WILL - Focus - December 10, 2013

Speaking military slang

Have you ever been a part of a conversation that you didn’t quite understand because you were unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary?


(Duration: 51:53)

Eric (pictured on the far right) with friends in Kuwait in 2006 shortly before going to Iraq.

Eric Swenson says that when he first enlisted in the US Army, there were several occasions when superior officers would correct his word usage. He gun was a “weapon,” not a firearm, and if something was gone, it wasn’t out, it was “black.” Swenson says that learning to use this sort of lingo was a rite of passage when he first went through basic training, but now that he’s a veteran living stateside, it was just as much of a process to stop speaking military as it was to start.

This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with Swenson and dictionary editor and co-host of public radio’s “A Way with Words,” Grant Barrett about how slang and jargon are vital communication tools even though they work to alienate or include certain groups of people. We’ll learn more about certain words and phrases that are now commonplace in American speech that are relics of military culture, and Swenson will tell us more about some new military slang that’s developed as a product of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Are you from a military family? Are there words from the military that were used in everyday speech? We’d love to hear from you this hour on Focus!

WILL - Focus - October 07, 2013

Talking With Our Hands

We’ve all been accused of talking with our hands, and if mostly everyone does, wouldn’t you think it would play an important role in communication?


(Duration: 51:16)

Susan Goldin-Meadow

Do you talk with your hands? Have you ever wondered why? This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with Susan Goldin-Meadow about how gestures play a role in our language. We’ll talk with her about why some gestures are the same from culture to culture and why some vary so much. Meadows also talks with her about how gestures play a role in learning language. According to Goldin-Meadow, deaf children with hearing parents will develop their own gesturing system to communicate, and many children’s signs are the same even though they’ve never met.

WILL - Focus - July 23, 2013

Summer Grammarphobia

Vacation, lemonade, air-conditioning…. Ever wonder the origins of the words we use during the summertime? This hour on Focus, Jeff Bossert talks with Patricia O’Conner, author of “Woe is I” about summer grammar. We welcome your grammar pet peeves and questions this hour on Focus!


(Duration: 52:20)

a child doing a cannonball at Sholem Aquatic Center

The dog days of summer are here…especially judging by last week’s 90 degree weather. But wait, “dog days?” Does anybody really know what that means and where the expression came from? This hour on Focus, Jeff Bossert talks with Patricia O’Conner, language blogger, and author of several books about grammar including “Woe is I” and “Words Fail Me” about some of the history behind the words and expressions we use during summer. Whether you’ve been stressing about wearing or shopping for that new bikini, we’ll find out why we call them bikinis in the first place and will also talk about where the English language gets words like “pool,” “sunburn” and “vacation.”

WILL - Focus - May 14, 2013

Now Hiring: Translators and Interpreters Wanted

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the need for translators and interpreters will increase by 20 percent in the next 7 years. This hour on Focus, we talk about the challenges that come with training translators and meeting that need.


(Duration: 51:26)

Elizabeth Lowe

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics the demand for translators will increase by 20 percent by 2020, but here in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Employment Security estimates that need will be even greater. This hour on Focus, we’ll talk with Terena Bell. She’s worked as an interpreter and now owns “In Every Language,” a company based in Louisville, Kentucky that provides translation and localization services and is also secretary for the Globalization and Localization Association, an international translation trade organization. Professor Elizabeth Lowe also joins us. She’s director of the Center for Translations Studies at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign which recently announced it will offer a new master’s program next fall.

WILL - Focus - May 10, 2013

Find Out More About What’s Coming Up Next Week on Focus

We'll talk about the psychology of summer camp, the case for comics in the classroom, personal finance and more! 

Next week on Focus, we’ll talk about the magic of summer camp, the growing need for translators and why some are pushing for comics in schools.

WILL - Focus - March 27, 2013

Biting the Bullet and Taking the Cake: Idioms and Our Language

The devil really isn’t in the details, and rarely does anyone literally pull your leg. But we still use these expressions. Why and where do they come from? This hour on Focus, we talked with Christine Ammer, author of the new American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. 


(Duration: 49:52)

The flourless chocolate cake we're "taking" during this hour on Focus.

Christine Ammer is the author of more than a dozen reference books including “The Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches,” “Fruitcakes and Couch Potatoes and Other Delicious Expressions” and her latest, “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.” This hour on Focus, host Jim Meadows talks with Ammer about the origins of our favorite phrases and about what an idiom really is. 

We also want to hear from you this hour! What expressions roll off your tongue? Do you have a favorite one that’s of note? Maybe you have a question about the origins of something you say… Give us a call, post in the comments section below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter @Focus580.

Tags: idioms, grammar

WILL - Focus - March 22, 2013

Coming up on Focus: Remembering Assembly Hall, Idioms and Stargazing

Are you fascinated by the stars? What is your fondest memory of Assembly Hall? How have our concerns about terrorism changed in the last decade?  Find out more about what’s coming up on Focus and join our conversation.

Assembly Hall

Coming up next week on Focus, we'll talk with one of the most well-respected researchers studying terrorism, an authority on idioms in the English language and with journalist Fred Kroner about his new book "A Saucer Coming to Rest, A Half Century of Assembly Hall." Find our more about what's coming up. 

WILL - Focus - January 16, 2013

Grammar and Linguistics


(Duration: 51:30)

Dennis Baron will join us for a conversation about language. He is a professor of English at the University of Illinois, and we'll talk about the way that the English language continues to change in spite of its resistance to deliberate reform. You are invited to call with questions about grammar, and of course, complaints about misuse of the language are always welcome.

WILL - Focus - October 17, 2012

Linguistics, The English Language and Word Usage


(Duration: 51:41)

Geoffrey Nunberg, Linguist and professor at University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information.

Host: Craig Cohen

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has been commenting on language, usage, and society for NPR's Fresh Air since 1988, and his commentaries on language appear frequently in the New York Times and other publications. The emeritus chair of the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel, his latest book is Ascent of the A-Word. Nunberg has also taught at Stanford University and served as a principal scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center from the mid-1980s to 2000.

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