Episode 26: Tragedy

The word "tragedy" is rooted in Greek theater. It's a dramatic form that stills exists today, but what is its etymology? Does it come from a word for "suffering?" Maybe despair? Heartache? No, no, and no. It most likely comes from a Greek word meaning "goat-song." In today's episode, we look at a few theories that explain this oddball etymology. 

 

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Episode 25: Tyrant (Ft. Ryan Stitt of the History of Ancient Greece Podcast)




The word "tyrant" is steeped in the political history of Ancient Greece. However, it didn't always refer to cruel rulers. Originally, a "tyrant" was a morally neutral term for someone who usurped the throne and took over leadership on his own terms. Most of the early Greek tyrants were actually lauded by their subjects.

Joining me in the historical exploration of "tyrants" and "tyranny" is Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece. (Let's just say he knows a lot more about the details of Ancient Greek history than I do!) You can find a link to his website below.  

http://www.thehistoryofancientgreece.com/

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Episode 24: Ethnic Suffixes (-an, -ian, -ean, -ish, -ese, -i)

English uses many different suffixes to indicate ethnicities. Each suffix entered the language independently, and each suffix has a story to tell. This episode attempts to elucidate the geopolitical distribution of the four main categories of ethnic suffixation in English: -an (including -ian and -ean), -ish, -ese, and -i.

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Episode 23: Filibuster

Today's episode looks at the evolution of the modern political sense of the word "filibuster." Ultimately borrowed from a Dutch word meaning "pirate," "filibuster" originally referred to Americans who organized unauthorized military invasions of Spanish colonies in Central America and the West Indies seeking political power and wealth. 

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Episode 22: Candidate

Part two of the Words for granted politically-themed miniseries! In this episode, we explore the origins of the word "candidate." It derives from candidus, the Latin word for "white," which describes the typical attire worn by Roman politicians running for office. We also examine some unlikely cognates derived from this same root word. 

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Episode 21: Inauguration

     The presidential inauguration is a tradition inherited from the Ancient Romans. The word "inauguration" is rooted in "augury," the Ancient Roman practice of interpreting omens based on the flight patterns of birds. Over the course of today's episode, we discuss how this unlikely religious tradition gave us the sense of "inauguration" used today. 

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Episode 20: Letter C

The letter C has split personalities. Sometimes it has a hard "K" sound, sometimes it has a soft "S" sound, and some other times, it's a part of letter combinations whose pronunciations vary from word to word. The cause of these split personalities is rooted in a complicated history, both in the writing and pronunciation of the letter. Today's episode explores the longterm evolution of "C" from its origins in ancient Phoenicia to its role in Modern English. 

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Episode 19: Tea

There are two main etymological categories for "tea": te-derived and cha-derived. Both are ultimately derived from different dialects of Chinese. Based on the geographical distribution of these two etymological categories, we can learn a lot about the history of the tea trade itself. The etymology of "tea" in any language is an indication of who was trading with whom.

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Episode 18: Culture

According to literary critic Raymond Williams, "culture" is "one of two or three most complicated words in the English language." After putting this episode together, I couldn't agree more. "Culture" is really many words rolled into one. Today's narrative traces the word's unexpected origins as a farming term to its anthropological usage today. Along the way, we'll encounter and explore many different opinions about what culture is.

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Episode 16: Cologne

Men's perfume known as "cologne" takes its name from the German city in which it was created. But if Cologne is a German city, why does the perfume have a distinctly French name? Why does German spell the city with a "K" while English spells it 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. 

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Episode 15: Sinister

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 burdened by an unlucky superstition. Though the superstition has faded away, the word denoting this connection--"sinister"--has not. While the evolution of the word "sinister" is the focus of today's episode, it fits into a larger theme of etymological biases against the left hand found in languages around the world. 

 

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Episode 13: Beg the Question

What is the "true" meaning of "to beg the question?" Well, it depends on what you mean by "true." Today, "to beg the question" most commonly is used as a synonym for "to raise the question," but historically, "beg the question" had a very different meaning. It involved neither "begging" nor a "question," but rather, a philosophical fallacy of circular reasoning. The expression--or rather, the meaning of the expression--can be traced all the way back to Aristotle. Over the course of about two thousand years, a series of mistranslations and semantic corruptions have resulted in "beg the question's" modern "misusage."

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Episode 12: Ostracize

The word "ostracism" can be traced back to Ancient Athens. For the Ancient Athenians, an "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 Ancient Athenian society and looks at the details of the ancient ostracism vote.

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Episode 11: Amateur

Amateurs get a bad name. The professional/amateur dichotomy portrays them as inept, inexperienced, and at best, avocational. However, the word "amateur" was not always a part of this dichotomy. In fact, it's derived from the Latin word for "love." Today's episode explores the negative evolution of the word as a product of capitalist values. 

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Episode 10: Handicap

The etymology of "handicap" is the source of a myth that dates back to sixteenth century England. The myth claims that "handicap" is a mutated contraction of the expression "cap in hand," an old euphemism for begging. However, "handicap" is in fact a contraction of "hand in cap," a popular Medieval bartering game. Over the course of today's episode, we'll see how the word came to mean "a physical or mental disability" and why it's considered to be a politically incorrect term.

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Episode 9: Mouse (and Why Its Plural Form is "Mice")

In today's episode, we look at the etymology of "mouse," but really, that's just a springboard into a far more complicated topic: the word "mice," its irregular plural form. Why do we say "mice" and "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, so first-time listeners, beware!

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Episode 8: Cellular

The English language utilizes 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 applications of the word "cell" seem unrelated, but if we dig a little deeper into their etymological roots, we discover that they in fact originate from 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. 

 

One of the earliest images depicting what a "cellular" communication network might look like. 

One of the earliest images depicting what a "cellular" communication network might look like. 

Episode 7: Digital

Today's episode begins a mini-series on technology-related words. Although digital computers didn't permeate the masses at large until the end of the twentieth century, the word "digital" has been around for centuries. If you're a tech nerd, you probably already know what this word refers to, but if you're not, then you're in for a surprise. Furthermore, we discuss why usage of the term may begin to wane in upcoming years.

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