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Episode 1603

If Grandma Had Wheels

While compiling the Oxford English Dictionary, lexicographer James Murray exchanged hundreds of letters a week with authors, advisors, and volunteer researchers. A new collection online lets you eavesdrop on discussions about which words should be...

I Dub Thee “Weak Coffee”

Listeners are sharing their favorite terms for coffee that’s weak, including warm wet, branch water, pond water, scared water, and in the immortal words of Ani DiFranco, just water dressed in brown. One listener has a friend in North Dakota...

Episode 1585

Diamond Dust

Diamond dust, tapioca snow, and sugar icebergs — a 1955 glossary of arctic and subarctic terms describes the environment in ways that sound poetic. And a mom says her son is dating someone who’s non-binary. She supports their relationship, but...

Episode 1584

Sleepy Winks

It was a dark and stormy night. So begins the long and increasingly convoluted prose of Edwards Bulwer-Lytton’s best-known novel. Today the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest asks contestants for fanciful first sentences that are similarly...

Episode 1580

Beefed It

The words tough, through, and dough all end in O-U-G-H. So why don’t they rhyme? A lively new book addresses the many quirks of English by explaining the history of words and phrases. And: have you ever been in a situation where a group makes...

Episode 1599

What in Tarnation

Language is always evolving, and that’s also true for American Sign Language. A century ago, the sign for “telephone” was one fist below your mouth and the other at your ear, as if you’re holding an old-fashioned candlestick...