When The Associated Press said it would no longer condemn the use of the adverb "hopefully" in its style guide, most people shrugged. But the announcement was a red flag to people who have made the adverb the biggest bugaboo of English usage over the past 50 years.
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Remember misunderstanding certain words as a child? Maybe you figured “cat burglars” only stole cats, or assumed guerrilla fighters must be angry apes. Martha and Grant discuss childhood misunderstandings about language. Also this week, Yankee dimes, culch piles, hanging crepe, educational rubrics, and whether the language you speak influences the way you think.
Researchers at the University of Reading are speculating that today’s languages share a common root dating as far back as the last Ice Age. Words like "mother," "man" and "ashes" are categorized as "ultraconserved," meaning they are survivors of a lost language from which many modern tongues are descended.
Why do spelling bees include such bizarre, obsolete words as cymotrichous? Why is New York called the Big Apple? Also, the stinky folk medicine tradition called an asifidity bag, the surprising number of common English phrases that come directly from the King James Bible, three sheets to the wind, the term white elephant, in like Flynn, Australian slang, and what to call foam sleeve for an ice-cold beverage can.