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Take Two Languages and Call Me In the Morning

Rabbit, rabbit!

In this week’s archive episode: What’s in a pet’s name? Also, stump-jumpers, snicklefritzes, and the last word in the dictionary. Is it “zyzzyva” or “zyxt”? Suffonsify yourself here:


A caller recently asked if you “flesh out” or “flush” out an idea. Lots of you told us that we’re wrong to insist that “flesh” is the correct word here’.

Says Steve Tolley of Virginia: “To me, the phrase ‘flush it’ out means to bring things out into the open, as in flushing out a covey of quails, or to flush out a rabbit. It’s not that you ‘flesh’ up an idea but that you ‘flush’ the heart of the idea into the open.”

Bruce Conklin of Vermont wrote to complicate things even more: “I had always understood it to be a sculpting term. After the armature is done, you use clay to flesh it out.”

Keep those comments coming, and we’ll flesh (or flush) out our conclusions on a later show.

“Iron curtain” refers to “the divide between the old Soviet bloc and the West.” Winston Churchill usually gets credit for that coinage. But it turns out a suffragette used it nearly 30 years earlier, says Fred R. Shapiro, author of “The Yale Book of Quotations.”

In the current Yale alumni magazine, Shapiro shows how this and other examples confirm that, as Virginia Woolf suggested, “Anonymous” was often a woman.


“If I were a doctor, I’d start prescribing languages–the more difficult, the better.” That’s poet Ange Mlinko’s conclusion in an essay on learning a new language in mid-life.

Mlinko based her essay on two books we’ve discussed on the show: “Dreaming in Hindi,” by Katherine Russell Rich, and “Dreaming in Mandarin” by Deborah Fallows. More here:


BEHIND THE SCENES: Blackberry users, rejoice! Now you can download an “A Way with Words” Blackberry App, so you can listen to our show during those idle moments when you have your phone handy. Here’s how:


You can also get AWWW apps for iPhones and Androids. Or look for us in PRX’s Public Radio Player app under the “On Demand” option.

Here’s to having a great month!

Martha and Grant

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Further reading

Baby Blues (episode #1542)

A hundred years ago, suffragists lobbied to win women the right to vote. Linguistically speaking, though, suffrage isn’t about “suffering.” It’s from a Latin word that involves voting. Plus: military cadences often include...

Sleeve Island (episode #1637)

Language from inside a monastery. A Benedictine monk shares terms from his world: For example, corporate prayer refers to praying as a group, not urging shares to return dividends. And did you know there’s a term of art for those annoying add...

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