Dennis Duncan, Grant Barrett, Martha Barnett discussed on A Way with Words: language, linguistics, and callers from all over


In parts of Appalachia, if you want to describe coffee that's really weak, you can describe it as scared water. I love that. Scared water. Don't give me any of that scared water. I like that. A whole bunch. I do too. 8 7 7 9 9 9 6 7 three. You're listening to away with words, the show about language and how we use it. I'm grant Barrett. And I'm Martha Barnett. If you're reading a book with an index, you probably take that index for granted. But it turns out that indexes in their history are far more interesting than you might think. And their story is told in a delightfully nerdy new book by Dennis Duncan, is called appropriately enough. Index a history of thee. And it turns out that the history of the index is really about the history of writing and the history of books themselves. Even in antiquity, Plato worried that the new technology of the time that is writing and reading was going to make people stupid because they'd stop memorizing things and they'd be dependent on the written word. And even in the Middle Ages as scribes started using indexes, these new contrivances were not entirely welcome surprisingly enough. Indexes provoke similar concerns, people worried, well, if a book has an index, why would anybody actually read a book? And in the early 18th century, Jonathan Swift worried that people would pretend to understand a book by scouting through the index as if a traveler should go about to describe a palace when he is seen nothing but the privy. And it's also a hearty appreciation of professional indexers. In fact, the author gives a shout out specifically to Paula Clarke bane, who is the professional who wrote an index to this book, and she shows how authorial and even playful a good indexer can be. He also includes a computer generated index, and it's just not as good. It's just not as interesting. Is not as alive as the one that Paula Clark bane produced. I looked at that computer index, and I agree. It was fine. I could use it, but it was lifeless. It didn't, it didn't have the extra knowledge, the pragmatics that a human would bring to the job understanding that a was a part of B and that you should include it as a sub index item. Computerized stuff just isn't quite there yet for that. The other thing I was thinking as I browsed this book and I didn't read it in order to just in order to do what is called a Washington read. Do you remember what that term is? It's when you take a book, you look for your name in the index, if you don't find it, you put it back. Right, right. There's a famous story about William F. Buckley sending a copy of his latest book to Norman Mailer and in the index where Norman Mailer's name is listed. Buckley wrote hi. Well, that book again is called index a history of the, and it's by Dennis Duncan. I'm looking forward to finishing the book. We'd love to hear about what you're reading. We are so delighted and our bedside tables are stacked with the books that you send us in the books that you recommend. 877-929-9673. And said your recommendations to us in email, words wayward radio dot org. Hello, you have a way with words. Hey, this is Andrew from Lexington and South Carolina. Hey, Andrew, welcome. Hi, Andrew, what's up? So I guess I'll just jump right into it. My question would be or just growing up, my mom and my grandma used to both say to me, like whenever I wanted to put something in the microwave or reheat something, that would always say, you know, just Luke it or I would just look it in the microwave. And I just kind of wanted to know where that word came from and how it relates to microwaving something. Okay. So when would this be? What decade are we talking? I was born in the late 90s, so I would say, you know, early 2000s is mostly when I would hear it. The first place that we have print records and print versus spoken because obviously we can't track what people say. But if they write it down, we can match the words to date. And that first match that we have is from the daily tar heel, which is a student newspaper of the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1982, of students, this long jokey piece about students nuking food and caught on a college campus, talking about melting things in the microwave. Which is really interesting because if obviously nuking things and nuclear weapons is terrible and we're talking about going from the idea of nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons to microwaving food. It's just a, it's a really big leap, right? But there is a path there. There's a path. Yeah. And part of it has to do with how we got from the word nuclear to the word nuke in UK. And it happened almost immediately after the nuclear weapons of or used during World War II by the United States on Japan. The idea of nuclear weapons was pervasive throughout the western world, and by the late 50s nuke as a shorthand for weapons themselves was common in the popular press. And in the military in the 1960s, newt could be used to mean a nuclear powered sea craft, like a submarine, or a sailor that was assigned to such a ship and in the public sphere in nuke was used as a shorthand for a nuclear power station. So there's this period in the 1960s where you could see a protest where people were chanting no nukes and you might not know whether or not they were talking about no nuclear power stations or no nuclear weapons because they could be protesting against either or both, I guess. Pretty interesting, but also at the same time that verb to nuke was growing. And the obvious use of to attack with nuclear weapons was there. But even almost immediately it starts to be used hyperbolically, which is the great American way with language where we exaggerate or understate to just a ridiculous level. And we used it almost immediately to mean to punish or destroy to ruin. There's one quote from the early 1960s talking about getting revenge on a fellow air force cadet. Isn't called nuking them. And this is called semantic bleaching, which is a kind of amelioration where something goes from really negative to fairly positive. Wow, that is that's really cool. Yeah. And then it just kept going from there until we get to the idea where you can nuke your nachos, to warm them up. Of course, the main problem is that there's nothing nuclear about a microwave. It's a radio waves in there. Right, that's what I thought as well. So I didn't see the connection before, but it's starting to make sense now. Yeah, when the microwaves popped up in the mid 1970s, I think it was even though the name of how the food was cooked is right there. The machine is called by the method. I think it was and maybe it still is mysterious to people. I mean, you can see through the little window, the food bubbling, and the food is hot when you take it out, but the device itself is cool. It's kind of like magic. So I think in people's minds, this mysteriousness of nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the mysteriousness of microwaves just kind of went hand in hand. They just a weird mysterious technology to people. So Amelia, yeah, that's what happened with that one. Something terrible becomes something mundane. Yeah. Now I know. That's awesome. Thank you guys so much. Yeah, you're welcome, Andrew, calls again sometime, all right? All righty. Sounds good. Y'all

Coming up next