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: That's So Meta

Apr 9, 2013
_rockinfree / flickr Creative Commons

Formerly a prefix, “meta” has now taken on a life of its own, indicating works that are self-consciously self-referential. Ben Zimmer, writing in the Boston Globe in 2012, notes examples in the tech field going as far back as the 1970s.

RottenTomatoes.com

We use the word “myth” in at least two almost contradictory ways. Most commonly, we use myth to mean falsehood, a hoax without the intention to deceive.

This is the myth sites like snopes.com and shows like Mythbusters serve to dispel. It is also a product of the Age of Enlightenment, when a seemingly rational universe called not for myth but for measurement.

Wikimedia Commons

The most powerful lies aren’t the day-to-day, so-called white lies--that we’re ”fine” or that we genuinely care if complete strangers “have a good one.” These are, in fact, sometimes important parts of being polite.

Alyson_H / flickr Creative Commons

The conflicted and often contradictory ways Americans use the word “ideology” reveals the conflicted and often contradictory ways we view ourselves.

Betty Lee/Ars Electronica / flickr

The word “disorder” gets thrown around a lot in diagnostic circles, but it rarely accurately describes what's going on.

OnWords: Momentum

Jan 29, 2013

“Momentum” is a word that we don’t usually think of as having a technical origin, even though we hear it used a lot by reporters during election season. A typical use would be something like “Senator Belfry’s campaign seems to have gained momentum following his recent speech to the Bloom County Chamber of Commerce.” There seems to be nothing technical about that.

OnWords: Proper English

Jan 15, 2013

What we consider correct or proper English has long been bound up in class distinctions. Prior to the advent of public education, this was much more obvious than it is now. Proper English defined itself as the English used by proper people. “Real” English was the English of aristocrats, thus the phrase “The Queen's English,” which is still with us today.

But even in the supposedly classless or at least socially mobile U.S., we tend to attribute correctness to the social “winners”: educated, urban, northerners, preferably those from “old money.”

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