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Episode 1586

Mittens in Moonlight

Need a slang term that can replace just about any noun? Try chumpie. If you’re from Philadelphia, you may already know this handy placeholder word. And there’s Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, and … The Bronx — why do we add...

Waffle Cornflake And Other Family Words

A listener emails to say that her nonagenarian mother adopted a special project during the pandemic. She compiled a lexicon of words and phrases used by their family when the kids were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. The resulting 33-page...

Episode 1527

Had the Radish

Your first name is very personal, but what if you don’t like it? For some people, changing their name works out great but for others it may create more problems than it solves. And: at least three towns in the U.S. were christened with names...

Who Struck John

Lisa in Wilmington, North Carolina, remembers her grandmother using the expression who struck John to mean “confusion,” “foolishness,” or “bad behavior.” A common variant is “who shot John.” No...

Billy Tape Measure

Mary says her Illinois-born husband and father-in-law refer to a measuring tape as a billy. The word billy is used in a slangy sense to refer long lengths of metal, such a billy knife, and a Billy Box is a kind of toolbox, but the use of billy to...

Old Scratch

A longstanding injunction against mentioning the devil by name is the reason why terms like Old Ned, Old Billy, and Old Scratch have come to be euphemisms for his unholiness. This is part of a complete episode.