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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...

Episode 1505

Coinkydink

Sometimes it’s a challenge to give a book a chance: How many pages should you read before deciding it’s not worth your time? There’s a new formula to help with that decision — and it’s all based on your age. • Have you ever...

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...

Dessert Stomach

Funny cat videos and cute online photos inspire equally adorable slang terms we use to talk about them. • Also, when a salamander is not a salamander, the story of an Italian term for a dish towel used halfway across the world, Bozo buttons...

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...

Brand Spanking New

Take a look back at some notable words and phrases from 2017: Remember path of totality? How about milkshake duck? Also, a committee has to choose a new mascot for a school’s sports teams. They want to call them the Knights, as in the fighters...