That's What They Say

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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.

    

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.

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.

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.”  

The etymology of "party pooper"

Apr 6, 2014

    

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.’”

    

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.”

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.”

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.

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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