Language Evolves: It’s Literally Fine

Irregardless, the dictionary’s got your back.

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Designed by Elah Feder

design of typewriter with text 'science diction'Science Diction is a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter.


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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.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Guests:

Emily Brewster is a Senior Editor and Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. 

Peter Sokolowski is a Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster.

Credits:

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.

Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosts Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is a senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produces the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

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