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.