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Episode 71: Noah Webster’s Dictionary

Noah Webster is best known as the father of the first trust American dictionary. However, the success of Webster’s dictionary faced an uphill struggle during his lifetime. In today’s episode, we examine some of these struggles alongside the things that made Webster’s dictionary so different from the English dictionaries that preceded it. Click here to sign up for you free one-month trial of The Great Courses Plus.


Episode 70: Noah Webster (Early Works and Spelling Reforms)

Noah Webster is best known for his "all-American" dictionary, but in today's episode, we take a look at Webster's earlier works including The Grammatical Institute of the English Language and Dissertations on the English Language. In these works, Webster lays the groundwork for his future dictionary, revealing his political motivations for his spelling reforms and advocation of "American English." Be sure to go to www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/words to get a one-month free subscription to...


Episode 69: OK

"OK" is both the most spoken and written word in the entire world. It's such a fundamental part of modern communication that it's hard to imagine the world without it, yet in spite of its ubiquity and compact versatility, "OK" is under two hundred years old. Today's episode tells the story of the word's origins in 19th century America. If the leading theory is correct, then OK might just be the most successful inside joke of all time.


Episode 68: Yankee

The most popular usage of the word “Yankee” today is in the name of the baseball team, but etymologically, “Yankee” has nothing to do with baseball. “Yankee” is an elusive word whose definitive etymology is unknown and whose connotations change depending on who’s using the term. In today’s episode, we explore the word’s most likely etymology and consider the its implications from various points of view and time periods.


Episode 67: The American Pronunciation of R (Rhoticity)

One of the most defining characteristics of the Standard American English accent is “rhoticity,” or the pronunciation of the letter R. Unlike Standard British English, Standard American English always pronounces the letter R regardless of its position within a word. In today’s episode, we trace the origins and evolutions of this feature of Standard American English. (Spoiler alert: The prevalence of American rhoticity has ebbed and flowed over time.)


Episode 66: The Emergence of the American Lexicon

The English spoken in America began to diverge from the English spoken in Britain shortly after British settlers first arrived in the New World. In today’s episode, we look at several ways how “Americanisms” began to form and how English speakers on the other side of the pond reacted to them.


Interview with Lynne Murphy, Author of "The Prodigal Tongue"

In today's episode, I interview linguist, professor, blogger, and author Lynne Murphy about her book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. We talk about topics such as the British media's take on "Americanisms," nonsensical prescriptivism, national attitudes toward language, and so much more. Lynne's blog, Separated by a Common Language: https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/ To purchase The Prodigal...


Episode 65: Dialect vs. Language

"American English" is the variety of English spoken in the United States of America ... obviously. But is American English a language unto itself or a dialect of British English? In this episode, we discuss the differences between dialects and languages (if indeed there are any at all) from a linguistic point of view. Part 1 in a series on American English.


Episode 64: France

The name of “France” derives from the name of a Germanic tribe called the “Franks.” In addition to “France,” the name of the “Franks” also produced a handful of other common English words, such as frank, franchise, and Franklin, among others. Today, these words have little to do with France, but as we investigate their etymologies, subtle connections begin to emerge.


Episode 63: Turkey

In today’s episode, we explore the etymological connection between Turkey the country and turkey the bird. Even though turkeys are native to North America, thanks to sixteenth century trade routes, they’re mistakenly named after a country on the other side of the world. We also explore how these trade routes influenced the words for “turkey” in other European languages.


Episode 62: Cincinnati

The American city of "Cincinnati" derives a patriotic fraternal organization called "The Society of Cincinnati." The society itself is named after Cincinnatus, a legendary figure in Ancient Roman history. Revolutionary Americans saw Cincinnatus as an idealized epitome of political virtue. In today's episode, we explore Cincinnatus' life from the point of view of early American idealism. More specifically, we consider the parallels between the life of Cincinnatus and that of George Washington.


Episode 61: Names of Germany

There are more names for Germany than there are for any other European country. This is due to a long history of disunity among Gemanic tribes and the geographical location of the Germanic homeland smack dab in the middle of Europe. In today’s episode, we explore the history and linguistic distribution of the etymological roots of Germany’s many international names.


Episode 60: Wales

The English name for the country of "Wales" is not native to Wales itself. It was named by AngloSaxon settlers in Britain as a way of distinguishing themselves from their Celtic neighbors on the island. The word "Wales" has cognates in all of the Germanic languages, yet most of these cognates have nothing to do with the modern country of Wales. In general, these cognates are associated with speakers of Romance languages throughout Europe. In today's episode, we connect the dots among these...


Episode 59: Proper Place Names (General Overview)

Today's episode kicks off a new series on "toponymy," or the study of place names. In this general overview, we take a look at some of the historical and etymological trends that most often impact place names, such as colonialism and the commemoration of important individuals.


Episode 58: Gymnasium

Nowadays, a “gym” is a place for fitness and exercise. It’s a shortening of the word “gymnasium,” which derives from the Greek word gymnasion. In the Ancient Greek world, a gymnasion was not only a place for exercise, but also a hub for philosophical study and learning. Today’s episode explores the evolution of the “gymnasium” as a cultural institution and also looks at how some of the word’s cognates in other lanaguges differ in meaning.


Episode 57: Category

In the court system of Ancient Athens, the kategoria was a formal accusation. However, when the philosopher Aristotle borrowed the word kategoria to enumerate his “categories of being,” he intended it to mean the “highest order of classification.” Over the course of this episode, we explore the subtle link between an “accusation” and “categorization,” in addition to the philosophical side of Aristotle’s “Categories.”


Episode 56: Apology

The Modern English word "apology" derives from the Ancient Greek word "apologia." However, in the Ancient Greek work "Plato's Apology," Plato doesn't "apologize" for anything, at least not in the modern sense. That's because an "apology" was originally a "self-defensive" manner of speech. In this episode, we look at how this rhetorical technique developed into an expression of sincere regret.


Episode 55: Sophisticated

In Modern English, "sophistication" is a desirable characteristic. However, the word derives from "sophistry," an Ancient Greek intellectual movement with a historically bad reputation. In today's episode, we consider this bad reputation from various perspectives and how it has impacted the development of "sophistic" words over the course of history.


Episode 54: Philosophy

In the pre-modern world, "philosophy" referred to all forms of intellectual knowledge. Today, the discipline of "philosophy" is just one aspect of the traditional field of philosophia, or "love of knowledge."


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.