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We Less Than Three You


This week’s archive episode is one of our favorites, all about the language of love — or, if you prefer, the language of “less than three.” If you look sideways at <3, it looks like a heart, right? We talk about fancy words for kissing, and read some Catullus (one of his cleaner poems). https://www.waywordradio.org/the-language-of-love/

We explain the difference between “second cousin” and “first cousin once removed,” talk about the expression “I feel more like I do now than I did a while ago,” and try to come up with the best term for “an unmarried man having an affair with a married woman.” And yes, we already know we neglected to include “paramour” as a possibility!

Maybe it has to do with the time of year, but for some reason several of you emailed us the same meteorological question in the last few weeks. We enjoyed the mental picture that listener Daryl Begay painted: “Here in foothills of the Chuska Mountains on the Navajo Nation, the weather outside is a paradox: On the one side of my sister’s house, the rain is steady, complete with overcast clouds spanning all the way up the mountain ridge. On the other side of the house, the sun sits against a brilliant blue blaze that boldly meets the red sandstone formations. Is there a word to describe this weather — the simultaneous rain and sunshine?”

Actually, we discussed this question a while back toward the end of the following episode. See if you’ve heard any of these versions:


Speaking of weather, there was a bit of a dust-up this week over on the NPR News Facebook feed, where some sharp-eyed readers pointed out the goof in the headline, “Checking a Tech Bellweather.”


Yep, the spelling you want for this word that means “a leader” or “an indicator of a future trend” is “bellwether,” and its vivid origin can help you remember how to spell it.

As early as the 15th century, the word “wether” meant “a castrated sheep,” apparently deriving from an earlier word for “yearling.” Farmers hung a bell around the neck of their leading wether, all the better to help all the other sheep follow him. So the lead wether came to be known as the “bellwether.”

Soon “bellwether” also came to be applied to humans, though initially in a derogatory sense, as when referring to the ringleader of a mob. Over time, though, those negative connotations fell away, and it’s now most often used in a positive sense, or at least a neutral one.

Speaking of headlines, we were amused to see this breathless one in the London Telegraph last week: “Secret Vault of Words Rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary Uncovered.” Yes, the good folks at Oxford University Press keep records of words they’re tracking or that have been submitted by the public for consideration in future editions. But as Visual Thesaurus executive producer Ben Zimmer observed, it’s all a little “Dan Brown” to describe them as being stashed away in some “secret vault.”

Many of these wannabes are just cute but jokey coinages, like “polkadodge,” for “the strange little dance two passing people do when they try to avoid each other but move in the same direction.” We were surprised, however, that “earworm,” meaning “a catchy tune that sometimes gets stuck in your head,” hasn’t yet made the cut. More here:


Here’s Zimmer’s column on same:


Finally, do you have an unfinished novel still weighing down your hard drive? Then you’ll appreciate Susanna Daniel’s essay over on Slate this week. Extra points and sympathy from us if you identify with the essay’s title: “What Took You So Long? The Quiet Hell of 10 Years of Novel Writing.” Ouch.


Keep on writing — and keep in touch with us all week through Twitter and Facebook! Just click on the links below.

<3, Martha and Grant

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Folding Money (episode #1616)

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Blessing Box (episode #1613)

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