Phil Cousineau really, really loves words. In his new book, “The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins,” that passion shines through as Cousineau digs deep into history to find the stories behind words ranging from abbey-lubber (“a holy, lazy, fool”) to zuihitsu (“a spontaneous jotting down of one’s thoughts”). We talk with the author about his latest love letter to language.

Phil Cousineau, author and filmmaker

  • TimDoyle

    How about “Hard Tack” for Biscotti. Civil War bread for soldiers.

  • Anita

    I’ve always loved the sound of ‘evanescent’–it seems to fade away on the tongue…

  • Rob

    I’ve always loved the word “serendipity,” which to me sounds just like what it means.

  • Rebecca Morgan

    This summer, I volunteered at an English-language school in Turkey. The owner liked my vocabulary as I taught him some new words. He asked me to send him interesting words as I came upon them. I sent him 5 new words each day for him and to pass on to his students. I collected them and posted them here:

  • A. Nony Mouse

    From my encounter with a controversial quasi-religious group; I was the beneficiary of one of their courses which required the student to look up, define and finally demonstrate understanding of around 250,00 English language words. I am disappointed to find that I accomplished only a quarter of the journey to the complete and current English lexicon!! 😉
    It was an enlightening experience in several ways, not the least of which was the epiphany that words are the connecting point or…the point of disconnection in all human relationships. Two life long friends can become, in a few seconds of utterance of certain words, mortal enemies! And yet our educational systems have not yet established a real education in the essential importance of words to understanding life.
    The demonstration of one’s ability to communicate has little to do with using complicated, obscure or little understood words. It is instead the choice of commonly understood words to communicate one’s perceived reality. Without an understanding of the words at the receipt point, they are strange sounds falling on deaf ears.

  • David

    Folk comes from Volk, German for people. Don’t know how it got into English, but I’d wager it came to the isle with the Angles.

  • Did Dr Krasny just ask about the origin of “folks”? Wouldn’t that be “volks” the german word for people? (As in volkswagon.)

    – Brian Rosen (San Francisco)

  • Ashley

    I love the word ‘vehement’ and in general words that begin with V. They have this intensity when you say and read them.

  • Marcia Mednick

    I find it interesting that you use “sonicate” in a positive sounding way. Anyone who has used a sonicator in a biology would strongly disagree! It is an awful-sounding device that uses vibration to lyse cells!

  • Lucas Fladzinski

    I’ve always loved “tempest” and “tempestuous.” Always a delight to say and use in context.

  • julie

    the etymology of the seemingly mundane word “person” is unexpectedly poetic and inspiring — it’s a combination of the prefix per-, meaning “through,” and the verb “sonare,” meaning “to sound.” put together, you get “to sound through” as the root of what it is to be a person. a person is the vehicle through which spirit can sound.

    • robby13851

      I beg to differ. The Latin word for an actor’s mask is “persona”; for the Greeks, probable source of persona it was Prosoopon.

  • Gregg Chadwick

    Greetings to Michael and Phil!
    As the artist who created the paintings that join Phil Cousineau’s vivid word stories in The Painted Word I have to say that my favorite word in the book is monogashi. This rich word from Japanese means the sigh or sadness of things. I am right now sitting in front of the painting that illuminates the word in the book and sending my thanks for life your way.
    Happy Holidays
    Gregg Chadwick

  • Barbara Poole

    I was reading the newspaper while listening to your program and came across 2 headline words. Does your guest know the origin of “BROUHAHA” and “FILIBUSTER?” Both great sounding words!

  • michael

    my favorite would be the etymology of G.I.

  • Elizabeth

    I think that sports terminology is fascinating. My particular favorite is “love” meaning zero in tennis scoring. It comes from the French for egg l’oeuf because 0 looks like an egg!

  • C. Lombardi

    I get a kick out of usages that borrow counterfeit gravitas with the use of Latin-like phrases: the motto of Red Green’s Possum Lodge “Omni Flunkus Moritati” (When all else fails, play dead”); “E Clampus Vitus”–the organization than places tongue-in-cheek plaques at historical places; and “Phi Slamma Jamma”–the pseudo-frat nickname for a great Houston Cougars basketball team.

  • winston

    Please talk about “onomonapia”.

  • FayNissenbaum

    “POWNED” or pwned originated long before twitter existed. It’s a corruption of the word “Owned.” This originated in an online game called Warcraft, where a map designer misspelled “owned.” When the computer beat a player, it was supposed to say, so-and-so “has been owned.” Also, note that the letter P is next to O on the keyboard.

  • Rachel Leibman

    When taking Hebrew lessons awhile back I was struck by how similar the phrase “ha col beseder” (everything’s OK) sounded to the jazz term “copacetic.” I did some Internet searches and find that I’m not the only one to think this. Do these have anything in common or is it just a happy coincidence?

  • “pwned” from “owned” is not at all mysterious. The “p” key is next to the “o” on a standard keyboard. It is the result of simply not correcting the typo.

  • vada Russell

    “flabbergasted” I grew up with this word in Oklahoma. At college, I used the word in discussion with an Iranian student (still Persia at that time). He was taken aback, flabbergasted, at the word. I never thought the word was unusual, but where does it come from?

  • Magick

    My daughter, Celeste Hirschman, who has an MA in human sexuality, coined the word “Cockfidence” as a title for her book to express the idea “to be the man you want to be AND drive women wild”.
    Her latest word is selfness, to recognize the need to be yourself and not think of it as negative like selfish or self-centered.

  • Fantastic, I love language and words and I really loved this

  • michael

    i’d like to recommend César Aira’s “An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter” a chilling, surreal portrait of a young landscape painters travels through south american. Dark, bizarre, and truly incredible.

    • Gregg Chadwick

      Thanks for the recommendation Michael. I must add this to my reading list. Sounds amazing

  • Hi, you were wondering about Obama’s use of “folks” yesterday – it’s from old norse (/common germanic) fólk (German: Volk) – in meaning it’s related to latin “plebes” = common crew of some sort (soldiers, sailors, etc.) Secondary it can also mean the people of a nation. It also gives me associations to the use during the Third Reich as in Volks–this and that ex. Volkswagen (the car for everyman). I am in NO way hinting that Obama has this in mind. I think Obama uses it in the meaning of “the common people, everyman + folks of a nation”. In Denmark (my native country) we use the word a lot like Obama – as an example the Danish Parliament is called (lit.) The People’s Parliament = Folketinget (ting/thing also old norse for gathering of elders). Parties (of which we have many!) who want to appeal to the workers/ordinary people has Folk- in the names: Socialistisk Folkeparti (lit. Soc. folks party). So, we share the word as common Germanic stock.

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