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A Bad Penny Always Turns Up

The saying a bad penny always turns up has been turning up in English since the 15th century, when counterfeit pennies would often surface in circulation. As pennies have lost their luster, the phrase has lived on; see the line “Don, my bad...

Nosebaggers

If you’re on vacation, watch out for nosebaggers. This mid-19th century slang term refers to tourists who go to resort areas for the day but bring their own provisions and don’t contribute to the local economy. A modern nosebagger might...

Origin of the Term Byzantine

A physician heard a broadcaster use the term byzantine to describe the current health care system, and wonders about the origin of this adjective. Martha notes that the Byzantine Empire, which began in the 4th century A.D., was notable for its...

Opposite of “Peas and Carrots”

Do pregnant women enjoy pickles and ice cream? Linguists from the American Dialect Society have been discussing this recently. They found that the expression pickles and ice cream once referred simply to the conjoining of two unrelated things, sort...

Lustrum

A decade is ten years. A century is a hundred. But what do you call a period of five years? It’s a lustrum, borrowed whole from Latin. So you might say a decade is two lustra. This is part of a complete episode.

A Gazelle on the Lawn

What do you say if you have guests over and someone in your family has stray food left on the face? In some households, the secret warning is “there’s a gazelle on the lawn.” But why a gazelle? Also, this week: the term for a party...

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