The letter C has split personalities. Sometimes it has a hard "K" sound, sometimes it has a soft "S" sound, and some other times, it's a part of letter combinations whose pronunciations vary from word to word. The cause of these split personalities is rooted in a complicated history, both in the writing and pronunciation of the letter. Today's episode explores the long term evolution of "C" from its origins in ancient Phoenicia to its role in Modern English.
There are two main etymological categories for "tea": te-derived and cha-derived. Both are ultimately derived from different dialects of Chinese. Based on the geographical distribution of these two etymological categories, we can learn a lot about the history of the tea tea trade itself. The etymology of "tea" in any language is an indication of who was trading with whom.
According to literary critic Raymond Williams, "culture" is "one of two or three most complicated words in the English language." After putting this episode together, I couldn't agree more. "Culture" is really many words rolled into one. Today's narrative traces the word's unexpected origins as a farming term to its anthropological usage today. Along the way, we'll encounter and explore many different opinions about what culture is.
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The spelling of the word "two" is wildly un-phonetic. Today's episode explores the origins of that silent W and the circumstances that eroded its pronunciation. Along the way, Ray discusses some less-than-obvious derivatives of the word "two" and the technical characteristics of vowels.
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Men's perfume known as "cologne" takes its name from the German city in which it was invented. But if Cologne is a German city, why does the perfume have a distinctly French name? Why does German spell the city with a "K," while English spells it with a C? And where does the name of the city itself ultimately come from? Today's episode tackles the answers to these questions and more.
Today's episode explores the etymological and cultural connections between the words "sinister" and "left," as in, "left-handed." In the world of ancient Rome, the left hand was surrounded by an unlucky superstition. Though the superstition has faded away, the original word denoting this connection--"sinister"--has not. While the evolution of "sinister" is the focus of today's episode, it fits into a larger theme of etymological biases against the left hand found in languages around the world.
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"Calques" are loan translations. Basically, these are words or phrases whose meanings have been literally translated from one language into another. Words such as "flea market," "skyscraper," and "translation" all came into English this way. Today's episode looks at a number of words that have been calqued into English and out of English.
What is the "true" meaning of the idiomatic expression "to beg the question?" Well, it depends on what one means by "true." Today, "to beg the question" most commonly is used as a synonym for "to raise the question," but historically, "to beg the question" had a very different meaning. It involved neither "begging" nor a "question," but rather, a philosophical fallacy of circular reasoning. The expression--or rather, the meaning of the expression--can be traced back to Aristotle. Over the course of about two thousand years, a series of mistranslations and semantic corruptions have resulted in "beg the question's" modern "misusage."
The word "ostracism" can be traced back to Ancient Athens. For the Ancient Athenians, an "ostracism" was not a sociological phenomenon, but an electoral vote that sought to protect the integrity of democracy. Today's episode provides a concise overview of Ancient Athenian society and looks at the details of the ancient ostracism vote.
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Amateurs get a bad name. The professional/amateur dichotomy portrays them as inept, inexperienced, and at best, avocational. However, the word "amateur" was not always a part of this dichotomy. In fact, it's derived from the Latin word for "love." Today's episode explores the negative evolution of the word as a product of capitalist values.
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The etymology of "handicap" is the source of a myth that dates back to sixteenth century England. The myth claims that "handicap" is a mutated contraction of the expression "cap in hand," an old euphemism for begging. However, "handicap" is in fact a contraction of "hand in cap," a popular Medieval bartering game. Over the course of today's episode, we'll see how the word came to mean "a physical or mental disability" and why it's considered to be a politically incorrect term.
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In today's episode, we look at the etymology of mouse, but really, it's a springboard into a far more complicated topic: the word "mice," its irregular plural form. Why do we say "mice" and not "mouses" when referring to more than one mouse? The answer lies in the grammar of an ancient tongue that predates modern English by thousands of years. This is the most linguistic-heavy episode of Words for Granted yet, so first-time listeners, beware!
The English language utilizes the word "cell" in a handful of contexts. We have prison "cells", brain "cells", battery "cells", and of course, "cell" phones. At first glance, these various applications of the word "cell" seem unrelated, but if we dig a little deeper into their etymological roots, we discover that they in fact originate from a single source: Medieval monasteries. In today's episode, we explore the unlikely historical relationship between the living quarters of Medieval Christian monks and the modern technology behind the cellular phone.
Today's episode begins a short mini-series that explores the origins of technology-themed words. Although digital technology didn't permeate our culture at large until the end of the twentieth century, the word "digital" has been around for centuries. If you're a tech nerd, you probably already know what the term refers to, but if you're not, then you're in for a surprise. Furthermore, we discuss why usage of the term may begin to wane in the upcoming years.
The word "comfort" once described the spiritual consolation given by God to and an individual. Today, it describes commercialized products ranging from air conditioners to tennis shoes to sofas--a pretty drastic change, to say the least. How did this evolution take place? Today's episode looks at the impact of capitalism and consumerism on our ideas of "comfort".
The word "meat" once referred to all forms of solid food, not just animal flesh. In today's episode, Ray explores the ambiguities of the word "meat" as it appears in the King James Bible and debunks a certain myth surrounding meat-related words such as pork, beef, and veal, among others.
Welcome to the first Words for Granted bonus episode! This episode explores polysemy, the phenomenon by which a single word can have multiple meanings. Why do we use the word "foot" in the compound word "footnote"? Why does the word "decimation" derive from the Latin word for "ten"? Will books eventually become extinct? Ray answers all of these questions and more, all through the lens of polysemy.
Today's episode looks at the Old English sense of the word "wyrd". It was not an adjective, but a noun that is commonly translated into Modern English as "fate". However, this oversimplified translation doesn't tell the word's full story. By comparing and contrasting etymological and cultural evidence, Ray makes the case that "wyrd" and "fate" are really not the same thing at all.
"Nice" has gone through more changes than almost any other word in the English language. Over the course of seven centuries, it has been used to mean "stupid", "promiscuous", "elegant", and "effeminate", among countless other things. In this episode, we're going to try to make sense of its perplexing evolution.
Welcome to Words for Granted! In this debut episode, we'll be looking at how villanus, the Latin word for "farmworker", became the Modern English word "villain". From Ancient Rome to Medieval England to modern superhero films, the meaning of "villain" has changed drastically over time.