Words for Granted: An Etymology and Linguistics podcast
Words for Granted is a podcast that looks at how words change over time. Host Ray Belli uses etymology and historical linguistics as a way of investigating larger changes in history, culture, religion, and more.
info_outline Episode 75: Grandmother/Grandfather 08/11/2019
Episode 75: Grandmother/Grandfather What makes your parents' parents so ... grand? In today's episode, we trace the etymology and emergence of the French-influenced kinship prefix "grand." We also look at Old English words for "grandparents" and "grandchildren" before the "grand" prefix became conventional. Just for good measure, we also take a look at the kinship prefix "great." To claim your 1-month free trial of the Great Courses Plus, click here.
info_outline Episode 74: Sibling 07/29/2019
Episode 74: Sibling Today, "sibling" is one of the most basic kinship terms. However, it wasn't introduced into the language until 1903 by a pair of scientists working on genetics. More accurately, "sibling" was reintroduced into the language after 1,000 years of dormancy. In this episode, we look at "sibling" in its Old English context and explore its Indo-European roots. Furthermore, we look into the etymology of "brother" and "sister." For your free 1-month trial of The Great Courses Plus, click here.
info_outline Episode 72: Mama/Mom 06/30/2019
Episode 72: Mama/Mom "Mama" is a mysterious word. In the vast majority of languages around the world, the word for "mama" sounds something like ... "mama." In today's episode, we uncover the reason for this peculiar universality. Spoiler alert: It has something to do with babies. For a free 1-month trial of The Great Course plus, click here.
info_outline Episode 71: Noah Webster’s Dictionary 06/15/2019
Episode 71: Noah Webster’s Dictionary Noah Webster is best known as the father of the first trust American dictionary. However, the success of Webster’s dictionary faced an uphill struggle during his lifetime. In today’s episode, we examine some of these struggles alongside the things that made Webster’s dictionary so different from the English dictionaries that preceded it. Click here to sign up for you free one-month trial of The Great Courses Plus.
info_outline Episode 70: Noah Webster (Early Works and Spelling Reforms) 05/26/2019
Episode 70: Noah Webster (Early Works and Spelling Reforms) Noah Webster is best known for his "all-American" dictionary, but in today's episode, we take a look at Webster's earlier works including The Grammatical Institute of the English Language and Dissertations on the English Language. In these works, Webster lays the groundwork for his future dictionary, revealing his political motivations for his spelling reforms and advocation of "American English." Be sure to go to www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/words to get a one-month free subscription to The Great Courses Plus!
info_outline Episode 69: OK 05/05/2019
Episode 69: OK "OK" is both the most spoken and written word in the entire world. It's such a fundamental part of modern communication that it's hard to imagine the world without it, yet in spite of its ubiquity and compact versatility, "OK" is under two hundred years old. Today's episode tells the story of the word's origins in 19th century America. If the leading theory is correct, then OK might just be the most successful inside joke of all time.
info_outline Episode 68: Yankee 04/13/2019
Episode 68: Yankee The most popular usage of the word “Yankee” today is in the name of the baseball team, but etymologically, “Yankee” has nothing to do with baseball. “Yankee” is an elusive word whose definitive etymology is unknown and whose connotations change depending on who’s using the term. In today’s episode, we explore the word’s most likely etymology and consider the its implications from various points of view and time periods.
info_outline Episode 67: The American Pronunciation of R (Rhoticity) 03/31/2019
Episode 67: The American Pronunciation of R (Rhoticity) One of the most defining characteristics of the Standard American English accent is “rhoticity,” or the pronunciation of the letter R. Unlike Standard British English, Standard American English always pronounces the letter R regardless of its position within a word. In today’s episode, we trace the origins and evolutions of this feature of Standard American English. (Spoiler alert: The prevalence of American rhoticity has ebbed and flowed over time.)
info_outline Episode 66: The Emergence of the American Lexicon 03/12/2019
Episode 66: The Emergence of the American Lexicon The English spoken in America began to diverge from the English spoken in Britain shortly after British settlers first arrived in the New World. In today’s episode, we look at several ways how “Americanisms” began to form and how English speakers on the other side of the pond reacted to them.
info_outline Interview with Lynne Murphy, Author of "The Prodigal Tongue" 03/04/2019
Interview with Lynne Murphy, Author of "The Prodigal Tongue" In today's episode, I interview linguist, professor, blogger, and author Lynne Murphy about her book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. We talk about topics such as the British media's take on "Americanisms," nonsensical prescriptivism, national attitudes toward language, and so much more. Lynne's blog, Separated by a Common Language: https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/ To purchase The Prodigal Tongue: https://theprodigaltongue.com/
info_outline Episode 65: Dialect vs. Language 02/20/2019
Episode 65: Dialect vs. Language "American English" is the variety of English spoken in the United States of America ... obviously. But is American English a language unto itself or a dialect of British English? In this episode, we discuss the differences between dialects and languages (if indeed there are any at all) from a linguistic point of view. Part 1 in a series on American English.
info_outline Episode 64: France 02/01/2019
Episode 64: France The name of “France” derives from the name of a Germanic tribe called the “Franks.” In addition to “France,” the name of the “Franks” also produced a handful of other common English words, such as frank, franchise, and Franklin, among others. Today, these words have little to do with France, but as we investigate their etymologies, subtle connections begin to emerge.
info_outline Episode 63: Turkey 01/14/2019
Episode 63: Turkey In today’s episode, we explore the etymological connection between Turkey the country and turkey the bird. Even though turkeys are native to North America, thanks to sixteenth century trade routes, they’re mistakenly named after a country on the other side of the world. We also explore how these trade routes influenced the words for “turkey” in other European languages.
info_outline Episode 62: Cincinnati 01/05/2019
Episode 62: Cincinnati The American city of "Cincinnati" derives a patriotic fraternal organization called "The Society of Cincinnati." The society itself is named after Cincinnatus, a legendary figure in Ancient Roman history. Revolutionary Americans saw Cincinnatus as an idealized epitome of political virtue. In today's episode, we explore Cincinnatus' life from the point of view of early American idealism. More specifically, we consider the parallels between the life of Cincinnatus and that of George Washington.
info_outline Episode 61: Names of Germany 12/17/2018
Episode 61: Names of Germany There are more names for Germany than there are for any other European country. This is due to a long history of disunity among Gemanic tribes and the geographical location of the Germanic homeland smack dab in the middle of Europe. In today’s episode, we explore the history and linguistic distribution of the etymological roots of Germany’s many international names.
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.