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Words for Granted - An etymology and linguistics podcast
22 minutes | Sep 14, 2022
Episode 109: Trivia
Trivia refers to obscure or useless information, but this definition is a far cry from the word's etymology. Trivia, or tri-via, literally means "three roads," and in Ancient Roman times, it referred to three-way intersections. These heavily trafficked intersections were places where common people would chat, trade, gossip, and bicker, and it is in this context that the seeds of our modern sense of the word were first sown. You can sign up for the Lingoda Sprint Challenge here: https://try.lingoda.com/WordsforGranted_Sprint
39 minutes | Aug 2, 2022
African American English: Interview w/ Tracey Weldon
In this episode, I speak with Tracey Weldon, linguist and board advisor on the Oxford Dictionary of African American English project. We discuss the origins of AAE, the role of code switching within its speech community, AAE's contributions to mainstream English, and more. For $25 off your Lingoda Sprint Challenge enrollment, use this link: https://try.lingoda.com/Ray_Sprint
19 minutes | Jul 5, 2022
Episode 108: Understand
What does "standing under" have to do with "understanding?" Nothing at all, which is why most of us probably overlook the obvious fact that "understand" is actually a compound word comprising "under" and "stand." In our exploration of this confusing etymology, we look at some archaic meanings of the preposition "under" in addition to words with similar semantic constructions in other languages. Today's episode is sponsored by Lingoda. To get 25% off your enrollment in the Lingoda Sprint Challenge, go to https://try.lingoda.com/Ray and use promo code WORDSFORGRANTED at check out.
18 minutes | May 22, 2022
Episode 107: World
In Old English, the word "world", or weorold, did not refer to a place. It was a compound word comprising wer, meaing "man", and ald, meaning "age". "World" literally meant "the age of man", and in many of its earliest usages, it's more closely related to a man's "lifetime" or "lifespan" than the earth he inhabits. We also look at some unlikely cognates of "world", all of which share etymologies related to "manliness".
48 minutes | Mar 12, 2022
Deciphering Ancient Scripts: Interview with Silvia Ferrara
Have you ever wondered how writing was invented - or, how many times it was invented? How many undeciphered scripts has the ancient world left us, and is there any hope in eventually deciphering them? In this interview with Silvia Ferrara, author of The Greatest Invention, we explore these questions and many more. To buy Silvia's book, click here. You can also support Words for Granted on Patreon!
17 minutes | Feb 2, 2022
Episode 106: Grotesque
The etymology of "grotesque" is hiding in plain sight: "grotto-esque". Originally, the word was used to describe a style of ancient art that was discovered in underground grottos––or at least what appeared to be underground grottos. In the Renaissance, this style was emulated and innovated upon, influencing the evolution of the sense of "grotesque" familiar to us today.
18 minutes | Jan 5, 2022
Episode 105: Idiot
In Ancient Greece, an "idiot", or idiotes, was a "private person", which meant someone who did not hold a political office. In this episode, we explore how the word's modern pejorative connotation emerged. We also look into the word's 19th and early 20th century association with the IQ test.
25 minutes | Dec 12, 2021
Episode 104: Genius
Though people of extraordinary talents and intellect have always existed, the modern sense of "genius" didn't emerge until the relatively recent 18th century. In Ancient Rome, a "genius" was neither a person nor their brilliant works, but a mythological deity whose function within society evolved over the course of antiquity.
20 minutes | Nov 21, 2021
Episode 103: Run Amok
Most Malay loanwords in English describe the local flora, fauna, and food of Southeast Asia. "Amok", however, is different. Amok, which describes a violent killing spree, is ultimately a Malay word that entered European languages during the era of European colonial expansion. Did Europeans encounter something unique in Southeast Asia that prompted them to adapt this word?
18 minutes | Oct 23, 2021
Episode 102: Hyperbola/Hyperbole & Ellipse/Ellipsis
"Hyperbola" and "ellipse" are geometrical curves, while "hyperbole" and "ellipsis" are rhetorical terms. At face value, it's not clear how the meanings of "hyperbola" and "ellipse" relate to those of "hyperbole" and "ellipsis", but the history of these pairs of cognates are indeed closely intertwined. To start learning a new language for free with native speakers from around the world, check out the HelloTalk app at: https://go.hellotalk.com/wordsforgranted
15 minutes | Sep 19, 2021
Episode 101: Parabola/Parable
The meanings of "parabola" and "parable" have very little to do with one another, yet these words are etymological doublets of a single Greek work, parabole, which meant "a throwing aside". In this episode, we explore how this literal meaning connects to the literary and mathematical developments of this Greek word. This month's bonus episode explores the syntax of predicate adjectives. Become a member on Patreon.com for to every WFG bonus episode.
18 minutes | Aug 21, 2021
Episode 100: Google
Before Google was the name of one of the world's biggest tech companies, "googol" was an obscure math term that meant "ten to the one hundredth power". Five decades before the founding of Google, the word "googol" emerged spontaneously out of a conversation between an American mathematician and his nephew. Click here to listen to this month's FREE bonus episode on Patreon.
20 minutes | Jul 25, 2021
Episode 99: Average
The word "average" has anything but an average etymology. If the leading theory is correct, "average" ultimately derives from an Arabic word meaning "defect". In this episode, we explore how this Arabic word made its way into European languages through sea trade and how, given this unlikely origin, its mathematical sense emerged over time.
41 minutes | Jul 9, 2021
Why Is English Highly Irregular? (Interview with Arika Okrent)
English may be spoken by a whopping 1.5 billion ESL speakers around the world, but that doesn't mean it's an "easy" language to learn. For native English speakers, it's easy to take for granted just how irregular the English language is. In this interview episode, I chat with Arika Okrent about her new book, Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language. Today's episode is brought to you by italki. Go to https://go.italki.com/anniversary-wordsforgranted to claim your $140 of italki credits.
24 minutes | Jun 27, 2021
Episode 98: Lost Letters: Long s (ſ) and Ampersand (&)
In many English works printed before the late 19th century, a letter unfamiliar to us today, ſ, is often used in place of the letter S. However, that unfamiliar f-looking letter is actually just an archaic form of the letter S called "long s". In this episode, we explore the origins and decline of this odd orthographical relic. As a coda to our series on lost letters, we also explore the history of the ampersand (&), which up until the late 19th century was often listed as the 27th letter of the alphabet. Examples from the episode: 1. Us'd, Clos'd 2. Always puffs, offset, satisfaction; never puffſ, offſet, satiſfaction 3. 17th century: mask, disbelief; 18th century maſk, diſbelief 4. Confuſ-ed, diſ-appearance 5. Geneſ.
30 minutes | May 30, 2021
Episode 97: Lost Letters: Ash (Æ, æ) and Ethel (Œ, œ)
If you've ever encountered the ligatures æ and œ in old texts, you may have wondered: what are they called? Where do they come from? How exactly are they pronounced? Why don't we use them any more? The ligatures ash and ethel are rare in English writing today, but in previous centuries, they were common. (In Old English, the sound we today associate with "short A" was actually not represented by the letter A, but by æ!)
27 minutes | May 16, 2021
Nine Nasty Words (Interview with John McWhorter) [EXPLICIT]
F*ck. Sh*t. C*ck. These are some of the most profane words in the English language, but what exactly makes them profane? Is there something about profanities that makes them different from ordinary vanilla words? In this interview, I speak with John McWhorter, preeminent linguist and author of Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever. Click here to order Nine Nasty Words. To hear more from John, listen to the Lexicon Valley podcast.
30 minutes | Apr 19, 2021
Episode 96: Lost Letters: Wynn (Ƿ), Insular G (ᵹ), Yogh (Ȝ)
Before the letter W was invented, the rune wynn was borrowed into the Latin AngloSaxon alphabet as a way of representing the /w/ sound. The letter yogh evolved out of Insular G, an Irish variation of the traditional letter G. The phonetic value of yogh varied. It could represent the /y/ sound, the guttural /x/ sound as in the Scottish "loch," and others. Many Modern English words spelled with GH digraph (laugh, though, night, etc.) were once spelled with the letter yogh. Interested in taking part in our virtual Latin 101 course this summer taught by Harvard PhD candidate Rebecca Deitsch? Learn more here: https://www.wordsforgranted.com/latin-course
27 minutes | Mar 14, 2021
Episode 95: Lost Letters: Eth and Thorn (Ð,ð and Þ, þ)
In Modern English, we use the TH digraph to represent the voiced and voiceless dental fricative sounds. However, English previously had two unique letters that did this same job: eth and thorn. In this episode, we look at the origin and decline of eth and thorn in English in addition to some places outside of the English alphabet where these ancient letters have survived. Also, check out these links: Ticket link to Intelligent Speech 2021: https://www.intelligentspeechconference.com/ The International Phonetic Alphabet interactive chart: https://www.internationalphoneticalphabet.org/ipa-sounds/ipa-chart-with-sounds/ Ticket link to Intelligent Speech 2021: https://www.intelligentspeechconference.com/ The International Phonetic Alphabet interactive chart: https://www.internationalphoneticalphabet.org/ipa-sounds/ipa-chart-with-sounds/
28 minutes | Feb 13, 2021
Episode 94: The Lost Letters of the English Alphabet (Overview)
You can't have the English language without the ABC's, right? Wrong. In this overview episode, we look at the history of the alphabet and the many changes it has undergone from its Phoenician origins to today. We also consider the significance of the runic alphabet known as futhorc, the first alphabet used to write English. Two of the lost English letters, thorn and wynn, were directly adapted from this older Germanic script. Lingthusiasm Episode 52: Writing is a Technology https://soundcloud.com/lingthusiasm/52-writing-is-a-technology Runic alphabet (futhorc): https://omniglot.com/writing/futhorc.htm
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