaning “cowboy.” Is there a specific term for the linguistic process whereby such words are adapted into English?

Joe the Plumber

 Martha nominates another Word of the Year candidate: Joe the, as in “Joe the Plumber,” and subsequent variations on the “X the Y” formula arising from a certain drain-fixer’s quarter-hour of fame.

A Superlative Quiz about Superlatives

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski stops by with a quiz about superlatives. Naturally, his name for the quiz is “Best. Puzzle. Ever.”

Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

 Why do we say someone’s “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed”? Your chipper, chattering hosts are ready with the sciurine answer.

Comprised Of

 An Indiana woman shudders every time anyone uses the expression comprised of. She wants to know if she’s right that it’s bad grammar, and more important, is she right to be a stickler about it?


 Martha and Grant discuss some other Word of the Year candidates, including hockey mom and hypermiling.

Chinese Fire Drill

 The term “Chinese fire drill” can mean either a “state of confusion” or the adoloscent ritual involving a red light and a carful of rowdy teenagers. But a caller who overheard the expression at work worries that expression might be racist.

Slang This! with a Video Game Designer

 This week’s slang quiz challenges a Seattle video game designer to pick out the correct slang terms from a mishmash of possible answers, including hammantaschen, party party, play pattycake, and get off.

Jive Turkeys

 In 2008, is using the term jive turkey politically incorrect, or just a little dorky-sounding? A Las Vegas schoolteacher jokingly used it with her students, then had second thoughts. Grant sets her mind at ease.

Devil’s Beating his Wife

 It’s raining, it’s pouring, but the sun is still shining. Quick—what do you call that? Some folks refer to it a sunshower, and others call it a monkey’s wedding. But a woman says her Southern-born mother used a much more unnerving expression: “The devil’s beating his wife.” Martha and Grant discuss the possible origins of this expression and its variants, like “The devil is beating his wife and the angels are crying.” Around the world, this meteorological phenomenon goes by an astonishing range of names. In Lithuanian, the name translates as orphan’s tears. In Korean, a tiger is getting married. Here’s a list of many more, collected a few years ago by linguist Bert Vaux.

Accent Influences

 Which of the following three factors has the biggest influence on a person’s accent? Is it your geographic location, your family, or the media?

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

Photo by Evan Cordes. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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