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The Asthenosphere

The asthenosphere, as described in Brian Kevin’s Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks guide (Bookshop|Amazon) is a gurgling sea of plasticized rock beneath the earth’s rocky crust. Asthenosphere derives from Greek asthenes...

Origin of Suffrage

Ronna from Jackson, Wyoming, asks about the word suffrage, meaning “the right to vote.” It goes back to the Latin word suffragium, which in ancient Rome meant a “voting tablet,” but  beyond that, this word’s...

To Be Beside Onself

Peter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, asks how the expression I’m beside myself came to mean “upset” or “unsettled.” The phrase suggests an out-of-body experience and came into English in the 14th century via a French...

Hornswoggle, That Odd Word

Scott in Billings, Montana, wonders about the word hornswoggle, meaning to swindle, bamboozle, deceive, or trick. This verb found its way into American English during the 1820’s, when there was a fad among newspaper editors and writers for...

When A Salamander is a Heater

Jason in San Antonio, Texas, is curious why the term salamander is applied to small heater on a construction site. In ancient lore, the mythical beast called a salamander was impervious to fire. Later salamander was applied to various heating...

The Spanking in Brand Spanking New

The spanking in the phrase brand spanking new has been used as an intensifier since the 16th century and may be related to a Danish word meaning to strut. This is part of a complete episode.

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