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Smithereens Origins

David in Austin, Texas, wonders if smithereens, meaning “bits” or “fragments,” as in explode into smithereens, refers to little bits of metal left over from blacksmithing. Actually, the origin of smithereen is uncertain...

To Sworp

When David from Warren County, Indiana, visited relatives in Virginia, he heard about an inebriated man who was said to have entered a church and caused a ruckus while sworpin’ down the aisle. In Appalachia, the verb sworp, also spelled swarp...

Sasha and Zamani, and Three Deaths

In his book African Religions and Philosophy, Kenyan-born philosopher John Samuel Mbiti describes the East and Central African concepts of sasha, those ancestors who remain alive in human memory, and zamani, the vast ocean of time into which...

David Foster Wallace’s Turns of Phrase

David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest includes many unusual turns of phrase, including nose-pore-range for something very close, toadbelly white for a particular shade of the color, howling fantods for the heebie-jeebies, and greebles for...