An exploration and celebration of language and all of it's many quirks, with KMUW commentator Lael Ewy.

Hear OnWords on alternate Tuesdays or find it on iTunes.

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Wealth is a social relationship.

For as much as we obsess over the subject, you'd think we'd know this by now.

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The power of hype is its ability to radically lower our expectations.

I remember vividly the 1980s TV show That's Incredible! featuring a yogi so flexible he was able to fold himself into a tiny Plexiglas box.

Espen Moe / flickr Creative Commons

Aside from being the name of a long-forgotten New Wave band, scandal has become the primary means for the party out of power to stay relevant on the political scene.

jeevan jose / Wikimedia Commons

Innocence is much more about a grown-up sense of loss than a precious quality of childhood. At best, our ideas about innocence evoke a pining sort of regret; at worst, they're used to make nostalgia a form of tyranny.

After all, it's a child's job to grow up, and so he's active every day trying to lose that innocence that he sees as keeping him away from adult freedom and power. Our attempts to preserve that child's innocence just reinforce his sense of powerlessness. This only serves to exacerbate his little rebellions, his need to prove how grown up he is.

Gavin Llewellyn / flickr Creative Commons

Even if we can agree that jargon is absolutely necessary, we still can't help but be annoyed by it.

Every profession has jargon: specialties and sub-specialties are shot-through with special terms like “endoplasmic reticulum” or “moment of inertia” particular to them.

Alex Proimos / Wikimedia Commons

When we say something is austere, we evoke everything from an image of monastic poverty to the stark beauty of Modernist design. Because of this, “austerity” as a fiscal policy brings with it the suggestion of a deliberate and disciplined approach to a nation's economy.

The Human Factor: The Real Danger Of Cell Phones

Apr 29, 2013
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Many states have either outlawed or about to outlaw the use of cell phones while driving. But the real dangers of cell phone use while driving are not as obvious as they may seem.

The real danger lies in how the human mind functions.

Oftentimes individuals will explain that they use a “hands-free” headset or in car Bluetooth system. Many times people think that this resolves distraction issues because they believe that it’s the physical interaction with the device itself that causes the problem.

The recent history of the word “entitlement” shows how a word’s connotation can take over its existence and taint everything it touches.

As opposed to its denotation, or dictionary definition, a word’s connotation is about the associations we have with a word. In the case of the word entitlement, it’s almost all negative.

The phrase “sense of entitlement” is at fault for this negative connotation.

OnWords: That's So Meta

Apr 9, 2013
_rockinfree / flickr Creative Commons

Formerly a prefix, “meta” has now taken on a life of its own, indicating works that are self-consciously self-referential. Ben Zimmer, writing in the Boston Globe in 2012, notes examples in the tech field going as far back as the 1970s.


We use the word “myth” in at least two almost contradictory ways. Most commonly, we use myth to mean falsehood, a hoax without the intention to deceive.

This is the myth sites like snopes.com and shows like Mythbusters serve to dispel. It is also a product of the Age of Enlightenment, when a seemingly rational universe called not for myth but for measurement.