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The Eagle Has Landed

Howdy, folks!

You still have three days to win a brand-new “A Way with Words” iPod Shuffle stocked with our 10 favorite episodes of the show, plus room for much more. To be eligible, take the listener feedback survey:


It takes just a couple of minutes. It’s part of a class project by MBA students at the University of San Diego. They’ll be accepting surveys until Thursday, July 15, at midnight (PT). We’ll announce the winner next week. Good luck!

By the way, we’re especially excited about this week’s “Behind The Scenes” news, but more about that in a moment.

In other news: In this week’s archive episode, “Picklebacks and Mountweazels,” we start off with a discussion of phrases you love to hate, like the annoying “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” and the shudder-inducing “This is a courtesy call.”

Literary historian Jack Lynch stops by for a slang quiz about the slang expressions “step-ins,” “pickleback,” and “one throat to choke.”

John Chaneski has an amusing puzzle called “Novel Novels,” featuring fanciful book titles just one letter different from the original.

We also talk about the expression “might could,” and settle the question of how to spell the plural of “mother-in-law.”

Hear it all:


Last week’s online-only minicast, about how to form the plural and plural possessive of “ya’ll,” prompted lots of mail. You can listen to it here:


Many listeners who wrote us agreed with Keld Sorensen, a Danish scientist living in Austin, Texas, who observes: “I had a colleague who arrived from some big city and walked into a local car dealership and was greeted with ‘so are y’all looking for a new car?’ He promptly turned around to see where the group of people were that the salesperson obviously was addressing, and that way learned that ‘y’all’ is indeed also singular. The plural is ‘all y’all,’ as in ‘all y’all can come over for a beer.'”

He adds that in his experience, “The possessive is definitely ‘y’all’s’ in the singular. ‘Y’all’s car needs new tires’ and ‘All y’all’s computers must be turned off at night.'”

But others came down on the same side as listener Lee Shackelford, who teaches playwriting and screenwriting at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Lee insists that “y’all”” is always plural. “It’s a contraction of ‘you all,’ and nobody uses that as a singular except Yankees doing bad imitations of Southerners.” Lee adds, “Since we’re talking about it, I have to share my all-time favorite use of ‘y’all’ as a possessive. I was in a restaurant with a friend, and we had both ordered iced teas, this being an establishment in Alabama where one is expected to have sweet tea with lunch. When the waitress brought our drinks she said — in a desperate attempt to get all the plurals and possessives thoroughly covered — ‘Here’s y’alls’s twos teas.” You have to say it out loud to get the full impact. She even made a plural of the word ‘two’!”

Lee, that’s brilliant. Thanks for your story.

Speaking of minicasts, be sure to check out the one we’re uploading later this week. It features a call from a listener wondering about the two words said to be “the most beautiful in the English language.”

On the literary front this week: Proving that Mark Twain’s writing is more relevant than ever, the PBS NewsHour recently published for the first known time in print an essay in which Twain detailing his complains about the experience of being interviewed by journalists.


Behind the Scenes: As promised, big news here in AWayWithWordsville! Grant and his family just moved to San Diego, joining Martha and producer Stefanie Levine already on the scene. We’re both still giddy at the prospect of being able to record in the same studio instead of in separate cities. We’re also excited about Grant’s cool new day job with the Voice of San Diego online newspaper:


We’re also thrilled about the opportunity this gives us do more public appearances together. In fact, just a couple of days ago we were pleased to help the San Diego Foundation celebrate its 35th anniversary at a big celebration down on the harbor, along with the San Diego Symphony Pops and the Flying Karamazov Brothers. We enjoyed meeting a lot of listeners there, doing a little informing on stage while making people laugh, and we look forward to doing more of the same.


Do you have a corporate event coming up? We’d be happy to work with you.

Have a good week, and keep all y’all’s cards and letters coming!

Martha and Grant

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