The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins : The Great Courses: Writing

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Anne Curzan
  • Series: The Great Courses: Writing
  • 18 hrs and 21 mins
  • Lecture

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."

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.

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- Penelope27

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.


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- Cassi

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses