Words for Granted is a podcast that looks at how words change over time. Each episode looks at the evolution of a single word. Host Ray Belli uses language—more specifically, individual words—to examine history, culture, society, religion, and more.

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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.

This episode is brought to you by Yabla. Language immersion with authentic video. For your risk-free 15-day trial, sign up here. The word “cannibal” comes to us by way of a familiar historical figure: Christopher Columbus. The word is ultimately a Hispanicization of the name of an indigenous American group today known as the Caribs.

In common usage, a “philistine” is a derogatory term for an anti-intellectual materialist. The word derives from the ancient Middle Eastern Philistines, a people best known as an early geopolitical enemy of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. The historical Philistines were far from “philistines” (note the lowercase P). The circumstance by which the latter

As a common noun, “bohemian” describes an artistic, carefree lifestyle usually marked by poverty and unorthodoxy. The word is borrowed from “Bohemia,” a region in the modern Czech Republic, but its semantic connection to actual Czechs is nearly nonexistent. In this episode, we trace the long history of “Bohemian” from its origins as an ancient

As someone who came of age during the late 90’s, my first encounter with the word “gothic” was through alternative music and fashion. However, the word was originally the name of a Germanic tribe most famous for sacking the Roman Empire. The journey of the word “goth” through the last two millennia is a classic

In today’s episode, I interview Steve Kaufmann. Steve is a polyglot and founder of LingQ, an online language learning platform. He also hosts a popular language learning Youtube channel under the name LingoSteve. Our conversation covers a range of language-related topics such as language learning myths, language learning tips, and the relationship between language and

In Old English, the word “wife” meant “woman.” In fact, the word “woman” derives from the word “wife!” Today’s episode is not only an exploration of the word “wife,” but also a deep-dive into handful of woman-related words whose etymologies and usages share a confusing, intertwined history. We also try to solve the mystery of

What makes your parents’ parents so … grand? In today’s episode, we trace the etymology and emergence of the French-influenced kinship prefix “grand.” We also look at Old English words for “grandparents” and “grandchildren” before the “grand” prefix became conventional. Just for good measure, we also take a look at the kinship prefix “great.”  To

Today, “sibling” is one of the most basic kinship terms. However, it wasn’t introduced into the language until 1903 by a pair of scientists working on genetics. More accurately, “sibling” was reintroduced into the language after 1,000 years of dormancy. In this episode, we look at “sibling” in its Old English context and explore its Indo-European

In today’s episode, we explore the origins of some of the universal characteristics of nursery father terms in languages from around the world.  For a 1-month free trial of the Great Courses Plus, click here.  

“Mama” is a mysterious word. In the vast majority of languages around the world, the word for “mama” sounds something like … “mama.” In today’s episode, we uncover the reason for this peculiar universality. Spoiler alert: It has something to do with babies.  For a free 1-month trial of The Great Course plus, click here. 

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

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

“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

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

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.

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:

“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

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

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”


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

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

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

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.

Nowadays, a “gym” is a place for fitness and exercise. It’s a shortening of the word “gymnasium,” which ultimately derives from the Greek word gymnasion. In the Ancient Greek world, the gymnasion was not only a place for exercise, but also a hub for philsophisical study and learning. Today’s episode explores the evolution of the

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

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

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.

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.”

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.