The Word Nerds: A Weekly Podcast About Words, Language, and Why We Say the Things We Do

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copyright © 2005, 2006 by Dave Shepherd, Howard Shepherd, and Howard Chang

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Unless otherwise specifically attributed, all original work in this site and feed (including all audio files, web pages, and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 2.5 License.

As of Wednesday, July 18, 2007, the ability to comment on blog posts here at the Word Nerds' archive site has been disabled. This measure is being taken to prevent the flood of comment spam, and the attendant notifications, that have plagued this site.

You can still participate in discussions on any Word Nerds post, either here or in our regular site, as well as at the Word Nerds Discussion forum site.
Category:blog -- posted at: 3:21pm EDT

This is the archive blog and feed for The Word Nerds, a weekly podcast about language.

If you want access to podcasts published before April 1, 2006, this is the place to be. You can subscribe to this archive feed by using the appropriate buttons in the right-hand navigation column.

To subscribe to current and new podcasts of The Word Nerds, please go to
Category:blog -- posted at: 11:54pm EDT

...all you have to do is to subscribe to this RSS feed:

If you have iTunes, just grab that URL by right-clicking (or control-clicking, if you have a Macintosh). Then go into your iTunes, and under the Advanced menu select Subscribe to podcast... Paste that URL into the box, and you're done!

The feed of archived shows will also be called The Word Nerds, so you'll want to just pay attention to program numbers to keep the two feeds straight in your aggregator.
Category:blog -- posted at: 5:24am EDT

Another blog update

We just learned from Apple Computer that The Word Nerds will be featured as a "splash" on the front page of the iTunes Music Store for about a week.

We are very happy to have this extra promotional push by Apple, and we expect this will mean a lot of new listeners and members of the Nerdly Community within the next week.

As I said in my previous post, I was planning sometime this week to switch the Word Nerds blog over to a separate server and start using WordPress to publish the blog and the podcast feed.

However, since this move could cause our web presence to disappear for a day or two, I think it is probably prudent to hold off on that migration for another week or so. I don't want new listeners to be see our logo prominently featured in the iTunes Music Store and then have absolutely nothing happen when they try to subscribe to the podcast (due to a one-day interruption).

Therefore, the migration to WordPress will probably take place sometime around the weekend of May 20. If you are a regular subscriber and you don't find a new edition of TWN in your podcatcher early that weekend, it means only that we are moving some things around, nothing more.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We're not going away; we're just trying to improve our look.


Category:blog -- posted at: 3:36pm EDT

The Word Nerds will be making some changes to our blog setup sometime in the next week. (This means sometime between May 9 and May 16.)

While we will continue to have our podcast audio files hosted by our favorite podcast hosting company, Liberated Syndication, we will be moving the blog and feed portion of the podcast to a separate server account. We will be creating our blog posts and podcast feed with WordPress software.

What this means to listeners is this: our blog will have a more refined look and feel, and visually impaired listeners will be able to fully participate in comment discussions. Because of the LibSyn spam-protection scheme, blind and visually impaired listeners cannot now post comments, because the spam-protection mechanism requires reading and re-typing numbers from an on-screen image.

We also plan to install a bulletin-board style forum to make our discussions more open-ended. Listeners will be able to initiate threads of discussion on their own. This will appear sometime in the next month.

If you are a subscriber, you should not have to change anything. There may be a brief interruption in the website, but this should not last more than about a day. Regular subscribers may notice that a few recent editions of The Word Nerds are downloaded twice. We apologize for this, but hope that the inconvenience is not too great.

In any event, our existing podcast blog will continue to be available at We will link to archives of our older shows, but these older editions will not continue to show up in the new feed.

Thanks for your understanding and for your continued participation in our podcast conversation.


Category:blog -- posted at: 11:17am EDT

Hearing Howard Chang talk about “homophone creep? (a term that I like very much) made me think of the problem that I encounter every year when reading Hamlet. At one point in the play, either Rosencranz or Guildenstern uses the expression “niggard of question…? Invariably, the student who is reading that part pronounces the word as “ni-GARD,? because s/he is unwilling to say “NIG-gerd.?

We do tend to be very sensitive to “the N-word.? Sometimes I think that it is the only taboo word left in the English language. Yet the modern history of terminologies for people of African ancestry is confusing. Martin Luther King, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, used to refer to the struggles of “the Negro.? (Malcolm X referred to “the so-called Negro.?) When I was in high school in the early 1970’s, the term “black? (which is the most commonly accepted neutral term nowadays) was actually the beginning of a phrase which was much more hurtful than “------;? namely, “black son of a bitch.? Only recently has “black? begun to reclaim its place from “African-American? as the most common accepted term for a person of African heritage.

It’s difficult even to write about this topic, because it’s difficult to talk about race in America. We are all self-conscious about it—and that results in some occasionally tortuous attempts at political correctness. I remember once hearing someone (I think it was a liberal politician, but I’m not sure), while trying to distinguish a black African from a white African, refer to the person in question as an “African-American African.?

In a recent podcast about puns, I told a joke that may have been perceived by some as mildly racist. The term “squaw? has been misunderstood by some to be etymologically related to a prostitute, or a woman’s genitals (the etymology is actually neutral, from a Narraganset word meaning simply “woman?). I knew that, but I told the joke because it contained three different puns in the punchline—a pun on the word “square,? one on the word “sides,? and one on the word “hypotenuse.? I realized right after telling it that some listeners might be uncomfortable with the term “squaw,? even though it is not originally an epithet. If I had it to do again, I probably would have chosen a less politically charged joke.

—Howard Shepherd

Category:blog -- posted at: 11:52am EDT