What to Read on the Subway This Week: 7/8
How often to do you think about words? From “bad” words to fancy language, we tend to overlook the origins of the words and terms we use every day.
But word roots are fascinating and complex, shaped by historical factors and daily life. Let’s talk about talking with these books, articles, and radio podcasts.
On Your Kindle
I’m intrigued by expressions, so I’ve put this book on my to-read list. Want to know the origin of the phrase “it’s all Greek to me?” Or why something can be called an “Annie Oakley?” This breezy book will whet your appetite for fun historical facts and figures.
For even more language fun, check out Michael Quinion’s Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins.
On Your Smartphone
“The Secret History of the Word Cracker,” by Gene Dimby, NPR’s Code Switch series
With the ongoing coverage of the George Zimmerman trial, one witness’ use of the term “cracker” in testimony has been the subject of debate. What—or who—is a cracker? Usually applied to white Southerners, the word’s meaning is controversial. Is the term a racial slur? Or a point of cultural pride? On NPR’s Code Switch series, devoted to issues of race and culture, several historians weigh in.
On a Podcast
“A Brief History of Swearing,” by Mike Vuolo, Slate.com’s Lexicon Valley series
This Lexicon Valley episode, part of a radio series focused on speech and language, features Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, on the subject of profanity. What makes a four-letter word so forbidden? Find out when you listen to Mohr’s podcast with Slate’s Mike Vuolo.
The Word Museum, by Jeffrey Kacirk
Years ago, someone gave me a copy of this fun and fascinating book of lost words and their meanings as a gift, and I pick it up whenever I want a little something amusing and surprising to read. But there’s one problem: Once you’ve learned arcane words like clapperclaw, unky, and snirtle, you’ll want to start using them. Try working them into conversation—I dare you!