Publisher's Summary

From new words such as "bling" and "email" to the role of text messaging and other electronic communications, English is changing all around us. Discover the secrets behind the words in our everyday lexicon with this delightful, informative survey of English, from its Germanic origins to the rise of globalization and cyber-communications.
Professor Curzan approaches words like an archaeologist, digging below the surface to uncover the story of words, from the humble "she" to such SAT words as "conflagration" and "pedimanous."
In these 36 fascinating lectures, you'll

discover the history of the dictionary and how words make it into a reference book like the Oxford English Dictionary;
survey the borrowed words that make up the English lexicon;
find out how words are born and how they die;
expand your vocabulary by studying Greek and Latin "word webs"; and
revel in new terms, such as "musquirt," "adorkable," and "struggle bus."
English is an omnivorous language and has borrowed heavily from the many languages it has come into contact with, from Celtic and Old Norse in the Middle Ages to the dozens of world languages in the truly global 20th and 21st centuries. You'll be surprised to learn that the impulse to conserve "pure English" is nothing new. In fact, if English purists during the Renaissance had their way, we would now be using Old English compounds such as "flesh-strings" for "muscles" and "bone-lock" for "joint."
You may not come away using terms like "whatevs" or "multislacking" in casual conversation, but you'll love studying the linguistic system that gives us such irreverent - and fun - slang, from "boy toy" to "cankles."
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2012 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2012 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

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5 out of 5 stars
By Anna on 01-09-2016


loved breakdown by chapters easy to binge on,or listen to one at a time. love great courses

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Customer Reviews

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5 out of 5 stars
By Dubi on 15-05-2017

The Whole Nine Yards

Anne Curzan "leaves no stone unturned" in this great Great Courses course, covering the history of words and phrases of every "stripe" -- original English words, words "borrowed" from other languages, words made up "out of whole cloth", mispronounced words, misunderstood words, words whose origins are "lost in the ether", slang words, words from sports, military, the internet, romance, even words like "um" and "you know" that don't seem to have "bona fide" functions as words (and yet they do), even words that don't exist (common things for which there are no specific words).

I've "perused" a number of other books on this subject -- one was an amusing look at the often surprising "origin stories" of common words and phrases, one was about the interplay between the history of words and the impact of history on words, one was about how English became so flexible as to come to "rule the world". This course "covers every base" and then some. I cannot "fathom" any aspect of the English language that has not been "put under the microscope" here.

Except for the "whole nine yards", for which I still have never seen an explanation -- why do we say "the whole nine yards" when it takes ten yards to make a first down? All the other words and phrases in quotation marks in the prior paragraphs are explained in this course.

Professor Curzan is "descriptive" in her attitude toward language, which means she sees her function as a linguist as one of studying the language, rather than judging how people use it, which would be "prescriptive". That makes for great observations on her part, because she had no interest in whether a word or usage is right or wrong, her only interest in whether it is lasting or ephemeral in nature.

Personally, I would prefer more prescriptive opinions -- she goes to great lengths to excuse the mispronunciation of ask as "aks", as if those who make that mistake cite Chaucer in doing so, and no matter what she says, using "literally" to mean "figuratively" is only acceptable as sarcasm, and using "irregardless" is never excusable, regardless of the circumstances. Then too, you see her growing very prescriptive when it comes to the use of gender- or race-related language, so she is really only drawing her line at a different place than the prescriptivists she dismisses as short-sighted.

Nevertheless, this course is a lot of fun (Curzan is an excellent narrator) and it is highly elucidating (even for someone like me who has already read several books on this topic). If you love language, this is for you. Even if you don't necessarily believe that it is of interest, try it -- you'll never listen to someone use "like" and many other words and phrases the same again.

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12 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Cassi on 21-10-2013

So interesting and relevant

What made the experience of listening to The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins the most enjoyable?

Professor Curzan was easy to listen to and understand. She spoke fluently and confidently. I loved the word play and history. The consistent referencing meant it was easy to get further information.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins?

Learning the different meanings and beginnings for words, such as fathom, nice and wife. The history of words just enthralled me. Also Prof Curzan's input to the word of the century - she.

What about Professor Anne Curzan’s performance did you like?

She was funny, easy to understand and expressive. She has a way of using her tone of voice to convey her thoughts. This is shown most prominently when discussing the N word.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed out loud many times throughout this lecture series.

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19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Kaya on 24-03-2015

Loved it!

Great information and a fascinating lecture. I'm left a lot more aware of the language we use, of the metaphors that among other things shape the way we think of love and arguments, and the rich history of constant change as we seek new ways of expressing ourselves.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Beth on 05-12-2013

For the wordy among us...

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

For those of us who lean on the wordy side, this course is a fantastic insight into where some of the words we use daily have originated and how our language evolves. Professor Curzan is an engaging speaker and shares some interesting information - the things we simply don't consider about the language we use every day!

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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