BOZEMAN – One Montana woman is painstakingly answering the questions of the world’s wildest, weirdest words, in one of MTPR's most beloved segments that you may have heard on the radio.
It’s a Thursday afternoon, and tucked away in a small, second-story room at Montana State University, Chrysti Smith is hard at work.
With the go-ahead from her production supervisor, Smith leans forward into the microphone: “Greetings, and welcome to Chrysti the Wordsmith!”
Those words are familiar for anyone who listens to Montana’s public radio stations. The calming tone of Chrysti Smith - or Chrysti the Wordsmith, as she’s known - has rung through the Treasure State, and even beyond it, for nearly 30 years.
Her dedicated fanbase, lovingly nicknamed “verbivores,” join her quest for new and exciting words.
“Listeners will email me and say, ‘Have you ever thought of… what does raining cats and dogs mean?’” says Smith. “And sometimes they’ll come up with some very interesting and obscure terms that I would never think of on my own. So I really - I owe a debt a gratitude to those listeners that are very alert and love words like I do.”
She’s covered words and phrases like “chillax,” “chameleon,” and “on fleek.” For Smith, it’s a 24-hour job.
"I search for them but they also find me,” Smith says about her process.
She pulls out a journal, and starts flipping through its pages.
“I have a word journal that I keep old-fashioned style, paper and pencil, and I write down a lot of the words that I want to go ahead and research. A word like ‘pilcrow,’ and a word like ‘bunkum,’ and phrase like ‘little white lie.’”
Talk to Smith about words for even a moment, and her enthusiasm is contagious.
She’s serious about her words, too. So much so, that she pulled out her dictionary mid-interview.
The time limit for each “Wordsmith” episode is a strict one minute and 37 seconds; not much time to pack in the humor, curiosity, and information she’s known for.
Each episode requires about four hours of research and writing, but the entire process is a labor of love.
Smith has always had an interest in words: “I was about 17 when I became interested in collecting dictionaries and reading dictionaries, almost to the exclusion of everything else.”
But she didn’t always have the confidence in herself.
“I used to not like my voice, and I think everybody has that impulse," Smith says. "If they’re recorded and they hear their voice for the first time, it sounds so foreign to them. I’ve come to really appreciate my voice, the sound of my voice, and its cadence. Because I have worked really hard on the quality of my voice. And so now I look forward to it."
Now, the moment the microphone is on has become Smith's favorite part of her job.
But most satisfying of all is the idea that she's opening the door for fellow verbivores to dive deep into the pages of dictionaries, just like she used to do.
“When I was a young person, I would have given anything to hear a radio show like I’ve created," Smith says. "And so I created this for my inner child, the youthful person who was curious about words. I created this series for the people who were as curious as I was.”
You can listen to Chrysti's wonderful words every weekday on KGLT-FM in Bozeman, Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings, and Montana Public Radio in Missoula.
Bringing words to life: Chrysti the Wordsmith, this week's Montana Treasure.