That's What They Say

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Website
http://michiganradio.org
Description
That's What They Say is a weekly segment on Michigan Radio that explores our changing language.University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan studies linguistics and the history of the English language.Each week she'll discuss why we say what we say with Michigan Radio Weekend Edition host Rina Miller.
Language
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-11-11 06:46
last episode published
2019-11-10 18:43
publication frequency
6.34 days
Contributors
Michigan Radio Newsroom author  
Michigan Radio owner  
Explicit
false
Number of Episodes
171
Rss-Feeds
Detail page
Categories
Society & Culture Science & Medicine Social Sciences Literature Arts

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Episodes

Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors
10.11.2019

TWTS: A fraught topic that's fraught with questions

The word "fraught," when used alone, is fraught with questions. At least, for some speakers of English. A couple of listeners have written to us recently, wanting to know if "fraught" can stand on its own. For example, "The situation is now fraught." B...
3.11.2019

TWTS: Sometimes "meantime" just wants to be alone

"In the meantime" is a good phrase to use when you're talking about the time between two events. But can you leave out "in the" and just say "meantime?" A listener named Keisha Nelson tells us that that recently, she's both read and heard "meantime" us...
20.10.2019

TWTS: The literal and figurative whistleblowers

Unless you've managed to avoid all sources of media, you've probably heard or read the word "whistleblower" once or twice in the past couple of months. Whistleblowers have been making headlines a lot lately, both in sports and in politics.
13.10.2019

Sometimes "top banana" plays second fiddle to "second banana"

Consider the banana. Actually, consider the top banana, because that's the phrase that someone recently brought to our attention. Professor Anne Curzan says a friend told her she loves the phrase "top banana" because of its theater etymology. "I wanted...
6.10.2019

TWTS: Puttin' on the fritz

You're lying in bed on one of the hottest nights of the year. Fortunately, you've got a nice, quiet fan on top of your dresser to keep you cool while you sleep. Suddenly, that fan starts making a noise akin to an angry Rottweiler. You try turning it of...
30.09.2019

TWTS: The meaning of "wishy-washy" can be kind of, well, wishy-washy

Today it's politicians who sometimes get criticized for being wishy-washy, rather than the soup getting criticized as wishy-washy. Let's back up a bit. A listener named Sheryl Knox posed an interesting grammar question recently, but what really caught ...
22.09.2019

Why "teetotaler" has nothing to do with tea

If you totally don't drink alcohol, you could call yourself a teetotaler. A listener recently asked us about the spelling of "teetotaler." They wanted to know why the beginning is spelled "tee" and not "tea," like the drink?
15.09.2019

TWTS: "Between you and I" or "between you and me?" It's complicated.

Sometimes people send us questions that we avoid trying to answer. We don't do this to be mean. The problem is, some questions we get have answers that are too long and complicated to explain within the confines of this segment. This week though, we're...
1.09.2019

TWTS: To discuss a tabled item or not? Depends which side of the pond you’re on

Have you ever heard someone describe the United States and another English-speaking country as “two countries separated by a common language?” A listener named Randy Miller wrote to us recently about some of the language differences he encountered whil...
25.08.2019

TWTS: Don't let spellcheck thunderstorm on your parade

Few things can shut down an outdoor swimming pool faster than a good old-fashioned summer thunderstorm. English professor Anne Curzan is a longtime swimmer who swims in a master’s program. Recently, one of her coaches emailed another swimmer about hold...
18.08.2019

TWTS: The not-so dulcet tones of harping

While harps make beautiful music, most of us would agree there’s nothing beautiful about someone harping on something. Our listener Kalen Oswald recently asked, “If the harp is historically famous for its soothing music, going all the way back to the O...
11.08.2019

TWTS: Where we're at right now with "where's it at"

We love it when people send us grammar jokes. One that is passed around quite a bit has to do with the construction "where's it at."
28.07.2019

TWTS: Just try and stop saying "try and"

Your challenge this week is to try and avoid using the construction "try and." Why, you ask? Because we get a lot of questions from listeners about this particular construction and whether it's wrong. We can try not to use it, but "try and" is very idi...
21.07.2019

TWTS: Everybody "takes the L" sometimes

Sometimes a not-so-great experience can be made just a bit better if you have an excellent slang phrase to describe it. We think "take the L" falls right into that category.
14.07.2019

TWTS: Looking for redundancy in "in and of itself"

Apparently, "in and of itself” is the source of some concern about redundancy. This phrase wasn’t actually on our radar until a listener brought it up at our most recent Grammar Night event . The listener wanted to know whether the phrase is redundant....
30.06.2019

TWTS: Take a listen as we discuss "take a listen"

When someone asks you to “take a listen,” it’s usually meant as a friendly invitation. But not everyone wants to take a listen. Several listeners have asked us about this phrase, including one who wanted to know whether it’s grammatically correct.
23.06.2019

TWTS: For the "zh" sound, it's a consonant struggle

Consonant sounds like "sh" and "th" and "ch" have a reasonably secure place in our language. You’ll find them at the beginning, middle and end of many English words. These consonants will likely never know the struggle that plagues the "zh” sound.
16.06.2019

TWTS: Singular "they" and verb agreement

Pronouns are on the front burner of language change at the moment. As such, we get a lot of questions about them. For example, a listener recently asked if you should say, "They are going to the store," or "They is going to the store," when referring t...
9.06.2019

TWTS: Don't get into a pique over "pique"

The word “pique” recently piqued the interest of one of our listeners. Colin Williams wrote to us after seeing the phrase, "As the president's pique became increasingly evident..." in a New York Times article . Williams says: “I’ve heard that something...
2.06.2019

TWTS: Redundancies, or when something is nice enough to name twice

The Rio Grande is certainly a grand river. But not everyone thinks it's grand enough to be called "river" twice, as in the Rio Grande River. In case you're not up on your Spanish, saying “Rio Grande River” is redundant, since "rio" means "river." This ...
26.05.2019

TWTS: Don't count on "countless" to be literal

Grammarians sometimes worry about whether you can count the things to which a noun refers. And no, we're not talking about "less" and "fewer."
19.05.2019

TWTS: The "needs washed" construction

Have you ever heard of the "needs washed" construction? That's when the verb "need" is followed by a past participle like "washed" or "fixed" without "to be." For example, "That dish needs washed." Two listeners recently wrote to us about this. One say...
12.05.2019

It's time for the lightning round

We get tons of great questions about language from our listeners. The problem is we only get to answer one or two per week. This week, we're doing things a little differently. We give you the That's What They Say lightning round.
5.05.2019

"Quote-unquote," or when the written becomes the spoken

In writing, punctuation makes it easy to see when the writer is quoting someone else. What's interesting is that we've figured out a way to incorporate that punctuation into our speech. This week's topic comes from a listener who asked about saying "qu...
28.04.2019

"Heck" is one heck of a euphemism

Some of us can't resist muttering or shouting our language's strongest words in moments of anger, pain or shock. However, we also realize there are situations that require us to keep our vocabulary clean. Fortunately, there's a variety of alternatives ...
14.04.2019

As of today, we're okay with "as of" and "as from"

It appears that as of today, there isn't much concern about the phrase "as of." Perhaps that's because it's such a simple phrase. Two words, two letters each, nothing flashy. But this is That's What They Say, and when Michigan Radio's chief engineer Bo...
7.04.2019

Seeing double with "duplicate" and "reduplicate"

Recently, English Professor Anne Curzan was giving a talk in Washington about reduplication. In reduplication, a form is repeated in a straightforward way, like "no-no" or "boo-boo," or with a vowel change like "flip-flop" or "mish-mash." During Curzan...
31.03.2019

Cloudy with a chance of small talk

Talking about the weather can be about so much more than sunny days and stormy nights. Last week, we talked about the subtle routines we follow when opening and closing a conversation. This week, we decided to look at the interesting roles weather can ...
Rebecca Kruth author
24.03.2019

Going through the conversational motions

Even when it comes to the most interesting conversations, there's usually a routine to how they start and how they end. Think of how your conversations usually start. Generally, you don't just walk up to someone or call them on the phone and immediatel...
17.03.2019

When standard English doesn't make sense

Among the many odd things about standard varieties of English is the “s” at the end of “knocks” as in “She knocks on the door.” If you were to change “she” to “I,” “you,” “we,” or “they,” the “s” would go away, and “knocks” would become “knock.” Why do...
10.03.2019

Whether it's "in shambles" or "a shambles," it's still a mess

If your life is in shambles, you probably have bigger things to worry about than grammar. This week's topic comes from a listener who wanted to know the origin of "in shambles." Soon after we received this question, a co-worker told us she was surprise...
24.02.2019

The gift that keeps on "gifting"

A few weeks ago on Reddit, someone posted a clip from the Ellen Degeneres Show. The guest was Candice Payne, the Chicago woman who rented hotel rooms for homeless people during last month’s polar vortex. The post’s headline was, “Ellen gifts $50k to Ca...
17.02.2019

On behalf of language nerds (like us), we look at "on behalf of"

On behalf of a listener, this week we're raising the question of whether we can speak on behalf of ourselves. Often at weddings, funerals and other gatherings, there's a moment when someone stands up and says something like, "On behalf of my family and...
17.02.2019

On behalf of language nerds (like us), we look at "on behalf of"

10.02.2019

The plot of "Sharknado" is a little implausible, but the popularity of "nado" is a fact

The words and phrases that pop culture inserts into our everyday language never cease to amaze us here at That's What They Say. A listener recently wrote to use about one in particular. Laurel wanted to know what we think about "nado" as in the movie "...
10.02.2019

The plot of "Sharknado" is a little implausible, but the popularity of "nado" is a fact

The words and phrases that pop culture inserts into our everyday language never cease to amaze us here at That's What They Say. A listener recently wrote to use about one in particular. Laurel wanted to know what we think about "nado" as in the movie "...
3.02.2019

If you think you know this idiom, you may have another "think" coming

Last week, we talked about how easy it can be to misinterpret an idiom, especially when a key word sounds very similar to another word. Before we go any further, look at the following sentence and fill in the blank with the first word that comes to min...
3.02.2019

If you think you know this idiom, you may have another "think" coming

Last week, we talked about how easy it can be to misinterpret an idiom, especially when a key word sounds very similar to another word. Before we go any further, look at the following sentence and fill in the blank with the first word that comes to min...
27.01.2019

To "flesh" or "flush" something out? Depends what you're fleshing or flushing

It's happened to the best of us. There's a saying that you've been using for as long as you can remember. Then one day, someone informs you, hopefully kindly, that you've actually been saying it wrong this whole time. Former users of "take it for grani...
27.01.2019

To "flesh" or "flush" something out? Depends what you're fleshing or flushing

It's happened to the best of us. There's a saying that you've been using for as long as you can remember. Then one day, someone informs you, hopefully kindly, that you've actually been saying it wrong this whole time. Former users of "take it for grani...
20.01.2019

The questions in question are tag questions

There's a set of questions that we as speakers use regularly and that we may not realize have their own special name. They're called tag questions, and they're everywhere. You probably don't know what a tag question is, do you? You want to learn about ...
20.01.2019

The questions in question are tag questions

There's a set of questions that we as speakers use regularly and that we may not realize have their own special name. They're called tag questions, and they're everywhere. You probably don't know what a tag question is, do you? You want to learn about ...
13.01.2019

In a world where you can pay, act, or simply be out-of-pocket

Sometimes we like to ask people what a particular word or phrase means to them. Sometimes when we do that, we get several completely different answers. Take “out-of-pocket,” for example.
13.01.2019

In a world where you can pay, act, or simply be out-of-pocket

Sometimes we like to ask people what a particular word or phrase means to them. Sometimes when we do that, we get several completely different answers. Take “out-of-pocket,” for example.
6.01.2019

The dark origin of "basket case"

It's jarring when you discover that a seemingly harmless everyday word or phrase has an offensive origin story. The Oxford Dictionary's blog has a list of nine words with offensive origins. You probably already know about a few of these, but others suc...
6.01.2019

The dark origin of "basket case"

It's jarring when you discover that a seemingly harmless everyday word or phrase has an offensive origin story. The Oxford Dictionary's blog has a list of nine words with offensive origins. You probably already know about a few of these, but others suc...
23.12.2018

If you "dive" today, what did you do yesterday?

If you think about the verb “dive” too hard, it can shake your confidence that you know which past tense to use. Let’s say you’re telling someone about a diving competition you participated in yesterday. Do you tell them you dived yesterday, or do you ...
23.12.2018

If you "dive" today, what did you do yesterday?

If you think about the verb “dive” too hard, it can shake your confidence that you know which past tense to use. Let’s say you’re telling someone about a diving competition you participated in yesterday. Do you tell them you dived yesterday, or do you ...
16.12.2018

Whether it's sullied or soiled, it's definitely dirty

There are many things in life worth keeping unsullied or unsoiled. From our good name to our best dress shirt, it's preferable to keep things safe from both literal and figurative sullying or soiling. It would seem that "sully" and "soil" have a lot in...
16.12.2018

Whether it's sullied or soiled, it's definitely dirty

There are many things in life worth keeping unsullied or unsoiled. From our good name to our best dress shirt, it's preferable to keep things safe from both literal and figurative sullying or soiling. It would seem that "sully" and "soil" have a lot in...