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Tim and Allison Moyer of Ingram, Texas, care for lots of feral cats in their neighborhood, and refer to them by various names. Often they eventually shorten those names to just initial letters. For example, Calico Kitty becomes simply CK. Is there a...

Episode 1537

Bug in Your Ear

Is there something inherent in English that makes it the linguistic equivalent of the Borg, dominating and consuming other languages in its path? No, not at all. The answer lies with politics and conquest rather than language itself. Plus: a new...

Neonatal Unit Jargon

Katie in East Thetford, Vermont, shares medical slang and jargon from her work in the neonatal intensive care room at a hospital, including doorbell for “an alarm”; giraffe, “a special bed with controls for heat and...

Episode 1535

Beside Myself

The new Downton Abbey movie is a luscious treat for fans of the public-television period piece, but how accurate is the script when it comes to the vocabulary of the early 20th century? It may be jarring to hear the word swag, but it was already at...

Episode 1530

Mrs. Astor’s Horse

“What has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but isn’t a cat?” Answer: a kitten! A 1948 children’s joke book has lots of these to share with kids. Plus: an easy explanation for the difference between...

Storks Roosting in Our Language

In certain ancient traditions, storks were associated with kindness and family devotion. The Hebrew word for this leggy bird is chasidah, meaning “the kindly one,” from chesed, or “loving kindness.” Storks were also highly...