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Most travelers to English-speaking countries might be puzzled if informed that for some goods and services we pay through the nose. By contrast, English speakers would know what is meant, but have no idea why they have said such a strange thing.
Nor do they think to question what is the brunt in “to bear the brunt” or what dander is in “to get one's dander up.” Most speakers of English are not interested in the whereabouts of the lurch in which they are often left (they take the phrase for granted), and if one says that at the moment they are in a brown study, not everybody will know where to look for them.
Our mastery of everything is limited, and just as no one has encountered all the words of one's native language, no one understands all its idioms. But ask anyone in a course on language history and they will tell you that the study of the derivation of idioms is wildly entertaining.
In this seminar, Professor Anatoly Liberman will offer a preview of his recently completed Take My Word for It: The Inscrutable Origin of English Idioms, in which the meanings of such collocations and, more importantly, their origins are explained. After seven years of scholarly research (not counting the 20 that were preparatory), this dictionary is scheduled to be published in late 2020, leaving the good Professor thrilled to bits!
LearningLife seminars embrace Socrates's belief in inquiry and exchange; they include both lecture and critical discussion.
Anatoly Liberman is a professor in the Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch at the University of Minnesota where he teaches courses in linguistics, etymology, and folklore. An internationally renowned scholar of word origins, Liberman discusses the topic regularly on MPR and is the author of Word Origins and How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone (Oxford University Press, 2005).