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Before the letter W was invented, the rune wynn was borrowed into the Latin AngloSaxon alphabet as a way of representing the /w/ sound. The letter yogh evolved out of Insular G, an Irish variation of the traditional letter G. The phonetic value of yogh varied. It could represent the /y/ sound, the guttural /x/

Words for Granted has partnered with Rebecca Deitsch (Harvard University) to offer a Latin 101 course to listeners. To learn more and RSVP, please fill out this Google form:

“Pasta” is first attested in English during the 1800’s, which is later than one might expect. However, in prior centuries, a handful of closely related cognates such as “paste,” “pastry,” “pastel,” and others were borrowed into English, so we considerate how these words relate to the Italian food. We also examine the semantic relationship between

In today’s episode, we look at the etymologies of our meal words––not to mention “meal” itself. (As it turns out, “meal” has a long history of usage as a measurement word.) The meanings of our meal words have shifted over time in concert with the standard time at which these meals are eaten. Spoiler: “Dinner”

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

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

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

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

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

Lyceum is a new educational audio platform that curates, creates, and builds community around educational audio. You can find Words for Granted there as part of the curated “Words with Friends” collection and join the discussion room to chat with me and other listeners. 

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

As we all know, the idiomatic meaning of “apple of the eye” has nothing to do with apples. As it turns out, the origins of the idiom also have nothing to do with apples. In this episode, we look at how the English translation of an old Hebrew expression found in the Old Testament unintentionally

“In a pickle” is one of the oddest sounding idioms in English. It means “in a predicament or bad situation,” but it’s not clear what pickles have to do with anything. In this episode, we look at the origins of both the phrase and the word “pickle” itself. 

This episode begins a new series on the etymology of English idioms. In this general overview of idioms, we discuss why idioms are syntactically and semantically peculiar, how idioms emerge, how idioms fossilize archaic grammar, and more.  Today’s episode is brought to you by Yabla. To try Yabla 15-day free trial of Yabla, click here.

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