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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In today's episode, we begin our investigation of the individual etymologies of each day of the week. Both "Monday" and "Tuesday" are ultimately loan translations of the Latin word dies lunae (Luna's day) and dies martis (Mars's day), respectively. Luna, the Roman moon goddess, was identified with Mani, the Germanic moon god, and Mars, the Roman god of war, was identified with Tiw, the chief deity in the original Germanic pantheon. But that's just scratching the surface. Both "Monday" and "Tuesday" contain unexpected stories that reveal to us the cultures of our linguistic ancestors.
The days of the week are part of the core vocabulary of any language. However, their etymologies are rooted in ancient, pagan mythologies. In this episode, we trace the history of our modern calendar back to ancient Rome, particularly the seven-day week. As the seven-day week was transmitted from the Romans to the Germanic tribes that would eventually produce the English language, a series of loan-translations took place.
In today's episode, we look at the evolution of a single Latin verb, secare, meaning "to cut," into its many English derivatives, including "section," "sector," "insect," and others. In doing so, we answer question fundamental to the study of etymology: "What EXACTLY is a root word?" In attempt to understand the answer to this question as deeply as possible, we cover also cover the technical linguistic topics of morphology and semantics.
Historically, the word "scene" has had close ties to the theater, but it did not always refer to "subdivisions within in a play." The Greek word skene originally meant "tent or booth." It's an odd etymology, and today's episode explores multiple theories that seek to explain where this sense may have come from.