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Words That Will Color Your World

Happy September!

In this week’s archive episode, “Sailor’s Delight,” we talk about weather proverbs, pooflapoo pie, tricks for remembering how to spell difficult words, and alternatives to the word “mentee.” We also hear from a guy named Todd who says people are forever calling him “Scott.”


That call from Todd brought in a lot of email. Connecticut listener Todd Vachon confirmed the other Todd’s experience: “I was just listening to your segment with Todd, who has been getting called ‘Scott’ his whole life, and my wife and I both said, ‘No way!’ I, too, have been called Scott by strangers all throughout my life.”

Paris Romero of Fallbrook, California, suspects it has to do with mental associations people make upon hearing a name. “Men of a certain generation (born in the 20’s) ALWAYS call me ‘April.’ In fact, in the working world, one man called me ‘April’ for four years. Everyone else in the company thought he was batty. They had no idea who this fictional character was (and was she drawing a paycheck!).” Paris suspects they’re unconsciously linking her name with the song “April in Paris,” which was popular in their day. “As those men are passing on, I hear it less often,” she says, adding that some folks may be confusing “Todd” and “Scott” because a Todd Scott played in the NFL from 1991-1997. “In the future,” she suggests, “I would poll to find out if they were football fans.” Duly noted.

We continue to be fascinated by the ways technology is changing the way we read. We’ll talk about that more on an upcoming show, but for now, poetry fans will want to check out Bob Tedeschi’s contention that smartphones are “arguably the best thing to hit poetry since the printing press”:


Finally, many of you called our attention to an essay adapted from a new book, “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” by Guy Deutscher. He’s an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester, and his book explores how language may influence your perception of the world. In Russian, for example, the word for “water” is feminine. But put that same teabag in water, and the word is masculine. Do people think differently in languages that assign gender to inanimate objects?

In a particularly fascinating passage, he observes that some languages require the speaker to describe things based on the four cardinal points of the compass, rather than with words connoting the ideas of “left” or “right” or “behind.” Read the essay here:


A recent review of Deutscher’s book in The Guardian notes that much of it focuses on differing ways that various languages describe color. In Japan, for example, a green traffic light is thought of as “blue.” In fact, so much of the book is devoted to color that the subtitle of its British edition is “How Words Colour Your World.” Read about it here:


Incidentally, we note with sadness that the official name of the University of Manchester’s School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures lacks, well, an Oxford comma.

Did an interesting bit of language news catch your eye this week? Tell us. Call or write any time you have something you’d like to discuss on the air, and stay in touch with us all week on Twitter. We’re @wayword.

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Martha and Grant

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