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Put a Snap on the Grouch Bag

Hey-o! It's another newsletter from A Way with Words

This past weekend's show was completely new. We tackled the expression "put a snap on the grouch bag," how to pronounce "patronize," and the rise of the German word "uber" in American slang.


We also talked about "seeding" in sports, "making groceries" in New Orleans, regional food names, and the expression "to who laid the rail." See Grant's dictionary entry for the latter term here:


We also talked about the expression "drink the Kool-Aid," which comes by way of figurative use from the 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. It doesn't come from Ken Kesey, his Merry Pranksters, or Tom Wolfe, no matter what Wikipedia says. Wolfe's book contains only literal Kool-Aid drinking.

If you're looking for a true picture of how teens use language in instant messaging--instead of the fearmongering OMG!!! coverage you'll usually find in the popular press--we highly recommend an article in the latest issue of the academic journal "American Speech."

The article is pretty wonky, with charts and jargon and the like, but its based on evidence rather than guesswork. Researchers Sali Tagliamone and Derek Denis of the University of Toronto have concluded that IM habits of teens are fully rooted in, and are undergoing the same transformations as, offline English. They also note, however, that chat language is interesting in that it mixes features of formal and informal speech registers, even within the same line of text.

To read the article, ask for the spring 2008 (volume 83, number 1) issue of American Speech at your library. The article will also soon be available online, for a fee, here:


This week we received an advanced copy of Martha Brockenbrough's book, "Things That Make Us [sic]." It's a small tome of light-hearted grousing about common language mistakes, including oodles of real-life examples. If you remember, Martha was the organizer of "National Grammar Day" earlier this year. She's our people! When the book is released this summer, you'll find it here:


That's all for this week!

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett

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