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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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.

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

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