Coronavirus: Isolation and Aspiration

Listen to this episode

S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. I’m in a closet. And this week I would like to make an exception.

S2: What I mean by that is that usually I like to maintain the little fiction that this show comes from an actual valley called Lexicon Valley, where everything is always happy. And that’s why the show is not usually particularly topical. But obviously, there are certain things going on right now around the world that really if I didn’t address it in any way, I wouldn’t be doing my job. A lot of you have been asking. And so I’m going to devote this episode to The Cove at 19 virus and its implications for language, what it can teach us about language. The truth is the topic is not as juicy as you might think. Nevertheless, it does deserve to be addressed. You know where I’m going to start with a street myth that’s been going around. People keep asking me about this and I figure this is as good a place as any to address it. And this is the idea that some of you have probably already seen this, that Japan has had less of a problem with the virus than the United States because of something about the language. Oh, we love things like this when things like this pan out. It is absolutely delicious. And in this case, you can see a video that shows that Japanese consonants have less of a puff than their equivalents in English. And so we say poor Japanese has something more like put. That means to put it in technical terms, Japanese aspiration on consonants is weaker than in English. So you might entertain the notion that that means that a Japanese person is less likely to transmit the virus because they’re not puffing out as much vapor when they talk to another person. Not one must think about such things because one must always be open to the wonders of the world beyond the easy ones about food and sex. And so one thinks about such things. But in this case, when you think about it, it doesn’t really quite pan out. And so, for example, English and aspiration. Well, we have it so put. And then Japanese is more like put. OK. But the thing is, consonants of that kind in for example, many of the romance languages are even less aspirated as in not so in French. You say, well, if not properly. That’s the American accent. Barlett, you don’t have aspirations. Spanish is the same way. To have a good accent in those languages is to let go of that puffiness. And yet we’re all aware of that. For example, Spain has had certain problems with the virus despite the fact that they presumably aren’t spitting on each other as much as people in the United States. Or you think about comparisons like Iran and Iraq. So these are two countries. The Kovik problem has been more rampant in Iran than in Iraq, and yet you’d never know it from the languages. And so, for example, Arabic has all sorts of stuff going on that would make you spit. And that’s including the Mesopotamian dialect of Arabic that people speak casually in Iraq. So, for example, you have these consonants that you can pronounce either in what we would think of from English as a normal way or a way where you also take your tongue in the back and put it closer to the top of the mouth, in which case it becomes a little speedier. So there’s a difference between a two and a two and a both the pharyngeal lies, consonants, as they’re called. So that’s pushing out somewhere. And this is the sort of thing that you might think would be conducive to the virus if we’re going to think about it that way, or you’ve got these sounds that are made in the back of the throat. These kind of throat clearing sounds that Arabic is famous for its these neat, again, pharyngeal fricatives. You’ve got the go back there once again, if that’s part of your regular speech stream. Well, when you have this Japanese theory, then presumably there would be such a problem in Iraq, whereas Persian is like butter in terms of its sounds compared to Arabic standard or Mesopotamian Arabic. Persian just happens to be one of those languages. It’s got its puffs and hisses. Not as much as Arabic. It’s buttery Persian. Reminds me in terms of its sounds of, you know, some butterfly animated by Disney circa nineteen forty seven. That’s Persian phonology and yet more of a covert problem than over in Iraq. So when you do those sorts of comparisons around the world, you can see that the issue was not the sound system. Now, that’s not to say that these correlations of sound systems with things about the people or geography. Are never valid, and I have touched on this show on notions such as that tonal languages or maybe spoken more where it’s human, you know, just maybe these sorts of things can pan out. This one, though, doesn’t work. But I hate to have to throw cold water on things like that without giving you something else. And the truth is, I don’t do sounds on this show very much. It’s partly because they don’t always lend themselves to my kind of narrative, partly because I’m not a sound man. I’m not a phonology ist. And so, frankly, they don’t inherently interest me as much as issues of word, order, et cetera. But still, it can teach you things. There are counterintuitive things. And so, for example, let me drag you into my phonological head, the sort of thing that occurs to me just randomly. Let’s use. Well, let me see. Just pulling a television show out of the air that I have never made reference to before. Let’s try the Lucy show with Lucille Ball. We are in 1968 at this point and the wonderful, dependable Mary Wick’s is playing on Agatha. Now, listen to Mary Wick’s saying these very ordinary lines.

S3: Oh, yes. What are you doing here? Well, when you left this morning, you forgot the lunch I prepared for you. I know. I mean, I’m sorry. Keep your strength up through the day. There’s an organic salad and there was sunflower seeds and a freshly ground pollen burger.

S2: OK, where was Mary Wicks from? You can tell instantly. I’m going to play it one more time.

S3: Just so. What are you doing here? Well, when you left this morning, you forgot the lunch I prepared for you. I know. I mean, I’m sorry. Keep your strength up the day. There’s an organic salad and there was sunflower seeds and a freshly ground pollen burger from the way she says morning and organic.

S2: You know, right there that she almost certainly was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. And that’s because one of the features of speech there, more in the past than now. But the past means that people who are of a certain age and beyond still have this vibrantly. Is that or comes out as are. And the big joke there is that you say Farideh instead of 40, but it’s OR’s in general. And so good morning. And something being organic. And I’m saying it that way with no exaggeration whatsoever. Whenever Mary Wick’s does that, it reminds me that she was from Missouri. So Phonology can tell you where somebody is from. And, you know, you’re not going to get people within a flock like Henry Higgins claims to be able to do. And also in America, it’s not always as dependable as it can be in England. But still, you can know where Mary Wicks and various actors are from based on listening to things like that. Or here’s something else just really cool about sounds. Let’s go to British Columbia and not Vancouver, but somewhere else in it. I must admit, I can’t name a single other place in British Columbia, but if I hear it’s a fascinating place and it’s got some of the coolest languages in the world and I refer to languages I did not talk about on the last show, these are the Salish in language. Very interesting ways of being a language. One of them is called Bella Coola or actually more indigenously new hawk in this language. There are many words, their whole sentences that really don’t have any vowels. And this is perfectly normal. So, for example, here is a native speaker of Bella Coola saying and he had a bunch berry plant. I don’t know why anybody would say that. I don’t know what a punch Berry is. But if you were gonna say that and he had a bunch berry plant. Here it is. And Bella Coola. I kid you not listen.

S1: Here’s the word for sheep. Here’s the word for Bent.

S2: It’s those again shape. And then the very different word bent. You want to know what the word for Bunch Berry is? I mean, I didn’t know it in English until encountering this sentence, but Bunch Berry alone, is this what I eat?

S1: That’s something that you eat. Or he already came and I’ll say he already arrived. I just watched. Let’s tango in Paris.

S2: Sorry. He already arrived. Is this. Isn’t that just the most amazing thing? The Berber languages are like this to usually you trot them out to show this, but also say elephant languages often. Yeah. There are no vowels in lots of words to the point that it can almost be difficult to figure out what a syllable is because everything is there. Actually, we are languages like that. So there is your sound system. Cool stuff. It’s not going to be about people in Japan not spitting on each other as much. It’s going to be bunch berries and Mary Wicks. Now, something else that might be of interest is the histories of some of the words that we’re suddenly using more than we ever thought we would. And people have been asking me to write about this and comment about this and to be honest. Usually I kind of beg off because, as you know, I tend to avoid doing too much etymology because linguistics is a great deal more than etymology. But some of the etymology of these words are actually very interesting and they teach us little lessons. And one of those words is isolation seems like such an ordinary word. And I’m sitting here experiencing it, sitting here talking to my bathrobe on the left and my rarely worn suit jackets on the right. But I’m in here in isolation. Well, where does that word come from? Well, it comes from where we don’t need to go too far back. But where it comes from is Latin and Latin had a word insula. And what that meant was island. OK, now, Latin had a lot of kids, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Katlin, etc.. Well, one of the kids was Italian. So insula becomes easy to use. There was a Broadway conductor named Salvadore Deli’s where he conducted the South Pacific so easily. Right. Well, then there’s that other kid. French. That weird kid. I’d better not say that the French already hate me for saying some things about French. Right. Then there’s that other kid. French. Well, in French you have this metaphorical extension of Ireland into being like an island. And so you’re isolated in the word for that. And French was is easily OK. Well, after the Norman conquest, English, of course, had this intimate relationship with France. It took in this boatload of French words such that if you’re speaking English today, you cannot avoid using a lot of words that originally began in French. And Easy Play was one of them for a long time and easily had a certain flavor. It was brought in later than a lot of the French words. And first it was used, frankly, by people who were a little pretentious. And so, for example, Henry Bowling Brook, who was one of the Jacobites. He’s he’s trying to get King James restored back to the throne to talk about pretention. King James was the old pretender. And so Henry Bolingbroke, it’s 1751. And at one point he writes, The events appear to us very often original, unprepared, single, and. If I may use such a word for want of a better French, I would say easily. So it was that kind of work or Boswell Boswell who did The Life of Johnson. That’s almost more interesting than Johnson himself. At one point in the same era, he just writes, it’s the sort of thing he wrote. What’s Boswell’s voice? I’m not going to do it. OK, here’s the Boswell voice. So this Hanoverian family is easy here. They have no friends. That’s what I feel like. That’s how he would have thought. Boswell put it that way. Well, if there’s this word is people are using that, you know, that as that gets entrenched, people are going to English ify it. They’re gonna pull it in. It’s like an amoeba that eats some little piece of crud. Pretty soon, you know, somebody is going to start saying isolated. That’s just natural, easily. OK, isolated. It feels natural. And if somebody says isolated, well, then people are going to start feeling like there’s this original herb isolate. And that’s where I isolate cane. Isolation is, of course, inevitable. So it starts with people saying, oh, I feel so easily because I’m a modern man. And pretty soon there are people saying isolated and pretty soon there’s isolation. That’s some American. That’s the way. Isolation went. And of course, of course, there were people, you know, say around eighteen hundred who are complaining about this business of isolate because they thought it was an artificial word, not a real word, because at first I guess you could say it wasn’t because it was new and because it hadn’t existed in the language before. But as I’ve always said, deciding whether something is a real word is pretty much impossible after it gets to the point that everybody’s using it.

S4: But, of course, this Brit person, you know, the affected Frenchified, an unnecessary word, isolated. It’s not English and we trust never will be. And so there you go. That’s what he said. But that didn’t really end up having any effect on anything because, of course, it became a word. But something else that you just know is going to happen. You’re going to have somebody saying that it’s not a real word. And then once it is a real word, somebody is going to have to come along and tell you that the way you say it is wrong and that really it should be set in some other way, that almost nobody actually says that, you know, that sort of thing is going to happen. And so, for example, William Henry Pinkney, Fife, I mean it. That actually was somebody who wrote a great deal about how American English was supposed to be pronounced in the late 19th century. And, you know, I really recommend fifes books if you can. Find copies. It is fun to go through them, first of all, smell them because they’re 4000 years old and so they smell like mummies. I mean, like Egyptian mummies, not your mother. And also just this perfectly sane person’s notions about how you’re supposed to say things are absolutely exquisite compared to the way we think about these things today. And with isolate as far as William Henry Pinkney Fyfe was concerned, we were supposed to say not isolate, but easily you’ll have to put down it easily or exclude insulates. OK. Well, he would have said, OK, if it is permissible, but easily it is preferable. And this is the sort of thing that he would come up with in. For example, my favorite of his books is my favorite just because of the title.

S1: It’s called 18000. It’s often mispronounced. Eight thousand. Is it really true that there can be 18000 words in a language in every place to say wrong, isn’t it? Maybe just that what he did is wrong.

S4: But unfortunately, there were these eighteen thousand words and in one of the books he just has it is is late and he prefers is late but couldn’t get away with easily but not isolate for him. That’s the other pronunciation. And Italy is better and really just going through his books and getting a sense of how a prescriptive person was hearing his language at that time. So, for example, you’re not supposed to say gasp, you’re supposed to say gasp. And the book isn’t that British? It’s not that he was waiting for everybody to sound like London. He was just waiting for everybody to sound what to our ears today would be just frankly fucked up and spoke. Gasp is gasp or produce.

S5: Can you imagine being new to English and having to learn that not only do you produce a sound, but that produce refers to vegetables and fruits at the market before thought about how arbitrary that is.

S4: But anyway, so produce. Well, no, I’m saying it wrong. Apparently I’m supposed to say produce y. But that’s just what he thought. And some of the things that he says are mispronunciations are things that nowadays you don’t hear at all. So you have this little window into how some ordinary people said some things in the eighteen hundreds. So apparently there were people who were walking around talking about each thing rather than itching. Oh goodness. I’ve got an each instead of an itch.

S2: And he said, well don’t say that and make it work because nobody says it today or do that. Maybe some of you know somebody who says it or said it, but I never heard somebody say, I’ve got an H. But he didn’t like the idea that anybody might have.

S4: Which presumes that he must have heard it or don’t say instead say instead. He kind of goes on a path that at one point no. Instead said instead, apparently somebody did somebody did half. That’s pretty good. Somebody did. Who’s dead. But today instead is not, quote unquote, mispronounce inserted by anybody who I’ve known. It’s really interesting what you can get from this person. Anyway, it’s time for a musical cut. Let’s have it be one about isolation. But not one that’s sad. Let’s have it be something cute. This is one of the very first Broadway cast. Albums were back in 1943. This is a Connecticut Yankee. This is Music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lawrence Hart. This is a Rodgers and Hart show actually recorded with the original people, with the original orchestra. This is a precious document.

S2: And this is a song that never got done much, but it’s called On a Desert Island with You. The singer is Chester Stratton. You’ll be able to tell that he was hired mostly because he was a dancer. But this is on a desert island with you on one of the very first cast albums, Persay. And this is Chester Stratton singing what is actually one of my favorite Rodgers and Hart songs about isolation.

S6: But with sex on a desert island with him, she met another. We’ll sing, wouldn’t we be happy and gay with my mom many miles away in the morning? A blessing. First we eat, then we will dress. If it’s better, we’ll be caressing if it rains. We’ll know next year what the population will be out in.

S1: You know what else the virus is going to leave in its wake?

S4: Something else that people consider a mistake, it’s going to leave a pet peeve behind, and that is that we’re often calling this thing Korona. It’s what I am generally calling it, actually. But that’s technically a mistake because there are many coronaviruses of which the one that we’re suffering through right now is just one. Technically, we’re dealing with Cauvin 19, which is one of many Corona viruses. So you’re not supposed to say Corona. You’re not supposed to call it the coronavirus, really? Because that’s too general. We’re talking about Kofod 19. Well, what’s really going on here? For one thing, why are people saying Corona instead of Corona virus? Well, this is one of those back shift things that is perfectly typical and it’s a subtype. And so, for example, the Corona virus, the Corona virus and then Corona, absolutely inevitable. And it’s happened very quickly here because we say it so much. It’s like pizza. Never again will you hear anybody comparing Kobe to pizza. But pizza starts as what was processed as a kind of pie pizza pie. That’s what it was referred to when it first became familiar to Americans. Then you got pizza pie. Then you got pizza. And so, for example, pizza pie. Even in the 50s, people were still calling it pizza pie. This is from a commercial for one of the most disgusting products ever created by humankind. It’s pizza sauce in a can, and then you have some sort of cheese that comes with it. So you don’t have to go out for pizza. You can just pour it out of the can. I don’t quite understand how this worked, but this was the commercial for it in the mid 50s. And listen to pizza pie.

S7: This is real pizza. This is great. The cheese, real pizza. Best you ever had. Is it real bad pizza and pizza pie. The. Sure. It’s going. Well, I gotta agree. The pizza makes a great chef. Yes. Chef Boyardee. Complete pizza makes beats frozen pizza even beats going out. Pizza pie a minute with the chefs touching it.

S4: You know about this commercial is do you notice that at the end the girl says the pizza makes it racist?

S2: I mean, that’s not what’s he saying. But you have to listen closely to not hear that. It’s for some reason it’s racist pizza. Listen. Listen to this again.

S7: Sure. Beats going well. I gotta agree. The pizza makes the chef.

S4: The pizza makes it racist. Also, same era. You can listen to Alice Cramton on The Honeymooners. This episode is called Catch a Star. And this is the one where Ralph Cramton meets Jackie Gleason. Listen to Alice saying not pizza pie, but pizza pie. It was already happening.

S8: I read magazines left. Now I can made one of my special and shall be another.

S4: And before long pizza, you know, Franklin D. Roosevelt probably never had pizza. It’s a relatively new thing in American life. He had broccoli. He did not have pizza. Eleanor. Can we have pizza tonight? That probably no. Eleanor probably tried it, but he died too early. That’s why we’re saying Corona. But why not Kovik, 19? And part of it is because the word Kofod is ugly compared to Corona. And this is based on universal principles of how we process sounds. Corona is consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant, though Kohona and or and are not stops. So call Wrona. A lot of us, for reasons I never understood, already enjoyed the beer and part of the appeal of a beer. The reason they chose that name is partly because Corona is a pretty name. Now, I’m sorry to say that, but even with a lime I would rather have an IPA. But Corona also covered not only ends in that concern and that type, but Corona because it’s an aesthetically appealing word. You’d rather have a Corona purring in your lap than a Kofod. Corona feels more approachable. It gives you an illusion of control. It’s a warmer word. So we’re dealing with this Corona thing and it sounds like we can actually handle it in some way. We’re dealing with this Cauvin thing. A Kovil would have a horn sticking out of its head. It’s just that phono tactically, as we put it, Corona is more appealing. So, of course, people are going to call it Corona instead of Cauvin 19. That sounds like something Walter Winchell would say. Carano sounds like something that you could lick. So what’s happened very quickly is that this term corona virus that most of us didn’t know until about 10 minutes ago is narrowing. It has a narrower meaning in terms of how what I think is going to be most people using it on a daily basis. And so technically, it’s a kind of virus of which there are many beyond Kovar at 19. Karana is going to refer to that thing that turned life upside down and sent podcasters into closets in early 20, 20 words narrow all the time, they narrow. Probably more than they brought in. What do I mean by narrow? Well, for example, reduce reduce used to mean either getting bigger or getting smaller because reduced just meant to go back to an original state. And so if something was smaller, then you would reduce something to its original tininess. But you could also say that we reduced the Army to its original grand status of forty thousand men. The idea was just that you led something back to where it was before. Over time, the word narrowed and it came to mean making something smaller could’ve gone the other way. But that’s just what happened. Experiment used to be an experience experiment meant to have empirical experiences. Now, if one way that you’re using this word to mean experience is to say that you’re going to demonstrate something through experience, show and experience and therefore prove it. Then after a while, experiment might start to narrow to referring to pouring things into test tubes. But originally the idea was that what we think of as an experiment was something that you were verifying through experience rather than just making up the way a lot of older philosophers tended to do things. Let us imagine a natural law. Well, what about using experience? What about the platonic forms? Well, what about them? No, let’s have an experiment, i.e. an experience where we say that if you put salt on a slug, then it becomes what does it shrink or something like that. So that is what experiment originally meant. It narrowed. So our sense of what experiment means would be confusing to somebody 500 years ago. Words don’t only narrow and broaden, but they can just go in and out of fashion for no particular reason. Somebody used to say, well, that was when we were divorced and now we say that’s when we got a divorce. That kind of thing reducing used to refer to losing weight. It’s something that now you hear in old movies. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a living person say it. But on reducing, let’s do little Cole Porter. This is from a show of his called The New Yorkers. This is I’m getting myself ready for you. This one only gets around so much. It’s never completely dead, but it’s not one that Ella Fitzgerald did or anything like that. But it’s cute because it’s about what used to be called reducing the idea being that one might want to reduce in order to be attractive, naked to one’s lover, something like that, anyway. This is a contemporary version, as in contemporary to 1930. Of getting myself ready for you.

S9: Turkey legs can’t be getting ready. You. Number two on your soup can lead you to be sure of being worthy of your dinner in every way I’m building. You do. You see me in my speech.

S1: You still need me to risk on my you know, speaking of isolation and reduction, the virus is hitting the media really hard and Slate’s part of the media. And so, as you can imagine, Slate’s not having a very good time right now. There’s nothing dire going on.

S4: But it’s gotten to the point that it would really help Slate even more than it helped in the past. If you subscribed to this thing called Slate Plus, and what Slate plus means is that after the show, you get a little tag of extra information that you can’t get anywhere else. And in addition, you don’t have to listen to ads and that’s for a nominal fee. But it’s a fee that really helps us out in these tough times. You go to Slate dot com slash lexicon plus and you get a little more show. If you want a little more Lexicon Valley, you get it by signing up for Slate plus. And of course, that would also sign you up for little bits, more of all the other podcasts that Slate does. So just consider even more than before trying out some slate. Plus, you’ll be glad you did. For example, this week my Slate plus segment is not going to be about Bugs Bunny or Broadway musicals or rear ends or any of the other things that seem to pop up in my Slate plus segments. You’re gonna learn something about rainbows, something about rainbows. You never knew I’m not going to play the Rainbow connection. I’m just going to tell you some stuff about rainbows. But the only way you can know what the hell I’m talking about is you have to sign up for Slate plus that slate dot com slash lexicon.

S10: Plus, etymology is just one small corner. Of linguistics. But if etymology isn’t technically what linguistics is.

S1: Well, you know, the lockdown is technically not what life is or should be. And so irregularity beckons. Gonna give you another etymology because it’s another one that’s really neat and teaches us other stuff.

S5: And that’s virtual. We’re doing so many things, virtually this Zoome business. The etymology of Zoome is frankly not very interesting. You can practically make it up, but virtual is a weird little word. Virtual starts with the verb ver the vier. And that’s Latin for man. Well what’s manly about looking at gallery in Zoome and having strangely mediated conversations with people? Well, where that comes from is these metaphorical changes that a along bit by bit. And next thing you know, you’ve got this brand new word that has nothing perceptible to do with where it began. That is what is linguistic about etymology. And so, for example, virtual starts as vier starts as man. And then there’s an idea that a man is for better, for worse. It wasn’t a woman. It’s a man has power. So a man does things. And so there arose this meaning virtual that meant not what we might mean today by, for example, Viorel. But you have a word virtual. That means that it exerts a power, that it produces an effect.

S1: So you read, for example, scientists talking about virtual heat and what they mean is heat that does something in what was beginning to be called at the time, an experiment by virtual heat. They don’t mean Medda heat or heat. That isn’t quite itself.

S10: They mean that it produces an effect well in life. You want a word that means that something is happening, that an effect is going on despite the fact that it isn’t real. You want a word for an effect, so to speak? Well, Virtual moved into that. So the idea was not only is something having an effect, but it’s an effect that gives you an illusion of something behind it that isn’t actually there.

S5: That idea of effect that we had virtual slid into that. And so that’s where you got the idea of virtual meaning imagined. And so bit by bit. So virtual narrowed from manly to having an effect to having a special effect, an illusion that makes it seem as if something is there in actuality that isn’t. And next thing you know, you’ve got zoom. So virtual is a weird word in, say, the 15 hundreds reading English and the fifteen hundred and sixteen hundreds is a very treacherous thing because you can never be quite sure what words, especially these French and Latinate words mean at the time as opposed to now. And so what does somebody mean by experiment? Do they mean experience or do they mean test tubes? What does somebody mean by reduced? They mean make smaller. Did they just mean to lead back? And often the word is tipping. And so you have to decide what do they mean by sensible? Do they mean LEVEL-HEADED or do they mean relating to sense in the sense that we don’t sense? There you go. That we would say sensory. You have to be very careful with that sort of thing. It’s why I say with many people throwing bricks and tomatoes and watermelons at me when I do that, we have to be very careful with our Shakespeare because we understand all of the words, but we often don’t know that we’re not readily processing what Shakespeare meant. It’s interesting, but virtual is one of those words and all sorts of things go on. So, for example, virtuous is now what we used to say, moral, and that’s a whole other story. But it used to be that virtual could mean that to virtual could mean moral entrance and entry. Think about that. Those are two words that technically mean the same thing. But you know, when to use one and when to use the other. You know, entrance is perhaps more vigorous entry. It’s a little more abstract or awful. Used to mean what we refer to now as awesome. Why not? There’s nothing negative about. And the word just happened to change. And so with vier and virtual. This is why when you’re reading about something like virtue in Aristotle, it can be very confusing. Mean if you’re reading something like the ethics, then the comarca and ethics. You’re sitting there reading him about virtue. And if you try to read it too fast, you’re thinking virtue and you’re thinking, well, somebody who waits until marriage or somebody who works with Doctors Without Borders or something. But no, that’s not what he means by virtue. What he means is something that we would more gracefully translate as excellence, as in you’re doing the best that you can do at what you’re the best at. And that is your contribution to this thing called life. That is a very useful and wonderful thing to get from, say, a philosophy course where overall it can be. Quite figure out how you’re supposed to apply any of this to life, but you have to know that virtue means excellence. Well, why? Because when translations into English of Aristotle started being made, well, that notion of virtual as being about accomplishment, about having an effect, about doing things, about manliness, so to speak. All of that was more current in the educated mind. And so virtue was veer to like manly. And that’s why it could mean excellence back then. So virtual today and we think of Zoome is a word with quite a history. And it’s come a long, long way from referring to a human being with a penis.

S11: In any case, if Aristotelian virtue were set to music for me, it would be this.

S1: You know what that is? That’s the theme song to the TV show coach.

S5: And, you know, it’s, you know, may seem evanescent, but good writing. This is good arranging in particular, like listen to the middle the way all of the instrumentation changes. That’s very deft.

S10: Anyway, that for me, it sounds like virtue. Now I want to eat some crow. This is really very important. Talked about this just business and not one, but two shows. And I talk about it being one of my pet peeves. Well, it is a truism in linguistics that people who say they would never say something or say that they don’t like something in language so often turn out to be doing it themselves.

S11: You just see this all the time. So we tell each other this all the time. But I will openly admit that there is a little bit, at least in me, that always thinks, well, I, of course, would never actually use any of the things that I don’t like in language because, well, I’m a linguist and so I’m more conscious that these things, et cetera. Not true. Not true at all. And yet, see, Linden Bohm, thank you for pointing this out, because you talk about philosophy and know thyself. Well, now I know a little bit about myself. Other than that, I apparently say wah instead of were.

S10: And it is that I do this just thing, too. I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have known. But here I am in the episode on Native American languages. And listen to me say, instead of not just in English, just not listen. And what’s interesting about it is that usually in languages there’s a tendency for E to mean cute, tiny, little unthreatening. That’s just not in English. So it’s not just that we say teeny. But then, too, it’s. Oh, apparently I do it, too. And I want you all to know that I now know that I do it, too. And you know, by the way, on the topic of Native American, you all love the language family shows. I’m noticing. I get the feeling some of you wouldn’t mind if every week I just did a different language family. And I can’t do that. But, you know, I don’t usually sell myself in this way. But I think it would almost be silly if I didn’t say if you want me just doing one language family after another and doing every language family in the world within reason. I have done a course like that for the Great Courses company, and if I say so, it’s a pretty tasty little set where I take you through every language family anybody would want to know anything about. I don’t usually advertise my own stuff on this show, but it will be almost silly if I didn’t say that language. Families of the world put together by me exist with the great courses people. And you know, if you’re one of my listeners who could do without the showtunes. Well, for some reason each and company they don’t. Let me play something by Rodgers and Hammerstein after I talk about that and et cetera. So you get to have me just sticking to this uptick. That’s going to be the end of our show for this week. And what I’d like to play is Steely Dan’s pig, because last night I made myself around seven o’clock a bourbon elderberry liquor cocktail and listen to Asia from beginning to end. I hadn’t done that in a very long time. And of course, Peg is just a delight. But, you know, I’ve played Peg on this show before, so, you know, I’m going to take another older pop song that has some of the same feeling in that to get a little musiche on you. It uses the warm interval of the four.

S12: And so it always gave me a kind of similar feeling to Peg. This is Arrested Development, not the Arrested Development of TV, but Arrested Development. The pop group Short Lives, but wonderful while they flew back in the late 80s, early 90s. And this is Mr. Wendle. People used to stretch before dancing to this song. It was everywhere for about fifteen minutes, Mr. Windows. And it’s warm. It’s got it before. Never mind what that means. You can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com. That’s Lexicon Valley at Slocomb. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate dot com slash lexicons. You know, you probably watched a lot of coach just kind of by accident the minute you saw a lot of coach. I certainly did. I’m not quite sure why. I guess it was on after something else I watched, but I saw a lot of coach and I, as you might guess, do not like football. That thing ran for nine seasons anyway. Mike Volo is, as always, the editor. And I’m John McWhorter. Go ahead.

S11: This studio has three that you don’t think it’s done in this show, we saw how words have quirky more things through time. And one of my favorite of many examples of that kind of thing is spectrum. So if I say spectrum to you, what you think of is a rainbow or some array of things that has nothing to do with what Spectrum originally was. There’s a reason that spectrum sounds like Specter spectrum originally just meant an image, a flash. Well, one kind of image or flash is if you put some light through a prism and what you see is a spectrum, an image that comes through the prism. Now we happen to know that that image has the rainbow colors. But that wasn’t what people meant at first when they said spectrum. It was just a spectrum and a quality of that spectrum was the rainbow colors. OK. Well, the rainbow colors really do kind of stick out for you. And so after a while, spectrum came to mean that kind of array. But originally it was really like it was a ghost. It was an image. But because a particular kind of image had that rainbow and the rainbow stands out after a while, spectrum came to mean a rainbow or some array of forms in that way.

S10: And that just goes back to a route that would have been used on the steps of Ukraine and proto Indo European. That would have been roughly spek. And Speck was about looking. Speck was about images, as in Spectre and spectral and perspective and so on. The idea of it being a rainbow, that was something much later and just happened by accident. In addition, Speck is where something like skeptic comes from, from Greek. It isn’t a speck tick. It’s a skeptic. And that’s because with Greek spek became skep because P and K exchange places. And that’s called metathesis. Linguists have a term for that. And when you hear it in real life, it tends to sound tacky and weird. And so there are some kids who, instead of calling it spaghetti. Call it Pacetti. And so Puss can feel more natural to a new mouth and spoke. So Pacetti that’s a metathesis. But the process that produced Skeptic instead of specked back was the same one that has a kid running around in a driveway saying Baskette it so spectrum was not always a rainbow. The rainbow came later.