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Join Us in the Solarium for a Bit of Trivium

Stand back! It's another missive from A Way with Words.

This past weekend's show took a look at word-geek books suitable for reading and gift-giving. We also took a shot at explaining "gedunk" (which means "ice cream" or "sweets" or the place where you'd by them, especially in the Navy) and "having enough money to burn a wet dog." No dogs were harmed in the recording of this episode: it just means "a lot of money."


Greg Pliska sat down at his Pentium and then joined us in our solarium with a bit of trivium. It's a quiz about words that sound like they're one neutron away from being on the periodic table of the elements. It might send you to a sanitarium.

We also took a swipe at false myths surrounding the overseas adventures of name brands like "Coca-Cola" and "Chevy Nova." Our entry point was the delightful book "Biting the Wax Tadpole" by Elizabeth Little.

For other books suitable for wallowing in with a little word-wonkery, Grant recommended "Fubar: Soldier Slang of World War II," by Gordon L. Rottman, and "Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin" by Nicholas Ostler.

For her gabolicious gifts, Martha picked "Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion," by Michael Wex, and "The Dord, The Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words" by Anu Garg.

You can find links for all these books on the blog:


More: "biffy" means toilet? What are the slang terms "bluebird" and "corpsing"? Why does "lake" come last in some lake names but first in others? Lake Superior? Great Salt Lake? Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg? Is it possible to incentivize someone to use a verb other than "incent"?

Next week, we talk about "words of the year." Grant will give a sneak peek at some of the expressions he'll be nominating for American Dialect Society's words-of-the-year vote in January, the longest-running and least-commercial word-of-the-year contest anywhere.

To you and yours we wish the best of the season. May your ice be in your whiskey and not on your sidewalk. May the white stuff be whipped cream on your cocoa and not snow in your driveway. And if you're in Buffalo for the snow may God help you.

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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