If you read the title of this episode and cringed, you’re not alone. At Merriam-Webster, editors and lexicographers receive countless letters grousing about the addition of certain words to the dictionary. And here at Science Diction, we get our fair share of emails pointing out our linguistic missteps.
But the more you dig into the origins of words, the more you notice that when it comes to language, “correctness” is a slippery concept. In fact, some of our most beloved English words - nickname! newt! - were born of mistakes.
In this episode, Merriam-Webster lexicographers Emily Brewster and Peter Sokolowski explain the mistake-ridden origins of our words, how language evolves, and how wrong becomes right. Plus, we answer a listener question about the most exported word in the English language.
Emily Brewster is a Senior Editor and Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster.
Peter Sokolowski is a Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster.
Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt composed our music, and they mastered this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
In 1910, a fruit fly geneticist named Thomas Hunt Morgan noticed something strange in one of his specimens. Out of his many, many fruit flies—all with brilliant red eyes—a single fly had white eyes. This fruit fly turned out to be a very big deal. From those white eyes, Morgan eventually figured...
What pigment do we owe to the squid? And what do you name a teeny tiny octopus that’s cute as a button? In this episode of Diction Dash, we’re talking about those clever and often tentacled marine invertebrates: Cephalopods.
Diana Montano, Science Friday’s resident trivia maestro, quizzes...
How did a country's name end up inside the word, “serendipity"? And what’s a “syzygy"? And, more importantly, why does it have so many y’s?
Over the past year, several listeners have written to us asking about these two words. Now, we answer—with a little help. Eli Chen and Justine...