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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If you take a 'rain check,' you'll get a bonus chess reference

When was the last time you asked for a rain check? Maybe a store gave you a rain check for a product you wanted that was out of stock. Or maybe you invited a friend out to lunch, but they were busy and asked for a rain check. If you've ever asked for a rain check, you're actually using a phrase that we can trace back to baseball and, surprisingly, chess.

Our language comes with several "perks"

Employee perks have become increasingly elaborate over the years. Some jobs come with unlimited vacation time and months of paid parental leave. There are companies that offer a constant supply of free food. This place has on-site car wash facilities, bicycle repair, haircut services and spa treatments. It's a far cry from stale "all-you-can-drink" break room coffee and the occasional Hawaiian shirt day. Your job may not have the perks you crave, but don't worry. This edition of That's What They

Let's extinguish a 'burning question'

Our goal here at That's What They Say is to answer our listeners' burning questions about language. But here's an interesting question — why are those questions burning in the first place? Obviously, a question is not a physical object. You can't douse a question with gasoline, throw a match at it and watch it burn. However, that's not to say there isn't something about a burning question that's hot.

The case of "pleaded" v. "pled"

The courtroom may not be the best place to ponder grammar and language issues. If you do find yourself in a courtroom, it's likely you've got bigger problems on your hands — especially if you're the defendant. Assuming you're a word nerd like us though, you may find yourself distracted by a grammatical question regarding the verb "to plead." There's no mystery when it comes to the present tense — "I plead innocent." But if someone asks you about your plea later, do you tell them you "pleaded"

Is it 'the time when' or 'the time where'?

There was a Sunday not so long ago when a listener noticed our own Professor Anne Curzan say "the days where" instead of "the days when." Judy wrote to us that she enjoys listening to the show and, for the most part, agrees with Curzan's approach to language and usage. However, she goes on to reference our show about muckety-mucks and big wigs. Curzan said big wigs went back "to the days where in court, lawyers and the judge would have big wigs." Judy was not impressed.

The meaning behind "tit for tat"

There are a few different ways to talk about retaliating against someone in equal terms. There's "an eye for an eye," "a tooth for a tooth," and "measure for measure," among others. These phrases are all pretty transparent. If you take my eye, I'll take your eye. If you make that move, I'll make this move. But what about "tit for tat?" One of English professor Anne Curzan's colleagues recently asked us about this one, and it's no wonder — the meaning isn't nearly as obvious.

'Your caring' about gerunds is noble, but 'you caring' is nice too

Let's say you're sending someone an email, maybe to thank them for visiting you in the hospital. Would you say "I appreciate you taking the time to stop by" or "I appreciate your taking the time to stop by"? Believe it or not, some people have pretty strong feelings about which of these sentences is correct. For many of us though, it's the kind of thing that gives us pause.

Taking on our spelling adversaries

When it comes to spelling, we've all got a word or two that makes us absolutely bonkers. It's no wonder. We've got a slew of silent letters . Instead of an f, we sometimes use "gh" or "ph." There are letters like c and k that make the exact same sound, except when they don't. Let's face it, English isn't exactly known for consistency.

Don't blame yourself for mispronouncing "indict," blame the Renaissance.

On the page, it looks like "indict" and "edict" should sound a lot alike. And yet, when you say these two words out loud, it's like being trapped in an episode of the Patty Duke Show . Don't feel embarrassed if you've ever mispronounced "indict" to sound more like "edict" or "verdict." Your only fault was the assumption that English always makes sense. Why does our language insist on making things so complicated? In this case, the answer comes with some interesting stories about the history of

Don't blame yourself for mispronouncing "indict," blame the Renaissance.

Are there infixes in English? Abso-freaking-lutely.

English doesn't use very many infixes, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Here's the thing: they're out there, but most of them aren't fit for print or our airwaves. We'll come back to that. Wondering what exactly an infix is? Here's a hint — they're related to a pair of other grammatical elements that may a bit more familiar.

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