Dead as a doornail is a common idiom, but what exactly is a doornail, and why is it dead? The saying goes at least as far back as the 1350’s, and may simply refer to the fact that the nails used to make big, heavy doors were securely fixed in place – the modifier dead having the same sort of unequivocal sense suggested in the expression “dead certain.” This is part of a complete episode.
- Space Cadet (episode #1514) 12/24/2018: We have books for language-lovers and recommendations for history buffs. • How did the word boondoggle come to denote a wasteful project? The answer involves... [more]
- Howling Fantods (episode #1513) 12/17/2018: Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing drug-laced dollar bills,... [more]
- Cootie Shot (episode #1510) 12/10/2018: Perfect sentences and slang that tickles your mind! A new book of writing advice says a good sentence "imposes a logic on the world's weirdness"... [more]
- Bottled Sunshine (episode #1512) 11/19/2018: If you catch your blue jeans on a nail, you may find yourself with a winklehawk. This term, adapted into English from Dutch, means "an... [more]
- Care Package (episode #1511) 11/12/2018: Sending someone a care package shows you care, of course. But the first care packages were boxes of food and personal items for survivors of... [more]