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The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins

Hear the story behind the everyday words in our lexicon, and follow an award-winning professor as she demonstrates how much the evolution of our language can teach us about ourselves.

Watch First Lecture

36 Lectures

1
Image of Winning Words, Banished Words
Winning Words, Banished Words
0 of 31 min
2
Image of The Life of a Word, from Birth to Death
The Life of a Word, from Birth to Death
0 of 30 min
3
Image of The Human Hands behind Dictionaries
The Human Hands behind Dictionaries
0 of 30 min
4
Image of Treasure Houses, Theft, and Traps
Treasure Houses, Theft, and Traps
0 of 30 min
5
Image of Yarn and Clues—New Word Meanings
Yarn and Clues—New Word Meanings
0 of 30 min
6
Image of Smog, Mob, Bling—New Words
Smog, Mob, Bling—New Words
0 of 30 min
7
Image of “Often” versus “Offen”—Pronunciation
“Often” versus “Offen”—Pronunciation
0 of 29 min
8
Image of Fighting over Zippers
Fighting over Zippers
0 of 30 min
9
Image of Opening the Early English Word-Hoard
Opening the Early English Word-Hoard
0 of 30 min
10
Image of Safe and Sound—The French Invasion
Safe and Sound—The French Invasion
0 of 29 min
11
Image of Magnifical Dexterity—Latin and Learning
Magnifical Dexterity—Latin and Learning
0 of 28 min
12
Image of Chutzpah to Pajamas—World Borrowings
Chutzpah to Pajamas—World Borrowings
0 of 30 min
13
Image of The Pop/Soda/Coke Divide
The Pop/Soda/Coke Divide
0 of 30 min
14
Image of Maths, Wombats, and Les Bluejeans
Maths, Wombats, and Les Bluejeans
0 of 32 min
15
Image of Foot and Pedestrian—Word Cousins
Foot and Pedestrian—Word Cousins
0 of 29 min
16
Image of Desultory Somersaults—Latin Roots
Desultory Somersaults—Latin Roots
0 of 30 min
17
Image of Analogous Prologues—Greek Roots
Analogous Prologues—Greek Roots
0 of 31 min
18
Image of The Tough Stuff of English Spelling
The Tough Stuff of English Spelling
0 of 30 min
19
Image of The b in Debt—Meddling in Spelling
The b in Debt—Meddling in Spelling
0 of 31 min
20
Image of Of Mice, Men, and Y’All
Of Mice, Men, and Y’All
0 of 30 min
21
Image of I’m Good … Or Am I Well?
I’m Good … Or Am I Well?
0 of 28 min
22
Image of How Snuck Sneaked In
How Snuck Sneaked In
0 of 29 min
23
Image of Um, Well, Like, You Know
Um, Well, Like, You Know
0 of 32 min
24
Image of Wicked Cool—The Irreverence of Slang
Wicked Cool—The Irreverence of Slang
0 of 29 min
25
Image of Boy Toys and Bad Eggs—Slangy Wordplay
Boy Toys and Bad Eggs—Slangy Wordplay
0 of 32 min
26
Image of Spinster, Bachelor, Guy, Dude
Spinster, Bachelor, Guy, Dude
0 of 30 min
27
Image of Firefighters and Freshpersons
Firefighters and Freshpersons
0 of 29 min
28
Image of A Slam Dunk—The Language of Sports
A Slam Dunk—The Language of Sports
0 of 30 min
29
Image of Fooling Around—The Language of Love
Fooling Around—The Language of Love
0 of 30 min
30
Image of Gung Ho—The Language of War
Gung Ho—The Language of War
0 of 30 min
31
Image of Filibustering—The Language of Politics
Filibustering—The Language of Politics
0 of 29 min
32
Image of LOL—The Language of the Internet
LOL—The Language of the Internet
0 of 31 min
33
Image of #$@%!—Forbidden Words
#$@%!—Forbidden Words
0 of 30 min
34
Image of Couldn’t (or Could) Care Less
Couldn’t (or Could) Care Less
0 of 30 min
35
Image of Musquirt and Other Lexical Gaps
Musquirt and Other Lexical Gaps
0 of 31 min
36
Image of Playing Fast and Loose with Words
Playing Fast and Loose with Words
0 of 34 min

Reviews

p********m
July 20, 2019
Lively discussion of word usage and origins. Accessible for anyone but still educational for word nerds like me.

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m********m
June 25, 2019
Another example of a course that went too far, probably because it went too long. I found the twenty-something lectures fabulous. Professor Curzan’s lecturing style was engaging if not captivating. She covered the basic Linguistics subjects with a contemporary (descriptivist) spin, and much like Professor McWorther (in similar courses), did a great job making the case for the study and appreciation of English as a living, evolving language. By the end of the second dozen lectures, the topics started getting a bit sillier, politically charged and tendentious, and possibly worse, dated. Now, let’s be clear, how silly a topic is a matter of opinion, and this course was not really targeted as a formal course in linguistics. Second, Professor Curzan’s political biases are not offensive – she genuinely seems like an amazingly gracious and earnest person, but I was disappointed. For example, while illustrating language abuse, misuse, and manipulation in the driving of social, political, and economic narratives, Professor Curzan could mostly think of examples that position cool, virtuous Progressive causes as victims of manipulative, reactionary Conservatives; do not illustrate how language has already been usurped by these causes; and appear to support the case for censorship when dominating the evolution of the is not deemed good enough. Linguists such a Ms. Curzan should also consider that in delving in trendy subjects where so much is being driven by technology, observations and certainly predictions can become dated very quickly, as new technologies change. But, all in all, this was a course worth watching.

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a********m
June 13, 2019

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