Beyond Words - Language Blog

Arousing Word Origins:The Story of the World’s Sexiest Philologist

Most of us are familiar with the different types of learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. A distinctive sort of style, however, is the hallmark of internet phenomenon Marina Orlova — she uses sex appeal to teach etymology.

Orlova, a 28-year-old Russian immigrant, is a philologist (a kind of linguist who specializes in the historical development of meaning in texts). In addition to holding two degrees from the State University of Nizhni Novgorod in Moscow, Orlova is a bombshell with a penchant for skimpy outfits and doe-eyed expressions. She has made her mark on the internet by capitalizing both on her education and her looks, introducing a slew of viewers to the field of philology by posing and pouting her way through educational clips.

In 2007, Orlova launched a YouTube channel called HotForWords in which she takes requests from viewers for familiar English words and phrases, then discusses their origins in short clips that typically involve equal parts spunk, sex, and etymology. Last year, Orlova was named World’s Sexiest Geek by the editors of Wired magazine. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Orlova has acquired the title of #1 most viewed guru on YouTube — her videos receive more than a million views each week.

In her YouTube posts, Orlova explains colloquialisms like “three sheets to the wind” and “in the buff,” as well as rare words such as “mondegreen,” and even one of the longest words in the English language — “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.”

Love her or hate her, the woman behind HotForWords holds an interesting place in the linguistic community. While sometimes flamboyant, Orlova deserves recognition for encouraging the study of language and raising interest in etymology through her trademark blend of bawdiness and scholarship.