Do you have a question about the origin of a word or its usage?

University of Minnesota linguist Anatoly Liberman joins us on Monday. We need some material for him.

Do you have a question about the origin of a particular word? Is there an odd usage that interests you (or mystifies you)?

It doesn’t have to be a peeve. It could be a phrase or word you relish.

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Richard Bonk

    Can you provide insight into the use of the word “used” — as in I could get “used to that” or I “used to like that?” It is “used” often but does not seem/feel correct.

  • See how one gentleman came to the conclusion that “diphthong” is the best word.

  • Craig

    Math or Maths? I once said Math to an Irishman and he said in an authoritative tone that it should be “Maths.” I have never found a definitive answer. Similar nouns don’t help either; Economics is shortened to Econ, but Statistics is shortened to Stats. I now say Mathematics, as I don’t want to sound like a yokel to one audience, or an affected anglophile to another. Fortunately, after the pedantic posturing, I’m judged on my formulas…or should that be formulae?

  • Rita

    My Aunt Bea often used the exclamation, “My lands!” We always chuckle about it, but what is its origin? Thank you!

  • Ginny

    Why do so many people these days start a sentence with “So….” when explaining something? I even hear it from supposedly educated people and in the media. Very irritating. Ok, I suppose people used to start explaining something with “Ok, ……” But now this. When did this develop?

  • Craigger

    Love Liberman! Just don’t let this turn into another language/grammar pet peeve show. Been their, done that. Literally begs the question: got the tee shirt? Really? Thanks

  • Aaron

    Could Dr. Liberman please address words with ‘ough’ and how those words can be pronounced in so many different ways. Cough, though, ought…

    Then, have there ever been any spelling-reform movements in the past that have been successful? I am vaguely aware of a spelling reform movement that was part of the progressive movement of 100 years ago, but that it didn’t make a whole lot of difference in the end. What would it take to really make any change in a language that is spoken primarily by hundreds of millions of people and spoken by many more millions of non-native speakers. What are the barriers (institutional or otherwise) to changing spellings?

    Thanks. Love the shows with Dr. Liberman!

  • David

    a Fun question? Why is a semi-truck called ‘semi’? I thought semi meant a partial of something, and to me an 18 wheeler looks like a complete truck. Thoughts?

  • Cindy Moeller

    What do you think about the future of the apostrophe? Already companies are not including it in their web addresses.

  • AmyD.

    A la Wikipedia: how about “fish” spelled g-h-o-t-i?

    gh as in “tough”

    o as in “women”

    ti as in “nation”

    Also, ghoti could be a silent word:

    gh as in “though”

    o as in “people”

    t as in “ballet:

    i as in “business”

  • Andy

    You know English spelling is arbitrary when you can alternatively spell the word “fish” with “ghoti.” (the ‘gh’ of rough, the ‘o’ of women, and the ‘ti’ of motion).

  • Michele

    Judgment — whatever happened to the “e” after the “g”?

  • steve austin

    A monophthong beats a diphthong,

    Any day of the week.

    Except when a mono becomes a dip,

    Or a dip gets a generous tweak.

    A word slurring its vowels,

    Does not portend a penchant for drink.

    Unless it falls on the floor,

    And can’t find the door,

    Or proceeds to blink and stink.

  • Cheryl

    I can never remember how to spell naieve nor how to pronounce naievete. Arrgghhh. Where did this awful spelling come from? (And how can I remember it?)

  • Paula DeGrand

    For me, the spelling and pronunciation that are the most mystifying are for the word “colonel.” Why do we pronounce this word with an “r” sound?

  • Cheryl

    Garage is one of the words spelled the same but said differently.

  • michael allen

    Has anyone asked about the word useage:

    Inflammable and flamable

  • Jeff

    How about “privacy” I believe it’s spelled the same, but the Brits say it differently.

  • Marie Kauten

    Schedule is pronounced differently in US English and British English

  • Lois Pallmeyer

    4 is foUr

    But 40 has no U. Why “forty” and not “fourty”?

  • Tom Weber, Daily Circuit

    I suppose someone should bring up the fact that this show is called the Daily Circuit… and the word ‘circuit’ is an odd one to spell!

  • Caroline

    Rhythm. R-H-Y-T-H-M?!?! I have to look it up every time. Same with biscuit and circuit. Why is there an ‘I’?

  • leslie ball

    hi anatoly! ari’s buddy leslie here – i’m looking for a word to identify words that display the characteristics of their definition. The way onomatopoeia identifies words that sound like their meaning… do we have a term for words that are spelled like their meaning (i.e. phony or weird) THANK YOU

  • Kate

    I agree with the last caller about store names and product names being spelled incorrectly – especially with children’s products or stores.



    They drive me absolutely bonkers! (Did I spell that correctly?)

  • Michael

    What is being done about making changes to the spelling of words? Having the spelling of words reflecting how they are pronounced makes sense.

  • Becky

    Thorough has always been tough for me.

  • Julie

    When I was a child learning to write my name, my last name was Wendt. Because of that I always inserted a letter d into the word went, in all of my writing. Which drove my teachers crazy 🙂

  • Aaron

    Are there any languages where spelling reform happens regularly? It seems to me that since language changes and pronunciation changes regularly that spelling would also have to be reformed on a regular basis. Is this something that is practical?

  • Check out this book. Uncovering the Logic of English, By Denise Eide.

    Based on Orton-Gillingham research done on phonograms and spelling rules, Denise (who is from Rochester, MN) has written a book that puts it all together in a way that is easy to read and understand. The English language is much more logical than most people think.

  • Gene

    I think Sanskrit should be taught alongside English.

  • Loved today’s topic! It reminded me of comedian Paloma Segal’s bit (see YouTube) about how the extra vowels in the British spelling of words like colour and flavour cost Brits hours of productivity over the course of a year with all those extra keystrokes.

    Has any such study ever actually been done?