Episode 53: They

The pronoun "they" was borrowed into English from Old Norse. It's an odd borrowing because within a given language, the words for pronouns tend to remain consistent over time. In today's episode, we explore the entire history of "they," from its roots as Proto-Germanic demonstrative adjective to its modern usage as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in English. 

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Episode 52: Linguistic Subjectification (Very, Really, Literally, etc.)

Subjectification is a unique linguistic process by which a word evolves to reflect the subjective viewpoint of the speaker using it. For example, the word "very" used to mean "true," but over time, it lost its objectivity and merely became a way of emphasizing subjective points of view. In this explore, we episode this process in a broad sense and look at a few more examples. 

Further reading:




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Episode 51: The

The word "the" is the sole definite article in the English language. It's also the most common word in our language. However, for such a grammatically fundamental word, its history isn't as straightforward as one might think. Old English had a whopping twenty different forms of the definite article, all of which collapsed into the single, versatile word "the" by the time of Modern English. We discuss some of these older forms and their evolutions. 

                       Masc.       Fem.      Neut.       Plural

Nominative     Se           Seo        þæt       þā

Accusative      þone       þa         þæt        þā

Dative             þæs        þære     þæs        þāra

Genitive          þæm      þære      þǣm       þæm

Instrumental   þy, þon   þāra      þy, þon    þǣm


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Episode 50: -ly (Adverbial Suffix)

The -ly suffix is a contraction hiding in plain sight. It is cognate with the word "like," and indeed, it literally means "like." "Sadly" is sad-like. "Madly" is mad-like. Amazingly, both "like" and "-ly" derive from a root word meaning "body or corpse." Over the course of this episode, we try to make sense of this semantic evolution. 

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Episode 47: Secular

Today's episode serves as an "epilogue" to the series on Biblical etymology. "Secular," of course, means "unaffiliated with religion," but originally, it was a word used to describe the measurement of long spans of time. Roughly equivalent to a century, the "saeculum," as it was known in Ancient Rome, was celebrated with pagan rituals, theater, and games. Pagan rituals ... how ironic. Over the course episode, we trace its development from antiquity to the 19th century philosophical movement.  

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Episode 46: God (and His Biblical Names)

The word "God" is not derived from the original Biblical texts. It was a term originally used in Germanic paganism and was adapted to Christianity many centuries after it had already been in use. In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, "God" is called by many names, and these diverse titles don't necessarily translate clearly into English. In today's episode, we discuss the meanings and implications of a handful of Hebrew terms for "God" that are used in the original Old Testament.

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Episode 43: Demon

Greek gods. Dead, Golden Age heroes. Conscience. Guardian angel. Evil spirits. All of these things and more were once associated with the word daimon, the Ancient Greek predecessor of the Modern English "demon." Originally a neutral term that did not imply good or bad, today's episode looks at how this pagan Greek term became the embodiment of evil spirits. 

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Episode 42: Church

On average, the word "church" appears in English bibles 115 times. However, "kuriakon" the word from which "church" derives, only appears in the original Greek text twice, and its usage has nothing to do with a place of worship. The word "church" is a translation of "ekklesia," a different Greek word meaning "assembly." In this episode, we examine the long and complex history of how the translation of how "ekklesia" was codified as "church" and how this translation probably isn't correct. 

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Episode 41: Thou

Up until Modern English, the English language distinguished between its singular and plural second person pronouns: "Thou" was the singular, and "ye" was the plural. Today, these have been replaced by a single pronoun, "you." "Thou" and "ye" are common Biblical pronouns in English, and there's more to their usage than just preserving an old linguistic tradition. In today's episode, we examine the semantic implications of these archaic pronouns in English translations of the Bible. 

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Episode 40: Biblical Etymology (General Overview)

Today's episode serves as an introduction to an extended series on Biblical etymology. In it, we discuss the difficulties of translating ancient texts--particularly holy texts--into modern languages. Over the course of this series, we will gain insight into the overall development and evolution of Judaism and Christianity from the unlikely perspective of etymology. 

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Episode 39: Eleven/Twelve

When compared to the other numbers between ten and twenty, "eleven" and "twelve" stick out like a sore thumb. If they followed the construction of the rest of the teen numbers, they'd be called one-teen and two-teen, respectively, but of course, this isn't the case. In today's episode, we uncover what "eleven" and "twelve" are all about. 

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Episode 38: Algebra/Algorithm

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The emergence of the words "algebra" and "algorithm" can be traced back to the life of one man, an Arabic mathematician named Al-Kworizmi. Today's episode looks at the history of Al-Kworizmi's works and their impact on the Western world, particularly on European languages. 

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Episode 37: Chemistry

"Chemistry" as we know it is a rational science. However, both the word "chemistry" and the science itself evolved out of the pre-scientific practice of "alchemy." In today's episode, we look at the origins of alchemy, a few theories regarding its etymology, and how medieval Arabic plays into Europe's inheritance of this word. Finally, we consider the circumstances under which "alchemy" became modern chemistry.

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Episode 36: Serendipity

Unlike most Arabic loanwords, the word "serendipity" was not borrowed from a foreign language, but invented by an eighteenth century Englishman. It's based on "Serendip," an old Arabic word for the nation of Sri Lanka, and was inspired by an Italian folk tale originally composed in Persian. The odd coinage of "serendipity" is an international story that spans many cultures, languages, and time periods. 

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Episode 35 (Bonus Episode): Arabic Linguistics

Today's episode serves as an intro to a miniseries on the influence of Arabic on the English language. As a Semitic language, Arabic is very foreign to English. We take a look at some of the basic linguistic and cultural features of Arabic that make it stand apart from the rest of the languages discussed on this podcast thus far. 

Supplementary Resources:

History of English Podcast Ep. 90     History of English Podcast Ep. 91

World in Words: I'm Arabic But I Don't Speak Arabic

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