“A few pickles short of a jar,” “a few peas short of a casserole,” “two French fries short of a Happy Meal”—in this week’s archive episode, we talk about full-deckisms, those clever terms for someone who’s not quite up to snuff. We reveal the meaning of “ultra-crepidarian,” ponder why some people pronounce “both” as “bolth,” and consider the origin of “fish or cut bait”:


One question from that episode had to do with how to form the possessive of the word “it.” Is it “its” or “it’s”? Our answer meandered a bit, so we want to share the succinct one sent to us afterward by Lory Bush, who teaches night school English classes in Chetek, Wisconsin. Lory puts it this way: “NO ENGLISH POSSESSIVE PRONOUN ENDS WITH AN APOSTROPHE!” In other words, like other possessives (“his,” “her,” “our,” “their”), the possessive of “it” is “its,” sans apostrophe. Simple! Wish we’d said that. Thanks, Lory.

“Meander” is a great word, by the way, deriving directly from the name of a river in what is now Turkey. In the ancient world, the Maeander River was famous for its many twists and turns, running a course that, well, meandered.

From “meander” to “Mad Men”: In an upcoming episode, we’ll talk a bit about the painstaking efforts by “Mad Men” writers to ensure historical accuracy in that television show, including where language is concerned. In the meantime, you can hear more on the topic from linguist John McWhorter and Visual Thesaurus executive producer Ben Zimmer in this Bloggingheads video:


Have you read Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom”? Love it or hate it, the hoopla surrounding its publication is hard for language lovers to miss. That’s why we were amused by this snarky column in the LA Times last week:


We’re thrilled to say that a whole new season of “A Way with Words” is coming your way this weekend. We’re especially excited because it’s the first time that we’re actually recording in the same studio. As you may know, we recorded simultaneously on opposite coasts when Grant lived in New York, and then last year, at opposite ends of California, when he lived in the Bay Area. But now that he’s a brand-spanking new San Diegan, we’re recording F2F in the very same studio. See if you can tell a difference.

Finally, last call for your help in creating a future episode. Tell us which English words would you’d like to see revived. Are there words we’re not using enough? What words have you invented? Is there an idea for which there is no single word in English? Email or call us at 1-877-929-9673, and we just might ask you to talk about it on the air.

See you on the radio or MP3 player,

Martha and Grant

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