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Coinball, Nighthawk, and Other Metal Detecting Lingo

The lingo of metal detectorists is full of colorful terms: A coinball is a clot of earth with a coin in it, a nighthawk is someone who detects without a permit under cover of darkness, a gold dance is a gleeful jig upon discovering precious metal...

A Pain Under the Pinny

Lois in Newfoundland, Canada, asks about the phrase pain in the pinny, meaning “stomach discomfort.” Pain in the pinny, or more commonly pain under the pinny, refers to a pain under one’s pinafore, or apron, the word pinafore...

Cover the Sun With a Finger

Sam in Westville, Indiana, heard a woman from Puerto Rico use the expression You cannot cover the sun with a finger, referring to the problem of having more things to work on than she could handle. The Spanish expression tapar el sol con un dedo, or...

The Meaning of Swarf

Mark in Bostonia, California, works in a machine shop where a sign warned: Beware of coolant and swarf. The word swarf refers to filings or dust created from machine work. Swarf can also function as a verb meaning “to cover with dust or grit...

Straw-Related Etymologies

The Spanish word for straw is paja. In Italian, it’s paglia, which also gives us the name of the opera Il Pagliacci, the Italian word for clowns. In the past, clown costumes were made of the same fabric used to cover straw mattresses. This is...

Grammar of Grawlixes

A musician from Youngstown, Ohio, is designing an album cover for his band’s latest release. He wants to use a grawlix, one of those strings of punctuation marks that substitute for profanity. “Beetle Bailey” cartoonist Mort Walker...