Anne Curzan

That's What They Say

Anne Curzan is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.

As an expert in the history of the English language, Curzan describes herself as a fount of random linguistic information about how English works and how it got to be that way. She received the University's Henry Russel Award for outstanding research and teaching in 2007, as well as the Faculty Recognition Award in 2009 and the 2012 John Dewey Award for undergraduate teaching.

Curzan has published multiple books and dozens of articles on the history of the English language (from medieval to modern), language and gender, and pedagogy. Her newest book is Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History (2014).

When she is not tracking down new slang or other changes in the language, Curzan can be found running around Ann Arbor, swimming in pools both indoor and out, and now doing yoga (in hopes that she can keep running for a few more years to come).

That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun July 27, 2014

Distinguishing between marinade and marinate

We soap things with soap and we spice things with spice, so it seems like it should be possible to marinade things in a marinade.

That might not be the case after all.

This week on That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan take a closer look at marinade and marinate.

According to Curzan, people seem to be concerned about the difference, or the confusion, between marinade, the noun, and marinate, the verb.

"The word 'marinade' as a noun, goes back to 1725, when we borrowed it from French," says Curzan. "The verb 'marinate' had been borrowed in from Italian in 1645, so it was already available in the language.

"When 'marinate' came into the language, it was a transitive verb. In other words, it had to have an object, so you 'marinated' things in vinegar, oil, or whatever you were marinating them in."

Curzan says a metaphorical system exists where we talk about ideas as food. For example, an idea might be "hard to swallow," or "half-baked." Other examples include ideas that are "regurgitated."

Are there any food-related metaphors that you use to describe various situations? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Omar Saadeh - Michigan Radio Newsroom

That's What They Say
8:55 am
Sun July 20, 2014

Different from, or different than?

For some folks, it makes a big difference whether you say X is different from Y or X is different than Y.

This week on That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan look at the confusion surrounding the use of "different from" and "different than."

According to Curzan, both forms are correct and it's just a matter of preference.

"Some people think it should be 'different from' because it is a question of exclusion, it's not a question of degree, so if things are different, you're excluding everything else," says Curzan. "Speakers have been using 'different from' and 'different than' since the 17th century. And in British English, speakers have also used 'different to', so we've got 3 different propositions happening there."

Curzan explains that with a noun, many speakers opt to use either one. For example, one might say a psychologist's view will be 'different than' an economist or a psychologist's view will be 'different from' an economist. In these cases the use of either form is correct.

What about the next phrase? Which one is right? 'Someone went missing' or 'someone is missing.'" Curzan says it's another case of British English entering into American English.

Which form do you prefer to use? Different from or different than? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Omar Saadeh - Michigan Radio Newsroom

That's What They Say
10:08 am
Sun July 13, 2014

Uncles have avuncular, what do aunts have?

Uncles have their own adjective in avuncular, but aunts don’t have any such adjective.

On this week's edition of That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan explore adjectives related to family members.  

“Paternal related to fathers, maternal for mothers, fraternal for brothers, sororal, which is not a really common adjective but it’s available in the language related to sisters. You get filial related to sons and daughters, and then parental for parents,” says Curzan.   

She also points out that these adjective that come from Latin often feel more formal than their Germanic synonyms.

“What we are seeing here is a wider pattern in the English language where we have these synonyms where one is borrowed like paternal or maternal and one of them is a native English word. It’s a Germanic word that’s been in English since English has been around. And often the native English word will feel warmer to us. It will feel closer to us and the borrowed one will feel a little bit more formal.”

Listen to the segment above.

That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun July 6, 2014

Various pronunciations of common words

You say potato and I say ... well, that depends.

On this week's edition of That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan investigate the  various pronunciation of commonly used words.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun June 29, 2014

The difference between 'one-off' and 'one of a kind'

The expression 'one off' is not a one of a kind expression.

This week on That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan inquire about the concept of 'one off' and its origins.

According to Curzan, 'one off' first shows up in 1934, and it means 'made or done as only one of its kind', and it's not repeated - it's a one-off product, a one-off event. Its origins are British, but has been in use in American English since the 1980s.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun June 22, 2014

Commonly used baseball expressions in everyday talk

Play ball!

Even when we are not talking about baseball, we are often using the language of baseball.

On this week's edition of That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan explore baseball terminology and the expressions that are commonly used, even though the reference may have nothing to do with baseball.

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That's What They Say
9:14 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Salutations and closings in the digital age

Greetings!

In emails and letters, we address a lot of people who are not dear to us as
"dear."

On this weekend’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller talks with University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan about greetings and closings used in the age of the email.

The use of "dear" has been the default salutation, going back to the 17th century, when it became the polite form for letters as in "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam," says Curzan, but there are less formal salutations by using words such as ‘hi’ to open an email or letter.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun June 8, 2014

A guide to expressions of caution and disapproval

Heads Up!

Sometimes we’re warned to watch our head, but when you think about it, that doesn't seem physically possible.

How can you watch your head?

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan analyze phrases and expressions involving the word ‘head’.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun June 1, 2014

Fashionable words falling out of style

Fuddy duddy!

If you use the word ‘fuddy duddy’, young people might just think you are one.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan talk about the rise of fashionable words.

After using the word in class, Curzan states that her students had no idea what she was referring to. When she asked whether they knew what she was talking about, only a few students knew what a ‘fuddy duddy’ was.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun May 18, 2014

The apostrophe: its rules and why it’s confusing

Many writers get tripped up about when the word “its” has an apostrophe and when it does not.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the oftentimes confusing placement of the apostrophe.

The word “it’s” with an apostrophe is a contraction of “it is,” just as “can’t” is a contraction of “cannot.” If “its” is referring to the possession of something, no apostrophe is required. The same is true for the pronouns hers, ours and yours.

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