91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

TWTS: In which we dispose of listener questions

Today we’ll dispose of not one but two listener questions. No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to throw their questions away. It means we’ll use the information we have at our disposal to answer them, so to speak.

Starting with a question about “disposal.”

Janine Shahinian writes, “Tools that are ‘at your disposal’ are for you to keep so they are available to you. Yet all other uses of ‘disposal’ are about getting rid of something. How did we get this idiomatic expression?”

Let’s start with the verb form of “dispose.” Borrowed in from Old French, “dispose” has carried multiple meanings for much of its history. Early on, it could mean to place things at a proper distance from each other; to arrange them in a particular order; to put them in their proper place or stow them away; or to regulate or govern.

There’s another use of “dispose” which is to put in the proper frame for an action, or to put in a favorable mood. That might not sound out of context, but you’ve probably heard someone say they were disposed or perhaps predisposed to do something. That is, they were inclined to do so.

By the 1500s, the phrasal verb “dispose of” comes along, and that brings us back to Janine’s question.

“Dispose of” could mean to order or manage. It could also mean to put something away or into a settled state. Think about the title of this article, “In which we  dispose of listener questions.” We aren’t throwing questions away. We’re settling them.

This meaning is how we got to the extended use of to get rid of. By the 1600s, the noun “disposal” can refer to either the action of settling something or the action of getting rid of something. It also can mean the power or right to use something, as in “The car is at your disposal.”

Now that you have this information at your disposal, listen to the audio above to hear us dispose of another listener question regarding the whereabouts of the words “adventuresome” and “joyous.”

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Related Content