Home » Episodes » X, Y, and Zed

X, Y, and Zed

Play episode

Some teachers are using a controversial tactic to get young students reading: They let their pupils choose which books to read for class. Does it work? Also, should that line at the grocery store checkout read 15 items or less or fewer? And is the expression these ones grammatically incorrect? This episode first aired October 17, 2009.

Students Choosing Books

 Some teachers are using a controversial tactic to get young students reading: They let their pupils choose which books to read for class. Does it work?

These Ones vs. These

 The owner of a yarn store in Juneau says a customer corrected her when she pointed out a special collection of buttons and said, “You should check out these ones.” Is it incorrect to say these ones instead of just these?

Bread and Butter Pickles

 A Syracuse woman wonders how bread and butter pickles got their name.


 What do you call that jarring sensation when you see a radio personality for the first time, and he looks nothing like what you expected? The hosts talked about it in a past episode. Listeners responded with more words for this phenomenon.

Lost and Found Quiz

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski was rummaging around the A Way with Words Lost and Found Department, and returned with a quiz based on lost items and their owners.

Fewer vs. Less

 The sign over the checkout lane says 15 Items or Less. A listener is adamant that it should say 15 Items or Fewer.

Defining “Spatula”

 A Texas listener recounts an ongoing debate in her family’s kitchen over the exact definition of the word spatula. Is it the kitchen tool used to spread icing and level measuring cups? Something you use to flip a pancake? That item with the plastic handle and the rubber blade for scraping a bowl? When she gets together with the in-laws to cook, the caller says, the request “Hand me a spatula” leads to confusion.

The Big Mahoff

 In Philadelphia, the expression the big mahoff, means “a bigshot,” as in “Who do you think you are, the big mahoff?” But just what is a mahoff?

Newlywed Shivaree

 A shivaree, also spelled charivari, is a raucous, good-natured hazing for newlyweds. A discussion here about that word prompted lots of listeners to write in with their own stories about shivarees. Martha shares some of them.

Zed, Not Z

 In Britain, Canada, and some other English-speaking countries, the last letter of the alphabet is not zee, but zed. A caller who grew up in Guyana wonders why.

Past Tense of Sneak

 Sure, the present tense of sneak is easy, but what about the past? Is it sneaked or snuck?

Etymology of Widget

 A law student wonders about the origin of the word widget.

Pronunciation of Financial

 Is the word financial pronounced with a long I in the first syllable?

Origin of Posh

 There’s a story going around that the word posh derives from “Port Out, Starboard Home.” Don’t fall for it.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by Rob Brewer. Used under a Creative Commons license.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from this show

Piping Hot

The game of baseball has alway inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word stuff...