Jonah, Grant Martha, Martha discussed on A Way with Words: language, linguistics, and callers from all over


Would use it is to compare to things, so for example, if you asked me to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and I'm a terrible cook, then I would say, oh, I can't even cook for myself. Let alone cook Thanksgiving for ten people. So I would compare what you're asking with something that's even less than that. And say, I can't even do this. So forget about this other thing. And I would put the more extreme thing at the end. So that's how I always heard it used. And that's what makes sense to me. But I feel like lately in the last probably two or three years, I've been hearing a lot of people using it the other way around. Where they'll put this thing in question at the beginning and then the lesser thing at the end. So they'll say, oh, I can't cook Thanksgiving let alone cook for myself. To me, this just sounds so wrong. This is like nails on a chalkboard for me. I could just feel totally backwards. I'm hoping that you can just settle this for me officially. Yes, we can provide you some relief. Doctor Martha, we can help her, right? Yeah, so we have some great magazines while you're waiting. Yeah, I think you're really nailed it exactly right, traditionally, the harder things should come last. In your version, you said that I can't do X, which is an easy thing. And let alone Y, which is a harder thing. And that's pretty much how it has been and ought to be. And you're right. People do often put the difficult thing first. They say I can't even Z let alone X but what they should be saying is not even X so kind of what they're mixing here is these little idiomatic expressions all which are used to provide this range of possibilities of what they are are not capable of doing. And let alone, let's admit it is kind of a weird expression, right? Alone is not. It's idiomatic. It's hard to break down. What is alone mean? It's not really a modern phrase at all, right? So it's kind of opaque when you hear it being used. It's pretty easy to misunderstand it. Yeah. Right. True. That's true. But they're different phrases like that. It's the same kind of construction to say nothing of never mind or much less. Yeah. Yeah. And all of these can be used in the same way or they can be misused in the same way. So it's kind of an understand when it was like particularly with let alone, especially with let alone. Because let alone is just this odd little bird. If you saw this and you had your camera, you would take a picture of it because it would be the strange all the little Brown birds and this brightly colored one, you know? Look at this little bit alone over here. Yeah, look at this little let alone and you'd be showing to all your bird or friends. So I think you really nailed it. And I think it's a forgivable mistake, but it is an error. You're not the only person who's noticed this. Linguists have been researching complementary alternation discourse constructions. That's what they're called. Yeah. And we'll link to some very highfalutin academic papers when we post this to the website. They're pretty heady stuff. Yeah. But when I said there were magazines in our waiting room, these are not those. No pictures. These are the things we give you when you haven't been following the diet. We give you. Taking the pills like we recommend. I would expect no less. But we'll link to anyway because you might find some benefit. So just to be clear, since we said so much, let's make sure we talk about this one last time. It should be, I can't even toast bread, let alone cook Thanksgiving for ten people. So it's the easy thing first and the hard thing second. Yeah. Right. Perfect. Well, Stacey, thank you so much for calling. I'm glad you feel better. Thank you. Thank you for the matter soon. Come and see us in 6 weeks. We'll take the cast off. Thank you. Happy holidays to you guys. Bye bye. Bye bye. Well, if there's a word a phrase you're wondering about, give us a call. 877-929-9673 or send it to us in email, the addresses words that wayward radio dot ORG. Hello, you have a way with words. Hi, grant Martha. This is Jonah calling from Baltimore, Maryland. Hi, Jonah. Hey, Jonah. I'm a private music teacher. And as one of my ten year olds was packing up after our lesson, we somehow got to chatting about states we visited. So I asked him if he knew his state capitals. And he's a really confident kid. So he emphatically said, of course I do. So I said, okay, so do you know that capital of Maryland? And without missing a beat, he shouted MD, which I lasted. I laughed at, I said, no, I mean, the capital city. And then he just looked at me confused and went, oh no, I don't know those. That's so cute. So he used the initials and capital letters. Yeah, he used the capital letters. And you know, I guess it's an honest mistake. And when it comes to different uses of the capital, the word capital ending AL, I guess he was justified in answering the question that way. He just chose a different sense of the homonym. But then I got to wondering about the two different spellings of capital ending AL and OL. Which there are obviously two related words, but with divergence spellings. And specifically, I was wondering if you could clarify how we ended up with those two words and why when we heard a capital city, it's not spelled with an O's, since that's where the capital building is situated. Right, exactly. Yeah, you've zeroed in on the big difference that confuses a lot of people because as you suggested you only use the O for the capitol building, whether it's the U.S. capitol building, where Congress meets in Washington or in your case, the state House in Annapolis. That's the capitol, where the legislators meet. But it's in the capital city AL. And a lot of people have trouble remembering which is which, but the trick I use is either to picture the round dome of the capitol, which sort of looks like an O, or you can think about the letter O standing for only one that one instance of when you use the OL in the case of the building and all the other uses of capital are AL. And you're right that there may be a connection between the two, the AL capital, which we use for a lot more ideas like the main thing or a capital letter, it goes back to the Latin kaput, which means pertaining to the head. And so you get all kinds of meanings coming out of that kind of capital, like great or capital in money, as a matter of fact, like venture capital. That's originally from Latin parr's capitalis, the first part of a loan that's not the interest. And then the meaning expanded. The OL version capital goes back to Ancient Rome, where the great temple of Jupiter, which was this magnificent temple in Rome was located on the capitoline hill and there's a story in antiquity that is probably apocryphal about them starting to dig the foundation for this temple and they found a head when they were digging, and it was belonging. To somebody named Talia's or something like that. But that's probably just an etymological myth. But basically, they go back to the capitoline hill, which was with an O and then caput meaning head for all those other terms. Okay. So Jonah, I'm going to repeat that story from your student. I think that's hilarious. That was a great one. Yeah. Thank you for the call. A good luck with the students. Yeah, thanks for taking my call. All right, take care. Thanks, Jonah. All right. Bye bye. 877-929-9673. Thanks to senior producer Stephanie Levine, editor, Tim Felton, and production assistant, Rachel Elizabeth weissler. You can send us messages, subscribe to the podcast and newsletter and catch up on hundreds of past episodes at wayward radio dot org. Our toll free line is always open in the U.S. and Canada, 877-929-9673 or email us, words at wayward radio dot ORG. Away with words is an independent production of wayward ink, a nonprofit supported by listeners and organizations who are changing the way the world talks about language. Many thanks to wayward board member and our friend Bruce rogo for his help and expertise. Thanks for listening. I'm grant Barrett. And I'm Martha Barnett. Until next time, goodbye. Bye bye..

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