Lexicon Valley

Lexicon Valley is a show about language, from pet peeves, syntax, and etymology to neurolinguistics and the death of languages. Hosted by linguist John McWhorter.

Education
Language Learning
Society & Culture
1
Forgetting Your Roots
Words have a way of rebelling against their etymological parents, acquiring meanings of their own.
55 min
2
Future English Speaker, Can You Read Me?
That language changes is certain. How quickly or slowly is another matter.
62 min
3
Getting Got
The story of how one little verb developed a seemingly endless capacity to absorb new meanings.
40 min
4
On the Origin of English
A controversial theory holds that English, along with other Germanic languages, was profoundly influenced early on by Phoenician. The evidence is intriguing.
57 min
5
White Author, Black English. Problem?
Mark Twain famously depicted what he called the "Missouri Negro dialect" of Jim. Would that be acceptable today?
52 min
6
Do Cats Have Language?
Animals bark, sing, purr and even gesture, all fascinating but a far cry from human communication.
58 min
7
Sergeant, Corporal, Colonel!
Peculiar linguistic tales of America's soldiers.
36 min
8
To Reason Why
There's more than one way to ask why. How come? What for?
34 min
9
When Talking to Your Mother-In-Law Is a Minefield
From baby talk to formal varieties, languages around the world offer—or even require—different ways of speaking for different situations.
40 min
10
The Incredible Story of the Traveling Creole
Enslaved people developed a hybrid language that sailed from Africa to the Caribbean and—unbelievably—back again.
59 min
11
This Am a Minstrel Stereotype, Right?
A longstanding mystery of Black English may finally be solved.
52 min
12
When Jews Adapted Spanish
Languages of the Ottoman Empire, inspired by historian Alan Mikhail's new book God's Shadow.
44 min
13
Does English Have a Future?
49 min
14
Defund Karen
On the insults, acronyms and sloganeering of America's racial reckoning.
39 min
15
Beyond the Five Ws
The curious grammar of questions in languages around the world.
49 min
16
Tweety Bird and Toddlerspeak
Language acquisition is like magic—how do children do it?!
44 min
17
Coronavirus: Isolation and Aspiration
41 min
18
Our Indigenous Languages
A luxuriance of long words, baroque case endings and irregular everything—the Native American tongues!
58 min
19
I Just Can't!
Host John McWhorter shares some of his longstanding language peeves—yes, linguists have them too!
43 min
20
The Many Meanings of Too
Host John McWhorter finds linguistic inspiration in an 80-year-old musical performance of Rubber Dolly.
39 min
21
Sicko, Whacko, Weirdo
The -o suffix traces back to old comic strip characters with names like Knocko and Groucho. Neato!
40 min
22
Chinese Has No Grammar, Right? Wrong!
Mandarin might not have gender or case endings but there's more to grammar than conjugations.
47 min
23
From Uptalk to Vocal Fry, Women Are Prolific La...
Want to hear what English will sound like in the future? Talk to a woman.
46 min
24
In What Order Did Languages Arrive in Europe?
DNA analysis is revealing which speakers traveled where and when.
41 min
25
Digging Up the Past
Let's talk about how we talk about that which already occurred.
38 min
26
Verbs on the Move
Coming and going in languages around the world.
38 min
27
Does PROCESSES Rhyme with KNEES?
How our idea of formality can affect the way we say certain words.
44 min
28
A Bisl Yiddish
Add to German a large helping of Hebrew and a dollop of Slavic. Stir. Let marinate. Enjoy!
44 min
29
Private Parts
What does a rooster have to do with male genitalia anyway?
37 min
30
The Soft Power of Like
Terms such as "like" and "sort of" are ways for English speakers to sound more polite.
42 min
31
Men, Women and Children
What is it with people and animals and irregular plurals?
34 min
32
Zombie English
Long-dead elements of the language still haunt our everyday speech.
31 min
33
Let's Do Lunch
Come table-hopping as we discuss the linguistic quirks of some mealtime terms.
35 min
34
How to Think Like a Linguist
Never mind those 26 letters—the English language has 44 unique sounds.
34 min
35
Has English Gotten Less Complex?
English has shed many of its nuances over the centuries. Take pronouns, for example.
37 min
36
S#!t, Hell and Darn
Dissecting three common curse words.
33 min
37
This Family Speaks 1,200 Languages
From Madagascar to Easter Island, Austronesian tongues traveled far and wide with early seafarers.
42 min
38
Language vs. Dialect
The difference between a language and a dialect is mostly meaningless and entirely political.
39 min
39
The Internet Loves the Exclamation Point!!
A conversation with linguist Gretchen McCulloch about her new book, Because Internet.
35 min
40
Why Is "Ph" Pronounced That Way?
The answer is positively phantastic.
43 min
41
Does Language Affect Thought?
We revisit the popular notion that our language helps shapes our worldview.
44 min
42
A Fleeting Glance
The word "transient" reveals some enduring patterns in English pronunciation and etymology.
36 min
43
The Romance Languages
What an ancient, undecipherable manuscript says—and doesn't say—about Latin and its spawn.
41 min
44
Why Do Some Americans Say Warshed?
The letter R has a habit of intruding on spoken English. How come?
45 min
45
Flores Man vs. Sulawesi
A linguistic mystery in the Lesser Sunda Islands.
43 min
46
The Lingua Francas
A conversation with Gaston Dorren, author of Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages.
33 min
47
Can Climate Influence Language?
Tonal languages evolved mostly in hot and humid places. What would explain that?
42 min
48
When Ain't Was Alright
What we can learn about English from am, the seemingly simplest verb.
35 min
49
The Semitic Tongues
Where did Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic originate? And what is a triconsonantal root?
41 min
50
Precious Little
How an old word for child morphed into a versatile, and very modern, suffix.
39 min
51
When Words Collide
Some more of the many ways that neologisms form.
40 min
52
Truth Be Told
An actually very literal discussion of true words. Really!
36 min
53
A Penetrating History of F*%k
English speakers have been getting it on with the F-word for centuries.
42 min
54
When Did English Get Happy?
A New Year's meditation on a joyful word.
34 min
55
Sponsored: Adjusting the Lens on Chronic Disease
More than half of Americans are currently living with one or more serious, preventable, chronic diseases. These rates are expected to increase significantly over the next two decades.
28 min
56
Why Language Can't Be Tamed
A conversation with Lane Greene, author of Talk on the Wild Side, about the "vague and anarchic" nature of language.
35 min
57
Is Social Media Changing English?
Our speech is becoming more childlike, but not for the reasons you think.
37 min
58
What Was the First Language?
How far back can we trace, with any accuracy, the spoken word?
43 min
59
So ... Let's Talk About So
How long have we been starting our sentences with "so"?
35 min
60
Like-Minded
A meditation on the evolution of the word like.
28 min
61
Why Do Southerners Talk Like That?
John McWhorter dissects the many distinct features that make up Southern speech.
36 min
62
The Habitual Past
Did you "used to" do something but don't any longer? Where does that expression come from?!
31 min
63
A Riot of Color
Our word for "red" predates our word for "blue"—and that's true for almost every language!
37 min
64
The Rise of They
English pronouns are evolving and it's time to embrace it.
39 min
65
Wabbit Twacks
A linguistic analysis of Looney Tunes.
40 min
66
Tee Time
What the French Canadian version of The Flintstones can teach us about the letter T.
38 min
67
Happy Birthday OED!
John McWhorter raises an etymological glass to the nonagenarian Oxford English Dictionary.
32 min
68
If Frozen, Why Not Squozen?
Language lessons from this year's Tony nominees for Best Musical.
35 min
69
The Pronouning of Profanities
Words like f*ck and sh*t are increasingly standing in for *it* and *that*.
31 min
70
One Tongue to Rule Them All
The tantalizing prospect of a universal language.
35 min
71
The Art of the Spiel
A brief history of oratory from the Gilded Age to the Era of Trump.
40 min
72
Lend Me Your Ears: Julius Caesar
Slate's new podcast miniseries Lend Me Your Ears explores how Shakespeare's works speak to our current political era.
0 min
73
Getting to Yes
The making of our compact, workaday affirmative.
33 min
74
The Story of P
The 16th letter of our alphabet is a fancy little thing.
36 min
75
English Spelling Is a Beautiful Mess
John McWhorter on why English spelling is so frustratingly idiosyncratic.
34 min
76
Did the Founding Fathers Have a British Accent?
What we know about what Washington, Franklin and Hamilton may have sounded like.
34 min
77
No-Uh!
John McWhorter on the rise of an exclamatory syllable in English.
32 min
78
The Inner Workings of Out
The rich complexities of a humble preposition.
31 min
79
Words, For Her
John McWhorter on the origin of woman, girl and other lady terms.
32 min
80
What's the Deal with Eleven?
John McWhorter on the etymology and pronunciation of English numbers.
42 min
81
There Are Two N-Words
Like gangster and gangsta, nigger and nigga have become two distinct words.
32 min
82
The Thing Is Is
The problem is, is that we sometimes say "is" twice. Why?
31 min
83
An Accidental Sanctity
Biblical scholar Mark Ward discusses his forthcoming book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible.
31 min
84
Thanksgiving Misnomers
Turkey? Pumpkin? Squash? They're all mistakes.
33 min
85
Sometimes Just Because
Language is often at the mercy of pure chance.
29 min
86
Against Strunk & White
It's time to permanently shelve the Elements of Style.
29 min
87
Whence Baby Mama?
John McWhorter answers questions from Lexicon Valley listeners.
34 min
88
Este No Es Parqueo
After parking in front of a garage, John received a note written in Spanish.
33 min
89
From Pidgins to Creoles
John McWhorter discusses the process by which some new languages are born.
34 min
90
Do Languages Simplify Over Time?
Old English was arguably more complicated than Modern English. Is that true of all languages?
28 min
91
Did Cavebabies Say Mama and Papa?
Languages across the world developed similar words for "mom" and "dad." How is that possible?
28 min
92
New Life for Dying Languages
The Language Conservancy's Wil Meya discusses the effort to revive Native American languages.
34 min
93
In the Negative
The history and evolution of "no" and "not."
28 min
94
Why Do Languages Have Contractions?
John McWhorter explains why we love shrinkage.
32 min
95
The Incredible Lightness of Being
John McWhorter considers the eccentric irregularity of the verb "to be."
26 min
96
Is There a Jewish Way of Talking?
John McWhorter interrupts the hosts of Unorthodox to discuss hallmarks and stereotypes of Jewish communication style.
35 min
97
Mining Graffiti for Slang
John McWhorter talks to Ben Zimmer about the Vietnam Graffiti Project and other slangy topics.
28 min
98
That's Not a Word, Is It?
John McWhorter discusses the near-futile impulse to determine what is, and what is not, a word.
27 min
99
The Language of Female Friendships
John McWhorter discusses communication styles with linguist Deborah Tannen, author of You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships.
32 min
100
The Euphemism Treadmill
John McWhorter on the evolution from "crippled" to "handicapped" to "differently abled" and why no such term is likely to stick around long.
25 min