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Episode 1603

If Grandma Had Wheels

While compiling the Oxford English Dictionary, lexicographer James Murray exchanged hundreds of letters a week with authors, advisors, and volunteer researchers. A new collection online lets you eavesdrop on discussions about which words should be...

Just the Kind of Hairpin I Am

Kathy from Wichita, Kansas, says her mother was a practical joker who’d laugh off her pranks by saying That’s just the kind of hairpin I am, which means “That’s just the way I am.” The phrase goes back at least to 1874...

Episode 1581

Your Imaginary Boyfriend

We use the term Milky Way for that glowing arc across the sky. But how people picture it varies from culture to culture. In Sweden, that starry band goes by a name that means “Winter Street,” and in Hawaii, a term for the Milky Way...

Desperate Ambrose

Deborah in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, remembers a phrase from her grandfather: Desperate Ambrose. He’s so desperate he would steal a hot stove. The first part is a reference to Desperate Ambrose, a character in the comic strip...

How Grief Bangs One About

A 1952 thank-you note from then recently widowed Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is a moving description of how grief “bangs one about until one is senseless,” and the comfort that the gift of a book can provide. This is part of a...

Episode 1548

Yak Shaving

There was a time when William Shakespeare was just another little seven-year-old in school. Classes in his day were demanding — and all in Latin. A new book argues that this rigorous curriculum actually nurtured the creativity that later flourished...