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Non-Word Utterances Also Have Meaning

A Pasadena, California, man says some of his relatives make a noise that sounds like unh-Unh, and it’s clear to everyone in the family that it means “Well, what did you expect?” A lexical utterance like that does have meaning, even...

How We Finish Conversations

A customer-service representative from Seattle, Washington, is curious about the phrases people use as a part of leave-taking when they’re finishing a telephone conversation. Linguists who conduct discourse analysis on such conversations say...

Pipperoo

A swinging song by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra called “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” drops the line “What a gal, a real pipperoo.” A homeschooling family in Maine wonders just what a pipperoo is. For one, the suffix ...

Discourse Particles

So, um, where do those, er, filler words come from? Discourse particles, as they’re also known, are used to fill those gaps when we’re thinking of what to say but don’t want to lose our turn in a conversation. English isn’t...

Voilà vs. Walla

Voilà (not spelled wallah or vwala or walla) is a good example of a borrowed word. Though French for “there it is,” Americans often use it as a simple utterance, akin to presto or ta-da. This is part of a complete episode.