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Episode 1556

Good Vibrations

Asthenosphere, a geologist’s term for the molten layer beneath the earth’s crust, sparks a journey that stretches all the way from ancient Greece to the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Plus: What the heck is a dogberg? It’s when...

The Coffee “Is All”

Kathy in Rye, New York, used to live in Central Pennsylvania, where she was surprised by a friend announcing The coffee’s all meaning “The coffee’s all gone.” This phrase is a vestige of Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of...

Origin and Meaning of “Jawn”

When Audrey was growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 1990s, it seemed that everyone around her used the word jawn as an all-purpose substitute for other words, as in I took my jawn to the jawn and we had a bunch of jawns...

Episode 1553

Play It by Ear

How does social context shape our perception of language? When hiking the Appalachian Trail, a young woman from Wyoming found that fellow hikers assumed she was from another country, not only because of how she spoke, but also how she looked...

Fail-Safe vs. Fail-Proof

A discussion on the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange about things that can still be useful even if they longer function properly, such as escalators and moving sidewalks, included several intriguing expressions involving partial failure...

Episode 1531

Loaded for Bear

One way to make your new business look trendy is to use two nouns separated by an ampersand, like Peach & Creature or Rainstorm & Egg or … just about any other two-word combination. A tongue-in-cheek website will generate names like...