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Lexicon Valley from Booksmart Studios
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Lexicon Valley from Booksmart Studios

Author: Lexicon Valley

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A podcast about language, with host John McWhorter.
60 Episodes
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Family Ties

Family Ties

2024-06-1027:011

There are at least five defining features among hundreds of related languages from English to Hindi to Russian. And what does any of that have to do with the Hittites? John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Going Deep

Going Deep

2024-04-3032:49

The simple verb to go quickly gets complex in just about any language and English is no exception. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Come Under Scrutiny

Come Under Scrutiny

2024-03-1825:321

What does the bat in “acrobat” have to do with the word come? John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Reflexive pronouns are redundant in a way, sure, but they’re also quite common in many languages. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
There’s good reason to believe that sophisticated speech began long before homo sapiens hit the scene. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Does Ayesha Rascoe have a good radio voice? Not according to many NPR listeners, who find her loud, high-pitched and generally grating. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
What Is Miami English?

What Is Miami English?

2023-08-2126:15

A recent study suggests that a new dialect is emerging in the southern part of Florida. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
The trial transcript of a 225-year-old murder is filled with fascinating evidence of the way we used to talk. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
I Got My Nails Did!

I Got My Nails Did!

2023-06-0929:50

Many English verbs have three forms — sing, sang and sung, for example. The problem is that speakers seem to want only two. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
To v. Too

To v. Too

2023-05-0927:04

Too — whether about excess, addition or contradiction — evolved from to. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Picture of Health

Picture of Health

2023-04-2423:36

Some languages adopt their “health” word from the concept of wholeness — a metaphor that makes perfect sense. Other languages, however, adopt their “health” word from trees. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

2023-04-0328:14

Like the French word droit, English’s right has taken on a number of useful metaphorical meanings. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
In this favorite from the archives, John discusses some unwritten rules of English that can be remarkably difficult for a learner of English to master. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
The word “record” can be broken down into two parts, the re and the cord. But what do those parts even mean? John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
John is traveling this week and so we’re running a previous episode about the speech patterns of Bette Davis, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and countless other Americans of the 1930s. Why do they all sound like that? This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Past Master

Past Master

2023-02-0524:48

So many of our words have ugly associations that are particular to a historical time or event. Should we expunge them entirely from our vocabulary? Can we? John weighs in. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Words that come to mean “want” often start out meaning something else. Take “want,” for example. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
The Ambassadors

The Ambassadors

2023-01-0729:48

Henry James wrote his final novels just over a century ago — and yet they are far less accessible than works written much earlier. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
Apostrophe S

Apostrophe S

2022-12-2625:31

Possession is more or less about ownership, and we denote that in English by adding ’s to the end of a word. But of course there’s far more to the story than just that. John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
There’s a rumor going around social networks that “knocked up” traces back to American slave trading. Is there any evidence for that etymology? John explains. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit lexiconvalley.substack.com/subscribe
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Comments (12)

Nina

My husband and I loved Ayesha Roscoe from the get go. She sounds human!

May 31st
Reply

Catherine Businelle

My little brother once retorted, "I AM being haved!" when told to behave. 🤣

May 5th
Reply

Guy Miller

"Put on your coat and put on your hat. walk yourself to the laundrymat." Yakety, Yak. Coasters 1957(?)

Jan 16th
Reply

Ed Potter

A great episode! Thank you. I'm going to find Ragtime!

Aug 31st
Reply

Za Ba

persian: rain comes! بارون میاد

Mar 11th
Reply

Za Ba

As an Iranian, my preference between Farsi and Persian is the latter. Not only because of the reason John is explaining in this show, but also because Farsi is the Arabized form of the actual Persian word "Parsi". Persia (today Iran) was colonized by early Muslim Arabs for centuries. While they could not change the language like what they did in many other colonized lands such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon,... they impacted the Persian language a great deal, mainly vocabulary-wise. As an example, in Arabic (from Arabia peninsula) there is no P sound. So whenever they encounter it in other languages, they usually change it to F sound. As a result, the word Parsi (meaning Persian) altered to Farsi. As I already mentioned, Arabs invaded and conquered Persia/Iran in the 7th century and ruled Iran for centuries under Khalifat (Muslim Empire). The result is a great deal of change in culture, religion, and language. That's why today the word Farsi is more common than the actual "Parsi" in Iran. Ho

Dec 29th
Reply

Russell Scott

It's those pesky Etruscans! That's my new blame-all phrase.

Dec 21st
Reply

Russell Scott

You got me with the "out of gas" because I thought you were going into the contextual usage for "I'm tired." and you didn't. I couldn't predict where you were going with it. 🤪

Nov 19th
Reply

The Menendi

I am from Marylqnd and I love this episode because I totally relate to the pronunciations. I love having them "spelled out". ; )

Nov 13th
Reply

Russell Scott

on the origin of A$$holes: when cleaning, or gutting, an animal, you start at the anus and cut around it then work towards the head to avoid cutting any of the guts which would lead to contamination of the meet. This offal was left behind as useless. So, referring to a "pile of a$$holes, over there" is drawing comparison to the useless leftovers. Your other early examples also seem to imply useless as the primary meaning, too. In English, it appears that all derogatory terms trend toward common usage, to describe a "bad person"; asshole, bastard, shithead, etc. are, for all intents, interchangeable today.

Oct 27th
Reply

Martin Crain

The world needs more John McWhorter. Glad I found this!

Oct 27th
Reply

Mary Martinson

similar to Baltimore

Aug 18th
Reply