Words for Granted
Words for Granted is a podcast that looks at how words change over time. Host Ray Belli uses language--more specifically, individual words--as a way of making connections among history, culture, religion, and society.
info_outline Episode 60: Wales 12/02/2018
Episode 60: Wales The English name for the country of "Wales" is not native to Wales itself. It was named by AngloSaxon settlers in Britain as a way of distinguishing themselves from their Celtic neighbors on the island. The word "Wales" has cognates in all of the Germanic languages, yet most of these cognates have nothing to do with the modern country of Wales. In general, these cognates are associated with speakers of Romance languages throughout Europe. In today's episode, we connect the dots among these various cognates across languages.
info_outline Episode 59: Proper Place Names (General Overview) 11/16/2018
Episode 59: Proper Place Names (General Overview) Today's episode kicks off a new series on "toponymy," or the study of place names. In this general overview, we take a look at some of the historical and etymological trends that most often impact place names, such as colonialism and the commemoration of important individuals.
info_outline Episode 58: Gymnasium 10/30/2018
Episode 58: Gymnasium Nowadays, a “gym” is a place for fitness and exercise. It’s a shortening of the word “gymnasium,” which derives from the Greek word gymnasion. In the Ancient Greek world, a gymnasion was not only a place for exercise, but also a hub for philosophical study and learning. Today’s episode explores the evolution of the “gymnasium” as a cultural institution and also looks at how some of the word’s cognates in other lanaguges differ in meaning.
info_outline Episode 57: Category 10/15/2018
Episode 57: Category In the court system of Ancient Athens, the kategoria was a formal accusation. However, when the philosopher Aristotle borrowed the word kategoria to enumerate his “categories of being,” he intended it to mean the “highest order of classification.” Over the course of this episode, we explore the subtle link between an “accusation” and “categorization,” in addition to the philosophical side of Aristotle’s “Categories.”
info_outline Episode 56: Apology 10/01/2018
Episode 56: Apology The Modern English word "apology" derives from the Ancient Greek word "apologia." However, in the Ancient Greek work "Plato's Apology," Plato doesn't "apologize" for anything, at least not in the modern sense. That's because an "apology" was originally a "self-defensive" manner of speech. In this episode, we look at how this rhetorical technique developed into an expression of sincere regret.
info_outline Episode 55: Sophisticated 09/12/2018
Episode 55: Sophisticated In Modern English, "sophistication" is a desirable characteristic. However, the word derives from "sophistry," an Ancient Greek intellectual movement with a historically bad reputation. In today's episode, we consider this bad reputation from various perspectives and how it has impacted the development of "sophistic" words over the course of history.
info_outline Episode 53: They 08/20/2018
Episode 53: They The pronoun "they" was borrowed into English from Old Norse. It's an odd borrowing because within a given language, the words for pronouns tend to remain consistent over time. In today's episode, we explore the entire history of "they," from its roots as Proto-Germanic demonstrative adjective to its modern usage as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in English.
info_outline Episode 52: Linguistic Subjectification (Very, Really, Literally, etc.) 08/01/2018
Episode 52: Linguistic Subjectification (Very, Really, Literally, etc.) Subjectification is a unique linguistic process by which a word evolves to reflect the subjective viewpoint of the speaker using it. For example, the word "very" used to mean "true," but over time, it lost its objectivity and merely became a way of emphasizing subjective points of view. In this episode, we explore this process in a broad sense and look at a few more examples. Further reading: https://web.stanford.edu/~traugott/resources/TraugottDavidseIntersbfn.pdf http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1028.5275&rep=rep1&type=pdf
info_outline Episode 51: The 07/17/2018
Episode 51: The The word "the" is the sole definite article in the English language. It's also the most common word in our language. However, for such a grammatically fundamental word, its history isn't as straightforward as one might think. Old English had a whopping twenty different forms of the definite article, all of which collapsed into the single, versatile word "the" by the time of Modern English. We discuss some of these older forms and their evolutions.
info_outline *Crossover Episode w/ Steve Guerra from The History of the Papacy Podcast* 07/06/2018
*Crossover Episode w/ Steve Guerra from The History of the Papacy Podcast* In this crossover episode, Steve and I discuss the linguistic influence of the King James Bible and some common English idioms that have Biblical etymologies.
info_outline Episode 50: -ly (Adverbial Suffix) 06/30/2018
Episode 50: -ly (Adverbial Suffix) The -ly suffix is a contraction hiding in plain sight. It is cognate with the word "like," and indeed, it literally means "like." "Sadly" is sad-like. "Madly" is mad-like. Amazingly, both "like" and "-ly" derive from a root word meaning "body or corpse." Over the course of this episode, we try to make sense of this semantic evolution.
info_outline Episode 49: To Be 06/14/2018
Episode 49: To Be To be or not to be? Well, if you're conjugating the verb, you're most likely using a form that does not sound like "to be." "To be" is the most irregular verb in the English language, and in today's episode, we explore why this is the case from historical and technical linguistic viewpoints.
info_outline Episode 48: History of English Grammar (General Overview) 06/04/2018
Episode 48: History of English Grammar (General Overview) Grammar is one of the defining features of language. In today's episode, we look at some of the fundamentals of grammar in general, and then take a brief tour through the historical evolution of English grammar itself. Part 1 in a five-part series.
info_outline Episode 47: Secular 05/05/2018
Episode 47: Secular Today's episode serves as an "epilogue" to the series on Biblical etymology. "Secular," of course, means "unaffiliated with religion," but originally, it was a word used to describe the measurement of long spans of time. Roughly equivalent to a century, the "saeculum," as it was known in Ancient Rome, was celebrated with pagan rituals, theater, and games. Pagan rituals ... how ironic. Over the course episode, we trace its development from antiquity to the 19th century philosophical movement.
info_outline Episode 46: God (and His Biblical Names) 04/24/2018
Episode 46: God (and His Biblical Names) The word "God" is not derived from the original Biblical texts. It was a term originally used in Germanic paganism that was adapted to Christianity many centuries after it had already been in use. In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, "God" is called by many names, and these diverse titles don't necessarily translate clearly into English. In today's episode, we dissect a handful of Hebrew terms for "God" that are used in the original Hebrew of the Bible.
info_outline Episode 45: Hell 04/01/2018
Episode 45: Hell In the Bible, the word "Hell" is a common English translation of three main Greek and Hebrew words, and the meanings of those three words hardly resemble that of Hell we know today. In addition to the etymology of "hell" itself, this episode explores the implications of those original Biblical terms.
info_outline Episode 44: Letter J 03/06/2018
Episode 44: Letter J The letter J is a direct descendent of the letter I. Based on their dissimilar sounds, it's an unlikely genetic connection, and today's story explores how this development took place. To keep the theme of Biblical etymology going, it uses this story as a way of examining the evolution of the pronunciation of "Jesus."
info_outline Episode 43: Demon 02/20/2018
Episode 43: Demon Greek gods. Dead, Golden Age heroes. Conscience. Guardian angel. Evil spirits. All of these things and more were once associated with the word daimon, the Ancient Greek predecessor of the Modern English "demon." Originally a neutral term that did not imply good or bad, today's episode looks at how this pagan Greek term became the embodiment of evil spirits.
info_outline Episode 42: Church 01/26/2018
Episode 42: Church On average, the word "church" appears in English bibles 115 times. However, "kuriakon" the word from which "church" derives, only appears in the original Greek text twice, and its usage has nothing to do with a place of worship. The word "church" is a translation of "ekklesia," a different Greek word meaning "assembly." In this episode, we examine the long and complex history of how the translation of how "ekklesia" was codified as "church" and how this translation probably isn't correct.
info_outline Episode 41: Thou 01/14/2018
Episode 41: Thou Up until Modern English, the English language distinguished between its singular and plural second person pronouns: "Thou" was the singular, and "ye" was the plural. Today, these have been replaced by a single pronoun, "you." "Thou" and "ye" are common Biblical pronouns in English, and there's more to their usage than just preserving an old linguistic tradition. In today's episode, we examine the semantic implications of these archaic pronouns in English translations of the Bible.
info_outline Episode 40: Biblical Etymology (General Overview) 12/31/2017
Episode 40: Biblical Etymology (General Overview) Today's episode serves as an introduction to an extended series on Biblical etymology. In it, we discuss the difficulties of translating ancient texts--particularly holy texts--into modern languages. Over the course of this series, we will gain insight into the overall development and evolution of Judaism and Christianity from the unlikely perspective of etymology.
info_outline Episode 39: Eleven/Twelve 12/15/2017
Episode 39: Eleven/Twelve When compared to the other numbers between ten and twenty, "eleven" and "twelve" stick out like a sore thumb. If they followed the construction of the rest of the teen numbers, they'd be called one-teen and two-teen, respectively, but of course, this isn't the case. In today's episode, we uncover what "eleven" and "twelve" are all about.
info_outline Episode 38: Algebra/Algorithm 12/01/2017
Episode 38: Algebra/Algorithm The emergence of the words "algebra" and "algorithm" can be traced back to the life of one man, an Arabic mathematician named Al-Kworizmi. Today's episode looks at the history of Al-Kworizmi's works and their impact on the Western world, particularly on European languages.
info_outline Episode 37: Chemistry 10/27/2017
Episode 37: Chemistry "Chemistry" as we know it is a rational science. However, both the word "chemistry" and the science itself evolved out of the pre-scientific practice of "alchemy." In today's episode, we look at the origins of alchemy, a few theories regarding its etymology, and how medieval Arabic plays into Europe's inheritance of this word. Finally, we consider the circumstances under which "alchemy" became "chemistry" as we know it today.
info_outline Episode 36: Serendipity 10/11/2017
Episode 36: Serendipity Unlike most Arabic loanwords, the word "serendipity" was not borrowed from a foreign language, but invented by an eighteenth century Englishman. It's based on "Serendip," an old Arabic word for the nation of Sri Lanka, and was inspired by an Italian folk tale originally composed in Persian. The odd coinage of "serendipity" is an international story that spans many cultures, languages, and time periods.
info_outline Episode 35 (Bonus Episode): Arabic Linguistics (Intro to Arabic Loanwords in English) 09/24/2017
Episode 35 (Bonus Episode): Arabic Linguistics (Intro to Arabic Loanwords in English) Today's episode serves as an intro to a miniseries on the influence of Arabic on the English language. As a Semitic language, Arabic is very foreign to English. We take a look at some of the basic linguistic and cultural features of Arabic that make it stand apart from the rest of the languages discussed on this podcast thus far.
info_outline Episode 34: Saturday/Sunday 09/11/2017
Episode 34: Saturday/Sunday At last, the finale in the Words for Granted miniseries on the days of the week! We conclude with a investigation of "Saturday" and "Sunday." "Saturday" comes from a root that literally means "day of Saturn." Unlike the rest of the English names for the days of the week, it is a direct etymological descendent of the original Latin name for Saturday. "Sunday," of course, comes from a root that literally means "day of the sun." In this episode, we also compare and contrast these English names with their Romance language equivalents.
info_outline Episode 33: Thursday/Friday 08/19/2017
Episode 33: Thursday/Friday Part four of the Days of the Week miniseries! This time, we investigate "Thursday" and "Friday," or "Thor's Day" and "Frigg's Day." Like the other days of the week we've discussed thus far, the names "Thursday" and "Friday" are loan translations of the Latin names for the days of the week.
info_outline Episode 32: Wednesday 08/02/2017
Episode 32: Wednesday In Old English, the word for "Wednesday" was Wodnesdaeg, which literally meant "Woden's day." It comes from a loan translation of the Latin dies mercurii, which literally meant "day of Mercury," because Woden was the Germanic god associated with the Roman god mercury. This much is for certain. But how did the /o/ in Wodnesdaeg shift to the /e/ in "Wednesday?" This is a bit of a linguistic mystery, and we discuss some of the possibilities.