OnWords

An exploration and celebration of language and all of it's many quirks, with KMUW commentator Lael Ewy.

Hear OnWords on alternate Tuesdays or find it on iTunes.

OnWords: Freedom!

Dec 31, 2013
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region / Flickr / Creative Commons

The word “freedom” is both dear to the American heart and almost never well defined.

coach_robbo / Flickr / Creative Commons

I have learned to avoid the word “problem.”

OnWords: A Job Of Work

Dec 3, 2013
philcampbell / Flickr / Creative Commons

It might be helpful to view the word “work” in comparison to the word “job.” The archaic phrase “job of work” suggests that we did not always use these words interchangeably.

OnWords: Analyze This!

Nov 19, 2013
Keith Springer / Flickr / Creative Commons

What passes for political analysis these days is often really just opinion.

Inflatable Nerd / Flickr / Creative Commons

The Alanis Morissette song “Ironic” has spoiled the word “irony” for a whole generation. Rather than the mere misfortunes her song depicts, irony is a very powerful device, one with a rich history in literature and entertainment.

ChiaLynn / Flickr / Creative Commons

The word “professionalism” is used in a few distinct ways that are notable in their opposition.

As someone who has long sought to avoid it, I can tell you that accountability has one distinguishing feature: it's almost always for the other guy.

As a word, though, “accountability” allows its users to pass judgment on others while appearing to be concerned about the good of the whole.

Wikimedia Commons

Sometime in my lifetime, we almost completely stopped using the word “supper.”

This is a tragic loss, if for no other reason than it has led to confusion.

Besides “brunch” and “lunch,” the only other post-breakfast word we have is “dinner,” and dinner can alternatively mean a noon meal or an evening meal. Importantly, dinner has a generic root that is still extant: to “dine.”

So while we can “sup,” that would be archaic, and it could create confusion with the common slang contraction for the phrase “what’s up?”

Wikipedia

When I was a kid, the word “behavior” still had a mostly neutral meaning. You might hear the word when Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom described the doings of a parched hippo during the dry season, for example.

But even then another, much more accusatory, meaning of the word behavior was establishing itself. This behavior referred to things kids did that grown-ups didn't like. “You'd better change your behavior, junior!” an evil vice-principal might yell, when we thought we were just having fun.

Wikimedia Commons

While we throw the word around like it’s a good thing, nothing threatens us quite like brilliance.

At a recent youth leadership conference for kids with psychiatric diagnoses, I met a young man nobody seemed to know what to do with. During breakout sessions, he wrote bizarre responses to the questions we asked and gave similarly inscrutable answers when we reconvened.

When we asked what you do to help yourself feel well, most of the others mentioned normal kid stuff: “Go to my room,” “Play a video game,” “Call a friend.”

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