Erica Oakland, Caroline Raymond, Wayward Inc discussed on A Way with Words: language, linguistics, and callers from all over


Support for a way with words comes from Jack and Caroline Raymond. Proud sponsors of wayward Inc, the nonprofit that produces and distributes this program 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. Did you ever think about why we spell the word ghost the way we do? Why do we spell it G HOST? Well, it wasn't always that way. And here's what happened. In the mid 15th century, there was an English businessman named William caxton who moved from London to the wealthy city of Bruges in what's modern day Belgium. And there he got in on the ground floor of a new technology, the printing press. Eventually he moved back to England. And in those days type setting was still really new. It was time consuming. It was challenging to learn. And so it made sense that caxton would bring in workers who already knew the business, even if they weren't that familiar with English spelling. So he recruited some fellow printers whose native language was Flemish, which is the variant of Dutch that was spoken there in Bruges. An English spelling in those days was still a little bit unsettled, but generally the English spelling for ghost was gas at that time. And in Flemish, on the other hand, the initial hard G sound before a vowel was rendered as GH, so in Flemish, the word for ghost was spelled GH, EST. So when these Flemish speaking typesetters came across words that resembled similar words in their own language, they'd often add that H after the G and in fact, you can find books from the early days of printing in English that include an initial GH in words like girl and goose and guest and guest and goat. Those spellings didn't last, but there was one expression that appeared over and over in a lot of the early works that caxton printed, and that term was wholly ghost. And the expression holy ghost appeared so often in those early works with that Flemish spelling that the initial GH in that word happened become standard in English. And that's one of the wonderful stories that you'll learn in the new book by linguist Erica Oakland is called highly irregular white tough through and do don't rhyme and other oddities of the English language and grant the book is really a lot of fun to just page through and get answers to those questions. Those pesky questions about why English is so strange. Yes, it really is a great book she's done all new research it looks like. It's well written, easy to read and something that I think you could recommend to middle schoolers, high schoolers, college kids, the family, and I very much enjoyed it. Yeah, it's a very amiable, accessible book, it answers questions like, you know, what's the difference between big and large, really? Why can we say big about certain words in large about other ones or why do we say how come when we want to say, why? There are all these kinds of questions that she answers very thoroughly, and you get a taste of the history of the English language as well. Yeah, so this book highly irregular by Erica Oakland will be linked on our website. We know you're reading something interesting too. Tell us about it 8 7 7 9 two 9 9 6 7 three or share your favorite books in email, words at wayward radio dot org. Hello, you have a way with words. This is a model. Where are you calling from varina? I'm calling from Dallas, Texas. What can we do for you? Well, I was wondering, you know, I'm a German living in Texas. And I always stumbled here across the world called doofus. Which for me is a German is very hilarious because do written the way it is, but to announce those it's like a word for to be stupid or daft. But children, or teenage, I would say this in German. And I think it's so funny that here you have this Latin suffix U.S., you know? Which makes it so big and so and I really wonder where this comes from. Oh, yeah, it's good that you made the connection there. So doofus reminds you where the word doof and German, which means adult or a stupid man, right? And that U.S. suffix probably got attached to the word because it's modeled after a word goofus, which has approximately the same meaning, but it's about 50 years older. It's another another English word for stupid person. We have a lot of those in English. Interestingly, we don't quite know how doofus got into English in the first place. We do know that there's a word dauf, which comes into English through Scots English, probably from Germanic roots which meant listless or dull and this may ring some bells for you. And this is related to the award Germanic word meaning death DEA F meaning that you can't hear. I think the modern word in German is Taub. Is that right? Help. Yeah. To help. Doof actually in German actually comes from Taub. In early 20th century in Berlin, doof was borrowed from low German to mean stupid because death had all these other meanings because in some dialects of German, you could say something is you can talk about deaf rocks. If rocks are Taub, it means they have no usable minerals or deaf eggs means unfertilized or deaf seeds. I mean they don't germinate, or soup without flavor could be called death. You know, it's unsavory. And so deaf takes on more meanings than just can't hear. It's all about kind of lacking the essential quality. And that's what doof kind of borrowed from the word Taub. In these dialect sensors. But interesting, you do first doesn't really show up in English until the 1960s, and yet it seems like a word that's been in English forever. I thought that maybe it's come here with other immigrants who had come, especially to Texas, you know, define and all this. But maybe I'm wrong. It's possible. You know, before the two world wars, Germans accounted for one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States and there were a lot of German speakers. And then the two world wars meant that German stopped being spoken as a second language among a lot of people. But it's possible that that is how doofus came into use in the United States that there was there were still enough German speakers in the United States, even after the suppression of German as a second language. Especially in Texas, we have this Texas German which really spoken anymore. We have some German words in English like persona tight people say in dumb cough people probably know, but there's also German, right? Yeah, those cops is a very colloquial way of saying dumb cops, you know, which is done as a dumb head literally. Literally read. But those I don't think you will sign it in dictionaries. So this is really spoken language, you know? And children's children and teenagers language. And it's not really it's not very, I think people now don't say dove so much anymore. So 20 years ago that did not have much more so hipster rich for this. Yeah, that's true. Yeah, it definitely came during the 20s when Berlin was this really big party town. It was part due to this part of the sling of Berlin. I doofy as well. Doofy kind of meaning dummy was a big term then too..

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