Forgetting Your Roots

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language and.

S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter and we’re going to start out this time with a recording of me and my youngest daughter.

S3: And over the holidays, you catch up on things like teaching your children to read. And so here I am with Vanessa and we’re reading the grand old hop on Pop and listen to something that happens somewhere in about the middle.

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S1: All right. Hop on, pop here. Where are we? OK, Mr. Brown, read read this slowly, Brown, and look at the picture of Mr. Brown upside down.

S4: OK, so we’re going to go slowly. So look at this.

S5: Read this word upside down. Hmm. Larry fourplex.

S4: You mean the two words upside and down? Because really, it’s just a word. It’s upside down. That’s really all it is. But you write it upside down because people used to say, well, there he is with his upside down. But that was a long time ago. So, yeah, that’s just it’s bad upside down. So do it again.

S3: Upside down. And where’s the Dow? That’s right, so it’s upside down, but what we say, it’s upside down now, you’re going to have to listen through the rest of this to find out why that exchange between me and Nessa mattered. But the theme of this episode is figuring out where words come from beyond what I have seemed to imply in a lot of these shows. And I’m basing this on feedback I get from a lot of you. I think that these days, especially with linguistics being in podcasts and being in your ears all the time, it’s really getting through to the public. That language always changes. That lesson is penetrating in a way that it had not until relatively recently. But in terms of how language changes, you might quite justifiably think that the main thing that happens is simplification. That sounds are always falling off. Maybe they’re changing, but often they’re just falling off. And there’s this idea that languages get simpler over time. And you know what? That’s not true. It is not a natural process for a language to keep getting easier than it was. And I did a show about this way back in about nineteen forty eight, but most of you didn’t hear that one. And this is a lesson that bears revisiting with a different approach than the one that I did then. But the important thing is to realize that that business that you’re told that languages get simpler over time is not true. Language is both simplify and complexity at the same time. And the normal situation is that the two things balance each other out. But that means you might want to know where do you get new words? How does material build or transform so that you have something new rather than just sounds falling off of things and everything getting shorter? How we get new words is often from bits of language combining that were separate before. So you get combinations of things that after a while become not combinations of two discrete things, but a single one new thing. Let’s take three words. Recount, overlook and understand those three words. Now there’s counting and if you count something again, you recount. So that’s a combination of read and count. Now, recount is technically a different word from count, but you could also just think of it as count where something’s been done to it to indicate that it happens more than once. Recount big. OK, now overlook. Overlook might mean that you are looking over and path something, but notice that isn’t what you first thought when I say overlook. You don’t think about somebody looking over a wall. You don’t think about being in a little hotel in Germany and your room overlooks the garden or something like that. You think of neglecting something, of skipping something. That’s the idiomatic meaning that’s come in so we can understand how to look over metaphorically refers to something like missing that you didn’t bring the eggs back from the supermarket or something like that. But still, it’s a little bit new overlook as a new overlook that you didn’t bring the eggs back. That’s a newish word. It’s not looking over a wall, in which case you could think of it as just something being done to the word. Look, it’s a different thing. Or if that’s an in between case, understand isn’t so we all know what I understand means. But you’re not standing under anything. And even linguists, entomologists have no idea exactly how it came to be that understand referred to comprehension. It’s just one of those things. So that means that when we say understand, it’s not the word stand where some underneath has been done to it understand is a whole new word. Even if we can hear that at some point back at the dawn of time, it started as a combination of wondering and standing just a new word. So that is one way that you get new words when two things come together, but then the meaning that they connote drift so far from what the original meanings of the two things are, that really you have some single new thing. So while sounds are dropping off all over the place and Latin’s, Augustus is becoming Frenches. And for those of you who have pointed out some things about that with me, we will get to that later. But Augustin’s to you, that’s one thing that’s happening without a doubt. But then in the meantime, under and stand are coming together to create understand which even though it sounds like it’s under and stand, is really just a chunk of time. That’s all it is. It’s a brand new word and English is full of things like this that you don’t necessarily think of as being that because of the arbitrariness of how we write things when we talk about word, what we really mean is a form matched to a meaning. And that might not always be what is one thing on the page. And so, for example, to make up after a fight, now it’s make and it’s up now, I could try to be cute and say, what is it about making? And then the verticality of up that creates something like to make up as in to reconcile after an argument. But actually it’s a different up. It’s what we call the completive up. If you’re going to fry up some eggs, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to toss the eggs like pizza. It means that you’re going to get them fried. You’re going to complete the action here. I’ve got the eggs all fried up. Well, that’s the up that’s involved in making up as in reconciling, but still notice make. Why is it making there all sorts of things you can make? A reconciliation would seem to be one of a great many and certainly not what your first, second or third or fourth guess would be. And then up it’s going to be complete. You’re frying up some eggs, OK? You’ve got them all fried up. But do you have a reconciliation all knitted up? No, it’s very, very random at this point. And so that means that when we talk about making up after an argument, that’s a new word. Technically, it’s two chunks. And maybe what we see on the page is what we’re going to call words. But it’s a whole new label that started out as two things coming together, which themselves meant something very different. And of course, this isn’t only about English. This is not the story of how interesting and quirky the English language is. This is something that happens in all languages. This is one of the ways that you get new words other than sound dropping off of things, other than sounds changing, other than somebody inventing something new. So Russian throws things like this at you. So Kazaks to show I’m going to show you something Nare means on. OK, what does not Kazaks mean to punish. So I’m going to show it on you to set it, give somebody a whipping. I don’t know. It started somehow, probably somewhere where there was snow we will never know. But it’s one of these things where a new word, this showing on that means to punish such that a Russian person doesn’t really even think about it starts out from what was originally upon. And to show I’ll show it upon you a little, Igor, but we wouldn’t have expected that. Or eyeteeth to go na on upon. I’m going to go on it that in Russian means to find and so night I’m going to find it. I found it. So you go on something different, and I guess when you find something, you’re you’re going on it, but going on could mean all sorts of things and it’s not what you would expect. It’s really quite random now. So if a Russian tells you how to say they found something, they’re using something that began as going upon. And so new words come from old ones coming together and creating something completely different or switching from Russian to Chinese. I always tell my students, if you want to know what every language in the world is like very, very approximately, then if you’re starting from English, then take a look at Russian, then take a look at Chinese, take a look at the language that’s all full of prefixes and suffixes that don’t make any sense. And then take a look at the language that smacks you in the face with the tones and being sometimes maddeningly telegraphic about things that European languages are maddeningly anal about. In any case, with, for example, Mandarin, you’re not dealing with prefixes and suffixes when it comes to this sort of thing, because it’s a language that doesn’t like those. But this business of two things coming together and creating something brand new is something that’s typical in all languages. Languages always find out a way to do it. So, for example, a movie in Mandarin Yingying, that’s Electric Shadow, that’s pretty. And you can imagine how somebody came up with that probably about 100 years ago. It’s an electric shadow and so it’s a yang. That’s fine. You combine those if you ask a speaker of Mandarin about word combinations, that’s the sort of thing that comes up. But then, you know, one word for influence is of all things you’ll say, well, you know, OK, that’s left, right, left, right. That’s influence. You can imagine how that idiom might have come along. But then again, it’s certainly an idiom you would never expect that it’s two things left and right coming together to mean not something like willy nilly or everywhere or your hands or something like that, but it means influence. That’s just weird. And so that’s the sort of thing that happens in a language like Mandarin. What this means is that new words come along when two things combine. And in real life, this teaches a certain lesson, and that is that sometimes we can get almost irritated at how terms seem to mean something different from what the words mean. And you find yourself almost bedazzle trying to figure out what people mean by certain things over time. But what that is, is the quote unquote understand process happening in real life and it’s inevitable. And so to pick something affirmative action now to be an American person is to probably know what that refers to. It’s a policy that has to do with adjusting to discrimination and race based disparities in the past. Affirmative action. But think about the two words, affirmative and action. OK, first of all, what kind of action? And in terms of what affirmative action consists of, what we usually think of it as actions, that’s very abstract. It seems almost hands off in a way, then. Affirmative. Well, what are you affirming? And if asked, we can come up with what’s being affirmed. But it’s a very artful way of expressing what affirmative action actually is these days. And the truth is that it was created as a term of art. But also a lot of social history has happened since affirmative action was instituted in the 1960s. And it means that there’s kind of an understand make up issue there. Affirmative action came together, but they now refer to something that is quite different from what you would expect from those words independently. So there is a new concept that is coming from the label in question. The label has these two pieces. The concept, it’s a new word. Affirmative action is a new chunk in that way or another one that you don’t really think about. Social work, social. Now we know what a social worker is, but what’s the social part? Because, you know, last time I checked, social has to do with human beings interacting. If that’s what social is, then why is a social worker, somebody who’s assigned to do the things that social workers do? That’s a very different sort of thing, just that word social. So, for example, think about what a society is in Plato and Aristotle. They are thinking about society and the first thing they think about is despotism. Who’s running the society? Is the society stable? Is it going to fall apart because of the depredations of tyranny, et cetera? That to them is a society to us. We think of society and a. Lately, we think probably of the people in the society who are in need and how that’s alleviated, we think about power relations, think about social, that’s our first thought social worker. Therefore, that’s very different from what social originated does, and that has nothing to do with value. It’s not that something went wrong. It’s that there are always the understands and the duo used. That’s just how language works. And so that’s why you say that. I remember once just randomly hearing somebody say to someone else, I’m working at a social agency. And I remember thinking at the time, that’s interesting that I immediately know what social means there as an English speaker, but that’s not what social originally meant, or even agency. That’s an agency agent. What this is exactly how words always work, but a lot of it is kind of random. So think about a social worker, a social worker. If you roll the dice again, that could be somebody who, you know, Procter’s during an epidemic. I hate to say a social worker could be an entertainment coordinator. You could think of it as being that like a social director on a cruise ship or in a nineteen fifty one musical comedy about adults in the Catskills at a summer camp for grown ups. Yes, there was such a thing. And yes, the social director did have a song. Yes, it was sung by Sidney Armus and wish you were here and yeah, I like it. And so let’s hear one of my favorite songs from which you were here, because it’s time for a song. You and I want something kind of up, although in a minor key.

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S6: Have I got a story? It’s tragic and sad about a certain character, a promising young man, just the type of fella that makes our country hum. He might have been our president. So what did he become? What did he become? A social director, social director up there at Camp Free, your social director? Someone should have told him not to be so dumb off officially. Goodbye, Charlie. He has become a social director.

S7: Now. Yes, I guess so, and she’s got to go.

S3: So the understand business and this takes us to a related aspect of how you get new words, I’m always talking about how things are dropping off, but how do you get the new stuff? Well, one way that you get the new stuff is that something that once had a meaning doesn’t just fold in to create a brand new word where neither of the two parts has a meaning, but instead is just one part that kind of dies and ends up being meaningless. And as a result, you know what one of the parts still means. But the other part is just it’s it’s like this graft that didn’t take I’ve talked about these on the show before, but just by way of review, there’s something called Cranbury Morphemes in English, and that is, say, Cranbury, what’s the Quran? They’re theories, but God knows. And really we just say Cranbury, we know that it refers to that strange little burek Quran. Barry morpheme. What’s a Quran? We don’t know. We know that it’s a specific kind of very you know what Bery means. It’s not like understand where it’s not about sundering and it’s not about standing. Discuss it’s a very. But the Quran is just dead or the pretty concept of Twilight. I love Twilight. Actually, no. Actually my favorite time of day is right before that. I get very touched that, you know, if you’re in the middle of the year and it’s around four thirty quarter or five, I like that light. In any case, Twilight, what’s Twi? And if you look at it, especially with the spelling of the word two, you can get a sense that maybe Twi has something to do with half and nobody’s exactly sure how it happened. But it it’s just it’s just twi. And if you know what Twilight is, you hear the Twi and you think of, you know, whatever that feeling is, you get as the day has passed, the long shadowed stage and, you know, night is coming. Twi is a Cranbury morpheme. You know, it has to do with lt. Lt is fine, but the Twi is dead. And the thing about Cranbury morphemes is that it’s not only these little pieces that are completely dead, but ones that are in kind of a zombie phase. And so, for example, think about these three verbs. Withhold, withdraw, withstand. Now if you think about all three of those, then you figure that this this with thing. So it’s not just Cranbury where you don’t have crann anything else except actually in branding, you know, ocean spray has this crann mango and the Quran mango. They have a diet kind that only has a teeny tiny bit of sugar and yet actually still tastes good. I highly recommend crann mango. I’ve been making non-alcoholic cocktails for my girls with Crann Mango and sometimes I’ll just grab a few swigs of Crann Mango just by myself and without alcohol. But in any case that’s later in the game. We don’t talk about crann anything else for real, but then again, withhold withdrawal. Wetstone seems like we’ve got some sort of prefix. So it’s like recount or overlook. But yeah, if you think about it, what, what does the with mean. So withhold. And you’re thinking that with has to do with association like Jimmy, with Bill or something like that and so with hold. And so maybe it’s holding it close to you. OK, but withstand I’m going to defend myself against Jimmy. I’m going to with stand. So are you standing in association with nothing else in association with yourself. No, not really. So withhold and withdraw. It has something to do with pulling inward you’re thinking. But then withstand seems to be pushing outward really there. There’s no meaning at all. And actually this with is not the width that we’re used to about Billy with gin that with didn’t exist when these words emerge. Englishes with then was mid actually. So you have this with it just doesn’t mean anything. If you want to kind of wrap your head around what it seems to mean based on what it used to mean, it has to do with opposition, sort of. But really at this point it’s gone. For example, you can’t create new words with with you can talk about I will withstand your abuse, but you can’t say I with tolerate you now you’re not. Nor would anybody say how can I with Yankee privilege. You can’t with you you can’t take away with yanking really withhold, withdraw and withstand. They are not really hold and draw and stand with a piece of something on them because we don’t know what the piece of something means. They are new words just like understand is the stand in the draw on the hold are more vivid than in understand, but the width is just hopeless. And actually with with hold we have to use the classic scene from what I think is the third episode of Arrested Development with Lucille withholding the candy bar because she’s angry that her children have said that she gets off on withholding.

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S8: I’m a little shaken up, but we’re here to work, Michael. Mom, what are you doing here? Oh, hello, buster. Here’s a candy bar. Oh, no, I’m withholding it. Look at me getting off.

S3: I love that. And then it turns out that the camera pulls out in front of a board meeting. In any case, those are things that happen. Or, for example, I ask a German, I’m sure they’re sitting around waiting to be asked these sorts of things, ask a German what fair means. They’ve got this prefix that really kind of fucks you up when you’re trying to learn their language. So for hunting Yarkon Hunt, Yarkon, OK to chase away failure again, to chase it with jargon so fair means away at least often. OK, but ask a German, what does that mean? And then ask them about other fairs that kind of get in your way and so them that’s to die fishtailed them. But what does this album mean? Does it mean to, to die away like somebody kind of runs away in the process of expiring. No Dawesville Stellman mean that you’re killing off some deer or something so that you’re making them die. Oh, it’s just such a forced meaning. First album means basically from my sense of it, it’s the way that you say pass away, just like in English. We don’t really talk about, well, he died. If you’re going to put any finesse on it. You say somebody passed away just as obligatorily as you say you’re going to head out rather than that you’re going to leave, you soften it with that. So first album. So his uncle died not long ago. His own uncle is currently Stallmann. So Pfeil Storeman not just dead, but fair dead basically. Or it seems to have to do with dying of something. And so recently dead uncle. He is fair. Dead, not just dead. What’s what’s that. Or to take something is to and something neman to take. That’s my German voice. It’s kind of like the Hebrew voice but different Hebrews is a deep voice but it’s more resonant. Germans is more precise of course and so name. And that is to take and then to perceive it’s failed them. So you take something and then you take something and that’s to perceive now whatever that nuance is, is that the same thing as the dying in the pharaoh? Dying, dying often? No, it’s just different. And so it’s this thing where in Germany they are often has a meaning, but as often as not, you just kind of have to know it’s become just this bit of stuff. They can do all sorts of things depending on what word it is. And so you have these new words and so perceive them. It’s not about doing something to the taking because that’s too idiomatic. You’ve got this new thing. So in German, sounds are dropping off all the time, but then you get new words because elements are coming together and talking about, say, dying. If we must think about our dying off. When you think about how idiomatic these things get to be, we have a way of saying that a generation is coming not to exist in a very respectful way. So all of that cohort are dying off. We say well off what? Why do we use off with that? But more to the point, it means that because English is a real language, it has a way of referring to a generation of, say, dear ones coming to the end of their lives. And you say, well, they’re dying off. Or think about an arrested development getting off but dying off. We don’t the die is the office is hopeless, though. And really, we have a word. In a way, these things are not A and B, you’ve got in between phases. But it’s an interesting thing, like the song Tony My Love by its beaners. There’s a transition for you, but I want to play Tony My Love. This is from Happiness is Being with The Spinners, which is one of their best albums. Nobody ever cared about Tony, my love. But I remember my father playing this in the marvelous, hideous 70s before I had any problems. And it is the most quirky song musically in terms of arrangement. It was always my second favorite on the album and nobody else cared about it because life is lonely. But just listen to this and if you get it, listen to the whole thing after you finish listening to me rambling on.

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S8: This is Tony, my love seventies gold of a kid open when I come around. Nice things with a sparkle takes her beyond space and time.

S9: Tony is all mine, but she should take the time to respect what I say coming on strong is the heart of her own. She can’t stop. What a shame, Tony.

S10: Goes home to her mother telling a.

S3: And so this is where the clip of me and my daughter comes in. So what was going on there is that there’s this word upsidedown. And notice what I said? I didn’t say upside down. I said upside down. Well, it’s one thing to see it on the page. It’s another thing to actually speak English.

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S11: And I found that interesting to see what my little English speaking daughter thinks of that word in her head versus what she’s learning to read of that word on the page. Might play the clip again.

S5: Please read this word upside down. Hmm.

S4: The fact that you mean the two words upside and down, because really it’s just a word. It’s upside down. That’s really all it is. But you write it upside down because people used to say, well, there he is with his upside down. But that was a long time ago. So you that’s just it’s bad upside down.

S3: So do it again, upside down. We quote unquote, know that’s what it is because we can read, but it’s not upside down. You wouldn’t even say that slowly. It’s upside down. Upside down. You hear the op, you hear the down the side. I will definitely say that I would not know that it had to do with side if I couldn’t read. It’s just that it’s this word down. But with this upside upside hooked to it and hooked completely to it, you don’t have any sense of it being two words until you learn that that’s how it happens to be written, because, of course, upside down comes from what were the two words, upside and down. So in the real language, we have the word down and then down can have this thing on it upside down, which can almost be seen as not a down at all. But it’s certainly a new word. That label there’s really no reason to call it two things because there’s no such thing as upside all by itself. And we don’t think of ourselves as saying upside quickly. There’s just something called upside. It might as well be spelled upside upside down, upside down. And by the way, in answer to the question that you might be asking, no, I do not record all of my existence such that I can clip out that thing happening between me and Vanessa. It happened for real. Exactly in that way. And then it was funny. I wanted to use it on the show. And so I got Nessa to do some acting. And I want you to listen to what this little five year old actually came up with. She doesn’t know what acting is. I don’t even know if she knows yet that people on TV are not actually doing what they’re doing. But listen to her say her line might play her fire again upside down.

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S5: Hmm. Where the fuck breath.

S3: And it’s isn’t that great. And remember, she can’t read a line yet, you know, she can’t read well enough. So she just remembered what to say and it sounded like she meant it. In any case, that is how these things go. Notice how you hear in any case and you think the show’s over. I’m realizing I know always say in any case, you can reach us. But I’m not saying that yet. We’re still in the middle. In any case, we have another example that I remember from real life, and that’s the expression. Take it for granted. Take it for granted. You know how to write it. You know, in Dr. Seuss, it would be take it for granted. But do you notice that really it’s take it. And then there’s something you might spell as roughly f o r g are a and I take it for granted for granted. Take it for granted that and we all know what it means, but I certainly don’t think of it as taking it as if it were granted.

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S11: I didn’t know that’s what it meant until I learned what it looked like on the page. I remember first hearing it from someone else and saying, What do you mean, take it for granted? And this was somebody very intelligent, but not meta linguistically, particularly apt. He had many other talents, but he wasn’t great at this sort of thing and he couldn’t explain what take it for granted meant. He was using it right. But he didn’t say, for example, it’s about taking something as granted to you. And the reason he didn’t say it was because he didn’t know it. And it’s because really we barely know that really it’s for granted is a label that refers to this issue of feeling taken advantage of or referring to somebody taking unfair advantage of something.

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S3: And so you can take it hard, you can take it wrong, you can take it inappropriately, you can take it for granted for granted. It’s really a new word because it’s no longer about Grant. If a Martian came down and transcribed the language, they’d think for Grant it has a certain meaning involving somebody being offended in how they interpret something. The Martian etymology would figure out that, hey, originally it came from for granted. Isn’t language interesting? But it would be that sort. But you would never think of it immediately. Sometimes it’s a whole little phrases that end up creating what are basically words think of The Sopranos. And I don’t mean I mean Sopranos, as in the wonderful TV show that helped to inaugurate this golden age of television that we’re living in now. That’s how people talk about the golden age of television was Sid Caesar and Gunsmoke and these flickering black and white things. And yes, I like some of them, but that’s the golden age. I Love Lucy was the golden age. We’re living in it. These are the good old days, as they say. In any case, it starts with The Sopranos. And remember that expression they use, which is all due respect, all due respect to that. And what I mean by that expression is this. And here it is said to Vito and listen to the intonation of it. All due respect, we don’t fuck with you tonight. So, of course, it starts with with all due respect, I think that we should celebrate the birthday tomorrow. That’s how it starts. But they don’t say wiff they just say all due respect, they don’t say with anymore. And what it means is I don’t want to seem insubordinate or impolite, but and the way that they indicate that sentiment is with the chunk all due respect. And the thing is they don’t say all due respect, we should have the birthday tomorrow. They say it as if it’s just a word. Actually, we should have the birthday tomorrow. All due respect, we should have the birthday tomorrow. In other words, all due respect starts out as with all due respect. But really, it’s just become these syllables that you utter, the respect part peeps out. You can tell how this sort of thing started. It’s like one of those transparent fish where you can see what they eat, one of those deep sea fish. That was a weird analogy, but it just came to mind. But the respect is all the all in the do. Nobody’s thinking about that to the point that you even leave off the with, you know, on The Sopranos if you live in New York and. Well, that’s if you live in New York and you leave your house, you often meet The Sopranos. That was especially true back in the arts. I met Bobby Bacala, Steven Schirripa. I was just in the Italian restaurant in Tribeca and so was he. He was delightful. He was so just openly, genuinely and warmly enjoying being famous, not in a remotely obnoxious way, but he was very nice. I think he was buying people drinks. I was not one of them, but he was so nice. I also met Vincent Curatola, Johnny Sack. I was very pleased to meet him. There’s a picture of me with him. Very gracious. It’s a lot of fun. Anyway, these things float around. These whole phrases become basically words. And that’s how you get for example, you can look at the process having gone much further. That’s how you get by as in by that’s how you get done by and darn both start as whole expressions by, starts as God be with you. And next thing you know, it’s God’s goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. And then you shorten it to buy. So after a while, people aren’t thinking about, you know, wishing that you would be with God. You just said by darn starts out as eternal damnation then that becomes tarnation, then that becomes damnation because that word damnation and it sounds kind of like it. And then damnation down. And then after a while, Dan Dan’s not a word. Basically, Henry, the eighth would have been mystified by people saying bye bye. That would have made no sense because to him by is something that originated with P with you, be with you, be with you and darn no. You know, darning socks I suppose, but not Dhan. You stepped on my toe. He would have no blessed idea. No one in this case think about what the hell. All right. What the hell. What is the hell and what the hell. What part of speech is the hell? What the hell do you want? Well, what is the object? What the hell do you want? Is hell a noun? Well, technically, but how is it noun? You know, how does it even fit in what seems to be the main thing here. So why, why the hell you know how that starts. It starts with what in the world and people are saying what in the world, way back in old English. And so somebody could say, who in the world doesn’t marvel at the full moon? And so, oh, yes, on world, that’s who is in the world. Ladies, where the fat. No wonder the fool this morning. That doesn’t wonder at the full moon that no one is full of money but mainly lies on. Well, what in the world who in the world would not wonder at a full moon. Well you say what in the world, but language is always trying to refresh itself. You want vivid expressions. So after a while, if there is this word hell for what in the world you might say, well, what in the hell? What in the hell is that? And that starts popping up in English, what in the hell is that? What in the hell is that? Can go in two directions. One thing that can drop out is the the what in hell is that? And you know that people definitely say that. But it might be that instead of the VA dropping out in what in the hell it might be, then, because you’re not really thinking about what you’re saying. You’re not thinking about grammar. It’s just an eruption. And so what in the hell might become what in hell, which still makes a kind of grammatical sense. But then what in the hell could become what the hell? What the hell is that? You drop off the end. So all due respect to you, drop the with what in the hell? What the hell? You drop off the end. That’s something that can happen quite naturally. And next thing you know, you have this weird little chunk. What the hell? Grammatically, it doesn’t really fit into anything. And you don’t care because when you’re saying what the hell, you’re speaking from your right brain, you know, a lot of profanity burps out of your right brain rather than your analytical left brain. What the hell is that? You’re not thinking about making it into a prepositional phrase and making it into what in the hell or something like that. Next thing you know the hell as just this little unpossible bit of stuff, just kind of cars off. I’m trying to use the iceberg analogy. You know, icebergs have calves. God knows how that started. But imagine a little iceberg. It carves off and goes and sinks a boat or something like that. And so the hell carves off clothes off like a little iceberg it. And pretty soon you’ve got the hell with it or the hell, I will tell you what what’s what’s the hell. But that’s how language happens. And of course, profanity is language. You know, it’s funny. Somebody ought to write a book about the history of dirty words coming out in May from Avory Books at Penguin Random House. Somebody ought hypothetically to write that book. They ought to title it. Nine Nasty Words May twenty twenty one. It ought to come out from Avory Books at Penguin Random House. And you know, it’s time for one more song. And it’s interesting. 20S and 30s, people thought this New Yorker cartoon was hilarious. That involved a little girl who’s being told by her mother that some substance is something other than the spinach that it is. And the little girl says, I say it’s spinach and the hell with it. I’m trying to do that little girl in an early tourky. So I have spinach on the house that that was considered the funniest thing. I say it’s spinach and the hell with it because the child is cursing and hell was stronger then than it is now. You know, now held in many cases has been replaced by, if I may fuck. But I say it’s spinach and the hell with it. People thought that was so funny because after a while it shortened to, well, I’d say it’s spinach. And that was a way of saying the hell with it. If you were a cultivated person. Humor not preserved. But, you know, Irving Berlin actually did a whole song about this because it was that hip. It was in his musical face, the music of nineteen thirty two. Here’s a modern recording of a little bit of I say it’s spinach. You know, this isn’t even a good song. I love me some Irving Berlin, but I don’t sit around listening to this for fun. But here is the Hill used in a piece of popular art a very long time ago.

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S12: Longest as long as this means long, the best things in life are free. I say it’s going to change. The hell with it. The hell with it. That’s all. I’m yours, George. Long as long as there’s one man to shine. I say it’s spinach and the hell with it. There must be of. But what does it matter as long as they as you long as there’s any long is the best things in life are free. I say it’s spinach and the hell with it. The hell with it. Some.

S11: So, you know, the real grammar is that often even these constructions, these expressions, you know, they become words. Essentially, it’s this driftwood that becomes words I driftwood. I remember watching Mary Tyler Moore as variety show that she did. She took a year off after her iconic sitcom and she tried a variety show. And goodness, it was an unfortunate thing. And I, of course, tried to watch it. And at one point she is doing this no where there are these big pieces of driftwood on the set. And she’s dancing around because she was a dancer and she’s kind of moving back and forth and all around these big pieces of polystyrene driftwood.

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S3: And she was actually singing a song that some poor soul had to sit down and write. And the song was called Driftwood. And so it’s gliding around the stage. And I remember the first notes of it were driftwood. And at that point I sat there thinking, this show is not one more thing about where words come from. And, you know, there are some fancy names you can give to these things, but sometimes it’s just some shit. This is the section about just some shit.

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S11: There are a couple of cases that don’t really fit in. But this is to give you a sense of how you get a new word. Y a word is the way it is and how it’s often just random likenesses that next thing you know, make something into something that it’s not supposed to be. So, Persse, you’re carrying a purse where you get purse. Well, it’s from Latin’s word Bursa. And if you know a little bit about anatomy and disgusting things that you might get, you can think of like bursitis, etc.. It’s a Bursa, it’s a pouch. Just the other day I learned what the word for trash bag in Spanish is. I was trying to say and realize I had never learned that word. Turns out it’s both Bolsa that comes from Latin’s Bursa. Take Bursten, you know, transform it. You get Balfa. OK, so we should have a burse. It’s not supposed to be a purse and no one exactly knows why the be changed to AP. But it wasn’t some natural process of sounds changing and predictable ways as I’ve talked about. So that, you know, Parterre father in Latin is father in English because the P goes to F in the same way that your pedal extremities as in that Pead Latin root. We talk about feet put to foot regular, but there’s no regular B to P in English. Why? Why is it a purse instead of a burse. And you know, probably it’s because there was another word in earlier English. Posa Pusa meant bag Pusa. Just some word for bag. This isn’t the word, but people are probably hearing Pusser and they’re thinking, well, this burse is another bag, so why don’t we call it a purse? So it was just some random accident. These are the sorts of things that happen when one thing happens to sound like another. And next thing you know, a word has a very different form about where words come from than what you would think it would. I remember once I was sorry about all these reminiscences, but I’m being a little goofy in this one because it’s the end of the year and these things really do come to mind. I was trying to refer to a man of a certain size as portly. This is a long, long time ago in an office setting. And I said, well, because he’s kind of a portly gentleman, we would have to. I was just trying to say that, you know, maybe with some little bit of linguistic creativity, but without using a cruder word.

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S3: And somebody kept kind of needling me about saying it, you know, in a nice way. But she seemed to think that I had still insulted him in some way. And gradually, as we talked about it, I realized she actually thought, and this makes perfect sense, she thought that I was saying she thought that I was saying Porchlight.

S11: And you can imagine why somebody might think that. The word is that especially because the port power in Port Lee is one of these things, it’s now completely obscure. And there’s a whole Lee story here, too. But it’s one of these words that has become a word from things that originally meant other things, or we no longer know what they meant. But she thought it was Hawkley So you can imagine in a different English that there might emerge a word Porchlight, which starts as portly, but then people have this certain association purse was one of those things or one more. If we’re on the PS, putting into pudding is a pudding, something that’s been engaging in the action that’s called to PUD. No, you know what that starts with? Pudding is originally some disgusting boiled sausage, you know, that kind of thing that sometimes happens over on either side of the English Channel. This is on either side of it. I’m making fun of both countries now. Sometimes their version of sausage is kind of different from what an American would suspect, not Germans. But this is like, for example, Frenches, that Budha sausage. It’s kind of. Well, in any case, the pudding is originally it’s boiled sausage when I guess that’s the best that people could do. And so we get the word as what would be boudin from French boudin.

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S3: But then Boudin became booting and booting because people thought, well, often in is short for int. So singing, singing. And so boudin is slang for booting and sounds like Popeye get me the booty or something like that. But it’s not in Yng. There is no booting but that kind of caught on because maybe booting feels better. And also after a while it wasn’t boiled sausage started boiling other things to make a pudding such as I’m guessing sometimes if people are really hungry it was probably socks and after a while you’re boiling flour dough, whatever. I don’t know much about making dessert, but it means that you weren’t thinking about sausage anymore.

S11: And so booting felt right because you wanted a different label for snack pack as opposed to Bob Evans. So next thing you know, you have booting. And as for the pea, nobody knows. And this time it has nothing to do with something being in a bag like Pusa. And by the way, I have to say, I’m going to say this even more gently than I was trying to use the word portly back in nineteen eighty six. There are people who I think quite incorrectly suppose that Pusa for bag ended up becoming a very dirty word, Pusa for bag, and that there’s this analogy perhaps between bag and that anatomical, then I’m just gonna leave it there.

S3: I think that analogy is false. There are other places that that term came from having more to do with cats, but Pusa enters into certain discussions. In any case, sometimes it’s it’s just some shit. Sorry about all this profanity, but you know what? Despite the label that they always put at the front of my show, have you noticed that I don’t curse as much these days? You know, somebody wrote me not long ago saying you shouldn’t curse so much. And I was thinking, I know what they mean. But really these days, it’s usually just one a show, because I did start to realize children are listening to this and I cannot just sit here sounding off like a sailor all the time. But I must admit, I relaxed it somewhat today, in any case, the August problem.

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S11: So I said that in French, August is pronounced just. Oh, and I’ve heard from some of you who question that, saying that the word for August is pronounced oohed. And I fully understand what you mean. And those of you who have written this to me are native French speakers, of which I am not by a long, long shot. But I can definitely say from my experience, which is not native French speaking experience, but it is an experience of being surrounded by the French tongue for an extended, if you call it summer and extent, an extended period of time. When I lived in Montreal in the summer of nineteen ninety five, I definitely heard many Quebecers saying, Oh, and I was it was August. It was also a bizarrely hot August. Even up there. The word was definitely and I looked it up and it’s a Canadian alternative. I was taught, oh you know, I learned, you know, the standard textbook Parisian French. And I remember learning and being perplexed by the spelling. Maybe that was just my particular teacher’s. One of one of them’s name was Armelle. Armelle, if you’re hearing this, you said, oh, and then also it’s in the textbooks all the time as a language change example. All of which is to say there is variation between you and oute, but there are real living, breathing, French speaking, native, French speaking people who say, oh, and that allows the point that Augustus can become. But for those of you who say Oohed and for those of you who maybe have pretty much only heard, I can imagine how it sounds for me to be sitting here saying I’m this American person now. Well, oh, yeah, I know. But I have been genuinely under the impression that they’re real people as opposed to me. I’m not real, but real people who say, oh, let’s go out on something else. A little goofy. This is from the musical Hairspray. This is the nicest kids in town. This is near the beginning of the show when you’re seeing the dance TV show that furnishes the germ of the plot in this musical. And you’re just watching all these kids dancing around and, you know, a lot of it had to be seen, just the pastel candy colored costumes. It was a great number. I saw Hairspray eight times. That is my record for a Broadway. I paid for this over and over and over again. I just loved it to pieces. The movie of Hairspray summons up what the nicest kids in town looked like pretty well, if you want to get a sense. In any case, if you listen to the whole song, you might hear some peculiar lyrics. The plot is about race relations. This is Clark Thukral singing The Nicest Kids in Town with the chorus.

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S13: Hey there, teenage Baltimore. Don’t change that channel because it’s time for The Corny Collins Show brought to you by Hairspray. Oh, every afternoon when the clock strikes for. Like Crazy Road, your kids crashed through that door. Yeah. No, off the coast, simply the squares behind, and then they shake it, shake it, shake it like it loose in the mind. Never see them. They’re the nicest kids in town. Oh, every afternoon at P.M.. And we know you turn the sound off when your parents Gongadze.

S2: Twist and shout for your favorite. We want you back your repertoire. You better come on down. Nice to be in town. In any case, you can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate dot com. That’s Lexicon Valley at Slate Dotcom to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate dotcom slash Lexicon Valley and folks, as we look back on a truly shit some year, thank you for putting up with those shows in the spring. That sound like I’m recording on a phone in my bedroom closet because I was. And by the way, folks, because we saddled you with the switch from Mike and Bob to me with no announcement, I should let you know that after June I am likely going to be moving on from the Valley. Five years is about enough, but we have so many shows to go until then.

S11: You know, I’ve been having a wonderful time and I will continue to I hope that you will continue to connect with this business of me sharing my toys with you every two weeks. I’ve got plenty more of them up my sleeve. Mike Vola will be, as always, the editor. And I am John.

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S1: So why is it I want to get into here that gas is both that thing that you pump into your car, but then also it’s some sort of vapor up in the air. You’re not pumping vapor into the car. You’re pumping a liquid. That’s what got my daughter asking the question because she had thought that that’s what was going on. Then I got some on my finger and then she thought, oh, wait a minute, why are both of those things called gas? Well, the way it happens is, first of all, we have to understand where gas comes from, as in the vapor, partly because it’s the story and partly because it’s just interesting for other reasons. Gas is a is a Dutch word. It comes from Dutch. And you can imagine those sorts of Dutch scientists like, you know, Leeuwenhoek, who, you know, noticing that their ugly little things in droplets of water, those sorts of duchies. And they you can see they would be the first people to identify something called a gas. They would have pronounced it costs where they got half was from the Greek word. Chaos and chaos in Greek meant roughly a gaping emptiness. And so it’s something that’s sort of there and it’s roiling. And you can see how somebody would use that to mean like a like a gas. So gas comes from house, which we have in English as chaos. OK, and then that Greek word went back to one on the steps of Ukraine. Proteau Indo-European an original word that frankly was ugly. So I’m not going to utter it. But that word came down into English via a different pathway as Yorn, because you’re talking about the gaping emptiness. Well, yawning is gaping. So that means that chaos, gas and yon are all from the same word. That is a beautiful testament to how transformative language is that. The essence of language is change, especially if you look at it over a long period of time, then gasoline. What’s that? Well, that starts out as a commercial coinage probably in the late 60s or 70s, as British originally, actually. And gasoline is roughly gas, oil. And then this in scientific suffix. And there was a fashion, especially in the eighteen hundreds, to make things sound more sophisticated than they were by putting in and things like that at the end of them. And gasoline was one of those things. You know, why do you call that ugly floor covering linoleum. It was that same fashion. So gasoline, gas, oil in how you make that bizarre liquid that you put into your car does involve a gas, but then it’s also oil. And then you have to mix it together and call it gasoline. So it sounds like something that you might buy. But if there’s something called gasoline, you just know that after a while and I’ll just bet it started as people calling it gasoline and after a while it’s just called gas. So it’s an accident. Gas is a vapor. Gasoline starts with something where the vapor is only one part. But then people start calling that gas to and, you know, you’re probably thinking it. And one doesn’t wish to be vulgar in the valley or anywhere else, but you’re probably thinking it. And given that somebody really should write a book about profanity coming out in May twenty, twenty one. But they don’t discuss this sort of thing because it isn’t exactly profane. It’s just naughty. If you’re wondering when people started referring to, you know what as as gas as and if I may pass and guess that actually only goes back to 1882 in attestation. Surely people were saying before that, but not too much before. Or we would see it, you know, in vulgar contexts, it would seem that break wind was more common before. And that’s one of those expressions where if you think about it breaking what but it’s like breaking news. That’s an old form of the break verb. And so you can break the news. Well, you can break this so-called wind that goes back to at least the fifteen fifties. So just letting you know that there’s that other kind of gas, but mainly the reason that vapor, gas and, you know, premium, remember when it was called ethyl premium gas that they referred to both as gas. When they’re such different things, one’s a liquid and one is frankly a gas is because of that grand old thing called language change.