If you wince when you hear someone say “a whole nother level”, “hone in on” or “right from the gecko”, here’s some bad news: you might have to get used to it. The English language is full of words and expressions that were mistakes that stuck around. Countdown’s Susie Dent holds our hands and takes us on a tour of misspellings, mishearings, scrambled letters, and bear cubs.
In the new Minillusionist at the end of the episode, we’re back on your favourite subject: swearing! And why the blazes are there all these fake acronym etymologies for profanities?
Penicillin, the Slinky, and the colour mauve: nine inventions made by mistakes.
The accidental inspiration for Velcro (incidentally, a portmanteau!).
To curry Fauvel.
About the thunder that was stolen.
The cutest phrase origin: licking bear cubs into shape!
The transcript of this episode is at theallusionist.org/transcripts/err.
Other Allusionists related to topics discussed in this episode include: Mountweazel, about deliberate mistakes in the dictionary; The Authority and Word of the Day, about how lexicography works; and Detonating the C-Bomb and Take a Swear Pill.
In January 2019, the Allusionist is sponsored by:
Squarespace, your one-stop shop for creating and running a good-looking and well-working website. Go to squarespace.com/allusion for a free trial, and use the code ALLUSION to get 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.
YOUR RANDOMLY SELECTED WORD FROM THE DICTIONARY:
liripipe or liripoop
Susie Dent is a writer and lexicographer. She presides over Dictionary Corner on Channel 4’s Countdown, and is the author of many books about language. Follow her on Twitter @susie_dent for a regular dose of etymology and to keep informed about her upcoming tour dates.