Hi word nerds and history geeks, you’re tuned into Say What.
I’m Jo Vraca and each episode, I’m going to rub shoulders with the glitterati of the English language
where we’ll learn that some of the more colourful, and even banal, words that we use every day
have very un-English origins.
Where do our everyday words come from? Have they always had the same meaning? Who came up with them and who polices them? Yes, you heard me right.
And it’s not just the origins that I’m going to explore. I will look into how these everyday words came to mean what they do today. So we’ll be rocking through dictionaries AND encyclopedias exploring the what, when, how, who and most definitely the why of words.
Like vanilla. How did a flavouring that is use in cakes and icecreams come to mean, in some circles boring, hum-drum, run-of-the-mill (and yes, we’ll be talking about bondage and S&M for this one).
How did vanilla come to mean “basic” when the actual vanilla pod is one of the most expensive spices in the world, requires bees and hummingbirds to pollinate, and only grows in very select climates?
And how about spinster? Today it’s come to mean a sad and miserable unmarried childless woman (and I have a bit to say about that!) but did you know that a spinster was once an independent, unmarried working woman? And let’s not forget that one of the fiercest queens England was a celebrated spinster (and possibly a virgin).
And in today’s age of qanon, I’ll tell you how we came to use the term Tin Foil Hat to refer to conspiracy theories. Jack Black will make an appearance in this story.
And have I mentioned quarantine? Now that’s a history I can’t wait to share with you.
And we’ll launch a grenade at problematic words that just need to be buried.
Of course, as an Italian (Sicilain, actually) living in Australia, we’ll head down the slippery slope of Aussie vernacular because it’s often hilarious.
So who am I to talk about language? I’m a lover and a fighter. I’ll start and end sentences with prepositions because when we know the rules, we can break them.
I may be a grammar autocrat, but I’m not here to teach grammar and tell you that what you’re saying is wrong. But don’t use whom incorrectly, because that is one word that drives me crazy.
I’ll say cactuses and octopuses knowing I’ll be ridiculed because I know what’s right.
I’m a Sicilian living in Australia, I only spoke Italian, Sicilian actually, until I started school, and I went on to study French, Spanish, Italian and French linguistics, so I’m the perfect w****r for this task.
So… Join me as I travel along the road of words and sayings that we use, pretty much on the daily, but that we never really spare a thought for.
Do you have a word or phrase that you always wondered about and wish someone else would do the research on? Send me an email.
You can also find me on Instagram as saywhatthepodcast where I’ll share even more of my daily encounters with words and the people who butcher them.