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.
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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.
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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.
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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.