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The Secret in Their I’s

Hi, all!

In this week's archive edition, we discuss classic children's books, Faulknerian language, the double meaning of "sanction" and other Janus words, and a newcomer to Texas wants to talk like his neighbors:


Summer reruns are almost over! More about that in a moment.

What does your use of pronouns reveal about you? University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker has a surprising answer.

He recently told Scientific American, "In the 1980s, my students and I discovered that if people were asked to write about emotional upheavals, their physical health improved…In an attempt to better understand the power of writing, we developed a computerized text analysis program to determine how language use might predict later health improvements.

"In other words, I wanted to find if there was a healthy way to write. Much to my surprise, I soon discovered that the ways people used pronouns in their essays predicted whose health would improve the most."

The interview's fascinating. Read the whole thing here:


Over the years, we've linked to many wise, insightful pieces by Jan Freeman, language columnist for the Boston Globe. This month, after 14 years in the job, she explains why she's pushing away from the keyboard.


You can still enjoy Freeman's occasional observations at her blog, Throw Grammar From the Train.


Longtime listeners will recall the time a caller puzzled over the origin of the term "butterfly."


We were reminded of that discussion this week by a post on Simon Ager's Omniglot blog, where he discusses terms for "butterfly" other languages. Our favorites are the Welsh term for this insect that literally means "living coal" and the Scottish Gaelic term for "butterfly" that translates as "God's bee." More here:


Speaking of butterflies, a question on our Facebook page set Martha to musing about the entomological and etymological connections between the word "pupil" and the "pupal" stage of an insect’s life. She explains in an online-only, "minicast" edition of our show:


BEHIND THE SCENES: We couldn't be happier to tell you that we're back in the studio recording new episodes! They'll start airing next month.

We're also pleased to say we've reached the final week of our summer e-fundraising drive. Thanks to all who've helped make this campaign a success. There's still time to do your part here:


Or send a check to:

Wayword, Inc.

P.O. Box 632721

San Diego, CA 92163

Wayword, Inc. is a small, educational 501(c)(3) non-profit (Federal tax ID #27-0277377). If your employer has a matching gift program, be sure to tell 'em you support "A Way with Words."

We can't wait to start broadcasting our new season of hour-long shows. Keep those calls and emails coming -- you never know when you might end up talking about them on the air!


Martha and Grant

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Further reading

Walkie Talkie (episode #1541)

One of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear — and one of the most poignant — isn’t in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means “the last surviving member of a species.” The...

Clever Clogs (episode #1539)

Ribbon fall. Gallery forest. You won’t find terms like these in most dictionaries, but they and hundreds like them are discussed by famous writers in the book Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape. The book is an intriguing collection...