That's What They Say

Sunday at 9:35 AM
Anne Curzan
Rina Miller

Funner, snuck, and LOL are all things that we're hearing people say these days.

That's What They Say is a weekly segment on Michigan Radio that explores our changing language.University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan studies linguistics and the history of the English language. Each week she'll discuss why we say what we say with Michigan Radio Weekend Edition host Rina Miller.

That's What They Say airs Sundays at 9:35 a.m. on Michigan Radio and you can podcast it here.

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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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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun May 11, 2014

Excuse me, do you speak acronym?

What the GIF?

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the pronunciation of the word “GIF” and the role of technology in producing new words.

Technology has given us the new word GIF and we have to figure out how to pronounce it. According to Curzan, there is a debate about that.

“A ‘GIF’ is a computer file format used for the compression and storage of digital video images. It’s an acronym for Graphic Interchange Format, which goes back to 1987,” Curzan says.

Upon further investigation by Curzan into the word GIF, she found that the original creator of the word elaborated on the proper pronunciation of GIF.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun May 4, 2014

Are you a one- or a two-spacer?

If you learned to type on a typewriter, you probably learned to put two spaces after a period.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the online debate raging about the number of spaces to place at the end of a sentence.

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

Where did these “effing” euphemisms come from?

    

We have found many ways to say curse words without actually saying them.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss euphemisms for taboo words.

The presence of euphemisms shows how impactful words can be. Curzan describes, "Words are enormously powerful and they can do a lot of damage, which is why with some of them, we find ways to get around actually saying them."

One of the first English-language euphemisms for a taboo word was "criminy," which showed up in 1681. Speakers used this word to avoid saying "Christ."

The origins of "gee," as in "gee willikers" or "gee whiz," are less clear. Some linguists believe these euphemisms came from "gee willikens" as a substitute for "Jerusalem," which was a common exclamation of surprise in the 19th century.

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That's What They Say
10:30 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Why a "spendthrift" isn't thrifty

Spendthrifts are more spendy than thrifty, so the word spendthrift doesn’t seem to make much sense.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the seemingly oxymoronic word spendthrift.

While thrifty refers to being economical with money, spendthrift means the exact opposite—someone who spends money irresponsibly. Curzan explores the etymology of thrifty to get to the bottom of spendthrift.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun April 13, 2014

Old vocabulary “segueing” into new vocabulary

Segues are unrelated to segments, although the two words sound similar and are both about parts.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan look into the etymology of segue.

Curzan first explored the origins of the word segment. In the late 16th century, segment comes into English from Latin, meaning “a piece that’s cut or broken off” or “a part of a circle.” Centuries later, segment also becomes a verb, meaning, “to divide into segments.”

The term segue, however, is completely unrelated to the term segment. Rather than Latin, segue finds its way into English through Italian as a musical term.

“Segue first shows up in English in 1740,” Curzan describes. “But for almost 200 years, it’s used primarily as an Italian term, to refer to proceeding from one movement to another in a musical piece without a break.”  

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

The etymology of "party pooper"

    

The word "party pooper" is clearly slangy, but maybe it's also a little bit taboo.

This week on That’s What They Say host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan look at the origins of the term party pooper.

Party pooper has been in our lexicon for decades. The expression first shows up in the late 1940s among college students. A few years later, an article in Newsweek acknowledged the popularity of the term, stating, “Party pooper has taken the place of wall flower or wet blanket.”

Despite the prevalence of the term, the origins are still unknown. Curzan explains three possible etymologies.

“One possibility is that the poop in party pooper comes from the verb ‘to poop,’ meaning ‘to tire’ or ‘to exhaust,’” Curzan cites. “This is where we get the expression ‘I’m pooped’ as in ‘I’m tired.’”

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun March 30, 2014

The vocabulary of yoopers, trolls and fudgies

    

If you know where the "yoopers" and the "trolls" live, there’s a very good chance that you’re from Michigan.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss some vocabulary that is unique to the state of Michigan.

Since its recent addition to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, yooper, a term referring to people from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has gotten a lot of attention. However, there are plenty of other fun Michigan words that are not making headlines.

While yooper refers to residents of the Upper Peninsula, those that live south of the Mackinac Bridge may be lightheartedly referred to as trolls since they are “under the bridge.”

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun March 23, 2014

When proverbial phrases aren’t from proverbs

There are not enough proverbs in the world for everything that is proverbial.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan Professor of English Anne Curzan examine the overuse of the word proverbial.

The term proverbial first appears in the English language in 1475. At this time, a proverbial saying is a proverb itself. However, by the late 16th century, proverbial is used to describe sayings that are well-known, or merely similar to proverbs.

Nowadays, this usage continues. Curzan looked in the Corpus of Contemporary American English to find some examples.

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That's What They Say
9:05 am
Sun March 16, 2014

You’re 'in-' for some confusion with prefixes

If something is inflammable, it is no longer entirely clear whether we can set it on fire, or we can’t.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan take on the prefix “in-.”

There are two types of “in-” prefixes, and although they sound the same, they have different meanings. The first “in-” means “in or into,” like the examples income and inland. The second “in-” means “not,” as in the words inedible or incomprehensible.

The term inflammable uses the “in or into” meaning of the prefix. Consequently, something that is inflammable can be put into flame.

However, the prefix has caused some confusion.

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That's What They Say
8:46 am
Sun March 9, 2014

What o'clock is it?

The contraction of the word “of” to o’ is considered highly informal, but the phrase “o’clock” is somehow different. 

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss how we talk about time.

The expression “o’clock” comes from “of clock” as in “according to the clock,” says Curzan.

It might seem like an antiquated phrase, but "o'clock" is still used quite a lot.  But, there is something else on the rise and that is the use of a.m. and p.m.

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That's What They Say
9:05 am
Sun March 2, 2014

The audaciousness of tricky word endings

If a "preventive" measure is the same thing as a "preventative" measure, it seems hard to justify having both words.

This week on That’s What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss words with multiple endings.

In this case of preventive and preventative, preventive is used more often.  So is the shorter ending always more common?

“If we look at the ‘ive’ ending as in preventive, versus the ‘ative’ ending as in preventative, it’s not always the case that the shorter one wins,” Curzan argues.  

When looking at the terms exploitative and exploitive, Curzan found that the “ative” ending is four times more common than the “ive” ending.  Nevertheless, both of these terms are in dictionaries, making either usage correct.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun February 23, 2014

None of our English grammar rules ‘is’ hard… or ‘are’ they?


It seems like it should be straightforward to figure out if the subject of your sentence is singular or plural, but sometimes it’s just not.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan joins Weekend Edition Host Rina Miller to discuss subject-verb agreement issues.

If the subject of a sentence is you or someone you know, the corresponding verb is sometimes singular and sometimes plural. Which is correct?

The appropriate verb may depend on the sentence’s meaning. If the subject implies either you or someone you know, but not both, the verb should be singular. If the subject may refer to both you and someone you know, a plural verb is acceptable.

“It gets a little more complicated if one of those nouns is singular and one of them is plural,” Curzan warns. “Then you employ the proximity rule.”

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun February 16, 2014

Eggcorns: When wrong becomes right

The expression for all intents and purposes has become, for some folks, an expression about purposes that are intensive.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan and Host Rina Miller discuss eggcorns, or new expressions developed when the original sayings are misheard or misinterpreted.

Linguists at the Language Log coined the term eggcorn to describe these modified phrases in 2003.

“The term eggcorn comes from the reshaping of the word acorn,” Curzan explains. “When people hear acorn, some people reinterpret it as eggcorn because it’s kind of shaped like an egg and it has a seed.”

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun February 9, 2014

Fun words for 2014 Winter Olympics

The acronym YOLO has gotten a new lease on life with the "YOLO flip."

This week on That’s What They Say, Host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan reveal words to know for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.   

YOLO, an acronym that means “you only live once,” was popularized in 2011. Now the acronym has taken on a new meaning with the YOLO flip, a snowboarding term for the “cab double cork 1440.”

Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov, also known as I-Pod, named the move after landing it at the 2013 X-Games.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun February 2, 2014

Wacky weather words

Maybe polar vortex has not been a welcome addition to all of our vocabularies, but there are some other great weather words out there.

In this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, Host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss regional words to describe the weather.

Depending on where we live, we use different names for a "light snow." According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, some speakers call this a skiff or a skift. However, in the Midwest and on the East Coast, people are more likely to use the terms dusting or flurry.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun January 26, 2014

The ‘that,’ ‘who,’ ‘which’ dilemma

The pronoun who is for people and the pronoun that is for things, except when it’s the other way around.

On this week’s edition of That’s What They Say, Host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discuss the confusing usage of who, that, and which.

Students are often taught that is for inanimate objects while who is for people. However, standard grammar books allow some variation on this rule.

In fact, the word that has referred to people for hundreds of years.

“You can go back to early translations of the Lord’s Prayer” Cruzan describes. “You will get ‘Our father, thou that art in heaven.” In this example, that refers to a person.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun January 19, 2014

Homing in on ‘comprise’

If the whole comprises the parts, it seems like the parts should not be able to comprise the whole.

This week on That’s What They Say, Host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan take on the verb comprise used to mean compose.

In the 15th century, comprise meant “to seize” or “to comprehend.” From there, comprise took on the definition “to include.” With this meaning, a big part comprises smaller parts.

However, by the 18th century, comprise also meant compose, allowing small things to comprise a larger thing. Ever since this change, the two words have often been used interchangeably.

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That's What They Say
8:05 am
Sun January 12, 2014

When proper names become everyday words

People’s names show up in the English language in surprising places, such as "pasteurized milk" and "ham sandwiches."

University of Michigan Professor of English Anne Curzan and Weekend Edition host Rina Miller discuss eponyms, or words that are derived from proper names, on this week’s edition of That’s What They Say.

The verb pasteurized is an eponym. It comes into the English language in 1881 from the name Louis Pasteur, who invented the pasteurization process.

Sandwich is also an eponym.

“We think that the word comes from John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He was a gambler, and once he spent 24 hours at the table gambling, and all he had to eat was meat between two slices of bread," Curzan explains.  Thus, the sandwich was named after him.  

The adjective ritzy is yet another eponym. Unrelated to the crackers, ritzy came from hotels.

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