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Host: Scott LaMar

Radio Smart Talk: Amazing Words

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jan 31, 2013 4:15 PM

Radio Smart Talk for Friday, February 1:


Fascinating.  Defined as "extremely interesting or charming."  Fascinating is a good word to describe the book, Amazing Words by Dr. Richard Lederer.  In the book, Dr. Lederer writes about hundreds of words in the English language, where they came from, how they evolved, and teaches the reader things he or she didn't know about common words.

For example, the word "run" is perhaps the biggest word in the English language (at least in the dictionary) because it has 645 meanings.  Not only is run defined as "to move swiftly on alternate feet" but you can run a company, run it up a flagpole, run up debts, run for school board, get a run in your stocking, run the motor of your car, run an idea past a friend, and hopefully your nose isn't running.

Run comes in ahead of the words "put" and "set" in number of meanings.

The word "Dachshund" is the name of one of the oldest and most popular breeds of dog.  It is derived from the German words dachs meaning badger and hund which is hound.  Lederer describes how the hot dog -- the ones on a bun -- got its name and how it relates to dachshunds and sausages.

Dr. Richard Lederer is considered an expert on language and its usage.  He has written more than 40 books with titles such as Anguished English, The Miracle of Language, and Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay.

Dr. Lederer will appear on Friday's Radio Smart Talk in what could be a fascinating hour. 

By the way, fascinating was first used in 1638 but Lederer probably already knew that.

Listen to the program:

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  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:10

    Email from Manuel, Carlisle

    Can your guest address the dangers we are facing due to the move by the younger generation to use text language to abbreviate EVERYTHING.

    Such as
    IDK for I don’t know.
    TY for Thank you

    And the like. I have even noticed it creeping into some spoken language.

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:07

      Dear Manuel Carlisle,

      The Internet inspires users to write more personal letters than ever before. Being good in language means showing competence in code-switchinhg. As long as texters understand that their abbreviations and symbols are appropriate for texting but nor for other areas of communicat6ion, I have no problem with this new medium.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:23

    Email from Michael, Dillsburg

    My wife's nick name is "Mow", pronounced to rhyme with "Wow"
    People often read her name and pronounce it to rhyme with "Crow"

    I tease them by e-mailing that her name rhymes with "Bow", "Sow", and "Row". Three words which each have two pronunciations. Are there any other "…ow" words I can use?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:29

    Email from Manuel, Carlisle

    Why must people so badly butcher the meaning of the word, pentultimate

    • Finnegans Wake img 2013-02-01 12:17

      To say nothing of its spelling...

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:43

      Because they think that the prefix "pen" is an emphatic when it actually means "next to the last." In AMAZING WORDS, I list about a dozen similar words, such as "noisome"n and "wherefore," that don't mean what people think they mean.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:31

    Email from Hal,

    This topic fascinates me – thanks.

    I just ordered your guest’s book online.

    Would Dr. Lederer care to comment on Bill Bryson’s book, “The Mother Tongue”, which is a favorite of mine. Is it a good companion book to his?

    How much have words changed in the last 10 years due to the internet and texting?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:32

    Email from Jane, Gettysburg

    Can you please explain proper usage of which and that?

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:53

      "That" kicks off a restrictive adjective clause (one necessary to identify its antecedent)and does not take a comma: "The sport that I like best is tennis."

      "Which" kicks off a nonrestrictive adjective clause (where the antecedent is already identified) and takes a comma:"Tennis, which is my favorite sport, keeps me in good shape."

      The simplest form of the rule: "That" doesn't take a comma; "which" does.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:33

    Email from Michael, Dillsburg

    When is it proper to use "utilize" in place of "use"

    An ex government worker, I often had memos with the word "utilize" where I thought "use" would be the better word.
    One explanation I'd heard was you use your turn signals to indicate a turn, but you can utilize your turn signals to provide additional illumination if the headlights fail. The distinction being, "use" is using something for its intended purpose, but "utilize" infers making use of something for a purpose other than it's intended purpose.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:34

    Email from Alex, Lancaster

    Is the word "awhile" actually real or something made up? Friends of mine have said it's centralized to Lancaster County, for example you're at a restaurant and the waiter says "Would you like to order drinks awhile?"

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 13:08

      "Awhile" is certainly a words, as in "let's wait awhile," but I am not famiar with its use in your example.

      • Finnegans Wake img 2013-02-01 13:30

        "Awhile," meaning "in the meantime," is a colloquialism found quite frequently in this area. There is a Middle English usage of "while" meaning "time spent doing something," and from there it's not difficult to see how "in the meantime" came from "a + time spent doing something."

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:37

    Email from Mimi, Duncan;

    So many people now use the present tense when actually discussing an event from the past.

    Here is an example:
    Someone describing a man winning a race in the 2012 olympics might say, "He does not want to come in second, so he musters the energy to pass the runner in front and wins the race!"

    BTW, I love "A Way with Words", with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, on Yellowstone Public Radio in MT.

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 13:13

      This use of the present tense is simply to make the event more vivid.

      I'm pleased to report that Charles Harrington Elster and I are the founding co-hosts of "A Way with Words" and we're delighted with the growth of the show.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:44

    Email from Mimi, Duncan;

    So many people now use the present tense when actually discussing an event from the past.

    Here is an example:
    Someone describing a man winning a race in the 2012 olympics might say, "He does not want to come in second, so he musters the energy to pass the runner in front and wins the race!"


    BTW, I love "A Way with Words", with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, on Yellowstone Public Radio in MT.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:46

    Email from Hannah, Lancaster

    I've been trying to understand this for a long time.

    How did we arrive at the words we use to describe groups of animals, like a "gaggle of geese", a "shrewdness of apes", or a "pounce of kittens"?

  • TrinaB img 2013-02-01 09:46

    I have a question about the origin and usage of a word. I hate champagne flutes and use champagne saucers, the old fashioned flat dessert dish like glasses. I have also see these called a coupe. Would that be pronounced coop or coupe'.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:55

    Email from Lee, York:

    I heard and used a phrase from my childhood that I have never heard used by anyone else. I grew up in a section of PA settled by Connecticut immigrants which may mean something. The phrase means "I was successful in a task" so you say "I made a fetch of it". Any idea where this phrase came from and if it is used anywhere else other than my childhood.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-02-01 09:55

    Email from Lee, York:

    I grew up in PA on the NY border. On Thanksgiving we had "dressing" in our turkey. I moved to Wilkes-Barre where we had "stuffing" and then to York where we ate "Filling".

    • Finnegans Wake img 2013-02-01 12:26

      My understanding is that "dressing" is prepared external to the bird, whereas "stuffing" or "filling" was baked inside the bird. Preferences seem to vary geographically, but in this area stuffing seemed to be the method of choice for a long time.

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-02 15:30

      This is the way dialect works -- Hoagie in Philadelphia, grinder in New England, and sub elsewhere. Language is a great pie, the slices of which are dialect.

  • dcnjosephd img 2013-02-01 09:57

    I have a copy of The Miracle of Language with a copyright date of 1953 and the author's name is Charlton Laird (sold for 50 cents).

    During the broadcast, I hear the guest speaker's name pronounced differently from the spelling on the book (sounds like Lederer).

    Why is this?

    Great program - and it is wonderful to hear the (hopefully) author of this book.


    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 13:00

      I have indeed written a book titled "The Miracle of Language" and so has Charlton Laird. Titles are not copyrightable.

  • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:13

    Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently and have different meaning, such as bow,row, sow, entrance, lead, wound, wind, and moped are called heteronyms. You'll find more than a dozen of them in my AMAZING WORDS.

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:38

      This comment is in response to the email from Michael, Dillsburg

  • Finnegans Wake img 2013-02-01 12:24

    I'm thinking of a word (often but not always capitalized) that features three pairings of the letters "a" and "u" in some order ("au" or "ua"). Anyone care to guess? It does have a local relevance, BTW.

  • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 12:57

    In my view, never use "utilize." Use "use."

    • Richard Lederer img 2013-02-01 13:04

      Replying to comment from email from Michael, Dillsburg

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