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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: 2019
Dec 31, 2019

The word ‘cannibal’ comes to us by way of a familiar historical figure: Christopher Columbus. The word is ultimately a Hispanicization of the name of an indigenous American group today known as the Caribs. Through Columbus' unreliable portrayal of the Caribs in his travel log, ‘cannibal’ came to refer to ‘a person who eats human flesh.’ In this episode, we explore the evolution of the meaning of ‘cannibal’ in Columbus' own journal and how that single word impacted the colonial history of the Americas.

Dec 14, 2019

In common usage, a ‘philistine’ is a derogatory term for an anti-intellectual materialist. The word derives from the ancient Middle Eastern Philistines, a people best known as an early geopolitical enemy of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. The historical Philistines were far from philistines––note the lowercase P. Bizarrely, circumstance by which the latter derives from the former can be traced back to a 17th century murder in the German city of Jena.



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Nov 17, 2019

As a common noun, ‘bohemian’ describes an artistic, carefree lifestyle usually marked by poverty and unorthodoxy. The word is derived from Bohemia, a region in the modern Czech Republic, but its semantic connection to actual Czechs is nearly nonexistent. In this episode, we trace the long history of the word ‘bohemian’ from its origins as an ancient Celtic homeland to the present.

Oct 20, 2019

As someone who came of age during the late 90’s, my first encounter with the word ‘gothic’ was through alternative music and fashion. However, the word was originally the name of a Germanic tribe most famous for sacking the Roman Empire. The evolution of the word ‘goth’ over the last two millennia is a classic but complicated story of linguistic appropriation and misunderstanding.

 
 
 
 
 
Sep 17, 2019

In today's episode, I interview Steve Kaufmann. Steve is a polyglot and co-founder of LingQ. He also hosts a popular language learning Youtube channel under the name LingoSteve. Our conversation covers a range of language-related topics such as language learning myths, how language learning has changed with new technology, the relationship between language and culture, and more.

Sep 1, 2019

In Old English, the word ‘wife’ meant woman. In fact, the word ‘woman’ derives from the word wife! Today's episode is not only an exploration of the word ‘wife,’ but also of a handful of woman-related words whose etymologies and usages share a confusing, intertwined history.

 

 

Aug 11, 2019

What makes your parents' parents so ... grand? In today's episode, we trace the etymology and emergence of the French-influenced kinship prefix ‘grand.’ We also look at Old English words for ‘grandparents’ and ‘grandchildren’ before the ‘grand’ prefix became conventional. Just for good measure, we also take a look at the kinship prefix ‘great.’

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Jul 29, 2019

Today, ‘sibling’ is one of the most basic kinship terms. However, it wasn't introduced into English until 1903 by a pair of scientists working on genetics. More accurately, ‘sibling’ was reintroduced into the language after 1,000 years of dormancy. In this episode, we look at ‘sibling’ in its Old English context and explore its Indo-European roots. Furthermore, we look into the etymology of ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ 

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Jul 12, 2019

In today's episode, we explore the origins of some of the universal characteristics of nursery father terms in languages from around the world, most of which include initial /p/, /d/, or /b/ sounds.

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Jun 30, 2019

‘Mama’ is a mysterious word. In the vast majority of languages around the world, the word for ‘mama’ sounds something like ... ‘mama.’ In today's episode, we uncover the reason for this peculiar universality.

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Jun 15, 2019

Noah Webster is best known as the father of the first truly American dictionary. However, Webster’s dictionary faced an uphill struggle for recognition during his lifetime. In today’s episode, we examine some of these struggles in addition to the things that made Webster’s dictionary so different from the English dictionaries that preceded it. 

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May 26, 2019

Noah Webster is best known for his ‘all-American’ dictionary, but in today's episode, we take a look at Webster's earlier works including The Grammatical Institute of the English Language and Dissertations on the English Language. In these works, Webster lays the groundwork for his future dictionary, revealing his political motivations for his spelling reforms and advocation of American English.

 

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May 5, 2019

‘OK’ is the most spoken and most written word in the entire world. It's such a fundamental part of modern communication that it's hard to imagine the world without it. But in spite of its ubiquity and compact versatility, ‘OK’ is under two hundred years old. Today's episode tells the story of the word's origins in 19th century America. If the leading theory is correct, then OK might just be the most successful inside joke of all time. 

Apr 13, 2019

Today, the most relevant usage of the word ‘Yankee’ is probably in the name of the baseball team, but etymologically, ‘Yankee’ has nothing to do with baseball. ‘Yankee’ is an elusive word whose ultimate etymology is unknown and whose connotations may change depending on who’s using it.

Mar 31, 2019

One of the most defining characteristics of the Standard American English accent is its ‘rhoticity,’ or the pronunciation of the letter R. Unlike Standard British English, Standard American English always pronounces the letter R regardless of its position within a word. In today’s episode, we trace the origins and evolutions of this feature of Standard American English. (Spoiler alert: The prevalence of rhoticity in American English has ebbed and flowed over time.) 

Mar 12, 2019

The English spoken in America began to diverge from the English spoken in Britain shortly after British settlers arrived in the New World. In today’s episode, we look at several ways how ‘Americanisms’ began to form and how English speakers on the other side of the pond reacted to them. 

Mar 4, 2019

In today's episode, I interview linguist, professor, blogger, and author Lynne Murphy about her book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. We talk about topics such as the British media's take on ‘Americanisms,’ nonsensical prescriptivism, national attitudes toward language, and so much more. 

Lynne's blog, Separated by a Common Language:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/

To purchase The Prodigal Tongue:

https://theprodigaltongue.com/

 

 

 

Feb 20, 2019

‘American English’ is the variety of English spoken in the United States of America ... obviously. But is American English a language unto itself or a dialect of British English? In this episode, we discuss the differences between dialects and languages (if there are indeed any at all) from a linguistic point of view. Part 1 in a series on American English.

Feb 1, 2019

The name of France derives from the name of a Germanic tribe called the Franks. In addition to the name of France, the namesake of the Franks also produced a handful of other common English words, such as ‘frank,’ ‘franchise,’ and ‘Franklin,’ among others. Today, these words have little to do with France, but as we investigate their etymologies, subtle connections begin to emerge.

Jan 14, 2019

In today’s episode, we explore the etymological connection between Turkey the country and turkey the bird. Even though turkeys are native to North America, thanks to 16th century trade routes, these birds are mistakenly named after a country on the other side of the world. We also explore how these trade routes influenced the words for ‘turkey’ in other European languages.

Jan 5, 2019

The American city of Cincinnati derives from a patriotic fraternal organization called The Society of Cincinnati. The society itself is named after Cincinnatus, a legendary figure in Ancient Roman history. Revolutionary Americans saw Cincinnatus as an idealized epitome of political virtue. In today's episode, we explore Cincinnatus' life from the point of view of early American idealism.

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