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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 linguistic evolution as a way of understanding larger historical and cultural changes.

Popular episodes

Episode 103: Run Amok

Nov 21 • 20:08

Most Malaysian loanwords in English describe the local flora, fauna, and food of Southeast Asia. "Amok", however, is different. Amok, which describes a violent killing spree, is ultimately a Malaysian word that entered European languages during the era of European colonial expansion. Did Europeans encounter something unique in Southeast Asia that prompted them to adapt thi...

Episode 102: Hyperbola/Hyperbole & Ellipse/Ellipsis

Oct 23 • 17:51

"Hyperbola" and "ellipse" are geometrical curves, while "hyperbole" and "ellipsis" are rhetorical terms. At face value, it's not clear how the meanings of "hyperbola" and "ellipse" relate to those of "hyperbole" and "ellipsis", but the history of these pairs of cognates are indeed closely intertwined. To start learning a new language for free with native speakers from aro...

Episode 101: Parabola/Parable

Sep 19 • 15:00

The meanings of "parabola" and "parable" have very little to do with one another, yet these words are etymological doublets of a single Greek work, parabole, which meant "a throwing aside". In this episode, we explore how this literal meaning connects to the literary and mathematical developments of this Greek word....

Episode 100: Google

Aug 21 • 18:09

Episode 99: Average

Jul 25 • 20:27

Why Is English Highly Irregular? (Interview with Arika Okrent)

Jul 9 • 40:58

English may be spoken by a whopping 1.5 billion ESL speakers around the world, but that doesn't mean it's an "easy" language to learn. For native English speakers, it's easy to take for granted just how irregular the English language is. In this interview episode, I chat with Arika Okrent about her new book, Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and ...

Episode 98: Lost Letters: Long s (ſ) and Ampersand (&)

Jun 27 • 24:14

In many English works printed before the late 19th century, a letter unfamiliar to us today, ſ, is often used in place of the letter S. However, that unfamiliar f-looking letter is actually just an archaic form of the letter S called "long s". In this episode, we explore the origins and decline of this odd orthographical relic. As a coda to our series on lost letters, we a...

Episode 97: Lost Letters: Ash (Æ, æ) and Ethel (Œ, œ)

May 30 • 30:14

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 actu...

Nine Nasty Words (Interview with John McWhorter) [EXPLICIT]

May 16 • 26:56

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. ...

Episode 96: Lost Letters: Wynn (Ƿ), Insular G (ᵹ), Yogh (Ȝ)

Apr 19 • 30:08

Before the letter W was invented, the rune wynn was borrowed into the Latin AngloSaxon alphabet as a way of representing the /w/ sound. The letter yogh evolved out of Insular G, an Irish variation of the traditional letter G. The phonetic value of yogh varied. It could represent the /y/ sound, the guttural /x/ sound as in the Scottish "loch," and others. Many Modern Englis...

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