Word play: Submit your questions about word origin, meaning

On Thursday, University of Minnesota language professor and etymologist Anatoly Liberman will stop by the studio for one of his regular discussions about words and language.

Have you always wondered about a word’s origin or original meaning? We’ll pass your questions along to Liberman to see if he can provide some answers during the show.

–Chris Dall, senior producer

  • Nicholas

    The fairly recent usage of the word “marihuana/marijuana” for a plant that’s been used by humans since the dawn of civilization has been mystery to me. What’s Anatoly Liberman’s understanding of this matter?

  • Brian

    This is a serious question, but is perhaps one that the professor could answer online only (I doubt it could make a radio broadcast). I have been reading an account of 19th century cattle drives written by a Texas cowboy when he was toward the end of his life in the 1920s. He mentions a prominent cattle-boss of the 19th century whose name is unfortunate (certainly if the man lived today): “Dick Head.” The man’s name was Richard, of course, but he’s regularly referred to in this account as “Dick.” It’s not a totally uncommon nickname today for a man whose name is “Richard.” What is the etymology behind the word’s use as a slang/crude moniker for a male’s genitalia? When/why did that use of the word start?

  • kevins

    I frequently hear people minuse the phrase “begs the question”, stating it as if another question were called for, rather than one being avoided. I wish there were a way to tactfully educate them. The one I am most curious about however, is “Dressed to the nines”, which seems to have unclear or ambiguous origins….any thoughts?

  • Bruce

    The word is mansplaining (or mansplainin’). I was accused of it in an email from a woman who was quite offended by something I wrote to her. She was wrong, of course, but doesn’t seem to want to read my explanation of why that is so.

  • Tony

    I have hear way too many people lately use the word “cray ” instead of crazy. And it drives me cray.

  • Robb

    manscara, manlashes, or guyliner as in Russell Brand or those manscara rockers

  • http://twitter.com/stpaulspot St. Paul Spot

    Have you noted how often people say “yeah no” ?

  • ato

    command line? is it behind the front-line where the privileged ones pretend to be in control of the situation? and what is the situation room?

  • Michelle

    It seems like everyone is using “literally” a lot lately. E.g., I literally ate a million calories at dinner last night or I literally cried for two months. It’s a complete misrepresentation of the word and the event it’s being used to describe. It drives me nuts! When did this become so popular in everyday conversation?

  • Steve

    Horrid speech habit of the year: “That said…”

  • Carrie

    You were talking about the overuse of adverbs. There is one word that people use incorrectly that should be an adverb but they don’t use the adverb form. The incorrectly used word is the word “seriously”. I’ve heard many people say “I didn’t take it serious.” No, you didn’t take it seriously!!!

  • John

    Speakers’ use of the negative can produce uncertainty in communications. Why does the convention, “Don’t you” as in “Don’t you want to go to the movie together?” exist? To further complicate, a respondent might say “Yes”– leaving it unclear if they heard the original question in its negative phrasing. Is this practice one showing the lack of assertiveness people have in a given geographic area, or is it a much wider practice of people everywhere just trying to gird themselves against rejection?