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March 6, 2003 - Anu Garg: A.Word.A.Day - 2003-03-06

Broadcast: March 6, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- our guest is Anu Garg, the man behind a popular e-mail service called A.Word.A.Day.

RS: And for the past nine years, that's exactly what subscribers have gotten for free: Monday through Friday, one word a day, not just defined, but complete with a full "biography."

AA: Anu Garg talked to us from Seattle, Washington, where part of his home doubles as his office, a space filled with dictionaries and other books on words.

RS: He says he developed a passion for the English language as a young boy in his native India.

GARG: "I learned it when I was in sixth grade. My mother tongue is Hindi. But what I found interesting was English has a lot of words from Hindi, and later on I discovered that it has words from almost all the languages in the world."

AA: "I'm curious [about] a couple of examples of Hindi words in English."

GARG: "A lot of common words like shampoo, what you do to your hair in the morning. It came from Hindi, 'champee.' In Hindi 'champee' means to massage the head. Words like jungle or guru or nirvana -- a lot of words from Hindi, or ultimately from Sanskrit."

RS: "So how many people from how many countries are now receiving their daily lexicon from you?"

GARG: "Right now there are about five-hundred-and-fifty-thousand subscribers. They are in more than two-hundred countries."

AA: "That's basically the entire world."

GARG: "Yeah, almost -- including as far away as Antarctica."

RS: "How are you able to connect with them on a daily basis?"

GARG: "I have found ways to conserve time. For example, I don't watch TV and I just enjoy it so much, it doesn't feel like I work, I feel like I'm just having fun playing."

RS: "Do you have another job that you get paid to do, or is this something that has become a source of income, too?"

GARG: "My background is in computer science, and I was working as a computer engineer until last year. Now I am a full-time writer. My book has come out and fortunately it has been doing very well, and I get royalties from the book. I have some paying subscribers, people who sign up to receive mailings without advertisements, and also people who contribute voluntarily."

AA: "So now can you take us through a typical day -- when do you begin and how do you find your word of the day?"

GARG: "There is no typical day. I feel like an explorer discovering new fossils or new gems every day. Every morning I wake up and open the dictionary and I find new words. Sometimes I'm reading a book and I'll find an unusual or interesting word and I will make note. And eventually they build up. On a typical day I will be reading e-mail, responding to some of the e-mails, taking care of the Web site, making sure hackers can't hack in, playing with my daughter, answering her questions. 'So Daddy, tell me, why do we call a dog a dog?' So I say 'OK, let's look it up.'"

AA: "And what did you find?"

GARG: "Well, 'dog' came from Old English, 'docga.' Currently the English language has about five-hundred-thousand words, but new words are coming into the language every day."

AA: "And five-hundred-thousand makes it larger than any other language out there."

GARG: "Yes, English has the largest word stock of any language, and not only new words are coming in, but the existing words, they change shades of meanings."

RS: "Do you have a favorite word, or is it just so hard to pick among all these children."

GARG: "I find that all words are fascinating. You have to find their histories to see how they came about."

RS: "Come on, give me a favorite."

GARG: "One word that really resonates with people is 'mondegreen.' A mondegreen is when you mishear something. A lot of songs, when we hear, we mishear them. There is one song, a lot of people hear it as "there is a bathroom on the right.'"

MUSIC: "Bad Moon Rising"/Creedence Clearwater Revival

RS: In this 1969 classic by John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the phrase is not "there's a bathroom on the right." The phrase is, "there's a bad moon on the rise." The song is called "Bad Moon Rising."

AA: To learn how to sign up for A.Word.A.Day, you can go to Anu Garg's Web site. It's wordsmith dot o-r-g. And he's collected some of his words into a book called "A Word A Day."

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our Web site is And our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.