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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."

Disclaimer: Please note that this recording may include references to supplemental texts or print references that are not essential to the program and not supplied with your purchase.

©2012 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2012 The Great Courses

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.5 (52 )
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  •  
    Janette Coconut Creek, FL, United States 03-18-14
    Janette Coconut Creek, FL, United States 03-18-14
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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.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    lute player CA USA 03-08-14
    lute player CA USA 03-08-14 Member Since 2007

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

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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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cassi Coconut Grove, Australia 10-21-13
    Cassi Coconut Grove, Australia 10-21-13
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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.


    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    rita v hutchins Asheville, NC 04-03-14
    rita v hutchins Asheville, NC 04-03-14 Member Since 2008

    Rita V Hutchins

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    "Boring, intensely disappointed."
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    A person that is not interested in knowing origins of words, but a very theoretical account of language history. I love to read authors that tells you little stories of how a word was created and developed, and this was not it.


    Has The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins turned you off from other books in this genre?

    I have to tell you that although I love other titles this is the second Great Courses that I cannot listen to the end and find myself thinking I wasted my money.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    Her voice is ok, the material was boring.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Intense disappointment. I read all Isaac Asimov history books and since then I'm fascinated by the little anecdotes about words, their origins and development. I was very happy to be able to dig more into it and found the rug taken out under my feet.


    2 of 3 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
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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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Penelope27 AZ 06-21-14
    Penelope27 AZ 06-21-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wish I could get my credit back...."
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    College students who need someone to fill their heads.


    Would you ever listen to anything by The Great Courses again?

    I have several of their courses, but it is getting more difficult for me to discern between the professors.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Professor Anne Curzan?

    No one


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins?

    I would not cut any. I was expecting a neutral lecture on words, but what I received was a P.C. (yes, I typed, P.C.) version of a history of words. There are some nice stories in the beginning of the lecture, but not enough to hold the lecture. I got to the 28th lecture and could go no further, it was that painful for me. I am an older person, so it is difficult for me to listen to someone who is enmeshed in her own world - that being a college campus.


    Any additional comments?

    I would disagree with her analogy of a prostitute/whore with a slut. They are not the same thing.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 05-02-14
    Bror Erickson Farmington New Mexico 05-02-14 Member Since 2014

    I love Audible! Long car drives, long walks! Audible seriously makes me wish my walks could be four hours long every day.

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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.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janelle moree, Australia 01-15-14
    Janelle moree, Australia 01-15-14 Member Since 2010

    Book junkie

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    "Great fun"

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

    1 of 2 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
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