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Loan Words

May 22, 2020

Comedians Jordan Klepper and Jenny Hagel become amateur etymologists in a game about English words borrowed from other languages.

Heard on: Hong Chau & Nico Santos: Superheros And Superstores.

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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and doing the dishes 14 times a day. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


Thanks, Jonathan. We're here with comedians Jordan Klepper from "The Daily Show," and Jenny Hagel from "Late Night With Seth Meyers." Are you two ready for another game?


JORDAN KLEPPER: Let's do it.

EISENBERG: So the English language, we are speaking it right now.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: There are many words that English speakers use every day that are actually loan words, which are things we adapted or outright stole from other languages. So we're going to give you the origins of a lone word. You tell us the word.

HAGEL: Oh. So - wait. So, OK. We're going to the root and then you - were going to - OK. Great. OK.

EISENBERG: All right, Jordan. From an Italian word meaning scratch, it's the spray-painted artwork you see on the sides of buildings.

KLEPPER: Graffiti.



EISENBERG: That's right. And graffiti is the plural of the Italian word. So I guess when you just do one spray paint, that's graffito.

KLEPPER: (Laughter) I like arguing that in court. Your Honor, it was a graffito, not a graffiti.

COULTON: (Laughter).

HAGEL: Minor - it's a lesser sentence for graffito.


KLEPPER: That's the most annoying graffiti artist out there who's out there tagging buildings who's like actually, you know, technically, when we begin...

COULTON: Actually...

KLEPPER: ...We're graffito artists.

COULTON: ...I'm a graffito artist. All right. Jenny, here's one for you.


COULTON: From the French term for a heavy twill fabric made in the city of Nimes, you are probably not wearing pants made of this material right now and maybe you never will again.

HAGEL: So we're looking for a fabric.

COULTON: A fabric that they make pants out of.

HAGEL: But I won't wear it again?

COULTON: Well, just because...


COULTON: ...It's pandemic times and we're all zooming, so we don't have to wear pants.

HAGEL: Oh, fair.

COULTON: That was a Zoom joke.

HAGEL: I wondered if that was, like, a hint that it's, like, asbestos or something...


HAGEL: ...Like, we used to (inaudible)...


HAGEL: ...A lot of it.

EISENBERG: Oh, I love those Parisian asbestos pants.

COULTON: I know.

EISENBERG: Some of my favorites.

COULTON: They're really nice. Those are the best ones. They're expensive, but they're worth it.

HAGEL: Is it denim?

COULTON: Denim. Denim is correct. Yeah. Well done.


HAGEL: I love that I can't get the "Lethal Weapon" question, but (laughter) somehow I got...

COULTON: You got the...

KLEPPER: (Laughter) I know.

COULTON: You got the fabric from Nimes.



EISENBERG: From a Haitian Creole word for a corpse reanimated by supernatural powers, in English, it means an undead creature.

KLEPPER: Zombie.


KLEPPER: Zombie.

EISENBERG: That is correct.

KLEPPER: Zombie. Yes.


KLEPPER: Yes. I thought it was a word created by The Cranberries. Who knew?


COULTON: All right. This is the last clue. Jenny, this is for you. In Sanskrit, it's a word used to describe Hindu gods descending to Earth. In English, we've taken that divine concept and used it to refer to a James Cameron movie.

HAGEL: "Avatar?"

COULTON: "Avatar."


HAGEL: I'm sorry. Did I just find out I'm an etymologist?

COULTON: I think we - I think that's what we've all discovered. Congratulations.

HAGEL: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Well, you only...

HAGEL: It only takes two answers for me to get real cocky.

COULTON: Just two.


EISENBERG: You did start this game by being like, OK, so you're giving us the root? OK, you're giving us the root. So...

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: ...I was already, like, oh, we're dealing with some expertise over here. All right.

HAGEL: I'm the worst.

EISENBERG: OK. That was amazing.


HAGEL: Oh, that was so fun. It was really fun.

KLEPPER: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much for joining us. It was incredible to talk to you and play some games.

HAGEL: Thank you guys for having us. It's such a treat to have this, like, construct as a reason for human contact.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Exactly. Exactly.

COULTON: That's why we do it.

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