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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 as a way of examining broader changes in history, culture, religion, and more.
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Words for Granted - An etymology and linguistics podcast
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Now displaying: 2017
Dec 31, 2017

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’ll gain insight into the overall development and evolution of Judaism and Christianity from the unlikely perspective of etymology. 

Dec 15, 2017

When compared to the other numbers between ten and twenty, the words for 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, but of course, this isn't the case.

Dec 1, 2017

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.

 
 
 
Oct 27, 2017

Chemistry as we know it is a rational science. However, both the word chemistry and the science of chemistry 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.

Oct 11, 2017

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.

Sep 24, 2017

Today's episode serves as an intro to a series on Arabic loanwords in English. 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. 

Sep 11, 2017

At last, the finale in the Words for Granted series on days of the week! ‘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’s a direct etymological descendent of the original Latin word for Saturday. And Sunday—you guessed it—literally means ‘day of the sun.’ We also compare and contrast these English names with their Romance language equivalents.

Aug 19, 2017

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 discussed thus far, the names ‘Thursday’ and ‘Friday’ are loan translations of the Latin names for the days of the week.  

Aug 2, 2017

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’ (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?’

Jul 14, 2017

In today's episode, we begin our investigation of the etymologies of each day of the week. Both Monday and Tuesday are ultimately loan translations of the Latin words dies lunae (Luna's day) and dies martis (Mars's day). Luna, the Roman moon goddess, was identified with Mani, the Germanic moon god; 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.

Jul 5, 2017

The days of the week are part of the core vocabulary of any language. In English, their etymologies are rooted in ancient pagan mythologies. In this episode, we trace the history of our modern calendar back to ancient Rome. 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.

Jun 13, 2017

The Latin verb, secare, meaning ‘to cut,’ has produced English derivatives such as ‘section,’ ‘sector,’ and ‘insect,’ among others. One root word, many derivatives. So, how exactly can a single root word produce so many offshoots? In attempt to answer to this question as deeply as possible, we discuss linguistic topics such as morphology, semantics, and more.

May 29, 2017

The word scene has always had close ties to the theater, but it did not always refer to ‘subdivisions within in a play.’ The meaning of the original Greek skene was ‘tent or booth.’ It's an odd etymology, and today's episode explores multiple theories that seek to explain where this original sense may have come from.

May 15, 2017

Today, ‘comedy’ is a genre of entertainment that makes us laugh. However, this was not always the case. The word derives from a Greek compound that most likely meant ‘revel song,’ and it's culturally rooted in an ancient festival called the ... penis parade? Yes, the penis parade. Yet humor was not always the main component of comedy as it is today. Exploring topics as disparate as Dante's Divine Comedy to Punch and Judy puppet shows, this episode covers a condensed history of the genre of comedy.

Apr 21, 2017

The word ‘tragedy’ is rooted in ancient Greek theater. It's a dramatic form that stills exists today, but what’s the word’s etymology? Is it connected to suffering? Despair? Heartache? No, no, and no. It most likely comes from a Greek word meaning ‘goat-song.’ In today's episode, we look at a few theories that explain this strange etymology.

Apr 7, 2017

The word ‘tyrant’ is steeped in the political history of Ancient Greece. However, it didn't always refer to cruel rulers. Originally, a ‘tyrant’ was a morally neutral word for someone who usurped the throne and took over leadership on their own terms. Most of the early Greek tyrants were actually lauded by their subjects.

Joining me in the historical exploration of tyrants and tyranny is Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece.

Mar 25, 2017

English uses many different suffixes to indicate ethnicities. Each suffix entered the language independently, and each suffix has a story to tell. This episode attempts to elucidate the geopolitical distribution of the four main categories of ethnic suffixation in English: -an (including -ian and -ean), -ish, -ese, and -i.

Mar 10, 2017

Today's episode looks at the evolution of the modern sense of the word filibuster. Borrowed from a Dutch word meaning ‘pirate,’ ‘filibuster’ originally referred to Americans who organized unauthorized military invasions of Spanish colonies in Central America and the West Indies.

Feb 23, 2017

In this episode, we explore the origins of the word ‘candidate.’ It derives from candidus, the Latin word for ‘white,’ which describes the typical attire worn by Roman politicians running for office. We also examine some unlikely cognates derived from this same root word. 

Feb 12, 2017

The presidential inauguration is a tradition inherited from Ancient Rome. The word ‘inauguration’ is rooted in augury, the Ancient Roman practice of interpreting omens based on the flight patterns of birds. Over the course of today's episode, we discuss how how this unlikely religious tradition gave us the sense of ‘inauguration’ used today.

Jan 27, 2017

The letter C has split personalities. Sometimes it has a hard K sound, and sometimes it has a soft S sound. Sometimes it's a part of letter combinations whose pronunciations vary from word to word. The causes of these split personalities are rooted in a complicated history that begins in Ancient Phoenicia.

Jan 15, 2017

Words for ‘tea’ in languages around the world fall into one of two etymological categories: te-derived and cha-derived. Both are ultimately derived from different dialects of Chinese. Based on the geolinguistic distribution of these two etymological categories, we can learn a lot about the history of the tea trade itself.

Jan 4, 2017

According to literary critic Raymond Williams, culture is ‘one of two or three most complicated words in the English language.’ Today's narrative traces the word's unexpected origins as a farming term to its social and anthropological senses today. Along the way, we'll explore many different perspectives on what a ‘culture’ really is is.

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