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Fancy-Schmancy and Other Schm Reduplications

When Julia emigrated to New York City from the Dominican Republic, she noticed that her Jewish friends on Long Island often playfully altered words, repeating a word and adding an SHM sound, such as changing deserve to deserve, schmeserve and cool...

O’Clock Quiz

Quiz Guy John Chaneski is pondering the term o’clock, which is a shortening of the phrase of the clock. What would our language be like if we used that construction all of the time, or as he puts it, all o’time? For example, what similarly...

Why is it Commander Chief and Not Commander Chief?

Paul in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has long been mystified by the title commander in chief. Why, he wonders, isn’t it commander and chief? The title commander in chief is a vestige of French military titles, specifically the construction en...

Infixing and Tmesis

Scott in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders if the words nother as in a whole nother and abso-bloomin-lutely are real words. Yes, they are! The construction a whole nother is an example of what linguists call tmesis, which involves the insertion of a...

Funny Laboratory Sign

A listener leaves us a voicemail about a sign his high school science teacher posted in the classroom to encourage students to keep the noise down. It read “Laboratory — more of the first 5, less of the last 7.” As in more of the first...