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: When breakfast broaches a brand new language question

Ways To Subscribe

This week’s question is brought to you by a box of cereal.

Our listener Brian Chodoroff recently noticed a recipe for “bran new day muffins” printed on a box of bran flakes. This clever little play on words got Brian wondering about the origin of phrases such as “brand new” and “brand name.”

Turning a muffin recipe into a language question couldn’t be more on brand for That’s What They Say. Brian even included a picture of said recipe. Once we got over our muffin craving, we realized we hadn’t given “brand” much thought.

“Brand” goes back to Old English and originally meant “burning.” It could also refer to a piece of wood burning in a fire or on a hearth. By the mid-1500s, it could also refer to the mark made by burning something with a hot iron.

Unfortunately, “brand” also comes to refer to burning the skin of criminals around this time. That’s where we get the expression “branded a criminal.”

The phrase “brand new” came along in the mid to late 1500s and meant, “new, as if fresh from the fire.” Of course today, we use it to refer to anything that’s very new, regardless of where it came from.

The trademark meaning of “brand” shows up by the 1700s. It could refer to actual burning, such as branding the side of a casket of wine, but it could also refer to trademarks that weren’t actually burned onto something.

To hear our discussion about whether to pronounce the “d” in “brand” as well as some phrases similar to “brand new,” listen to the audio above.

Stay Connected
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.