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The “Its” Just Keep on Coming

Hello, fellow wordies!

We hope this week’s archive edition isn’t “a few pickles short of a jar” or “a few peas short of a casserole.” We talk about these and other phrases for “not measuring up.” Also: “ultracrepidarian,” “fish or cut bait,” “it’ll never be seen on a galloping goose,” and a funny story about linguistic false friends. Behold:


We also touched on the difference between “its” and “it’s.” Many listeners sent some great tips for distinguishing between the two.

Sixth-grade teacher Lynn Rochon wrote: “I teach my students to look at the apostrophe in ‘it’s’ and imagine a dot above the apostrophe. Now you end up with a floating ‘i’ and when joined with the ‘s’ below and to the right, it makes ‘itis’.” Therefore, the dotted apostrophe forms the words “it is,” and without the apostrophe, the word refers to possession.

Gil O’Brien offered this advice: You’ll remember that “its” is possessive if you consider that the word is similar to “his,” “hers,” and “theirs,” which are also possessives without apostrophes.

In the news this week, a mind-blowing story about the possible geographical origins of language. Linguists are buzzing about a new study suggesting that language originated in Southern Africa:


We often insist that words can have more than one meaning. A case in point: Sister Mary Schmuck. In her native Kentucky, no one ever remarked on this nun’s last name. When she relocated to Brooklyn, though, things changed:


BEHIND THE SCENES: We’re pleased as punch to thank one of our underwriters, National University, which just renewed its sponsorship of “A Way with Words.” To keep bringing you this show, we depend on the help of listeners like you and like-minded institutions like National University. More about NU here:


You can do your part to keep intelligent and entertaining conversation about language on the air by making a contribution in any amount here:


Thanks, and thanks as always for listening!


Martha and Grant

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