What can we learn about the nature of translation by reading a warning message in hundreds of different languages? In this episode, Keith Kahn-Harris discusses his latest book, The Babel Message, in which the mundane, multilingual warning message found inside Kinder Surprise Eggs ignites profound observations about the nature of language and the written word.
To buy The Babel Message, click here.
Rhetoric has a bad reputation. We tend to think of it as a linguistic tool used by polticians and marketing execs to maipulate the masses. While this stereotype is true, rhetoric is more than just snake oil––we use it in apologies, negotions, and love letters, all without even realizing it. In this episode, speech writer and author Guy Doza takes through a wide range of rhetorical techniques and the psychology behind their effectiveness.
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. For 10% off your first month, click here.
Buy Guy Doza's new book, How to Apologize for Killing a Cat.
Instead of criticizing deviations from Standard English as "wrong," what if we celebrated them as expressive lingusitic innovations? In this conversation with Valerie, we take a look at some of the quirky features of English that our language teachers taught us to avoid, and in true Words for Granted fashion, we attempt to understand how and why they emerged.
To buy Valerie's new book, "Like Literally, Dude," click here.
What goes into building a language learning curriculum? How do designers choose features within a language learing app? Are some approaches to language learning better than others, or is it up to the indiviudal? In this episode, I explore these questions and more with Rob Paterson, Content Production Manager at Memrise.
To get 50% off an annual plan with Memrise, go to: https://memri.se/WFG50
As Lead of Language Research at Grammarly, Courtney Napoles is building systems to better help people from around the world communicate. In this episode, we discuss things such as the fundamentals of linguistic machine learning and how AI learns linguistic biases––not to mention how those biases are undone.
To get 50% off an annual plan with Memrise, go to: https://memri.se/WFG50
Place names are not random––behind the name of every country is a story of how it came to be. From stories of invasion and rebellion to the fantastical and mundane, author Duncan Madden takes us on a journey across the world in his latest book, Found in Translation: The Unexpected Origins of Place Names.
To order or pre-order the book, go to https://www.duncanmadden.com/.
In this interview with linguist Danny Bate, we go deep on all things gender––grammatical gender, that is. Why do some languages have gender while others don't? Where does gender come from? What is the function of gender?
To get 50% off your first month of Lingoda courses, follow this link: https://try.lingoda.com/
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.
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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:
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.
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".
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!
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.
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.
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?
"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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!)
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.
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