Words for Granted

Words for Granted is a podcast that looks at how words change over time. Each episode explores the evolution of a single word. Host Ray Belli uses language--more specifically, individual words--as a way of understanding history, culture, religion, and society.

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Words for Granted is a podcast that looks at how words change over time. Host Ray Belli uses language--more specifically, individual words--as a way of making connections among history, culture, religion, and society.
🇬🇧 English
last modified
2019-09-02 11:59
last episode published
2019-09-01 11:10
publication frequency
14.91 days
Ray Belli author  
Raymond Belli owner  
Number of Episodes
Detail page
Society & Culture Education History Language Courses



Date Thumb Title & Description Contributors

Episode 76: Wife

In Old English, the word "wife" meant "woman." In fact, the word "woman" derives from the word "wife!" Today's episode is not only an exploration of the word "wife," but also of a handful of woman-related words whose etymologies and usages share a conf...

Episode 75: Grandmother/Grandfather

What makes your parents' parents so ... grand? In today's episode, we trace the etymology and emergence of the French-influenced kinship prefix "grand." We also look at Old English words for "grandparents" and "grandchildren" before the "grand" prefix ...

Episode 74: Sibling

Today, "sibling" is one of the most basic kinship terms. However, it wasn't introduced into the language until 1903 by a pair of scientists working on genetics. More accurately, "sibling" was reintroduced into the language after 1,000 years of dormancy...

Episode 73: Papa/Dada/Father

In today's episode, we explore the origins of some of the universal characteristics of nursery father terms in languages from around the world.  For a 1-month free trial of the Great Courses Plus, click here.  

Episode 72: Mama/Mom

"Mama" is a mysterious word. In the vast majority of languages around the world, the word for "mama" sounds something like ... "mama." In today's episode, we uncover the reason for this peculiar universality. Spoiler alert: It has something to do with ...

Episode 71: Noah Webster’s Dictionary

Noah Webster is best known as the father of the first trust American dictionary. However, the success of Webster’s dictionary faced an uphill struggle during his lifetime. In today’s episode, we examine some of these struggles alongside the things that...

Episode 70: Noah Webster (Early Works and Spelling Reforms)

Noah Webster is best known for his "all-American" dictionary, but in today's episode, we take a look at Webster's earlier works including The Grammatical Institute of the English Language and Dissertations on the English Language. In these works, Webst...

Episode 69: OK

"OK" is both the most spoken and written word in the entire world. It's such a fundamental part of modern communication that it's hard to imagine the world without it, yet in spite of its ubiquity and compact versatility, "OK" is under two hundred year...

Episode 68: Yankee

The most popular usage of the word “Yankee” today is in the name of the baseball team, but etymologically, “Yankee” has nothing to do with baseball. “Yankee” is an elusive word whose definitive etymology is unknown and whose connotations change dependi...

Episode 67: The American Pronunciation of R (Rhoticity)

One of the most defining characteristics of the Standard American English accent is “rhoticity,” or the pronunciation of the letter R. Unlike Standard British English, Standard American English always pronounces the letter R regardless of its position ...

Episode 67: The Emergence of the American Lexicon

The English spoken in America began to diverge from the English spoken in Britain shortly after British settlers first arrived in the New World. In today’s episode, we look at several ways how “Americanisms” began to form and how English speakers on th...

Interview with Lynne Murphy, Author of "The Prodigal Tongue"

In today's episode, I interview linguist, professor, blogger, and author Lynne Murphy about her book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English. We talk about topics such as the British media's take on "Americ...

Episode 65: Dialect vs. Language (Intro to American English, Part 1)

"American English" is the variety of English spoken in the United States of America ... obviously. But is American English a language unto itself or a dialect of British English? In this episode, we discuss the differences between dialects and language...

Episode 64: France

The name of “France” derives from the name of a Germanic tribe called the “Franks.” In addition to “France,” the name of the “Franks” also produced a handful of other common English words, such as frank, franchise, and Franklin, among others. Today, th...

Episode 63: Turkey

In today’s episode, we explore the etymological connection between Turkey the country and turkey the bird. Even though turkeys are native to North America, thanks to sixteenth century trade routes, they’re mistakenly named after a country on the other ...

Episode 62: Cincinnati

The American city of "Cincinnati" derives a patriotic fraternal organization called "The Society of Cincinnati." The society itself is named after Cincinnatus, a legendary figure in Ancient Roman history. Revolutionary Americans saw Cincinnatus as an i...

Episode 61: Names of Germany

There are more names for Germany than there are for any other European country. This is due to a long history of disunity among Gemanic tribes and the geographical location of the Germanic homeland smack dab in the middle of Europe. In today’s episode,...

Episode 60: Wales

The English name for the country of "Wales" is not native to Wales itself. It was named by AngloSaxon settlers in Britain as a way of distinguishing themselves from their Celtic neighbors on the island. The word "Wales" has cognates in all of the Germa...

Episode 59: Proper Place Names (General Overview)

Today's episode kicks off a new series on "toponymy," or the study of place names. In this general overview, we take a look at some of the historical and etymological trends that most often impact place names, such as colonialism and the commemoration ...

Episode 58: Gymnasium

Nowadays, a “gym” is a place for fitness and exercise. It’s a shortening of the word “gymnasium,” which derives from the Greek word gymnasion. In the Ancient Greek world, a gymnasion was not only a place for exercise, but also a hub for philosophical s...

Episode 58: Gymnasium

Nowadays, a “gym” is a place for fitness and exercise. It’s a shortening of the word “gymnasium,” which ultimately derives from the Greek word gymnasion. In the Ancient Greek world, the gymnasion was not only a place for exercise, but also a hub for ph...

Episode 57: Category

In the court system of Ancient Athens, the kategoria was a formal accusation. However, when the philosopher Aristotle borrowed the word kategoria to enumerate his “categories of being,” he intended it to mean the “highest order of classification.” Over...

**Bonus: Dead Man Talking Podcast Preview

Dead Man Talking is a new podcast by Audioboom. Here's a sneak peak!

Episode 56: Apology

The Modern English word "apology" derives from the Ancient Greek word "apologia." However, in the Ancient Greek work "Plato's Apology," Plato doesn't "apologize" for anything, at least not in the modern sense. That's because an "apology" was originally...

Episode 55: Sophisticated

In Modern English, "sophistication" is a desirable characteristic. However, the word derives from "sophistry," an Ancient Greek intellectual movement with a historically bad reputation. In today's episode, we consider this bad reputation from various p...

Episode 54: Philosophy

In the pre-modern world, "philosophy" referred to all forms of intellectual knowledge. Today, the discipline of "philosophy" is just one aspect of the traditional field of philosophia, or "love of knowledge."  

Episode 53: They

The pronoun "they" was borrowed into English from Old Norse. It's an odd borrowing because within a given language, the words for pronouns tend to remain consistent over time. In today's episode, we explore the entire history of "they," from its roots ...

Episode 52: Linguistic Subjectification (Very, Really, Literally, etc.)

Subjectification is a unique linguistic process by which a word evolves to reflect the subjective viewpoint of the speaker using it. For example, the word "very" used to mean "true," but over time, it lost its objectivity and merely became a way of emp...

Episode 51: The

The word "the" is the sole definite article in the English language. It's also the most common word in our language. However, for such a grammatically fundamental word, its history isn't as straightforward as one might think. Old English had a whopping...

*Crossover Episode w/ Steve Guerra from The History of the Papacy Podcast*

In this crossover episode, Steve and I discuss the linguistic influence of the King James Bible and some common English idioms that have Biblical etymologies. 

Episode 50: -ly (Adverbial Suffix)

The -ly suffix is a contraction hiding in plain sight. It is cognate with the word "like," and indeed, it literally means "like." "Sadly" is sad-like. "Madly" is mad-like. Amazingly, both "like" and "-ly" derive from a root word meaning "body or corpse...

Episode 49: To Be

To be or not to be? Well, if you're conjugating the verb, you're most likely using a form that does not sound like "to be." "To be" is the most irregular verb in the English language, and in today's episode, we explore why this is the case from histori...

Episode 48: History of English Grammar (General Overview)

Grammar is one of the defining features of language. In today's episode, we look at some of the fundamentals of grammar in general, and then take a brief tour through the historical evolution of English grammar itself. Part 1 in a five-part series. 

Episode 47: Secular

Today's episode serves as an "epilogue" to the series on Biblical etymology. "Secular," of course, means "unaffiliated with religion," but originally, it was a word used to describe the measurement of long spans of time. Roughly equivalent to a century...

Episode 46: God (and His Biblical Names)

The word "God" is not derived from the original Biblical texts. It was a term originally used in Germanic paganism that was adapted to Christianity many centuries after it had already been in use. In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, "God" is c...

Episode 45: Hell

In the Bible, the word "Hell" is a common English translation of three main Greek and Hebrew words, and the meanings of those three words hardly resemble that of Hell we know today. In addition to the etymology of "hell" itself, this episode explores t...

Episode 44: Letter J

The letter J is a direct descendent of the letter I. Based on their dissimilar sounds, it's an unlikely genetic connection, and today's story explores how this development took place. To keep the theme of Biblical etymology going, it uses this story as...

Episode 43: Demon

Greek gods. Dead, Golden Age heroes. Conscience. Guardian angel. Evil spirits. All of these things and more were once associated with the word daimon, the Ancient Greek predecessor of the Modern English "demon." Originally a neutral term that did not i...

Episode 42: Church

On average, the word "church" appears in English bibles 115 times. However, "kuriakon" the word from which "church" derives, only appears in the original Greek text twice, and its usage has nothing to do with a place of worship. The word "church" is a ...

Episode 41: Thou

Up until Modern English, the English language distinguished between its singular and plural second person pronouns: "Thou" was the singular, and "ye" was the plural. Today, these have been replaced by a single pronoun, "you." "Thou" and "ye" are common...

Episode 40: Biblical Etymology (General Overview)

Today's episode serves as an introduction to an extended series on Biblical etymology. In it, we discuss the difficulties of translating ancient texts--particularly holy texts--into modern languages. Over the course of this series, we will gain insight...

Episode 39: Eleven/Twelve

When compared to the other numbers between ten and twenty, "eleven" and "twelve" stick out like a sore thumb. If they followed the construction of the rest of the teen numbers, they'd be called one-teen and two-teen, respectively, but of course, this i...

Episode 38: Algebra/Algorithm

The emergence of the words "algebra" and "algorithm" can be traced back to the life of one man, an Arabic mathematician named Al-Kworizmi. Today's episode looks at the history of Al-Kworizmi's works and their impact on the Western world, particularly o...

Episode 37: Chemistry

"Chemistry" as we know it is a rational science. However, both the word "chemistry" and the science itself evolved out of the pre-scientific practice of "alchemy." In today's episode, we look at the origins of alchemy, a few theories regarding its etym...

Episode 36: Serendipity

Unlike most Arabic loanwords, the word "serendipity" was not borrowed from a foreign language, but invented by an eighteenth century Englishman. It's based on "Serendip," an old Arabic word for the nation of Sri Lanka, and was inspired by an Italian fo...

Episode 35 (Bonus Episode): Arabic Linguistics (Intro to Arabic Loanwords in English)

Today's episode serves as an intro to a miniseries on the influence of Arabic on the English language. As a Semitic language, Arabic is very foreign to English. We take a look at some of the basic linguistic and cultural features of Arabic that make it...

Episode 34: Saturday/Sunday

At last, the finale in the Words for Granted miniseries on the days of the week! We conclude with a investigation of "Saturday" and "Sunday." "Saturday" comes from a root that literally means "day of Saturn." Unlike the rest of the English names for th...

Episode 33: Thursday/Friday

Part four of the Days of the Week miniseries! This time, we investigate "Thursday" and "Friday," or "Thor's Day" and "Frigg's Day." Like the other days of the week we've discussed thus far, the names "Thursday" and "Friday" are loan translations of the...

Episode 32: Wednesday

In Old English, the word for "Wednesday" was Wodnesdaeg, which literally meant "Woden's day." It comes from a loan translation of the Latin dies mercurii, which literally meant "day of Mercury," because Woden was the Germanic god associated with the Ro...

Episode 31: Monday/Tuesday

In today's episode, we begin our investigation of the individual etymologies of each day of the week. Both "Monday" and "Tuesday" are ultimately loan translations of the Latin word dies lunae (Luna's day) and dies martis (Mars's day), respectively. Lun...