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Flounder vs. Founder

What’s the difference between flounder and founder? To flounder is “to struggle or thrash about,” while to founder is “to sink or to fail.” Surprisingly, the verb flounder shares no etymological root with the fish...

Open Up a Can of Words

You know that feeling you get when you say something you’ve known forever — slang, a catchphrase, a cultural reference — and the other person stares blankly? They have no idea what you’re referring to. Sometimes you feel old...

The Secret in Their I’s

Hi, all! In this week's archive edition, we discuss classic children's books, Faulknerian language, the double meaning of "sanction" and other Janus words, and a newcomer to Texas wants to talk like his neighbors: Summer reruns are...

Of Pupae and Pupils

A question from a listener on the A Way with Words Facebook page has Martha musing about the entomological and etymological connections between the word pupil and the pupal stage of an insect’s life.

Unicycles

A unicycle enthusiast wonders if his unicycle can be properly called a bike. To avoid the four-syllable mouthful, the unicycle community (yes, there is one) sometimes calls it a uni, but for the general public, the term “bike” works...

Purfling

A violin maker wonders about the origin of a practice in his trade known as purfling, where a black and white line is inlaid into a tiny channel along the edge of the instrument. Martha traces the word back to the Latin filum, meaning...

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