There are nearly 7,000 languages in the world today, and by some estimates, they’re dying off at the rate of one every week. What’s lost when a language dies? Martha and Grant discuss that question and efforts to record some endangered languages before they die out completely.
This episode first aired February 16, 2008.
A caller named Holly confesses that there’s a word that practically makes her break out in hives every time she hears it. Grant assures her she’s not alone in her aversion to the word—Holly, cover your eyes—moist. Grant and Martha discuss the psychological aversion some people have to certain common terms. Is there a word that makes you shudder in disgust? Unload in our discussion forum.
Espresso vs. Expresso
An Indianapolis woman calls to say she a great first date with a doctor, but was horrified to hear him suggest they meet at an expresso shop. She asks for dating advice: Should she correct the guy, keep quiet about this mispronunciation, or just hope he never orders espresso again? Would you go out on a second date with someone who orders a cup of “EX-presso”?
X is the New Y
A California man says that he thinks he is increasingly hearing locutions like “50 is the new 30” and “pink is the new black” and “blogs are the new resumé.” He’s curious about the origin of this X is the new Y formula.
You may recall earnestly singing “Kumbaya” around a campfire. But a caller observes that the title of this folk song has taken on a new, more negative meaning. Grant and Martha discuss the new connotations of “Kumbaya,” especially as used in politically conservative circles.
One Letter Off Word Puzzle
Puzzle Guy Greg Pliska presents a puzzle about William Snakespeare—you know, the great playwright whose works are just one letter different from those of his better-known fellow writer, William Shakespeare. It was Snakespeare, for example, who wrote that gripping prison drama, “Romeo and Joliet.”
Last Living Speakers
Grant talks about a Jack Hitt article on dying languages in the New York Times, which points out that sometimes “the last living speaker” of a language…isn’t.
A caller named Brian wonders whether a co-worker was right to correct him for saying that something minor was “of tertiary concern.” Does tertiary literally mean third, or can it be used to mean more generally peripheral or not so important?
A Milwaukee man is mystified about the use of the word neé in his grandmother’s obituary.
Fauz Po and Pole Tax
A Slang This! contestant guesses at the meaning of the slang terms faux po and pole tax.
Hitch in its Getalong
A caller is curious about the colloquial expression “it has a catch in its getalong.” She used it to describe the family’s faulty car. Her husband complained the phrase was too imprecise. Grant and Martha discuss this and similar expressions, like “hitch in its getalong” and “hitch in its giddyup.”
Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too
A California caller is puzzling over the expression “have your cake and eat it, too.” Shouldn’t it be “eat your cake and have it, too”?
Hebrew Spoken at Home
Grant tells the story of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who revived the use of Hebrew outside of religious contexts. In 1850, no one spoke Hebrew as an everyday household language; now it’s spoken by more than 5 million people.
Photo by Dreamscape Photographs. Used under a Creative Commons license.