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.

Gavin Clabaugh / Flickr / Creative Commons

Maybe most remarkable about the term “the market,” is the incredible variety of ideas it invokes.

The market, at its most mundane, conjures an image of a grocery store with its rainbow wash, the visual signatures of myriad brands all competing for our eyes, and for the dollars that follow. We also retain this cultural memory: the market as a place for basket-weavers and growers to hock their wares, for handmade rugs to rub up against stacks of kohlrabi.

Nestle / Flickr / Creative Commons

The word “product” is shifting.

One of my brothers overheard the following at a big-box retailer the other day: “We have various safety devices to keep product from falling on people.”

This use of product as mass noun stands in distinction to the term “a product,” a term identifying something as, well, produced.  

angela7dreams / Flickr / Creative Commons

At one time, the word granular was almost always reserved for something physical or technical, for example, as a measure of the resolution of a photographic emulsion, or of how fine the sugar.

But recently, I’ve noticed granular used in office settings to indicate a level of detail that the speaker would rather avoid. It’s generally said with a certain tinge of disdain as well, something like, “Well, we could talk about that some other time, but we don’t want to get into the granular level here.”

OnWords: Too Much Drama

Feb 25, 2014
Wikimedia Commons

The word “drama” has recently gained a new definition.

Twerk: A Celebration

Feb 11, 2014
Ochre Jelly / Flickr / Creative Commons

As 2013 fades into memory, along with it will probably fade the word “twerk.”

Why bring it up now, you ask, just when we thought we could free ourselves from the image of Miley Cyrus gyrating as if stricken by some heretofore unknown neurological condition?

OnWords: Because Science!

Jan 28, 2014
The Rocketeer / Flickr / Creative Commons

Those of us tuned in to social media have probably run across someone using a term like “because science” to explain something factual or amazing or both.

But “science” is often used when we really mean “technology.”

To see the difference, look at your cell phone. It’s a neat little bit of technology, but how often do we think about the science behind it? More to the point, how many of us really care?

Scientific Studies / Flickr / Creative Commons

Journalists and bloggers, teachers and everybody on Facebook love to use the phrase “studies show.”

I love it, too.

“Studies show” tickles the part of us that asserts a superior sort of rationality and an up-to-date command of the facts. It makes us feel smart, particularly when the study we cite is surprising or new, but especially when it reinforces what we already believe.

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.

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