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Newsletter: Meet Us at the Museum

Hey, there! A happy post-election season to you. We hope our friends on the east coast are fully powered, dry, and warm. And everywhere else, we hope your recycling is overflowing with campaign signs.

Here’s what we’ve been up to: brand-new episodes. You keep calling, we keep answering, and that’s how shows get made. Here’s a look at the last four:

The One Who Brung You helped us discover that some people think of bags as only made of paper; if they’re plastic, they’re sacks.

After hearing the episode, Natasha Vally in South Africa tweeted that “in S. Africa people often say ‘a plastic’ without even using ‘sack’ or ‘bag’.”

We also discussed how to break up with a book. How do you handle a book when it’s not the page-turner you hoped for? Do you have any guilt about just tossing it aside? Or do you move smartly along to the next one on the stack?

Also: curing verbal crutches, a twenty-questions-inspired word game, cuddywifters, and more. Listen to the full episode or download it.

Fake English is titled after a caller’s question about what non-English-speakers think English speakers sound like. There are countless examples on YouTube, many with a lot of nasality and sibilance (as if English-speakers are shore birds with broken beaks).

We also heard from a librarian who asked, are people who come into the library customers or patrons? Is “customers” setting the wrong tone by suggesting that it’s strictly a service relationship rather than a community or learning one?

Also: cockamamie, writing with voice recognition software, lamming, and more. Listen to the full episode or download it.

Can of Worms is the one where we heard about versing, a new action word back-formed from versus. It means to challenge or to play against.

We also talked about doozy, why we say someone is a real piece of work, wolf tickets and more. Listen to the full episode or download it.

Nothing to Sneeze At had a fun call about all the different names for last-minute cleaning, the kind of cleaning you do when someone calls and says, “Surprise! We’re five minutes away. Can we come over?”

Also: how to address the president, forensic linguistics, blueberry money and more. Listen to the full episode or download it.

Come to See, Hear, and Meet Us

On Tuesday, November 13, Martha will interview author Vanessa Diffenbaugh at the Words Alive annual luncheon in San Diego. Diffenbaugh’s book, The Language of Flowers, was a New York Times bestseller. Words Alive, by the way, does great work among low-income children, teens, and adults, and we’re happy to help support them.

On Thursday evening, November 15, we’ll both present a lecture on the history of American English at the San Diego Museum of Art. The event celebrates the new Behold, America exhibit, a collaboration among three museums: the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Timken Museum of Art.

If you attend either of these events, please introduce yourself! And if you’d like for us to do something similar in your community anywhere in the country, here’s how.

Quick Hits

• Great explanation of body position and facial expressions in American Sign Language by linguist and author Arika Okrent. A lot of Americans got a great look at the expressiveness of expert sign language interpreter Lydia Callis, who stood alongside New York City Michael Bloomberg in many press conferences after Hurricane Sandy.

Epicene pronouns that failed from “Dr. Grammar” Dennis Baron. Epicene means they’re used for both people of either, or unknown, gender.

• What do you call the chunks of ice and snow that build up in your automobile’s wheel wells? Chunkers, slush puppies, snow boogers, and more.


Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett
co-hosts of A Way with Words

Photo of Below the Towers of Tower Falls, Yellowstone Park, oil on canvas painting by Thomas Moran, 1909, at the San Diego Museum of Art, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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