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Episode 1590

Primary Colors

Centuries ago, monks who took a vow of silence developed their own hand signs, with hundreds of gestures, that are still in use today. Plus, how do speakers of different languages distinguish similar shades and tints of colors such as red, yellow...

Why Old Books Smell Good

Nothing like that old-book smell. And if you open up an old volume and think you detect notes of vanilla, there’s a good reason. That intoxicating scent is the result of lignin, a chemical compound in plants used for making paper. It has a...

Meteoric Rise

Why do we say someone whose career on the ascent is enjoying a meteoric rise? Don’t meteors plummet? For that matter, a caller asks, why do we call “heads up!” when a ball is coming towards us? Shouldn’t it be “heads...

Bromides

You know those dull sports clichés like “We came to play” and “He left it all on the field”? They’re called bromides. The hosts explain the connection between the tired platitude and the sedative called potassium...

Macadam

A native of Southern Pennsylvania has always used the term macadam in place of asphalt. Martha traces the word from an old gravel road to the modern day tarmac. This is part of a complete episode.

Zerberts

You know the sputtering, raspberry-like noises you make with your lips on a baby’s tummy so he’ll giggle? Many people call that a raspberry, but some people call that a zerbert. A caller’s husband insists that Bill Cosby coined the...