“A Way with Words” Is “Car Talk” for Lexiphiles

“A Way with Words” Is “Car Talk” for Lexiphiles

One benefit of being caught at residence throughout the pandemic is that an individual can lastly get into the behavior of listening to “A Way with Words,” a radio present that airs on Friday afternoons on New York’s WNYE (91.5 FM; verify native listings). The hosts, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, are the Click on and Clack of phrase discuss. Barnette is a author who has studied Latin and Greek (her books embody “A Garden of Words”), and Barrett is a linguist and lexicographer with an ear for modern slang. They make an ideal duo. The present is modelled after “Car Talk,” although it’s broadcast from San Diego, not Cambridge: the hosts snigger rather a lot, and when individuals name in they reply by saying, “You have a way with words,” which is at all times good to listen to.

Not too long ago, Lisa of “bucolic Wellsboro, Pennsylvania,” referred to as in to share her love of animal adjectives (also referred to as collateral adjectives) like canine and feline, a class that features not solely bovine, asinine, equine, ursine, and lupine but additionally pavonine (like a peacock), anserine (goosey, foolish), and hippotigrine. Wrap your etymological chops round that one: if hippos is Greek for “horse” (hippopotamus is “horse of the river”), and tigrine refers back to the tiger, which is striped, then hippotigrine should imply . . . of or associated to the zebra! Barnette and Barrett have wonderful timing, leaving a beat for listeners to determine the reply for themselves. Then one in all them provides one thing that you wouldn’t have guessed; for example, the collateral adjective for pig is shaped by including the suffix -ine to “su” (the Latin sus is the genus identify for pigs, hogs, sows, and peccaries) and contracting it: su-ine, swine. Additionally the “su” in “swine” is said to the hog name “sooey.”

There are animal adjectives that don’t finish in -ine. Vespertilian refers to bats, which come out at nightfall, when the night star (Vesperus) seems and when monks say their night prayers (vespers). Struthonian has to don’t with the Elizabethan-era oath “struth” however with ostriches: it’s from the Greek for sparrow—strouthos o megalos, the massive sparrow—and it should be trending on Twitter. We’d like an epithet for somebody who sticks his head within the sand.

Barnette and Barrett have been doing the present as an impartial nonprofit since 2007, when KPBS, in San Diego, stopped paying for it. “That’s sixteen years, twenty-eight to thirty shows a year with nine-to-ten call-ins per show, plus the connective tissue,” Barnette stated just lately on the telephone. The animal-adjective episode, broadcast on April 21st, is archived on the present’s Web page at No. 1547. On the identical present, the hosts addressed the variant spellings of the identify for the white rat-tailed North American marsupial (“opossum” or “possum”?), the pronunciation of “tinnitus” (accent on the primary or second syllable?), and the derivation of the time period “cabin fever” in addition to related phrases—“stir-crazy,” “hillnutty,” and “shackwacky”—which are related to being caught at residence for the period. Their archive is a digital treasure home of phrases.

The hosts of “A Way with Words” journey often to do stay or salon-style exhibits for fund-raising. Final yr, they appeared on the Bell Home, in Brooklyn. They at all times let the viewers know straight away that they’re antipeevers. “We consider ourselves the spay-and-neuter program for pet peeves,” Barnette stated. They like to rejoice language. Barrett quotes City Dictionary and dictionary.com. In Brooklyn, he threw out phrases like “morosexual” (that’s when you’ve got a factor for somebody who isn’t that brilliant) and “fat-finger” as a verb, which means to hit two keys directly (“I fat-fingered my PIN”). Each take pleasure in etymology, however Martha particularly is in love with the so-called lifeless languages. For years, she learn Greek with a Latvian in Louisville.

Often, the celebrities face one another in “a tiny little box” at Studio West, a few twenty-minute drive from San Diego, however this week, for the primary time, they appeared on a Zoom present (“That Word Chat,” with the editor Mark Allen, Tuesday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. Jap) and can begin doing their very own present remotely. Barrett has a house studio, and Barnette has been “tricking out” her closet. She defined the logistics of a call-in present. “Actually, it’s a call-out show,” she stated. Each week, their producer, Stefanie Levine, listens to 100 voice-mail messages and reads 100 e-mails, “talent-screening” for a “third star.” “If you’re a monotone or meandering, you’re not going to get a callback,” Barnette stated. Levine calls the brightest, most various group of callers and asks them to remain by their telephones for fifteen minutes on a given day, and through the present the callers are lined up “like planes circling O’Hare.”

Scouting for phrases to speak about is a continuing effort, nevertheless it comes naturally. Through the pandemic, Barnette has been “thinking about this all the time, reading the news, words bouncing in my brain.” She just lately did some analysis into the phrase “fomite,” which she defines as “something that might carry the virus, like a doorknob or a handrail.” She continues, “It goes back to the Latin fovere, to heat. So does ‘foment.’ It’s from the Latin fomes, for tinder. So these surfaces provide the tinder for the virus.” What precisely makes this type of connection so thrilling? “It’s a message that somebody has been here before,” Barnette says. “Somebody has encountered this before. We’re not alone.”

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