In ancient Greek botanical literature, there is a reference to a spiny plant called a kaktos. This word would pass into Modern English as "cactus," though the kaktos itself was certainly not a cactus as we know it. More likely, it was an undomesticated "artichoke," a plant whose name ultimately comes from Arabic. In this episode, we take a look at the intertwined history of these two words and the plants they designate.
In this episode, we explore the etymology of the most culturally ubiquitous fruit, the apple. Etymologically, the ubiquity of the apple is fitting, since it originally used to refer equally to "apples" as we know them and to "fruits" in general. We also explore the Latin and Greek words for "apple," the derivatives of which are hiding in plain sight in a handful of modern English fruit and vegetable words.
In the episode, we explore the etymology of "cheese," a Latin-derived word that entered the Germanic languages through trade long before the emergence of English. We also consider why the Italian and French words for cheese, formaggio and fromage, are not its cognates and how the adjective "cheesy" (meaning something lacking subtlety) evolved.
The word "egg" plays a part in one of the most famous anecdotes in the written record about the evolution of the English language. In this episode, we consider the implications of that story and the look into the etymology of "egg" and some of its cognates. (What's with the "egg" in the idiom "to egg on," you ask? Yeah, we cover that too.)
This episode features a conversation I had with Kevin Stroud of the History of English Podcast at this year's virtual Intelligent Speech conference. We discussed reasons why the history of the Proto Indo-Europeans - the linguistic ancestors of nearly half the world's population - remains obscure to the general public. If you're thinking racist, pseudoscientific scholarship that led to the concept of the Aryan race during World War II might be to blame, we think so too. For the video of our conversation, follow this link: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/intelligentspeech/40
The idiom "dead ringer" comes down to us from horse-racing slang, but a widely believed folk etymology links the idiom's origins to being buried alive. In this episode, we debunk the myths and get down to the written evidence behind the emergence of this phrase. I'll be speaking with Kevin Stroud from the History of English podcast about the Proto Indo-Europeans at this year's Intelligent Speech Conference. To purchase tickets, follow this link.
The idiom "red herring" is used to describe a distraction from the matter at hand. Literally, a "red herring" is a kipper––that is, a smoked and salted sliced fish––but why would such a fish become an expression for a distraction? In this episode, we debunk a popular myth surrounding the idiom's etymology by close reading a handful of selections from the written record and drawing on the most recent scholarship.
Of all places, why do we put the "proof" in the "pudding?" Like many idioms whose origins date back several centuries, the connection between the literal and figurative meanings of "the proof is in the pudding" is no longer clear in Modern English. "The proof is in the pudding" is actually a shortened corruption of the idiom "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," but that's still not the full story; in the 17th century when the idiom was first used, both "proof" and "pudding" had different meanings than they do today. Listen to Words for Granted on Lyceum, a new app that curates and builds community around great educational audio.
In today's episode, I talk with Simon Horobin, Oxford professor and author of "Bagels, Bumf and Buses: A Day in the Life of the English Language," a book that explores the etymology of common words we encounter every day. In addition to discussing Simon's latest book, we discuss a range of language topics including the standardization of grammar, the history of spelling, and more. You can purchase "Bagels, Bumf, and Buses" here. Click here 25% off your first order with Literati. Listen to Words for Granted on Lyceum, a curated podcast app featuring educational podcasts.
The etymology of "break a leg" is disputed, but some theories hold up better than others. In today's episode, we look at a handful of plausible explanations for how "break a leg" became theater slang for "good luck" and also bust a few etymological myths surrounding the idiom. Today's episode is brought to you by Yabla. Click here for your risk-free 15-day trial.