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Live From Watkinson School: It's A Very Exciting Time To Be A Word!

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When this forum was originally scheduled, it was intended as a conversation about how our language is changing. Example, the idiom "woke" or "#woke" has a very keen set of meanings to one group and flies by another.

I still want to do a little of that, but it’s also possibly more important to talk about the battle over basic meaning in the public square. I think it can be argued that:

(a) some phrases are being accorded an almost incantatory power (e.g. the long-running debate over whether or when Obama would use the phrase “radical Islam”),
(b) some words are used to define the political landscape despite the fact that they themselves elude definition (e.g. the way the word “elites” was used in 2016),
(c) there’s a whole pile of isms – fascism, nativism, nationalism, exceptionalism , even terrorism – that currently pepper our national discourse without a common consensual understanding,
(d) it seems at least possible that the events of the last two years have been grinding away like termites at the substructure of American language so that a phrase like "what’s happening last night in Sweden" – in addition to being out of tense – is no longer held to any particular meaning/standard and can be translated by its utterer into "what I saw last night on television about things that have been transpiring over a period of time in Sweden."

Listen to the unedited show.


  • Humphrey Tonkin - University Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Hartford
  • Susan Campbell - Distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven, and author of Dating Jesus, and Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker
  • Peter Sokolowski - Merriam-Webster editor-at-large and Word of the Day podcast host.
  • Michelle Anya Anjirbag - Independent scholar, journalist, and experiential teacher

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired April 19, 2017.

Colin McEnroe is a radio host, newspaper columnist, magazine writer, author, playwright, lecturer, moderator, college instructor and occasional singer.
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