Parting Company

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language. From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. And you know what? My little girl’s six and nine because I’m slowly ruining them for larger existence. Walk around singing this.

S2: Phone rings, door chimes in comms company. He know string’s good times, roupas his company. Late nights, quick bites, party games, deep talks, long walks, telephone calls. Thoughts, shared souls, bad private names all over.

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S1: Well, now they sing other things, Katy Perry, etc., this is a song to sing about something happening in the middle, but I am steeping them in this music that I torture all of you with. And that is, of course, the musical company by Stephen Sondheim. It’s the show that pretty much put him on the map, and that is the title song. And they like this song. I don’t know how much of it they understand, but I was thinking the last time I heard them walking around singing company, that company means people coming over and, you know, having orders. And then it also refers to some organization. How did that happen? That is an interesting story and it’s one that should be shared with you. And so you know what? I am going to do this whole episode on this word company, because actually there is that much in it. And of course, it goes to certain other words as well. But let’s do company. At first I thought it would be only one part of a show, but then I realized, you know, what company is such an odd word that it’s a whole episode. So what is this word that refers to on the one hand, like Toys R US closing? It’s a company and then also somebody coming over with a bottle of red wine. How does that happen to what starts out as something meaning one thing? Well, let’s go back to the very beginning. No, I’m not going to play a song. You might be thinking. Let’s go back to the very beginning, because what happens with the word company actually demonstrates many processes of what is known as language change or to get pointy headed, diachronic linguistics, some of the basic tenets. So what are we talking about? Well, first of all, we’re talking about something called Calkin. What do I mean by clicking? I mean that sometimes a word is based on a word in a different language.

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S3: So, for example, company company goes back to Latin technically. So, compañero. And what that means is with bread. So think about Pear and French Open in Spanish. Well, with bread. So the idea is that company spending time with someone, your companion is somebody who you have bread with. I don’t know who that’s supposed to be. But anyway, your bread with person, kind of your your bread man. Now, you could imagine that the ancient Romans came up with that by themselves, but actually they didn’t. That first pops up in a document, a legal document that’s translating concepts that originated with the Goths and the Goths were people who spoke Germanic languages related to what became English, what became modern German, etc. And there would have been an early Germanic word that meant with bread, that meant companion or company. In this way, it would have been roughly ga ga lipe. So Ga would have been with and Horibe was like loaf lipe love, love, love loaf. That word became loaf. Lipe was bread. Now if you’re Russian then you understand because here that’s the word for bread now. Well it used to be that Germanic had something that made Indo-European sense. And so Lipe that was what it was. So with bread. So that means that for example in old English you could have said something like my loveman. So it starts in Germanic with various words that ended up meaning something like companion, although they started as your bread with person. And the idea was, well, OK, in Latin we need a word like that, except we’re not going to say like we’re going to say comb with and then Panio and so bread and so are with bread. That’s called coworking. And that happens a lot. Languages like to model themselves on one another, especially when something is kind of cool like this loveman business. And so we have skyscrapers. We don’t think about that word much, but that’s cute. You’ve got a building that’s tall enough that you think why? It’s like it’s scraping the sky, says this 19th century man who is new to having his own personal. Watson has no penicillin. It’s like it’s scraping the sky. OK, well, people like that back then. And that’s why in Germany, the skyscraper is called Balkan Corazza. And so a cloud scraper, he knows how in Germany, the buildings they never seen, quite as tall as the ones in the United States. But when they are, it’s Volcan concept like that, or even in China, they have their word Motin, and that is grap sky building. And, you know, once I said something to a Chinese person, I said, I like how your word mosiello is like our skyscraper. And she said, oh, no, no. Now that’s just an accident. That’s not what those words mean. But, you know, I looked at yes, it is what what they mean. And so that is taken from our skyscraper. So that’s typical coworking or another example, something that otherwise is this weird mystery cases in linguistics, so case nominative case, genitive case, dative case, accusative case, locative case, what case a case is like a suitcase or something. How is that a case. Well you know where that comes from. Actually it’s more CALKIN We get it from Latin where it’s a Kos’s. But why is it a custom. Well it’s because it’s the Greeks, it’s them Greeks. They’re always passing stuff down to us without knowing it. The Greeks had this idea. It was a metaphorical idea that in a language with these cases as and you have the nominative, that’s just the basic. I’ve heard that some of you don’t want me to say vanilla because vanilla is a legitimate flavor. OK, so I’ll just say that the basic vanilla and so you have that. But then genitive case, you say of the book dative case to the book accusative case when the book is an object and so kick the book across the room and then instrumental case. And so I killed the cockroach with a book. I did that yesterday with a pair of pliers. So I killed the cockroach with a book instrumental case. OK, to the Greeks. For some reason they thought of that as falling. They thought that the real thing was the nominative and then that something declines into these derivations of what’s the real thing, it declines. And those of you who know these older languages know that often it’s called the declination.

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S1: How do you decline? What is the declension? So they thought that it fell. And so for them, the cases were falling. They use their word ptosis. OK, well, the Latins had this thing with the Greeks and they’re always copying them. And so they had to call it falling Cordera to fall and the participle cassus. And so it’s the falls. That’s what it meant in Latin. So English just took that word with its shape and said, OK, it’s the cases. And now we think, well what does it have to do with a suitcase. But in other languages it wasn’t only Latin that took it from Greek and made it the fallings. And so in German now those cases are falls. And a German person, I’m sure, is doing a podcast called Lexicon, a dollar an hour or something like that. And they are wondering, well, why is it a foul? Well, it’s because of that. Or in Russian, the cases are Padia. It’s falling again. And that’s because the Greeks thought when you quote unquote conjugate nouns, that you’re making a good, sturdy noun fall into these quote unquote cases. So companion company starts as a calc on what began in Germanic as my Hlophe Man Now company teaches us another lesson about reconstruction. And that’s because we only know by a hair that that word was count on Germanic and existed in Latin at all. So that word exists in French company, etc. That word spread out. But in terms of it being in Latin, really it’s only found in the late stages of Latin and only in that one document where you have this word compañero that’s based on what was originally a Germanic word. If that document didn’t survive, if no one knew about it, then still anybody who’s working on where today’s languages come from, especially today’s romance languages, would reconstruct that. There was a Latin word that would have been companies. Compañero, you would just know because there are people who are paid, believe it or not, to trace words backwards to what the words would have been among people who are now very, very dead and can’t talk to us. That is a major aspect of what historical linguistics is. They’re even still some sources now that miss that there was a tested a late Latin word Campanello. And the idea that they have is that it was just reconstructed. And that’s because you would know you would reconstruct that there was some word that meant with coma and then Panio the bread. And that’s because of this general technique. You never know how that kind of thing is going to go. You never know what words are going to trace back to it can be a lot of fun, even with Latin. And so, for example, there was in Latin, this torture instrument, it had three prongs tray three, pallium, pallium. You can hear what that was for is the sort of thing that you see in Game of Thrones, a three pronged thing, and it’s going to reach in and grab out your bowels or something like that. So pallium. OK, suppose you made that a verb. So three, you tray pallium. Suppose you try pallium somebody. But it’s Latin and so you can’t just. Turn nouns into verbs the way we can say something like, you know, here’s a fax machine, now fax me something unnecessary, you have to add some endings. So tray pallium. Well, if you’re going to make it into a verb, how about something like Treh Polyana or Tree Pagliaro? Here’s why we know that that is exactly what must have happened with this vicious three pronged thing, because Tree Pagliaro, if you change the sounds and the way that we know sounds, change becomes something like VIIa, Tree Polyana, Trevor TUV I.

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S3: Yeah, and that means to work in French. So to undergo torture, you can see how metaphorically that would end up meaning to work. So Tripoli, Ariah becomes today, Tripoli and elsewhere becomes Daraban in Spanish. Of course we borrowed heavily from French as travaille that comes from something that was used to make people very unhappy. We don’t have pre Polyana in writing, but we know it must have existed because we’re in trouble to exist too. So that’s the sort of thing that you would do. We would do that with compañero, even if there wasn’t that one of a source where we happen to catch it and this sort of thing gets weirder. So, for example, because I’m on this Mandarin kick lately to be in Mandarin shu. There you go. Sure. That’s all it is. Shu, you know what that started is you can reconstruct. We can’t hear the people speaking Proteau Cyno Tibetan, which is the proto Indo-European Ukrainian language involved with Chinese. We don’t know what they said, but we do know what they said. Their version of shit was NDY. And how do we know that she goes back to day. Well, you can look in the documents and you can make some inferences. For example, in old Chinese, which is available to us, it isn’t sure it’s yet now, if you think about it yet, is closer to shoot that day. And that’s because old Chinese has ditched middle Chinese has Jia. OK, so shoot, you get it. And so shoot starts maybe a jet in what’s Chinese then. There are other languages that are distant cousins of Chinese but are part of the Sino Tibetan family, such as for example, there’s one called Jinbo. It’s spoken in China, Burma and somewhere else that I forget. And that word for to be in Jinbo is Nai Ndeye. Isn’t that different from Gitte Dai get the same thing just said very differently. Ndeye what ndeye is kind of like the ndeye really.

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S1: What cyno Tibetan. Yes, they exist are doing is taking hundreds of languages, seeing what they have in common, tracing them back. And it means that you can see in a language like Jinbo that you’ve gotten die in a language like Mandarin you’ve got shit. And actually they traced back to something that’s NDY. And although Ndeye seems nothing like in old Chinese, ndeye had become yet with the dropped off. So didit then. Yeah. Then this is the way these sorts of things work. You know, there’s even a saltier example of things like this. And so there is a certain four letter word that begins with F in the English language. And you know, in the old English documents there is no word there seems to have birthed fuck it, isn’t there? And therefore, people who are very good at this sort of thing have looked to Scandinavian languages in Norwegian Fugo or something like that. And these various words in German I’ve talked about this on a previous show where they’re words that mean like to rub back and forth or swing a whip around all these different things. Ficken. Fokin Right. But what about in old English? Wouldn’t there have just been a word fuken, you know, they were doing it? Couldn’t they refer to it? And would it really have been some other word? We can be pretty sure that the reason that fuken is not a test. It is because there’s only so much old English to test it. It’s a lot. But if you’re writing a formal poem about religion or about some stately matter, you’re not going to put fucking into it. If you are writing about the history of what would become England or frankly, you know, certain things are not going to make it in. And so really, it’s an accident. I highly suspect that there is no old English word for God that’s attested. We can reconstruct it just like we could reconstruct compañero, even if this Gothic document, the less Salix, did not exist. This is how these things go. And actually, can I give you a little more company or Panio the bread PADF French bun that’s Spanish that goes back. We can reconstruct. We don’t know. Now, those Ukraine people talk, but in Proteau Indo-European, we can be quite sure that if you said something like that meant to feed and it wasn’t bred specifically, it was feed. And so think of Pastorale or old church Slavonic. So that’s kind of the Latin of the Slavic languages, sort of. So they had a word for to feed cattle. And it would have been if Russian has a deep voice, old church Slavonic is in the basement. So the word for feed cattle would be posti that come this tally up and voice. So posti or for example, we say Father Latin says parterre, we say foot Latin has pedal extremities. So normal Indo-European language put in Germanic languages, which is to foot for reasons no one knows, although frankly it may have had something to do with those Phoenician travelers. Go back to a previous episode, but same thing here. PAS is to feed FA for food. That’s where we get the business of the food. But the idea is that you reconstruct and so you’ve got the fooding and the fucking and the pallium and the shool. You’ve got all of these things, the following podcast, and I’m sorry about that. The rest of it will be clean in any case, you know, for your pal to be your loveman, that’s kind of like telling somebody that they’re your meat. And if you want to know what that means, well, then we have to listen to some Louis Jordan. Louis Jordan is the beginning of rock and roll. Late forties. You could have experienced his music with a Broadway musical that did very well called Five Guys named Moe. You’ve probably heard some of this guy’s music even if you didn’t know it. Really good stuff from the late forties in it. It frankly, is part of what becomes the Rolling Stones. This is the black roots of things that we associate with people who are not black at all. This is a song I’ve always loved called You’re My Meat. You Can’t Know What You’re My Meat means unless you listen to this song.

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S4: Outside, in and inside out, you buy me, I often thought, but not you, Mommy, from your feet to your hair, do not meet the new buy me. I got you covered. But baby, you, my me. In the days of all the nights before they will pay us and mothers, I’m told. Don’t you see that couldn’t be me. I’d have to talk about your yams and your Big Ben hands. It excites me so because I know you mind me being fed and body but lordy you made me.

S1: So company, so it’s your bread man, your loveman, your meat man, how do we get to what company usually means now? Because the first thing we would think of with company is not what Sondheim was writing about. We think of, you know, Toys R US, where we get that is that you have this Metuchen business. So the idea is the person that you have your food with, well, suppose it’s people that’s an easy stretch. It’s the people who you have your food with. Well, if you do, then that means that it’s probably not just the food. The food is probably celebratory. You’re engaged in something with them. They are your people, maybe your peeps with words. The way that we get words to refer to everything that we do is you have your basic concepts, kind of the boring ones, really. But then in terms of getting to what life really is, you have metaphorical inference, moving along with word after word and especially things coming to mean something more specific than they originally did. So you’re the person who I have food with, who I toast with. Well, that probably means that you don’t only do that, you’re involved in something, some military endeavor. So Company B, you are involved in some commercial endeavor. And so you’ve got a company. So that’s where company comes from in the sense of not being about bread or food anymore, but about just doing things together. If you’re going to toast, it’s probably because you’re starting a startup or something like that. And so that makes company the kind of word that so many are. So, for example, try this, the draft. We should have a draft. What? Well, what does that mean? A draft is something that comes in through the window. But we mean you’re going to be drafted into the military. Now, even if we don’t know the details of what that means, we know that draft started is something much more general. And we think of it as relating to the military. That’s something that happened to that word. Go back one hundred and twenty five years and people were talking about conscription. What does that mean to us now? Frankly, nothing. That used to be the word for the draft. Now you can think of conscription that could have meant any number of things. Con that’s with, again, description writing, writing with the person who you write with. That could be a great many things. But it happened to end up meaning that you are written into the army like a draft. Oh goodness. I’ve got the consumption. I know what they say like that. But it doesn’t mean that you’re being eaten by a beetle. It means that you’ve got tuberculosis consumption. Well, we think of consumption more spontaneously now as the consuming of something. But when tuberculosis was more urgent problem for more people in the world, well, it came to mean being consumed by that. What’s a transmission? A transmission? Is that thing in the car that you don’t understand that brakes and it costs a lot of money to fix? Right now, we know intellectually that you can transmit some object from one place to another. Like actually right now, somebody transmitted to me two lovely boxes of chocolate and I have no idea why they came in the mail, especially under a label that suggested that it was actually going to be caviar. I have no idea why they transmitted that to me. If I never find out and if that person happens to listen to Lexicon Valley. Thank you for my chocolate. My girls and I are going to enjoy it very much. But you transmitted it to me. That is not the way we used that word. The transmission is that thing that breaks are even like case from falling the genitive in the date of an accusative fall from the nominative. That right there, even in Greek, was one of these narrowings. It’s called semantic narrowing. Now, if I just say I’m now going to tell you about semantic narrowing, well, boy, you sure are excited. But what it means is words like conscription and consumption and transmission and case and company y company starts out meaning somebody sitting at a table eating something with somebody. And now company means Exxon. It’s a funny thing. But then also there’s company as one person. So this company becomes companion as we still have. So a companion is somebody that you eat bread with and then companion, that word becomes what we pronounce as company. So you have company, you’re having people to come over to break bread with you. And if they’re going to do that, then they’re going to be with you and therefore they’re keeping you company. And then we stop thinking about the bread, the old expression usually used with people of a certain age, which of course is older than me, where they are dating. But it’s different because they’re older for some reason. So you say that, oh, well, they’re keeping company. The idea being not what they’re eating, but the idea that they are giving one another social come. Companionship. And so that is why you have the same word for people over for dinner. Bobby, come on over for dinner and then Xen, why would they be the same word? Because there is company has and come have bread with me and then there’s company as in if you’re having bread with me, we’re probably also involved in creating some corporation that’s going to ruin the environment and lives all over the world. And you never know how these things are going to go. So, for example, company used to be a euphemism for if I may, I said I wouldn’t do this and so I won’t really do it. But for the sexual act, you know, so company and that’s no more a lesson probably than Congress, sexual Congress. That’s how these things go. So if we’re talking about that. But not. And that’s why this is such a special song. Beach Boys. No, not Sondheim. We’re not going to play something from Music Man, but Beach Boys, you know what their best song is? No, not that one. Not that one either. It’s wouldn’t it be nice? And if you listen to the lyrics of this, it’s because the idea is we’re not going to do that until we get married. It’s the most wonderful song. And also it is musical genius. Listen to the opening figure, if I’m not mistaken, unless they did this on a synthesizer, this is the high strings of a harp. They brought a harp into this session and that bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, that’s a high harp. Then when the song kicks in, it’s in a different key than that opening figure. They didn’t have to do that. The original writing of the song was relatively simple. They didn’t have to change the key. Listen to those vocal harmonies and then when it goes into the bridge, so weird. What bridge would you write for this? It could be very mundane, but instead it sounds almost like Ravel and under the bridge is that weird harp opening figure. Again, this is a very special three minutes. I’ve always thought that it was just golden. Wouldn’t it be nice? It’s the best Beach Boys at least. I think so. I can’t help it. Here it is. Slate plus members and listeners at Servais Time again, and that means it’s your chance to tell us what you think about not only Slate plus, but Slate, I want you to help us make a better slate by answering our survey. It’ll only take a few minutes. And, you know, pandemic. What else do you have to do? You can go find it at Slate dotcom slash survey. And if you’re asking whether I took it, well, you know, I don’t have to because I am doing this. But if I weren’t doing it, I would be taking that survey at Slate dotcom slash survey. Now, company is interesting because it’s not just a one off. It exemplifies a pattern linguist’s like pattern. Scientists like patterns. Linguists like to think they’re scientists. So we want patterns. And it’s about company being both a matter of group business and oneness. That’s not something that happened only to company that can happen to a word. And then English. An example is party party could be a crowd in earlier English as it is now. And so that part of the gang. And so those people or it could be one person. This is a rather archaic usage now, or at least it’s used mostly in legal jargon. But the idea used to be that you’re conveying an arch kind of respect, kind of like an old Europe where you have things like referring to one person as vew in French, which is actually a plural pronoun. So you two and it’s just one person that’s the way to convey respect. And that sort of thing happens in lots of languages. Or the king referring to himself as we that sort of thing. You use plural as a kind of artful distance? Well, in the same way, party could be used to refer from a respectful distance to one person. And so who was that party that I saw you with? And, you know, one of my favorite examples of this is something that I can’t retrieve because it’s from an old radio show. An old radio is hard to Internet search because, frankly, so few people care about it that it isn’t carefully quoted and archived and obsessively discussed on Reddit or something like that. If there’s something I remember somebody saying from one episode of some radio show four thousand years ago, I’m not going to be able to find it by typing in that passage online. There is an episode of Amos and Andy that now very problematic show that I remember where nevertheless, as problematic as it is, I hate to say that it also has its charms. And because I’m obsessive, of course I’ve heard of it. And there is a barber Shortie, the barber and Shorty had a passage in one episode. If any of you are fans of the show, I think this was in the mid 40s. I think it’s earlyish in the half hour sitcom era. So at one point, Shortie is talking about his romantic exploits. He’s one of these sitcom characters who walks on and then walks off. And at one point he says that he had a girlfriend for a while, but that it had to break up. And somebody says, well, why did he have to break up? And he says, well, well, well, the problem he’s one of these happy stuttering characters that’s supposed to be funny. So he says, well, well, the problem the problem was that happens while he’s throwing parties. And then somebody asks, well, what was wrong with that? And he says, well, well, a lot of time, a lot of the time, the party they were throwing was me. So what does that mean? They were throwing parties, but the party they were throwing was me. And he says they always throw me out the window. And then my my my girlfriend, she would always throw me back in. It became irksome. It’s a cute little passage. In any case. That’s one of those things, because back in nineteen forty five or six or whenever this was, there was still that notion that party was a cute way of referring to one person. There was a very popular song of the period goes back to the 20s. It’s called That Certain Party. And because this is probably completely opaque to many people who are not one hundred and seventeen, listen to this 1920s recording of a once very popular song popular into the fifties called That Certain Party. The composer is Walter Donaldson. The lyricist is Gus Kahn. This was a huge hit in nineteen twenty five.

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S5: Here goes you got all day. I don’t think you’ve got all that. Thank you. You know what I mean. All right. All along, you know I don’t know any of. From baby, that’s right.

S1: So you hear that that certain party that makes no sense unless you know that it means that certain one person that you saw and you know, the cute thing about party is it just for the record, party also was just a word for purr because it comes from the French Party. And so in all, the only English, one of the cutest things, if you’re going to call it cute, I hate to condescend to it, but they’re cute things about it is that part is often party. And so in fourteen ninety seven somebody talks about people who are beauteous in color of all parties of their bodies because that’s how people talk back then or actually in the Tindale Bible that this is 15. Twenty six. The veil of the temple was rent in two parties. What he means is two parts. So that’s how these things go. So party is the same thing. Party is a part of a group as in a bunch of people or party can be just one person is in that certain party, in the party, the first part, etc. So you never know how these things are going to go. Now, you know the story of company, the word is not over because we also have to remember that there are things that writing can do. So in writing company becomes abbreviated to SEO and then you can start saying SEO and we all know what it means to know English is to know what KO means. And so, you know, Petko, my girls now have these guinea pigs, noisy little things, especially when they’re flirting, they make this noise. Did you know that guinea pigs do that? They, of course, go. So they do the squeaking, but then also it’s this flirting mine are both supposed to be girls.

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S3: I don’t know where to put that maybe, you know, but there’s a lot of flirting going on in there. But in any case, I feed them from Petco. We all know what Petco is or what is it?

S1: What was bunco? Brannon’s Stimpy, the cartoon. And so the mock company Spokeo. And as we know what that means and Kawas, even a little joke, it means that the company is kind of faceless, kind of shoddy, kind of like Acme in the Roadrunner cartoons or Arko Arko. Remember Arco gas stations. I’m just old enough. Just old enough, of course, to remember the energy crisis. I remember lining up for gas at the Arco gas station and the way that they would get you the Atlantic Richfield Company ARCO the way they’d get you is that there was this arc, it was this plastic arc. You would buy the arc for a dollar and 10 cents. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. Then every time you came to the gas station, you would get a couple of animals, you would get a pair in a little bag. And my parents did that. And you know what? I still have the ark. I still have all the little animals. And, you know, once you line up the animals, it’s not the funnest toy. But I get all sentimental. I’m holding it now. I’ve got the Arco Ark. It’s right here.

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S6: Listen, that’s all the animals. I’m pouring them out on the desk that’s in front of me.

S1: Here they are. The animals have a smell. And I am picking up the ones that I know have that smell. I’m smelling one of the lions now. It’s that plastic smell from 1972. It’s a wonderful thing. It reminds me that childhood had a purpose in any case that’s based on COH. Anyway, I’ve got a little addendum for you. Remember the thing about wow for pain. Ruth Berman has given me an invaluable ex, for example, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That text has a little baby saying, wow, wow, wow, in pain. So that means that, yes, it’s true that one hundred and twenty five hundred and fifty years ago, owl could be. Wow. The way the verse goes is speak roughly to your little boy and beat him when he sneezes. And during that the baby jumps in and goes, wow, wow, wow. You know what? There was a musical of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in eighteen eighty six and the Brits have kept it going. I don’t know if they still do, but they have kept it going. Sometimes part of that panto pantomime tradition of theirs that seems so counterintuitive from this side of the pond. And there are many versions of this 1886 music and this is a 1972 film version. The Duchess is a drag act. This is part of this panto thing. And you can hear a little bit of the song, the point being that the baby doesn’t say ouch, ouch, ouch or allow, but it’s wow, wow, wow. Ruth Berman, I would never have known. I’ve also now learned about this is rare for me, a musical that I had never heard of and frankly never wish to hear from again. But here it is.

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S7: It can go by and beat him when he sees it. He only does it well tonight because he knows it. He did well.

S8: Well.

S7: I speak civilly to my boy and beat him when he is, or he can thoroughly enjoy the Pepo when he in. You may it political like I was going to get ready to play croquet anyway, we certainly cannot go out on that.

S1: We’ll come back to the company title song where the whole cast is doing their bit. This includes, by the way, for those of you who remember the sitcom Alice, one of the people back there as Beth Howland, who played Vera, you can kind of hear her. I enjoyed that when I got to know Sondheim later in life than you might think it was at the end of college. Veera was in company. Beth Howland. In any case, this is everybody singing. You might also catch Elaine Stritch showing off on.

S6: And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s about. You can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, that’s Lexicon Valley at Slate dot com, to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate Dotcom Lexicon Valley. You know, you need to try apricot jello. Yes, they sell it. For all I know, it’s got plutonium in it, but it always tastes like the top of a spray. Mark Mike Volo is, as always, the editor.

S9: And I am John McWhorter.

S1: While we’re on the subject of single words that actually turn out to be interesting enough that you can really expand them into a larger presentation. There’s a word that has similarly always intrigued me in that way. And it’s boring. And I’m not going to go on for a half hour plus. But bring is interesting. And why it’s interesting is this. Think about how in English we can say, go get that chair or come get this dinner. We can say go and get or come and get. But we can also say go get. And that’s the way you would write it. You really can just string come and go together with other verbs. That is something that a lot of languages can do a lot more. And so for example, you could say in many languages, take come the chair, and that would be the way that you would say bring the chair. There might not be a single word for bring you would say take the chair or you can say something like climb, rise, reach the top of the tree. And that’s the way in that language you would say to climb up to the top of the tree. You just string verbs together. It’s called serial verbs and their languages in the world that do that an awful lot. Many of them are African. Those of you who speak Chinese will recognize this way of putting things. European languages don’t tend to do it much, but there’s evidence that Proteau Indo-European that Ukraine language that I’m always referring to did it more. And brain is one of those things bring goes back to something that would have been roughly Bronk. OK, but Brink started out as two things Bear and ENC the bear route. And this is way back in in the Ukraine, the bear route meant to carry. And one way it comes down to English now is in bear a load to bear or something like that. Then it changed to fare in other languages and that’s the fur that we know as to transfer as into move something along, to suffer, to confer, et cetera. So that bear did all sorts of things. But in Proteau Indo European, it would have been just carry and then the ink meant to get there to reach and so bear and carry reach. And that was a way that you said bring you say baranca enough times together and you get brink. And we’re still pronouncing it boring. But that started out as two words. It started out as a serious verb. And as for the ink, that ink meaning to reach is the same route that also constitutes what we now know is enough, as in reaching sufficiency. Very interesting. You’d never expect it. And then ink in Greek has a whole other story where you go from the idea of reaching something, attaining something to the fact that that involves carrying something, that that is a responsibility. And so it ends up being something kind of like what to bear means. And ink in Greek has that meaning of a burden, a load, something that is to be attained, and then that changes to unk. And that is the unk in oncology. So when we say bring, that is the same sound except changed as the ink in oncology and all of the related words, all of that just a little boring. So it isn’t just that there was some word prank way back in Ukraine. There’s a whole other story. And that’s what I mean by language is all about change. You’d never know that Boring was two words smashed together and you really wouldn’t have to know. Nevertheless, it’s true. And of course, what’s true of bring the sort of thing that’s true of bring is true of so very many other words, that during our ordinary lives we just utter because that’s what we need to do. But every word has a story and the story is often very interesting. And we’re just speaking something that’s at the end of a very, very, very long timeline of the development of human language. So that’s our Slate plus segment for this episode.