The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins

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From new words such as “bling” and “email” to the role of text messaging and other electronic communications, English is changing all around us. Discover the secrets behind the words in our everyday lexicon with this delightful, informative survey of English, from its Germanic origins to the rise of globalization and cyber-communications. Professor Curzan approaches words like an archaeologist, digging below the surface to uncover the story of words, from the humble “she” to such SAT words as “conflagration” and “pedimanous.” In these 36 fascinating lectures, you’ll discover the history of the dictionary and how words make it into a reference book like the Oxford English Dictionary; survey the borrowed words that make up the English lexicon; find out how words are born and how they die; expand your vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin “word webs”; and revel in new terms, such as “musquirt,” “adorkable,” and “struggle bus.” English is an omnivorous language and has borrowed heavily from the many languages it has come into contact with, from Celtic and Old Norse in the Middle Ages to the dozens of world languages in the truly global 20th and 21st centuries. You’ll be surprised to learn that the impulse to conserve “pure English” is nothing new. In fact, if English purists during the Renaissance had their way, we would now be using Old English compounds such as “flesh-strings” for “muscles” and “bone-lock” for “joint.” You may not come away using terms like “whatevs” or “multislacking” in casual conversation, but you’ll love studying the linguistic system that gives us such irreverent – and fun – slang, from “boy toy” to “cankles.”

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