That's What They Say Every Sunday, UM English Professor Anne Curzan and Michigan Radio's Rina Miller explore our changing language (word!). Each week, they'll talk about why we say what we say (church!).
That's What They Say

That's What They Say

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Every Sunday, UM English Professor Anne Curzan and Michigan Radio's Rina Miller explore our changing language (word!). Each week, they'll talk about why we say what we say (church!).More from That's What They Say »

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When having your druthers includes learning about "druthers"

If we had our druthers, we would spend every morning nerding out about language and grammar. Fortunately, we do get the opportunity to flex our language muscles every Sunday. We're also fortunate to have awesome listeners like Kalen, who recently asked us where the phrase "if I had my druthers" comes from. Kalen, there's nothing we'd druther do than figure this out. Listen Listening...4:09 Listen to the conversation. "Druther" is a mashed together version of the phrase "would rather." If you say "would rather" quickly enough, you can see how these two words blur together as "druther." When someone says "if I had my druthers," they're talking about what they would do if they had their choice or preference in a matter. This phrase shows up in various places in popular culture, including, perhaps most famously, Al Capp's long-running comic strip Lil' Abner. In fact, Capp used "druther" in his comic so often, he's sometimes mistaken for having coined the term. While Capp may have helped popularize "druther," the earliest print reference we have so far is actually from 1833. Etymologist Barry Popick tracked down this quote in an issue of American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine: "I'd druther live in the woods anytime by myself than on the best plantation in the country." In this example, "druther" is used as a verb, but it can also be used as a noun. In Mark Twain's 1896 novel Tom Sawyer, Detective Huck Finn says to Tom, "Any way you'd druther have it, that is the way I'd druther have it." When Tom responds to Huck, he uses "druther" as a noun: "There ain't any druthers about it Huck Finn. Nobody said anything about druthers." Over time, we've seen variants of "druthers" such as "ruthers" and "rathers," though those don't seem to be quite as popular. Interestingly, Google Books says that "druthers" has been on the rise since the 1960s — do you use it?

The "H" in IMHO is tearing the internet apart

When it comes to the internet, seemingly innocuous topics are often the grounds for heated debates. Is the dress blue and black or gold and white? Is this voice saying "yanny" or saying "laurel"? A writer at Buzzfeed recently asked readers to help settle a workplace debate over whether IMHO means "in my humble opinion" or "in my honest opinion." Since this is the internet, where people will fight about literally anything, things quickly devolved into what will likely be a centuries-long blood

Some people are sensitive about how to use "sensitive"

For several months now, English Professor Anne Curzan has been combing through various editions of the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage to see how usage rules have changed over time. This project is the quintessential labor of love for a language geek and has yielded some interesting ideas for That's What They Say, including this week's highly "sensitive" topic. As it turns out, the New York Times is sensitive about using "sensitive" to describe things like documents or issues.

Whether to ensure a distinction between "ensure" and "insure"

When it comes to "insure" and "ensure," do you find it necessary to keep them distinct from one another? For some people, this may not be much of an issue, since "ensure" and "insure" sound so similar. But things get trickier when it comes to writing. English Professor Anne Curzan says she runs into this question of distinction all the time when she's editing other people's work.

It's not unusual to be nonplussed over the meaning of 'nonplussed'

"Nonplussed" is one of those words that historically doesn't have a particularly complicated meaning, but it's one that people frequently misuse. In fact, the definition of "nonplussed" has become so muddled over time, people often use it to mean the complete opposite of its actual meaning. Again, the definition of "nonplussed" is pretty simple, so why all the confusion? You could say there's a prefix to blame.

Here's why we say "gubernatorial" instead of "governatorial"

Leave it to a political reporter to come up with a question that's both intriguing and extremely relevant to an election year. Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta, who also co-hosts It's Just Politics , came to us with this question: "I see how we get from 'president' to 'presidential,' from 'congress' to 'congressional' and from 'legislator' to 'legislative,' but how do we go from 'governor' to 'gubernatorial'? Are governors historically 'goobers' or is it something else?" Considering that Michigan

Don't let this idiom "get your goat"

Idioms generally don't get clearer the longer you think about them. They simply mean what they mean. For instance, have you ever thought about the phrase "get someone's goat"? You may already know that it means to annoy or anger someone, but why? Our advice is don't spend too much time on this phrase — it'll just get your goat.

Want more reponses to your emails? Open with "hey" and close with"thanks"

When you write emails, what are your preferred greetings and sign-offs? There are a lot of options, and your choice probably depends on the nature of the email. We've actually talked about email on That's What They Say before, but a new study by the email program Boomerang inspired us to revisit the topic. The study analyzed nearly 300,000 emails to see which greetings and sign-offs people use most often.

Want more reponses to your emails? Open with "hey" and close with"thanks"

Weekends were made for pottering and puttering

Sunday can be an excellent time to stay home and potter about. But not everyone is a potterer. Some of us are putterers who'd rather spend our spare time puttering around the house. And some of us like to putter about but are open to pottering around.

Don't trifle with the various meanings of 'trifle'

It's no trifle that we received two emails within two weeks about the word "trifle." The first one came from a listener named Matt who writes: "Something insignificant is often described as 'a mere trifle.' At the same time, something that could be very challenging is said to be 'nothing to trifle with.' How did we end up with such different meanings for the same word?" As English Professor Anne Curzan was researching Matt's question, a colleague who also wanted to know more about trifle sent

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