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This Author: John-Ciardi
This Publisher: National Public Radio

NPR: On Words with John Ciardi Podcast

NPR: On Words with John Ciardi Podcast

Product Details

Running Time
4 Min.
Offered
Weekly

Description

Ever wondered where this word or that phrase comes from? The late poet laureate John Ciardi uncovers historical interpretations in this series from the Morning Edition archives.


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Pyramid: Word Origin

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Is it beyond the limits of any known sense that the word "pyramid" derives from Greek soldiers' descriptions of the Egyptian monuments as "wheat cakes"? Idiom investigator John Ciardi takes a look.

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Buxom/Prehistoric: Changed Meanings

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


How do the definitions of words slip and slide into something entirely different? Word wrangler John Ciardi explains how "buxom" went from meaning "obedient" to something ... quite different.

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Knocked Into a Cocked Hat; There's the Rub

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


What does it mean, exactly, to be "knocked into a cocked hat"? For that matter, what is the origin of the Shakespearean turn of phrase "there's the rub"? Two unrelated figures of speech, originating from sports idiom, are explained by wordsmith John Ciardi.

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Italian-American Dialect Explained

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Etymologist and poet John Ciardi revisits the idiom of his youth to uncover the myriad ways in which Italian-descended people infused American English with their own "paisani" ingenuity.

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Rhombus

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


One can trace, as poet/historian John Ciardi does, the word "rhombus" back through its Latin and Greek origins. But to do so would be futile without acknowledging the relevance of a once-common childhood toy.

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Folk Etymology: Capricious Associations

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


In this week's pick from the word garden, etymologist John Ciardi explains how "folk word formations" occur in the least-expected ways, and result in some of the most beautiful — and unfortunate — nomenclature seen in any language.

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Billion: U.S. and European Meanings

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


"Billion" is, in amateur numerologist John Ciardi's reckoning, "a word that seems to have been born confused." He zeroes in on the numerical discrepancies that may cause further confusion for those venturing to the other side of the Atlantic.

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Ciardi Traces Root of His Name

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


John Ciardi traces the illustrious history of his own last name, from its roots as a German surname through Longbeard detours, twisted with a sound shift or two. Let's do him a favor and pronounce his name correctly.

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Pirates' Jolly Roger: Origin

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Where does our traditional image of the pirate flag come from, if there is no recorded history of its actual use? John Ciardi dons an eyepatch and peg leg to find out whether the skull-and-crossbones emblem was really just counterfeit.

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Kilkenny Cats, Accolade: Origins

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Poet and semantic swordsman John Ciardi resurrects another expression from the vaults of time and memory — "to fight like Kilkenny cats" — and applies this dueling simile to a word whose history is not as harmonious as it seems.

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Dunmow Flitch: Life of Married Bliss

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Bacon, or its variants, appears in a number of common British idioms, but none is so important to civil society, apparently, as the "dunmow flitch," according to etymologist and carnivore John Ciardi. He traces the history of this phrase, as well as its implications for his own matrimonial bliss.

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Siwash: Origin and Use of Tribe Name

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


The long and storied history of the name "Siwash" is detailed in this installment, from its origins as a French term of not-so-endearment to common adjective to collegial cheer. As John Ciardi amply demonstrates, tracing the path of a word over time can be like following the trail of a log through a winding, treacherous skid road.

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Coprolite, Kelemenopy: Word Use Proposed

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


When John Ciardi isn't exploring the fossilized remnants of words, he is either dredging up new uses for old ones or coining his own neologisms. Witness "coprolite," a little-used term he dusts off for modern, metaphorical usage. Or "kelemenopy," an alphabetical oddity our word wizard creates out of thin air. Yet both strangely fill a vacuum in a way only the most useful words can.

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Words Embellished by Ad Industry

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


What's in a name? When it comes to products on the market, suggests John Ciardi, it may boil down to whatever sells. Whether it's the "Hudson seal" coat made from an imaginary animal, or "German silver tableware" that is neither German nor silver, savvy advertisers have used language not just to inform but also to mislead.

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Leading Apes in Hell: Phrase Explained

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


This week's segment answers a profound question for the ages: Was John Ciardi a male chauvinist? Our dogged didacticist ponders the hypothetical origins of a phrase, "leading apes in hell," that has traditionally been used in the context of the longest-running conflict of all time: the battle of the sexes.

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Benefit of Clergy, Nose Stitch: Origins

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


John Ciardi stitches together the curious origins of two nearly forgotten phrases: the "benefit of clergy," and the "nose stitch." The former once was useful in saving one's skin, especially when accused of a crime punishable by death. But if death is inevitable, come heaven or high seas, there's no better way to preserve its dignity than through a peculiarly nasal naval custom.

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Tiu (God): Root of Many Words

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


John Ciardi recounts a fascinating story of "history in English words," reconstructing a hypothesized pan-European legend through its scattered remnants in various languages. The root of all supreme deities — at least on the Continent, it seems — is one simple syllable.

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Thieves' Slang: Etymology Updated

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Shots with good drift sense don't need stalls on the whiz to lift a score: Thieves' translator John Ciardi takes the listener on an informative tour of then-contemporary pickpocketers' cant, courtesy of a newspaper clipping.

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Pink: Word Derived from Flower

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


Whether you are a pinko, in the pink, or just like a lighter shade of red, John Ciardi will illuminate for you the origins of a word that once had no connection to the color of imaginary elephants.

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Psaphon: Ancient Greek, 1st Ad Campaign

Author: NPR
Tue, Aug 07, 2007


This week, John Ciardi turns his etymological prowess to Greek mythology, tracing the history of Psaphon's audacious attempt to make himself known across the land. The result, he explains, was the first ad campaign.

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More Details

  • Published: 2002
  • LearnOutLoud.com Product ID: N018855