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Episode 1599

What in Tarnation

Language is always evolving, and that’s also true for American Sign Language. A century ago, the sign for “telephone” was one fist below your mouth and the other at your ear, as if you’re holding an old-fashioned candlestick...

A Vowel Perforation Called the Diaeresis

Sidney in Boston, Massachusetts, is curious about the diaeresis, that pair of dots that occasionally appear over a vowel in words such as naïve and coöperate. In ancient Greek diairesis, meaning “division,” applied to those dots in...

Episode 1538

Little Shavers

The word hipster might seem recent, but it actually originated in the 1930s when it referred to jazz aficionados who were in the know about the best nightclubs and cool music. Speaking of music, a professional musician reports that it’s...

When to Use Commas

How do you decide when to use a comma? One strategy is to read your writing aloud and decide what sounds best. This is part of a complete episode.

Commas With Modifiers

Would you prefer a low, six-figure salary or a low six-figure salary? With the comma, there are two independent modifiers for the salary; it’s six figures and by the speaker’s standards, it’s low. Without the comma, it’s...