Digging Up the Past

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. And what are we going to do this week? Well, you know what? I want to go back to the past or rather, I want to bring the past into our present. It’s time that we had a nice bull session on the past tense. It’s a very interesting subject.

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S3: And it plays into something that I’m asked a lot about English, which is our past forms and how so many people, quote unquote, get them wrong or you know what I’m gonna say, how squishy and variable they are, how in so many cases we can’t really say that there’s a right or wrong form. But yeah, we are all human beings. And, you know, to even my ear, sometimes what it sounds like is that somehow people don’t seem to quite get what the proper past forms are. It’s not about proper, it’s about flux, which is what language is all about. But it’s neat stuff. So let’s take a look at why it is that the past forms seem to be so squishy and how past really works in a language. So we need to have one language as our focus and I think not to be English. And so marking the past just in the vanilla essence, we’ve got two kinds of verbs. And traditionally they’re called strong and then weak verbs, kind of that voice actually, for the record. That’s how Eeyore laughs. I’m doing Winnie the Pooh with my girls at this point.

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S2: You have to have a voice for the characters and aliens.

S4: That’s your strong verbs and weak verbs.

S1: Now, the strong verbs are the irregular ones. So this is our world of Irun. But yesterday I ran. I see. But yesterday I saw, find, found, think, thought the ones where you have those changes that are unpredictable and you just kind of have to know. So you’ve got these strong verbs where the form changes in a way that you wouldn’t quite expect. You might wonder, well, why is it that it’s run ran? Why is it that you say, see, saw? That isn’t the way anybody would plan to mark the past if you sat under a tree and just started building the language from the ground up. And in fact, we’ve seen how things like that happen in terms of English. And this business of SI saw run ran. We can’t know exactly how it happened because no matter how far back you trace in terms of what ancestors of English are written, you find that really it was already there. And so you go back to old English, it was already there. And more you go back to the ancestor of English and all of its close relatives. Proteau Germanic. That can be reconstructed as already having that their ancient languages of the Indo European brood that I’m always talking about Sanskrit that’s already there, old person that’s already there. And so we can assume that in the big granddaddy language that would have been spoken in Ukraine, this proto-indo-european that I’m always talking about. That would have already been there. So we can’t know exactly.

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S3: But from watching this sort of thing happen in all kinds of languages all the time, we can know that what it would have been is that first you had, for example, something like run. And then the way that you said run in the past was to put some little bit on the end, some little bit of something that we’ll never know, whatever that bit was with something that made you change the way you said the other sound in anticipation. And so it’s this OLM loud thing that I was talking about a few shows back and so would have been run poop and whatever that poop was, it would be kind of like if your let’s say you’re in a Roadrunner cartoon and you’re the coyote and you’re walking towards the edge of the cliff cause you want to take a peek over even before you get to the edge of the cliff, you’re going to start walking on your heels and kind of looking upward and over. Then you get to the edge and you’re doing it, but you are already doing it back then. That kind of anticipation happens in language, too. And so it would have happened that it would’ve been something like run.

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S1: That would been at the end. And because you know that that as coming, you start sanggaran. And then the add drops off after a millennium or two. And next thing you know, you’re saying ran and that’s your past form for runs. So that’s how that would have happened. But then thank God we have our week as in our regular verbs. So you just put what we think of as E-D on the end.

S4: So walk walked. Good talk. Talk. Great march. Marched. Now those are interesting in that. Where did that e-d come from? Watson erd. How is that past? And that actually has a cute story because we can’t know for sure, but basically we know that that thing started as did.

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S2: And so at first it wasn’t walked. It was more like Walk Kid before we know that. And then before that, it would have been walk did say that enough. And you have just some Suffolk’s walk did walk. It walked, walked, walk. That’s how that would have happened. Now, for those of you who want to go into the weeds a little bit, that wouldn’t have happened in English. That would have happened way back in Proteau Germanic sometimes. And we surmise it, but almost certainly that is where the Ed came from. So talk did became taught and one way we know it is because it was pronounced as Ed regularly for a very long time. And it’s it’s interesting. One of those things, Jonathan Swift, we think of him as brilliant Gulliver’s Travels, et cetera. But he could be kind of a sniffy person. And he was running around 300 years ago. He was living through a time when e.D was going from being pronounced ed to our just do often today. Today, for example, think of blessed, you know, in these blessed, you know, whatevers. That’s an irregularity. But it used to be that all AEDs were pronounced that way. And Jonathan Swift is a grown man with so much else to think about. But he actually didn’t like that in his lifetime. People were starting to say not drugged, but drugged. Not you disturbed me, but disturbed, et cetera. And he actually says at one point, drugged, disturbed, rebuked fledged and a thousand others everywhere to be met. We form so jarring a sound and so difficult to utter that I’ve often wondered how it ever could obtain. That’s how he felt about it. Now, of course, as we moved along, as we moved along, we started pronouncing it the way we do. And he sounds kind of odd. That is what I keep around my neck on a chain like abstractly. I actually think of that as almost a physical object. That anecdote, whenever I quote unquote, don’t like something. And you know, I’m curmudgeonly, too. There are plenty of things I don’t like in this life. I think if I really emphasize this, then I become Jonathan Swift instead of John McWhorter. So it’s just something to always think about. But that is where the strong and the weak verbs come from. Now, what about us and our sense that people are running around messing them up? We are not unique. That has been a complaint leveled by many people for a very long time. For example, William Cobbett, he is a man who straddles the 18th and the 19th centuries. You think of him running around in the Jacksonian era. And he is a statesman and he’s a polymath. And he’s a pamphleteer and he’s something of a martinet. And he wrote this piece to his son. He wants his son to use the language well. And he’s tossing off all these opinions about how English should be spoken. And he’s useful because he was partly a British person, partly an American person. So this isn’t about region. This is just somebody speaking English, as it was known at the time. And his sense of what the proper past tense forms are come off as so eccentric to us. And yet let’s remember that he was positioning himself as a person of authority. He was getting this from tendencies that he heard apparently in his life. He did not like a WOAK, didn’t like built, didn’t like Delt thought fros was wrong, didn’t like Spatt, didn’t like swam, didn’t like wove to him. All of those are wrong. And he doesn’t want any son of his running around using those mistaken past forms. And you ask, well, what did he consider proper and more useful for that? Is Mr. Robert Hlophe and Robert Hlophe wrote a foundational description of English grammar, at least according to the way he wanted it to be, as somebody who liked mostly ancient languages and was almost the archbishop of Canterbury. He had his ideas about it. There’s no such thing as linguistics. So everybody listen to him. And it’s an interesting read today. But Robert Hlophe lived a long time ago. This is the late seventeen hundreds. And he’s advising as to what the best English should be. The idea is that now English is going to be a real language and people are going to write serious things in it. And if so, we need to tabulate how the language works, just like Latin was tabulated. And a lot of his ideas were based on a notion that English should be like Latin. But that’s another rant. Still, his past’s just to us are exotic. It’s like you’re in East Africa and you find a C.L.A camp when you go fishing, all sorts of things that he thinks are normal. And you’re just wondering, where am I? So for example, seethe. Hey, there’s a verb. What’s the past tense of it? Well, I would say seethed. If I was going to use that verb at all. But to him it was sad. Or sit. Now I have sit in that to him most normal talk about spit. She has spit in the paper he has spittin or for hold. You can’t do anything until you know what it’s like to have hold in public office. Not held, but hold on. Hi, Pake. Hi, baby. And then yesterday, I have bacon. That to him was quite normal. And the funniest thing is for him, the plural of chick was chicken. So for him, chicken meant two things. It was two or more chicks. So that is somebody who is a grammatical authority at the time. By the way. Chicken. I guess it’s time for a song cue. Listen to this. Justifiably forgotten pop tune from 1951, which I’ve always liked very much. This is the wonderful, sexy. People say that she may have been part black. And you can tell from the way she sang Sexy Dinah Shore. And once I said that and somebody said actually, she was Jewish, which, yes, is true. But that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t part black. She was. You can tell. Listen, this is her singing a wonderful song.

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S5: Shake me down to Nashville, Tennessee.

S6: You see your real home cooking. Why keep looking. Come with me.

S5: Tennessee going down to Nashville, Tennessee, again. They’re always ready to make you play Tennessee check billing.

S2: And I know some of you are wondering how do you know all those damn songs? And in this case, it’s not that I was collecting ancient shellac of insignificant songs like that. It’s always about the Looney Tunes. I got that from Sylvester and Tweedy very quickly. This is the cartoon foul weather from the early 50s. And it’s granny who I first heard singing this. And I want to know the rest of the song. Here she is.

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S7: Found the flux with these forms is absolutely amazing.

S8: And so, for example, talk about holding. I hold I held. Did you know that originally it was I held in the present. So right now, if you look, you’ll see that I held a present for you, my little darling, right now. And hold was the past. And so yesterday I hold seven of them. I can barely get this out. Yesterday I hold seven of them. But right now, I held four.

S2: That’s how it went. And it just switched. And so here we are. And we say I hold in the past is held and we can’t imagine it any other way. H.L. Mencken did all sorts of things. He wrote journalism, smoked a lot of cigars, likes to call men son of a bitch. There were all sorts of things about H.L. Mencken, but he was also quite the linguist of a sort. And he did foundational work on the American language, as he phrased it. And he reported all sorts of past forms that perfectly normal people were using in the United States when grouchy grammar pussies weren’t looking. For example, the past tense of Klein being Klum and shaking today. But then yesterday, I SCHUCH and I drove a car, just all sorts of them that most of us probably would never use. Many of us might remember, you know, older relatives using them or some of us might actually use them, you know, on rainy nights in the dark when we don’t think anybody’s listening. But these things have always been squishy or here’s one. Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and you think fit. Why isn’t it Ford? What’s fit? Who says that? Well, actually, a lot of people have, and it actually makes sense. Think about it.

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S4: BYT bit light lit fight fit human brains, seek out patterns, human humans seek out patterns.

S2: And so in your mind, if it’s bit and it’s lit, then shouldn’t fight be fit instead of faught, which makes no real sense at all. Fight. Fit. Joshua fit the battle of Jericho. If you think about it in a way, it should be that. So you’ve always got these pass forms just kind of sloshing around. Only in the late eighteen hundreds does snuck as the past tense of sneak start making it into dictionaries. And it’s one of those things I think even now. Sneek great verb. What’s the past tense of it snuck OK. And that’s what most of us would say today, but it always feels a little dirty snuck. You feel like there’s something jokey about it, you feel like it’s vaguely wrong. But then what’s right? Sneaked. Sneaked to me at least sounds a little persnickety, a little proper. And there’s a representative number of other people who would feel the same way. Sneaked, seems a little snooty, snuck, smells like sneakers. What really is it? It’s been switching. It used to be sneaked categorically and then snuck came in. And here we are. It’s the sort of thing that you can see all the time. Here’s an example. Planet of the Apes, the first movie there is one where, wow, the reputation is as if it was The Matrix. And I can see how people would have processed it that way at the time. But goodness, I think that what holds up I remember kids with Planet the Apes lunchboxes when I was a kid, I didn’t get it then. People would play Planet of the Apes. Of course, it was just the usual cops and robbers were basically the apes would know chase down the non apes and push them into the dirt, but never understood it in any case. Let’s listen to a little bit of Planet of the Apes and let’s listen to the sneak business. You are right.

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S9: They took me by surprise, sneaked up on me while I was feeding the horses.

S2: What’s happened to honor? See, to me, that person is supposed to say Sanuk, especially with that. Youthful voice, but no, this was 50 years ago and so sneaks was more common then than it is now or just this week as I’m recording, The New York Times had a minor headline about a discovery that Neanderthals dived for things.

S3: They dived and I thought to myself, do right because that’s another one that’s been switching since the 20th century. Neanderthals dived. I would say the Neanderthals drove myself or here’s something in my mind and maybe some of you feel this way dived if you’re going to use it sounds like something that happened over and over again. It’s habitual. So maybe Neanderthals dive throughout their lives and throughout their reign as a species. But then at that moment, I drove off the cliff and went into the water. It seems to me that it would be all summer we dived and dived and dive until the day that I dove into the water and chipped a tooth on the bottom of the pool or something like that. And if that were true, if that’s the way the language came to work, it would be a complication. So notice that if we’re finding things like fight becoming fit instead of having its own special form, so that’s ironing things out.

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S2: But then a language is always getting complicated along other tracks. And so suppose it became that dived is for ongoing things and then drove is at just that second. And you kept doing that. And so next thing you knew, you had things like fighted and that’s like an ongoing battle fought is when somebody just gets socked at one particular moment. Languages can work that way with English, but I guess it just wasn’t allowed. All of this stuff is about change. It’s about how language moves along. So what we process as mess here in the present tense is very often where the language is going. When people say language is dynamic, if you think about it, dynamic can be used to mean almost anything. Dynamic can mean the way potato salad smells. Language is dynamic partly in that there is always instability, there always alternate forms, and often that’s because the language is deciding to go in a direction different than the one that had been going in before. So, for example, I remember good while ago hearing someone say, well, the problem was yesterday there are all these mosquitoes. And she got bit.

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S8: She got bit. This was a white person of a very colloquial bent. And I remember I had never heard anybody say got bit, but I thought to myself, okay, that I can imagine that would be what somebody would say. And it kind of struck me because it was a setting where standard English had a certain dominance. And I was just it stuck out. He got bit. But actually that he got bit is part of a pattern. If you listen to a lot of colloquial American English and this includes black English, but this is also white Southern, this is also proletarian white north eastern. You notice that something’s happening, which is that with verbs that have a present form, a passed form and a participle form, the participle is dropping away and leaving just the past form used as the past and the participle, it’s becoming a new system. And so si saw scene.

S1: I remember after Robin Williams passed away, I was in a green room and I heard act. It was a very famous person.

S3: I’m not going to say who it was, who was in the chair, and the person was telling their friends, if only Robin Williams could have saw how much people liked him. And this was a very standard speaker. But things were getting a little colloquial and this person said that could have Saúl. So not could have seen break broke, broken. Well, you shouldn’t have done broke it. I’ve heard that a million times. Fall, fell, fallen. He didn’t know she had fell. It’s something if you think about it, somebody would say, is it quote unquote, proper? Doesn’t matter. The point is people say it all the time or I don’t like being took from behind. So take took, taken. I don’t like being took from behind. That’s almost the way you would expect it to be said by many people. My God, I don’t mean that that was not intentional.

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S2: That that sentence it it was a completely different context. Mike, keep this in because the sentence is just too good. There are all sorts of reasons somebody might say that. And it has nothing to the the point being taken for. That’s not the way you would put it took in many settings. That is what the person would say. The truth is you can almost make this a new grammar scene and and been are exceptions. Somebody might say he could have saw, but more often probably could have seen seen for some reason kind of sticks. And so does Ben. There’s a song in the musical Chicago that illustrates this perfectly. This is the cell block tango. And just listen to the the main lyric comment. Same way. This sort of squishiness is just perfectly normal. I’ll give you one that I have.

S10: I buy. I bought. I bring. I brought.

S2: I’m squinting in giving you that data, because in my mind, really, it’s I buy, I bought I bring I bought that chair across the room. I say that very spontaneously. And it sounds great to me if I’m feeling especially spontaneous, being very deliberately spontaneous. It sounds great to me to say I brought it at the store for $7. My mother used to hate that she was always correcting me, but in my English, bought and brought are collapsing, as we linguist’s put it. It sounds perfectly right to me. And if I were a person of true influence and people were gonna start talking like me, maybe that collapse would actually happen. That is just the way it goes. We linguist call this sort of thing not in an individual, but among a whole population. We call it variation. And for linguists, the term variation, there’s a kind of a sexy for song. It’s kind of a hot topic. It’s like nowadays in certain settings. When you say epigenetics notice, do you feel that little tingle? I’ll say it again, epigenetics. See, it’s that big thing nowadays. Twenty years ago, it was fuzzy categories. If you said fuzzy categories, then you could see people’s wine with jiggle a little bit. Variation is like that. In linguistics we like variation, partly because it’s dynamic, but partly because variation is often the beginning of language changing. But you know, the language doesn’t get to change. There’s always the sense that this stuff is mistakes because we live in a context with high literacy. We live in a highly print saturated society. And so these things will be said by people when we’re just using language as a mouthful of air. And H.L. Mencken might record it or I might do something when I’m drinking wine in my living room. But the standard language will tend to stay the way it is. Most of the things that I’m talking about are not gonna make it onto the pages of The New York Times anytime soon. So that just means that there is high language and low language. If you don’t want those value laden terms, there’s the formal language and then there’s the real world won’t put it that way. The informal language. And we just happen to toggle between those two poles. But wow, it would be fun if the language could just do what it does in English, could become some different language because it’s just so dynamic. And actually the song queue for this is one of my favorite songs ever. I don’t know what I like so much about this song, but it just gives me a profound happiness. Steve Allen, the old talk show host, wrote this song and it was very popular for a little while. This is called. This could be the start of something big. It just makes me happy. The singers are Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme Mae, and they do it perfectly at a perfect point in time. Love the song. Here it is.

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S11: All along the street or at a party or else you’re alone and you suddenly. Yarmuk and I do certainly agree that this could be the start of something big. You are watching your diet. She is accepting of this guy and this could be the start of some. Controlling my friend, who knows what.

S12: But when you discover, locate my friend, invite her.

S8: Oh, by the way, do you want to know what Labor has to do with having an orgy? Well, you do not know unless you subscribe to Slate plus and Slate Plus is a matter of getting a nice little tag like from the 70s sitcom a tag at the end of your podcast episode where you get extra information, sometimes extra songs, extra salty anecdotes, etc.. And what’s more, you don’t have to listen to any ads. Not me doing them. Not anybody else doing them. So no ads. You get a little tag, you can get all that and more for a nominal fee. And yeah, this is this is mercenary, but it pays not only for my podcast, but for all of Slate’s podcasts. And the idea is to learn extra bits of things. So having an RPG want to know how labor is gonna be involved. You can only find out if you subscribe to Slate plus the past. Let’s pull the camera back a little bit and get a sense of how the past works in some other contexts. For example, the perfect. So Elvis has left the building. I know what I have seen. So you can’t tell me anything.

S3: Or she’s been here since 1962. She has been here since 1962. That’s different from. She was here. She has been here. She was here. Elvis has left the building. Elvis left the building. Notice Elvis left the building. That could have been in 1762. If it’s Elvis has left the building, then his leaving and it’s reprecussions are still there. It’s a past that still echoes into the present. I’ve seen these sorts of things since I was a child. It implies that you’re still seeing them that perfect. That feels so natural to any English speaker. But you know, that’s actually kind of a euro fetish if you’re learning a language. Chances are if it has something just like that, it’s gonna be one of the grand old what we call standard average European languages. The further you get away from the Asian peninsula known as Europe, the less likely you’re gonna have a perfect in just that sense. It’s one of those things where fish don’t know they’re wet. They’re things and European languages that seem so normal that actually, as languages go, are as odd as many of the who’d have thunk it, things that I’m always showing you in other languages around the world. You know, another one of those things is to have a verb for having. I have a box. What are you doing to it? You know it in many languages.

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S8: The way that you would say that is that there is a box to me or in some languages you’ll say just I box. But the idea saying I possess in my hand, I hold a box.

S2: It is something called having that is not universal. Europe likes that an awful lot compared to a lot of languages elsewhere in the world. In any case, the perfect is one of those things. You know what else the perfect is? The perfect is a particular flavor of Jell-O called Peach. I hadn’t mentioned it lately. Please go buy some. If anything, make some sort of sculpture out of it and let it harden by it so that they won’t take it off the market like they do almost every peculiar product that I enjoy. If I can’t have Frankin Berry, I really need my peach jello. Available at your friendly grocers today. Other languages can have many more past tenses than we’re used to. We figure well, we’re a refined language because for one thing, we can put it in the past. And then while we’ve got this refinement of the perfect and so we can get across any nuance, not our language is like a silverware drawer falling down the steps compared to a lot of languages in particular of Africa. Who’d have thunk it? And so, for example, let’s go to Cameroon. OK, here we are dressed lightly. And here, what are they speaking? bommel AK. That sounds like music. Yes, but it’s the name of a language bama like-I. And if you’re learning how to do the past Imbonerakure, you’ve got a lot to learn because you have fine shades. There’s one marker that indicates that something happened just now. Here’s another one that indicates that something happened earlier today. Then there’s another one that indicates that something happened yesterday. Then there’s one that indicates that it happened a while ago, like last month. And then there’s another one that indicates that something happened before God was born. And so a good long time ago. And that in Africa is actually quite a common way of doing things. You’ve got lots of past tenses and future tenses. Our sense that, well, there’s the past and there’s a future and the past. Perfect. And know that that’s very coarse in comparison to the way it goes in many languages that cluster around the equator and down below in Africa.

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S3: Or think about this. Well, when I go to San Francisco, I dread getting caught in traffic on 1 0 1. Well, when I went to San Francisco, I got caught. It went wise and it gode what’s went well?

S2: Something that we call supportive in linguistics, and that is that that form is just completely separate and go is a train wreck and English just like the verb to be actually went. Is that verb that we use very little otherwise. Wende I wended my way through the forest to grandmother’s house or something like that, so go and whent come from different roots. But we generally can tell that our verb forms are related. So think thought. Well, at least you begins with t-h. But there are languages where that sort of complete transformation from tense to tense and a verb is just normal and there’s so much that you have to know. There are languages that are truly pitiless in terms of what they impose on the human memory. There’s a language spoken in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is like, you know, Texas and then some in terms of landmass. And yet, depending on how you count it, there are certainly 600 different languages spoken on that island, that whole island of New Guinea, the part that belongs to Indonesia and the part that’s an independent nation, left side and the right side leads 600, depending on what you call a language. A hundred languages, one of the hundreds is called a la block.

S4: And talk about going go in a large block. Is Keet okay? WILLgo is reha. You just have to know. Went earlier today is uefi. So go vanilla qite went earlier today. uefi not related at all. You went yesterday. It’s just e so yesterday.

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S13: E if it was long ago. Ye So none of this just makes any sense, so to speak.

S2: A large block is to know that with the verb go you have to know that it’s key. Reha uefi or ye depending on just when. And it’s not only with go, it’s with lots of verbs that you have that much difference. By the way, you want some terminology that you can pop out at. A party has sternal and Hodierne all het sternal is what you call a form that means yesterday if you’re contrasting it with Hodierne all which means that it happened earlier today. There’s a term for that. It’s called Hoti Arnell. And then that means that if you’re talking that yesterday, then it’s head sternal pop that out at a party and watch how quickly people can move. In any case, you know, we’re at the point where I’ve just got to give you something about yesterday. Think of yesterday in the film of yesterday. Get the transition. You ought to see a very interesting Western musical from the mid-50’s called Red Garters. And the reason you should see it is because it’s an early attempt at camp. It’s an early attempt even at satire in the sense of Mad magazine or Saturday Night Live or Parks and Recreation. They’re trying and they don’t quite get it. But it’s an abstract musical Western with wonderful songs. And one of them is just called Lady Killer. It’s got very abstract sets and the people are dancing around singing this song for no reason at all. This is Lady Killer and I just like it here. You some more. They say they call. That is by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. They wrote every song in the world. They wrote Mona Lisa. They wrote Case Across Iraq. They wrote Superbowls. And they wrote that lady killer. They also wrote this. Listen.

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S14: No more passing. Oh, Lord.

S2: Some notes I’ve gotten Jordan, Mattel Ski. Thank you for this recesses, I said that nobody says recesses. I was wrong. I said that nobody would use recesses because we don’t really talk about recess very much and they never occur in the plural. Not true. I am told that in a situation where people were going through a court case and there are, of course, recesses, that’s somewhere where people will talk about recesses in the plural. It is an abstraction. And wouldn’t you know, the judge apparently referred more than once to recesses rather than recesses. Just what you would expect. I lacked imagination. For me, recess was only about monkey bars and people doing things that I didn’t enjoy doing. Thank you for that. And also something that’s just kind of fun. I talked about serial verbs, not snap, crackle, pop, but verbs in a series. And I talked about how that tends to be around the equator. For some reason, not always, because when you are in the Netherlands, it is not topical at all. And yet I was sent and I regret that I have lost the name of the person who sent it. But I was sent a wonderful Dutch sentence that strings verbs together like anybody’s business.

S13: This is how you might say I would like to have seen you have dared to keep sitting and watching. I’d like to have seen you have dared to keep sitting and watching. That’s it. Give you well, anes villainizing have been driven Lavon’s it and taken.

S2: So seven of them all in a row. I pronounce it wrong. I’m going to pronounce it a little less wrong.

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S13: It gave you, well, painesville zen head. But I do have blay visit to Kacher set better.

S4: Dutch speaking people hope so. We’re gonna go out on something just beautiful.

S15: Some things are just beautiful. Art Tatum playing the piano is just beautiful. This man was mostly blind. This man wasn’t. This is not a slur. This is not scuttlebutt. He drank a lot and he liked it that way. He was usually drunk when he played, including when he recorded. And yet here is Lullaby in Rhythm. This is one of my favorite cuts of music in the world. This is him playing that this is just talk about before God was born. This cut indicates that at least on some level, God seems to have been because. Just listen. Play. Goodness gracious. That is my favorite piano playing in the whole world. In any case, you can reach us at Lexicon Valley at Slate.com, that’s Lexicon Valley at Slate.com to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to slate.com, slash Lexicon Valley. And I beg your patients, you just listen to him. That’s a human being playing it anyway. Mike volo is, as always, the editor and I am somebody who will never play the piano, anything like that. John McWhorter.

S4: You know where work comes from, nowhere very interesting in itself. If you trace that back to this grand daddy language in Ukraine, we can know that there was a verb that was where’d even sounded kind of like work where. And it meant do so, not exactly work, not toil, but do where. But what’s interesting about little where’d is all the directions that it went? And it ends up linking all of these words that you would never think had any kind of relationship. And so where it comes down to us is work. But the game of telephone is different in each direction. So where’d that ws? Just dying to drop off. It might stay. It did for us, but in many places it drops off. And so just egg and Greek gets it that way. And next thing you know, you have ergonomics. So the urg and ergonomics is our work. It’s like work nomics. But then the word energy that’s from Greek too. And originally it was an air go an hour ago. So it was in work because in Greek the original meaning of energy as in in work was actual. So energy meant actuality reality as in it was in work as opposed to in the abstract in the ether. The meaning changed to our functioning, but in air go. And so that means that when we say energy, well, the earth’s arch in the middle is work. It’s as if we said quirky. But we would never think of it that way. This one is my favorite, George. Think of how George is spelled gay and then egg is how it actually started. Gay Earth and then air work. Earth work. George was an earth worker. George was a husband. A George worked the land. And after a while, George just became a name. But when you say George, in a way you’re saying George too. That actually is the root lethargy. Lafe is forgetfulness and then Lethe and then are we are air ghosts are is without agnostic or asexual or whatever. Well, air goes means without work. So lethargy is forgetfulness without work. Letha goes lethargy. That’s what that is. And then it’s also air go can become or go and orgo is where Orji comes from because it depends on what you call work. But Orji has the same root as work. It’s kind of like worki. That’s what Orji is. And while we’re at it, old English has this wear thing as we tica it was we tica. Now if you changed that a little bit weeka becames weird. And that meant workor it to comes down to us as right as in W R I G H T.

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S3: We don’t use that by itself anymore. But think about playwrite now you naturally think I honestly had never thought about this until about six years ago because nobody had ever pointed it out but playwrite. You think to yourself what it must be that somebody wrote the plays and that right is being spelled in a strange way. But then what about we’ll write a we’ll write is not somebody who writes about Wheelz A we’ll write is somebody who writes who rorts, who creates Wheelz. And so a playwright is somebody who creates plays and that comes from this same where’d which meant to do so. proto-indo-european studies. It can seem a rather idle pursuit, although I actually wanted to be a Proteau into Europeanist for about ten minutes when I first started out. But one, the idleness is vastly overstated. And two, it can be a lot of fun because one root in proto-indo-european can go in so many fascinating directions and it teaches you the role of serendipity in frankly everything that we hold dear. So that’s your slate plus lesson for this week work and Orji Close Relatives.