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The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins | [The Great Courses]

The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins

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."
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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

What Members Say

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  •  
    lute player 03-08-14
    lute player 03-08-14

    Studied early music (baroque period) and church music as a college student and then worked in high tech for 30 years.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A must read."
    Would you listen to The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins again? Why?

    Yes. Tons of information, almost all of which is interesting.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Incredible scope of topics and word studies.


    Have you listened to any of Professor Anne Curzan’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No. First one.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Took a month to listen to whole book.


    Any additional comments?

    I rarely give 5 star reviews to anything. This series is deserving of 5 stars.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cassi Coconut Grove, Australia 10-21-13
    Cassi Coconut Grove, Australia 10-21-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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.


    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jake Port Hueneme, California, United States 07-06-14
    Jake Port Hueneme, California, United States 07-06-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fantastic"

    Anne Curzan is a masterful teacher. She is organized, yet conversational. She gives you a cornucopia of linguistic and lexicographical information that is both fascinating and instructive. She is funny and adept at giving felicitous examples to support her point. You will learn so much about the English language in this course. I just can't rave enough about it. It's far better that John McWhorter's meandering courses. I think I learned more from Curzan's few lectures about English's history than McWhorter's entire course about the subject. This is one of the best Great Courses.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Luis 03-20-15
    Luis 03-20-15
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    "Excellent"

    This is a great book! I think I will listen this book again in a not to distant future.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Spanish teacher 02-15-15 Member Since 2013
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    "Loved this history on our language."

    I enjoyed this lecturer so much, I think I may listen to it again. As a Spanish teacher there is so much I can use when explaining languages to my students and this lecturer series really helps.

    I also loved the speaker. She sounds adorable and you can get a sense of her personality within the lessons. 😊

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    IowaGreyhound Ogden, IA USA 01-18-15
    IowaGreyhound Ogden, IA USA 01-18-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great class"

    Easy to follow, contains lots of interesting info about the English language. I looked forward to each lecture and now wish there was another course to follow this one.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janette 03-18-14
    Janette 03-18-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A wordsmith in her own right."
    Would you listen to The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins again? Why?

    I would absolutely listen to this series again - and again - and again. You can't appreciate it all the first time through. It would be wonderful to have a followup lecture each year to see how we morph on the continuum.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    Everything was compelling. Anne is credible, interesting, and has an off beat sense of humor that keeps things in perspective. Her superb organization of concepts makes her easy to follow. Excellent use of examples. Just wish I could remember them all!


    Which character – as performed by Professor Anne Curzan – was your favorite?

    As this was not a novel with characters, an interesting question. I was sincerely struck however with Anne's own beautiful, expansive, choice of descriptive words. Even if I hadn't learned volumes from the content, I would have appreciated her word choices for their own use in context.


    If you could give The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins a new subtitle, what would it be?

    Perfect title. Or perhaps a paraphrase of the song title Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered - by Words.


    Any additional comments?

    The Great Courses - a Teaching Company offerings are a wonderful contribution to the Audible library. The courses create opportunity for those of us who stopped formal education years ago. Audible, thank you for providing Great Course material.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 05-02-14
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 05-02-14 Member Since 2014

    Your Brother in Christ

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    "Words and the Stories They Tell"
    What did you love best about The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins?

    This was a fun course to listen to. Anne Curzanne kept the discussion lively and did well relating the subject to everyday experience giving a person a different perspective on what "proper" and "improper" English is discussing different ideas as to how the English language works, grows, expands and changes over time and why it does so.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I found the discussion of influences different languages have had on English to be absolutely intriguing, especially where Norse and Medieval English are concerned because of how related those two early Germanic languages must have been to begin with, But also the influence of French in two waves was interesting and that the two dialects have given us different pronunciations for essentially the same words which have taken on completely different even if related meanings in the English language. Fascinating.


    Which character – as performed by Professor Anne Curzan – was your favorite?

    The Author does a wonderful job in this course making the subject matter interesting, relating it to different social issues, or offering you "party favors" at the beginning of the lecture.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Can't say I found anything wrong. She gave a great course of lectures presenting interesting material in an interesting way.


    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janelle moree, Australia 01-15-14
    Janelle moree, Australia 01-15-14 Member Since 2014

    Book junkie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great fun"

    All the strange stops and starts of the English Language explained succinctly, intelligently and with whimsy.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jared Saratoga Springs, UT, United States 04-22-15
    Jared Saratoga Springs, UT, United States 04-22-15 Member Since 2011

    Non-fiction it what I like.........Epic fantasy aren't too bad either

    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
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    "Not the etymological adventure I was hoping for."
    Any additional comments?

    Wishing for more etymolgy of words... this course foucus too much on the mechanics of language.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
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  • Beth
    Welwyn Garden City, United Kingdom
    12/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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!


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Kaija Rudkiewicz
    3/24/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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