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.
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.
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.
The spelling of the word ‘two’ is un-phonetic. Today's episode explores the origins of its silent W and the circumstances that eroded its pronunciation. Along the way, we explore some less-than-obvious derivatives of the word "two" and the technical characteristics of vowels.
Men's perfume known as cologne takes its name from the German city in which it was invented. But if Cologne is a German city, why does the perfume named after it have a distinctly French name? Why does the German language spell Köln with a K, while French and English spell ‘Cologne’ with a C? And where does the name of the city itself ultimately come from? Today's episode tackles the answers to these questions and more.
Today's episode explores the etymological and cultural connections between the words ‘sinister’ and ‘left,’ as in, ‘left-handed.’ In the world of Ancient Rome, the left hand was surrounded by an unlucky superstition. Though the superstition has faded away, the original word denoting this connection––sinister––has not. While the evolution of ‘sinister’ is the focus of today's episode, it fits into a larger theme of etymological biases against left-handedness found in languages around the world.
Calques are words or phrases whose meanings have been literally translated from one language into another, aka ‘loan translations.’ Words such as flea market, skyscraper, and translation itself all came into English this way. Today's episode looks at a number of words that have been calqued into English and out of English.
What is the ‘true’ meaning of the expression ‘to beg the question?’ Well, it depends on what you mean by true. Today, ‘to beg the question’ is often used as a synonym for ‘to raise the question,’ but historically, ‘to beg the question’ had a very different meaning. It involved neither ‘begging’ nor a ‘question,’ but rather, a philosophical fallacy of circular reasoning that traces back to Aristotle. Over the course of about two thousand years, a series of mistranslations and semantic corruptions have resulted in the phrase’s modern ‘misusage.’
The word ostracism can be traced back to Ancient Athens. For the Ancient Athenians, ostracism was not a sociological phenomenon, but an electoral vote that sought to protect the integrity of democracy. Today's episode provides a concise overview of Ancient Athenian society and looks at the details of the ancient ostracism vote.
The professional/amateur dichotomy portrays amateurs as inept and inexperienced, but amateurs haven’t always had a bad name. In fact, ‘amateur’ derived from the Latin word for ‘love.’ Today's episode explores the negative evolution of the word as a product of capitalist values.
In today's episode, we look at the etymology of mouse, but really, it's a springboard into a far more complicated topic: the word "mice," its irregular plural form. Why do we say "mice" and not "mouses" when referring to more than one mouse? The answer lies in the grammar of an ancient tongue that predates modern English by thousands of years. This is the most linguistic-heavy episode of Words for Granted yet, so first-time listeners, beware!
The English language uses the word ‘cell’ in a handful of contexts. We have prison cells, brain cells, battery cells, and of course, cell phones. At first glance, these various uses of the word ‘cell’ seem unrelated, yet they’re all etymologically connected and can be traced back to a single source: medieval monasteries. In today's episode, we explore the unlikely historical relationship between the living quarters of Medieval Christian monks and the modern technology behind the cellular phone.
The word ‘comfort’ once described the spiritual consolation given by God to an individual. Today, it describes commercialized products like air conditioners, tennis shoes, and sofas. A pretty drastic change, to say the least. How did this evolution take place? Today's episode looks at the impact of capitalism and consumerism on our ideas about what ‘comfort’ is.
The word ‘meat’ once referred to all forms of solid food, not just animal flesh. In today's episode, we explore the ambiguities of the word ‘meat’ as it appears in the King James Bible. We also debunk a popular myth surrounding meat words such as pork, beef, and veal.
This episode explores polysemy, the phenomenon by which a single word can have multiple meanings. Why do we use the word ‘foot’ in the compound word ‘footnote?’ Why does the word ‘decimation’ derive from the Latin word for ‘ten?’ Will books eventually become extinct? We answer all of these questions and more, all through the lens of polysemy.
Today's episode looks at the Old English sense of the word wyrd. Originally, it wasn’t an adjective, but a noun that’s commonly translated into Modern English as ‘fate.’ However, this oversimplified translation doesn't tell the word's full story. By comparing and contrasting etymological and cultural evidence, it’s clear that wyrd and "fate" are really not the same thing at all.
‘Nice’ has gone through more changes than almost any other word in the English language. Over the course of seven centuries, it has been used to mean stupid, promiscuous, elegant, and effeminate, among a handful of other things. In this episode, we try to make sense of its perplexing evolution.
Welcome to Words for Granted! In this debut episode, we'll be looking at how villanus, the Latin word for ‘farmworker,’ became the Modern English word ‘villain.’ From Medieval England farmworkers to comic book antagonists, the meaning of ‘villain’ has changed drastically over time.