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New Yale Book of Quotations

One of our favorite new reference works is The New Yale Book of Quotations (Bookshop|Amazon) edited by Fred Shapiro, associate director for collections and access at the Yale Law Library. This volume is a vastly expanded version of the previous...

Mary Anning Sells Seashells

She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are seashells I’m sure, so if she sells seashells on the seashore, then I’m sure she sells seashore shells. Some claim that this tongue twister is about the early life of 19th...

Blind Creek

The term blind creek refers to evidence of a waterway that’s dried up, although water can still be found if you dig far enough. It’s one of more than 800 terms defined in Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape. This is part of a...

Keep Your Powder Dry

Shelby calls from Rockville, Indiana, to ask about the origin of the phrase keep your powder dry. Many people surmise it derives from words uttered by Oliver Cromwell, but there’s no recorded evidence of this. The phrase first pops up in the...

Baby Name Laws

The former student of a Spanish teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, will soon give birth in her homeland, the Czech Republic, one of several countries that have strict naming laws. The mother-to-be would like to name her son Lisandro, but needs official...

Jeep Name Origins

A listener in Ypsilanti, Michigan, wonders how the Army vehicle called a jeep got its name. Answer: It was associated with Eugene the Jeep, a strange creature from the 1930s comic strip, Popeye. Lexicographers and etymologists find no evidence to...