Rebecca Kruth | Michigan Radio
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Rebecca Kruth

Weekend Host / Producer

Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.

After earning degrees in English and American Studies from Michigan State University, Kruth began her radio career as a newsroom intern at WKAR in East Lansing. She completed additional news internships at WBEZ Chicago and KAJX Aspen.

Kruth first came to Michigan Radio in 2014 as a producer for Morning Edition. She served as a general assignment reporter and fill-in host before becoming the station’s full-time Weekend Edition host in 2016.

When she’s not on the airwaves, Kruth enjoys hiking, Korean food and hunting for vinyl records with her husband James. She’s also Bruce Springsteen’s number one fan.

Unless you decided to completely avoid the internet in 2009, there's a good chance you've seen Susan Boyle’s first round performance on Britain’s Got Talent.

The Scottish singer’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” attracted millions of views on YouTube. No one was more surprised than Boyle herself, who told CNN she was “gobsmacked."

Boyle’s description of herself caused a bit of a stir among those unfamiliar with this particular British slang term.

To understand the meaning behind "gobsmacked," it helps to know that a “gob” is a mouth. This word comes from Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It still pops up in other places in British slang – for example, “shut your gob!”

Many would agree that all historic events are historical. But there's some dispute over whether all historical events are historic.

This week's topic comes from a listener named Cyndi who says, "It really 'gets my goat' to hear people use the redundant 'historical' when 'historic' will suffice."

We hadn't given this much thought before Cyndi brought it up, but we had an intuition that there is an accepted distinction between these two words. We assumed that "historical" events are those that simply happened in the past, while "historic" events are remembered and talked about for years to come.

As it turns out, that's in line with many usage guides.

For instance, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage from the 1920s says that "historical" is the "ordinary" word, while "historic" means "memorable" or assured of a place in history. The AP Stylebook makes a similar case. 

Have you ever peeled the lid off a pudding cup, looked inside and said, “Aha, the proof is right here.”

Unless you were trying to prove that the cup really did contain pudding, we’re going to assume the answer is “no.”

That’s exactly why Michigan Radio marketing director Steve Chrypinski asked us about the expression “the proof is in the pudding.” He says, “What does proving something have to do with a smooth, creamy dessert?”

Many of us use this expression, despite the fact that it doesn’t make much sense. Like other idioms, we use it because we know that it means something like “we’ll know for sure when we see it,” and we assume that others know that too.

hospital exterior
Michigan Medicine

Nurses at the University of Michigan say they’ve reached a tentative three-year agreement with Michigan Medicine, ending their threat of a strike.

Just last week U of M nurses voted to authorize their union to call a three-day work stoppage, citing unfair labor practices. Ninety-four percent of the votes were in favor of the authorization.

The Brits have a way of talking about whining that we might want to import. The word is “whinge,” and a listener named Addeane recently asked us about it:

“Both ['whinge' and 'whine'] seem to mean to complain peevishly. But ‘whinge’ doesn’t seem to be used in the United States. I’ve seen it written in British sources but never heard it spoken. Can you help sort this out?”

We can, and we’ll do it without whinging or whining.

First of all, Addeane is right – it is largely a British/American distinction between “whinge” and “whine.”

“Whine” goes back to the Old English verb “hwinan” which meant to whiz or whistle in the air. By the 13th century, we have evidence of it referring to a low cry or perhaps a shrill sound. This is the kind of whining that an animal or engine might do.

If you have a box filled with items of the "what am I ever going to do with this" variety, we suggest the purchase of a knick-knack shelf.

A knick-knack shelf is the perfect place for a figurine of a flamingo wearing a shirt that says "Florida" or a collection of ceramic animals that came free with your tea bags. And how else does one properly display a  commemorative royal wedding plate?

They may not be good for much, but knick-knacks can be fun to collect. But how did they come to be known as "knick-knacks?"

"Knick-knack" is an example of reduplication. That's when all or part of a word is repeated with a slight change, like "zig zag," or "flip flop." In this case, “knack” is the root word.

In its earliest meanings, a "knack" was a trick that could sometimes be deceitful. This word later takes on a more positive meaning when it comes to refer to an ingenious method or skill, and that’s pretty much how we use it now: "He's got a knack for spotting valuable knick-knacks at garage sales."

What better word to describe the kind of mischief you can get up to on the weekend than "shenanigans"?

That’s precisely why we thought “shenanigan” would be the perfect topic for this long holiday weekend.

A shenanigan is a devious trick, according to Merriam Webster, and can also refer to mischief or troublemaking. 

Though the plural form is used much more often, we see the singular form occasionally. It makes it easier to refer to a specific shenanigan: “If you pull that shenanigan with the toilet and the saran wrap again, I’m going to get really angry!”

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about where “shenanigan” comes from. Most dictionaries will say  “origin unknown” or “etymology uncertain.”

Back in May, comedian and political commentator Samantha Bee used a pair of choice words to describe Ivanka Trump.

Soon after, a listener named D.C. wrote to us and asked us about one of those words: "What the heck is the story behind the word 'feckless'?"

Let's just say we're relieved D.C. didn't ask about the other word Bee used.

At best, "feckless" means weak. It can also mean incompetent, irresponsible or lacking energy or capacity. Originally, it was used to describe both things and people, but now it's used primarily to describe people.

When we first started thinking about this word, we thought it was one of those words like "discombobulated" that has a negative prefix but no corresponding positive word. You can be discombobulated, but you can't be combobulated.

Garnishing a dish with sprigs of fresh parsley, lemon slices and vegetables sliced up to look like flowers can be a lovely way to spruce up a meal. But do you know what's not lovely at all? Having your wages garnished. 

A listener named Bryan asks, "Why is it that when you 'garnish' a plate of food, you add something to it, but when you garnish someone's wages you take something away?"

Good question.

The verb "garnish" comes into English from Old French. Early on it meant to furnish or equip, particularly with arms or provisions. The definition is later expanded to mean to outfit something, maybe clothing, with adornments or decorations. By the 17th century, that something could also be a dish on a table.

Coaches, referees and gym teachers are probably better authorities than we are, but we've got a feeling that whistles probably aren't very clean.

Think about it. It's a small, tight device that you force your hot, moist breath through to produce a sound. That doesn't sound like the foundation for a sterile environment, does it?  It's no wonder a listener named Dan wants to know where the expression "clean as a whistle" comes from.

For many of you, "clean as a whistle” probably means really clean, as in not dirty. For example, "The sink was clean as a whistle after he scrubbed it." Or maybe you'd say something like, "Since she's never even had a speeding ticket, her record is clean as a whistle."

Neither of those examples quite match the historical meaning of this expression. 

Television remote control
flash.pro / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

If the months leading up to Tuesday's primary election felt like a barrage of political ads, the following likely won't come as a surprise.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network says around $23.6 million in political ads aired on broadcast television ahead of the state's primary. 

 

Some things in English seem intuitive. Take the verbs "proceed" and "precede," for example. They sound so similar, they must be etymologically related, right? 

A listener named Ron says he was helping his fifth grader study for a spelling test when they came across "precede" and "proceed."

"He struggled with why two nearly identical words are spelled so differently," Ron says. "I thought I could provide him with a simple explanation of their origin -- I cannot."

Don't worry Ron. That's why we're here.

"Proceed" and "precede" are related. They both go back to the same Latin root word "cedere" which means to give way or yield or retreat.

"Precede" means to come or go before. It comes into English in the 1400s, most likely as a borrowing from both French and Latin.

Running faucet
Melissa Benmark / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials say state agencies will be providing additional help for two communities near Kalamazoo dealing with chemical contamination of the public water system.

The governor's office said Sunday that a state of emergency has been declared for Kalamazoo County over the health concerns in Parchment and Cooper Township, where water test results announced Thursday revealed high levels of substances known as PFAS.

Lollygagging, screwing around, goofing off – whatever you call it, we can all agree there a lot of ways to talk about wasting time in English. 

Kalen, who previously asked us about "druthers," says "I tell my kids all the time to not lollygag, doodle or dilly dally. They are fun words, to be sure, but where do they come from?"

They are most definitely fun words. But watch out for "lollygag." It seems innocent at first, but then things get kind of racy.

If we had our druthers, we would spend every morning nerding out about language and grammar. 

Fortunately, we do get the opportunity to flex our language muscles every Sunday. We're also fortunate to have awesome listeners like Kalen, who recently asked us where the phrase "if I had my druthers" comes from.

Kalen, there's nothing we'd druther do than figure this out.

"Druther" is a mashed together version of the phrase "would rather." If you say "would rather" quickly enough, you can see how these two words blur together as "druther." When someone says "if I had my druthers," they're talking about what they would do if they had their choice or preference in a matter.

striped safety cones on a road
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A massive $110 million road construction project kicks off Monday on a nine mile stretch of I-94 in the Jackson area.

The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct 1.4 miles of freeway between Lansing Avenue and Elm Road, resurface 3.5 miles between Lansing Avenue and M-60, and resurface four miles between Elm Road and Sargent Road.

There are also plans to redesign the I-94/Cooper Street interchange and replace a bridge that runs over the Grand River.

When it comes to the internet, seemingly innocuous topics are often the grounds for heated debates. Is the dress blue and black or gold and white? Is this voice saying "yanny" or saying "laurel"?

A writer at Buzzfeed recently asked readers to help settle a workplace debate over whether IMHO means "in my humble opinion" or "in my honest opinion."

Since this is the internet, where people will fight about literally anything, things quickly devolved into what will likely be a centuries-long blood feud.

Of the nearly 200,000 people who took part in Buzzfeed's poll, 57 percent voted that the "H" stands for honest. The Detroit Free Press conducted its own poll and got similar results.

So does that mean people in the "humble" camp are wrong? Not necessarily. 

For several months now, English Professor Anne Curzan has been combing through various editions of the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage to see how usage rules have changed over time.

This project is the quintessential labor of love for a language geek and has yielded some interesting ideas for That’s What They Say, including this week’s highly “sensitive” topic.

As it turns out, the New York Times  is sensitive about using “sensitive” to describe things like documents or issues.

The 1999 edition says, “'Sensitive’ means easily hurt or having keen sensibilities. Its use to mean secret, important or diplomatically fragile is jargon.” The 2015 style manual includes the same meaning, but it goes on to say that “in the sense of secret, important or diplomatically fragile, ['sensitive'] is overused.”

When it comes to "insure" and "ensure," do you find it necessary to keep them distinct from one another?

For some people, this may not be much of an issue, since "ensure" and "insure" sound so similar. But things get trickier when it comes to writing. 

English Professor Anne Curzan says she runs into this question of distinction all the time when she's editing other people's work.

"Nonplussed" is one of those words that historically doesn't have a particularly complicated meaning, but it's one that people frequently misuse. 

In fact, the definition of "nonplussed" has become so muddled over time, people often use it to mean the complete opposite of its actual meaning.

Again, the definition of "nonplussed" is pretty simple, so why all the confusion? You could say there's a prefix to blame. 


damaged road and car
Vicky Ingram

Storms moving across the Upper Peninsula washed out several roads in the Houghton and Hancock areas and created dozens of sinkholes across the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Leave it to a political reporter to come up with a question that's both intriguing and extremely relevant to an election year. Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta, who also co-hosts It's Just Politics, came to us with this question:

"I see how we get from 'president' to 'presidential,' from 'congress' to 'congressional' and from 'legislator' to 'legislative,' but how do we go from 'governor' to 'gubernatorial'? Are governors historically 'goobers' or is it something else?"  

Considering that Michigan voters will head to the polls this November to elect a new governor, this question about one of the many oddities of English couldn't be more timely.


Robert Couse-Baker / creative commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Manufacturers Association is warning that a proposal for mandatory paid sick leave could lead to stalled job growth in the state. 

On Tuesday, the group Michigan Time to Care turned in more than 380,000 signatures for a petition to create an "Earned Sick Time Act." Under the proposal, workers would be guaranteed one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Idioms generally don't get clearer the longer you think about them. They simply mean what they mean.

For instance, have you ever thought about the phrase "get someone's goat"? You may already know that it means to annoy or anger someone, but why?

Our advice is don't spend too much time on this phrase -- it'll just get your goat.


A copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.
Richie Diesterheft / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Some environmentalists are worried a bill moving through the state Legislature would give mining companies too much leeway.

Under the bill, mining operators would be able to make certain changes to their permits without going through an amendment process or public review. Instead, they’d be required to give written notice of modifications to the Department of Environmental Quality.

When you write emails, what are your preferred greetings and sign-offs?  There are a lot of options, and your choice probably depends on the nature of the email. 

The four Republican governor candidates on the stage together for the debate
Screenshot from WOOD-TV's stream of the debate / WOOD-TV

The four Republicans running for governor held their first debate this week. It was the first time Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Dr. Jim Hines have appeared together on one stage.

There were arguments over the handling of the Flint water crisis and who's the biggest Trump supporter. One thing they all agreed on is that Michigan should not legalize recreational marijuana, but they said they'd respect the wishes of the voters. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about what else stood out in the debate.

marijuana leaves
user eljoja / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan voters have some pretty strong feelings when it comes to recreational marijuana.

On the Kalamazoo River just downstream from the confluence of Talmadge Creek. Around 1 million gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the river in 2010.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new study says Michigan's economy would take a big hit if there was an oil spill in the Mackinac Straits. A Michigan State University professor estimates a spill could cost the state's economy more than $6 billion. Enbridge Energy says the study is "flawed" and based on "unrealistic estimates." This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the study's potential impact.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Almost one in seven children living in Highland Park in 2016 had high levels of lead in their blood, according to a new report from the state's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

The study looked at nine different cities with historically higher-than-average rates of children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs), including Highland Park, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and Lansing.

Federal guidelines state that for children under six,  five micrograms per deciliter is considered a high blood lead level, though no amount is considered safe.

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