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Word Matters

Author: Merriam-Webster, New England Public Media

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Word Matters is a show for readers, writers, and anyone who ever loved their English class. Join Merriam-Webster editors as they challenge supposed grammar rules, reveal the surprising origins behind words, tackle common questions, and generally geek out about the beautiful nightmare that is language.

18 Episodes
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When you read a definition, what do you see? Is one meaning of a word more important than another? Who decides this, anyway? Join us for a deep dive into the myths and mysteries of the dictionary.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
For many, the term 'bounty hunter' might evoke the Old West (or at the very least, Star Wars). But is it a much newer word than expected? We'll investigate. Then, we look at two of the most-maligned verbs of the past century: 'contact' and 'impact.'Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
This week is all about spelling. Some attempts to reform it have succeeded. (You've probably noticed that words are spelled differently in the US than in British English.) Others have failed hilariously. (You'll see.) But we're burying the lede; our first topic is that word itself: 'lede.' How did it find its current form? Then, we'll discuss the godfather of American English himself, Noah Webster. (Yes, that's where we got half our name.)Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
On a dark and stormy night many years ago in Springfield, Massachusetts, a fake word rose to take its place among the living. Or at least among the pages of our dictionary. Today we're telling the haunting tale of that ghost word. Then, we'll look at a word that (to some) is even scarier: the dreaded 'awesome.'Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
You asked, we answered. This week, we go to the mailbag to look into some of the questions, complaints, and vexing language concerns sent in by you, dear Word Matters listeners.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
If there's one activity that has bonded English users throughout the centuries, it is the creation of new words to describe those who are unpleasant or otherwise disagreeable. Here's Ammon Shea with some forgotten words you might need when dealing with annoying people.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Most adjectives can be ranked — something can be good, better, or best — but are there any that can't? Are some adjectives already absolute? Does the English language love to confuse and beguile? We'll get into that, plus the tricky usage of 'than' in phrases like "than I" and "than me."Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
You've probably, at some point, been taught that there are certain words that should never, ever start a sentence. Today you will learn that this rule is a bunch of hooey. If anything, you should never, ever trust an 18th-century grammarian. After that, we'll look into what exactly is going on, language-wise, when a Top Chef judge says a dish "eats salty." Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
'Like' is a wildly versatile, fascinating word and we're here with guest editor Serenity Carr to give it its due. Seriously. Like, there's nothing wrong with it. Later we'll tackle the story of 'mean', which was a perfectly nice word for centuries before it developed a bit of an attitude.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Sometimes, a word falls out of use through no fault of its own. Other times, the blame lands squarely on the word's shoulders. Here's Ammon Shea with a special batch of words that were just too specific or too unnecessary to live.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Today we travel to the wide world of sports to ask the question (we assume) everyone's been pondering: how did the word for enrolling in a school start being used to describe the movement of a football down a field? Then, we examine the origins of a word that once took flight, literally.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
One of the most cherished and enduring myths about the English language is that its vocabulary was largely populated through the genius of a single man: William Shakespeare. Without seeking to diminish the importance of the man who was undeniably influential, we would like to point out that this is just not the case.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
It's nothing personal, but most of the time, the word you invented won’t make it into the dictionary. Except, on occasion, when it does. Today, we tell the story of one such rule breaker: ‘scofflaw.’ Then, we look at all the various shapes and forms the word ‘mustache’ has taken over the years, before shaving itself down to its current spelling.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
After a job well done, you might receive kudos. But today we ask: can you ever receive just one? Or is it just the sound of one hand clapping? Then, we explore a topic that loves to make even the most seasoned English speakers second-guess themselves: Latin plurals.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Few parts of the English language fascinate its users more than obscure and obsolete words. Today, our in-house collector of errant words Ammon Shea brings us a few words that may have been lost to history, but perhaps might be worth picking up and dusting off.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Terrific. Fantastic. Wonderful. Can we properly use these words without referring to terror, fantasy, or wonder? Today our editors look at one of the most dependable sources of language change: semantic drift. Then, we cool down with a discussion of how ‘ice’ and ‘iced’ function to describe various refreshing beverages.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Welcome to Word Matters! In our first episode, we ask a simple but surprisingly complex question: when is a meal supper and when is it dinner? Is there even a difference? Then, we navigate one of English’s most fraught topics. That’s right, we’re talking about the word (yes, WORD) irregardless.Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Introducing Word Matters

Introducing Word Matters

2020-08-0402:332

From the editors at Merriam-Webster, Word Matters is a show for readers, writers, and anyone who ever loved their English class. Hosted by Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski.Produced in collaboration with New England Public Media.Transcript available here.
Comments (4)

Michael Hunter

Isn't "fortnightly" an acceptable alternative to the "bi-weekly" that means every two weeks?

Oct 24th
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Shelby Watters

Their jingle reminds me of Community

Sep 23rd
Reply

hamed lorestani

thanks for the fun episode and all fun words

Sep 16th
Reply

hamed lorestani

thanks guys for what u are doing here..... 🤞🤞🤞

Aug 15th
Reply
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