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Many Happy Returns? Return to What?

Rick in San Diego, California, wants to know why his older relatives always inscribed birthday cards with the phrase many happy returns of the day. This phrase, and the shorter version, many happy returns, indicates that the speaker is sending...

Heavy, Heavy Hangover

Clint from Dallas, Texas, recalls a peculiar family tradition for giving birthday presents to a child. A giver would hold a gift over the child’s head and recite: Heavy heavy hangover / Thy poor head / What do you wish this donor? The child...

What Do You Call Your Junk Drawer?

Nell in Madison, Wisconsin, says her family always had a drawer where they kept birthday candles, odd keys, matches, pencils, random batteries. They called it the mystery drawer. Some people call it a junk drawer or the work drawer. The term mystery...

21 in Celsius

In response to our conversation about euphemistic terms for one’s age, a listener says that he fudged his age on his last big birthday by telling friends he’d turned 21 in Celsius. This is part of a complete episode.

Mordida!

In Spanish, mordida literally means “a bite,” but it’s a kind of bribe. It predates the English phrase “put the bite on someone” by more than a hundred years. One proposed etymology for the Spanish term is that divers...

Foundering on Cake

The verb to founder applies to horses that overeat to a dangerous extent. It’s used by extension in less severe situations involving humans, such as children at a birthday party foundering on cake and ice cream. This is part of a complete...