Ep. 76 - Why You Shouldn’t Believe a Word, with David Shariatmadari


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If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a word? David Shariatmadari, author of Don't Believe A Word: The Surprising Truth About Language, talks with Julie and Eve about little-known origins of words and how their modern-day usage both reflects and impacts culture. For example, the word “happiness” no longer suggests a fleeting state of mind, as it did before the 18th century; instead, English speakers have come to believe happiness can be a permanent condition. Even the lowly toilet has important cultural connotations! David, Julie, and Eve discuss the evolution of “toilet” as an example of how a word can start out as a euphemism and over time become unsavory and even taboo--and why that phenomenon matters. Julie, Book Dreams’ grammar queen, also investigates whether the rise in texting and decline in the number of words in picture books signify the end of civilization as we know it.

David Shariatmadari is the non-fiction books editor at The Guardian. He studied linguistics at Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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