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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: 2018
Dec 17, 2018

There are more etymologically different 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.

Dec 2, 2018

The English name for the country of ‘Wales’ is not native to Wales itself. It actually has origins in a derogatory term given by the AngloSaxons to their Celtic neighbors. 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. Strange! In today's episode, we connect the dots among these various cognates across languages. 

Nov 16, 2018

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 often impact place names, such as colonialism and the commemoration of important individuals.

Oct 30, 2018

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 languages differ in meaning.

Oct 15, 2018

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.’

Oct 1, 2018

The Modern English word ‘apology’ derives from the Ancient Greek word apologia. However, in the Ancient Greek work known as 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. 

Sep 12, 2018

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. 

Sep 2, 2018

In the pre-modern world, philosophy referred to all forms of intellectual knowledge. Today, the discipline of philosophy is just one aspect of the traditional field of philosophia, or ‘love of knowledge.’

Aug 20, 2018

The pronoun ‘they’ was borrowed into English from Old Norse. Pronouns within a language tend to be conservative over time, so this borrowing of a foreign pronoun into English is a bit unusual. In today's episode, we explore the entire history of "they," from its roots as a Proto-Germanic demonstrative adjective to its modern usage as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in English.

Aug 1, 2018

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 subjectivity. 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

Jul 17, 2018

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.

Jul 6, 2018

In this conversation, Steve and I discuss the linguistic influence of the King James Bible and some common English idioms that have Biblical etymologies. 

Jun 30, 2018

Adverbs ending in the -ly suffix are all contractions hiding in plain sight. -ly is cognate with the word ‘like,’ and indeed, it literally means … ‘like.’ Sadly is literally sad-like. Madly is literally 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.

Jun 14, 2018

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.

Jun 4, 2018

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. 

May 5, 2018

Today's episode serves as an epilogue to the series on Biblical etymology. Secular 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 (ironic), theater, and games. Over the course of the episode, we trace the development of the saeculum from antiquity to the 19th century philosophical movement of secularism.  

Apr 24, 2018

The word ‘God’ is not derived from the original Biblical texts. Rather, it’s a term from Germanic paganism that was adapted to Christianity. 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.

 
 
 
 
Apr 1, 2018

In the Bible, the word Hell is a common English translation of three Greek and Hebrew words, but the meanings of those words hardly resemble Hell as we know it today. In addition to the etymology of ‘hell’ itself, this episode explores the doctrinal implications of those original Biblical terms.

Mar 6, 2018

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, we examine this development through the evolution of the name Jesus.

Feb 20, 2018

Greek gods. Golden Age heroes. Our conscience. Guardian angels. 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.

Jan 26, 2018

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.

Jan 14, 2018

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, but there's more to their usage in the Bible 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.

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