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Left in the Lurch

A restaurant manager in Kokomo, Indiana, had an employee who failed to show up for work. This left him wondering about the phrase left in the lurch. It probably derives from an old game similar to backgammon called lourche, the object of which is to...

A Blue Million

Ian in Clyde, North Carolina, is puzzled when a colleague uses the term blue million, meaning “a large amount.” Along with words like zillion and gazillion, this expression functions as an indefinite hyperbolic numeral. Sometimes the...

Episode 1574

Scooter-Pooting

Old. Elderly. Senior. Why are we so uncomfortable when we talk about reaching a certain point in life? An 82-year-old seeks a more positive term to describe how she feels about her age. And: a linguist helps solve a famous kidnapping case, using the...

Episode 1558

Your Two Cents

Astronauts returning from space say they experience what’s called the overview effect, a new understanding of the fragility of our planet and our need to reflect on what humans all share as a species. A book about the end of the universe...

What are Good Terms for Old People?

Mary in Alexandria, Virginia, wonders when words like senior and senior citizen came to mean “elderly.” Senior comes from Latin senex, “old,” the source also of Senate and senile. In the 1930s, a politician helped popularize...

“The End of Everything,” by Katie Mack

Martha recommends The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) (Bookshop|Amazon) by Katie Mack, an assistant professor of physics at North Carolina State University. It’s a challenging read, but accessible enough to lay readers to provide...