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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Episode 6: Comfort

The word "comfort" once described the spiritual consolation given by God to an individual.  Today, it is used to describe commercialized products ranging from air conditioners to tennis shoes to sofas---a pretty drastic change, to say the least. How did this evolution occur? Today's episode looks at the impact of capitalism and consumerism on our ideas of material "comfort". 

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Episode 5: Meat

     

The word "meat" once referred to all forms of solid food, not just animal flesh. In today's episode, Ray explores the ambiguities of the word "meat" as it appears in the King James Bible and debunks a certain myth surrounding meat-related words such as pork, beef, and veal, among others. 

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Bonus Episode 1: Polysemous Words

     Welcome to the first Words for Granted bonus episode! 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 "decimate" derive from the Latin word for "ten"? Will books eventually become extinct? Ray answers all of these questions and more, all through the lens of polysemy.

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