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A podcast about words, language, and why we say the things we do

Last Build Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2014 14:35:41 +0000


By: Keith

Thu, 23 Nov 2006 22:50:28 +0000

Dear Word Nerds, I'm slowly working my way through your past episodes. I really enjoy your show, and am amazed that you come up with a new topic and a great treatment of it each week. I had decided not to make any comments until I got caught up, but this one may merit a post: Regarding your mention of the sports term "blowout," you described it like blowing away a light-weight opponent, but it seems to me that a blowout is more akin to one team "blowing out" the other's candle - their light, their flame, their burning desire to win. Well, I've made my first comment - I guess I won't wait until I'm caught up after all! Looking forward to the rest of your shows!

By: Townsend

Wed, 19 Jul 2006 06:08:43 +0000

Thomas rightly pointed out that the US national team surprised the international soccer community by reaching the quarterfinals in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. That may have led many to set the expectations too high this year. I thought that during the whole discussion of the 1-1 tie with Italy that one of you would bring up the idea of a "moral victory", which is defined in Wikipedia thusly: A moral victory occurs when a person, team, or army loses a battle, yet achieves some other moral gain. The gain in question is often totally unrelated to the battle in question; however, the one rule is that the gain must be considerably less than what would have been gained if the main battle had been won; otherwise, it would be characterized as either a "wash" or a proper victory. ( The US-Italy draw could be considered a moral victory because it proved that despite the embarrassing loss to the Czech Republic, the US team could still compete with a high-caliber team such as Italy. This view seemed to be justified when Italy ultimately won the World Cup. Regarding the letter grade scale: when I was in school, I heard the unlikely story that the E grade was abandoned for standing for or being associated with the dubious achievement of "failure with Effort". Thanks for another great podcast.

By: Marina

Mon, 17 Jul 2006 17:55:20 +0000

I loved the podcast, always do, but I'm not sure if 'c' should be craptastic. I've always defined craptastic as fantastically crappy, as in crappy in a bizarre or unusually creative way. A ‘c’ student is average, boring and un-achieving. There’s nothing bizarre or creative there at all. Maybe ‘c’ should stand for conventional?

By: Howard Chang

Fri, 07 Jul 2006 04:13:46 +0000

Hello, I am just posting in reply to Christoph (with a "C" not the one with a "K"), who wrote: "Howard, I hope not too many of your students listened to this show or else they will be all the more disappointed once they get a “D”, assuming that you will associate this grade with what you said it could be read to mean." I thank you for your comment; the letter scale we suggested was tongue-in-cheek. However, there is a nearly indisputable truth regarding what we said about a "D" grade in a foreign language class: namely, it really is a predictor of future failure. A kid who barely passes with a "D" is not sufficiently skilled in the language to pass it at the next level.

By: Kristoff

Thu, 06 Jul 2006 17:26:01 +0000

Thank you, Wordnerds for another awesome podcast [not a hyperbole, it really is awesome!]. I enjoy the references made to public school throughout the podcast, especially the descriptors made from the grades A, B, C, D, and F! I never knew that teachers thought about that, too!

By: Julie

Thu, 06 Jul 2006 02:34:02 +0000

On sports fans who follow teams almost destined to lose - I can understand that. In addition to being a Nationals' fan, I have been, for about 35 years, a Boston Red Sox Fan. And for 33 of those 35 years we knew they would always, always, lose. And Steve Jobs is way cool.

By: Karen Merline

Wed, 05 Jul 2006 20:00:52 +0000

Thank you for the great podcast. I am still working through the earlier episodes. With regard to "no child left behind", might there be a misunderstanding of the word "equal", as in "all men are created equal"? I think that all are equal before God, equal before the law, should have equal opportunity, and equal personal worth and respect are all valid ideas. It doesn't follow, however, that all have equal ability. Garison Keilor says, humerously, that in Lake Woebegone, "all the children are above average". That is funny because it is rediculous. To leave no child behind, if the measurements are honest, the standards would have to be very, very low, and would be meaningless in terms of achievement by those of average and above ability. I would like to suggest for a future Word Nerds a study of the words "equal" and "equality" in this context, and whether "equal standard of living/success" is being mistaken for "equal opportunity". Thanks again.

By: Dave

Wed, 05 Jul 2006 16:27:24 +0000

Chris, thank you for the correction. I have changed our shownotes to reflect the correct situation. Ah yes, Ellen! "Special," which was actually a Rude Word in the sense you're employing in the Memory and Language show.

By: Ellen

Wed, 05 Jul 2006 02:27:52 +0000

Hey Word Nerds! Oh I remember those elementary school report card letters: s=satisfactory, e=excellent, i=improved, n=needs improvement, u=unsatisfactory. Then it was a,b,c,d,and u in middle school. This episode of the show makes me think of the adaptive PE class I took in high school, with me being the only one able to make an intelligible thought. (OK, that was kind of mean, but yeah, I was put with the "special" kids in there.) Alright, enough of me.

By: Chris Hughes

Tue, 04 Jul 2006 19:53:48 +0000

To add to my brief comment above, since I now have more time... 1. Happy 4th of July Word Nerds! As a Brit, I realise you are celebrating being independent from my ancestors, but, hey, I celebrate being independent from my PARENTS, so... 2. There is another sport's fan behavior I have seen a lot of in the UK, and that is being fanatically devoted to a team which may, indeed, is guaranteed NOT to win. Kind of a sporting hair shirt. A testosterone-pumped display of fanliness, I suppose: "Supporting this team brings nothing but pain, but the more pain it brings, the more I support. Indeed, if my team started winning, I might stop supporting...". Discuss. Uniquely British? Did I sniff a whiff of this in Dave's post above? 3. Steve Jobs (Bill Gate's cooler alter ego, at least to some...) DID make a speech at a University Graduation day. Read it here: I think you can get an audio file of this, by the power of Google, if you are so incliined. Forgot to mention above, also, still love the podcast, been listening since Dave's trial podcast straight into his iBook. Best Wishes on your special day Chris.

By: Chris Hughes

Tue, 04 Jul 2006 15:33:22 +0000

BIll Gates did not give that speech, or make that list. See this link: Interesting story, though.

By: Dave

Tue, 04 Jul 2006 13:19:07 +0000

Deb, I went to a Washington Nationals game last night. As I've said on the show, I'm a season ticket mini-plan holder. (I have 20 games, sitting in the same seat.) The Nationals are in general, shall we say, not very good this year. Because of this, crowds are considerably smaller than they were last year. But the crowds are respectable nonetheless. There were 24,000 there last night. We are real fans, not "birgers," because there's not a whole lot of reflected glory to bask in nowadays. (However, we did beat Florida 9-1 last night.) When the Nats played the New York Yankees two weeks ago, the stadium was full to the brim of "birgers," people who are for the Yankees because it's the only team in baseball they know, because the Yanks are in the media capital of the US and dominated the sport so during the 20th century. Very annoying. Thus, it was all the sweeter when our hapless Nationals beat the Yanks two games out of three! (If you are a real Yankee fan and not just a "birger," my apologies. I used to be a real Yankee fan myself, when I lived in New York.)

By: Christoph

Tue, 04 Jul 2006 07:24:39 +0000

Howard, I hope not too many of your students listened to this show or else they will be all the more disappointed once they get a "D", assuming that you will associate this grade with what you said it could be read to mean. Having said that I fully agree with you on "standard creep". Unfortunately it is -- and has been even since my own school days -- very prevalent also in Germany. Increasingly parents attribute the failure of their children in school to the alleged incompetence of teachers rather than the laziness of the pupils. (I should add that this is of course a "multi-facetted" problem which should treated in a more differentiated way but I did want to make this point.)

By: deb

Mon, 03 Jul 2006 23:11:03 +0000

Funny, that you would begin the podcast by associating "failure and success" with sports. It reminded me of "birging" and "corfing." In social psychology, the acryonyms stand for "basking in reflected glory" and "cutting off reflected failure." I came across the phenomena while writing an essay in college on sports fanaticism. I couldn't help thinking how the words reflected the attitudes of some baseball fans (well, sports fans in general). Especially the ones who like rubbing their team's 25 or 26 World Series pennants in the faces of fans whose teams fall far short of that accomplishment. These fans seem to project their team's successes onto themselves, and boast as if THEY hit the walk-off homerun that clinched the pennant! Then there are the bandwagoners, those so-called fans who like to jump on a team's bangwagon when things are going well. However, should the bangwagon hit a few bumps in the road, or become unstable, these fans are poised to jump off. Such "fans" are quick to disassociate themselves with a losing team, and some simply cut them off. It's as if they see themselves as losers by association.

By: Dan

Mon, 03 Jul 2006 22:55:54 +0000

When Howard read the words for grades and got to C, I think he should have used "craptacular." I heard Bart Simpson say that one episode and it's stayed with me ever since. I always chuckle when I say it. No wait, as a loser I have to admit, it's more of a giggle than a chuckle.

By: Brian Hogg

Mon, 03 Jul 2006 20:26:04 +0000

Hi, Great show, as ever. One thing that occurred to me that I wanted to share is the thought -- by no means authoritative -- that the name "No Child Left Behind," while it does invoke an image of the children as being passive, and helpless, might also owe its phrasing to the marine corps' motto/phrase "Never Leave a Man Behind." This might be a bit of a stretch, but Mr. Bush has defined himself as a wartime president, and has spent his days cultivating that image, and if you view it like that, the focus shifts from helpless children being pushed forward, willing or not, to the courageous government who simply won't stand to have them fall, for any reason. Those're just my two cents. Thanks! Brian

By: Thomas

Sun, 02 Jul 2006 08:00:19 +0000

Hello! I really enjoyed this Podcast, as always. I did however I have to comment (and I'm sure I'm neither the first or the last to do so) on your statement that "This would be the first time the American team made it out of the first round". Surely you havent forgotton the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan (, where not only did USA not choke in the first round, but indeed made it to the quaterfinals before losing to Germany. Since I am an American living in Germany and married to a German national, it was the one thing that actually got me to watch the World Cup. Of course this year, needless to say, I have little choice... Also, I was surprised not to hear any mention of the new favorite term for losing: Getting pwned... Great show, keep up the good work!