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Chicken Scratch and Creaky Voice

Whoa, hey! It's another newsletter from Martha and Grant, hosts of "A Way with Words."

How's your handwriting? Penmanship is one of the things we talked about on our latest episode, as well as "creaky voice" (kind of the opposite of falsetto), claiming things with "dibs" or "hosey," "hand-running," "red-letter day," noms de fetus (what people nickname their unborn children), euphemisms for saying you're off to the bathroom, and more:


As we talked about during the show, "hand-running" is used in expressions like "They ate every cookie on the plate hand-running," meaning they ate them all in quick succession. It can also mean "continuously."

After hearing about that, listener Deb in Texas, who calls herself "The Mantua-Maker," writes,

"This is a sewing term from the days when all sewing was done by hand, although it is still in use. Hand running is when you make a series of stitches in a straight line, without backstitching. The thread shows a stitch, then a space, then a stitch, rather like this: - - - - - - - - - - .

"It is also called a running stitch. It is quick and easy to sew, and can also be removed easily. When done with long stitches, it is called basting."

Thank you, Deb! That's a very good proposed origin for the term. We'll keep our eyes peeled for evidence to support it.

A mantua, by the way, is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a usually loose-fitting gown worn especially in the 17th and 18th centuries."

You can find pictures of mantuas on Deb's blog:


Quite some time ago we talked on the show about the movie "The Linguists," which concerns two intrepid language experts who travel the world tracking and recording dying languages. The movie has been well-received at film festivals and by movie reviewers.

We're now delighted to remind you that the movie is airing this week on public television! Most PBS stations will broadcast it Thursday, February 26, but as they say, check listings for your area.

You can listen to National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" segment about the movie and see a short clip from it:


For even more insight, read Patrick James's interview of the stars of the movie, Greg Anderson and David Harrison:


Unrelated other than also coming from "Good Magazine" is another fun article by Friend of the Program Mark Peters about eponyms--words coined from people's names.


Finally, don't forget this weekend is the 32nd Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It's not too late to sign up. We probably won't be there, alas, due to scheduling conflicts and an affliction called "being terrible puzzle-solvers," but you can bet your Charlie Brown pencil case and Snoopy sharpener that it will still be loads of fun.


May all your days be sunny hand-running,

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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