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Barely Locution

In Chicano English, the word barely, which traditionally means “just happened,” can also mean “almost didn’t happen,” as in “I just barely got here.” This locution apparently reflects the fact that in...

Pear-Shaped

You might use the phrase pear-shaped to describe someone who’s wide in the hips, but to say everything went pear-shaped can also mean that things went wrong. This slang term was among the members of Britain’s Royal Air Force during the...

Can Facts Be False?

Does a statement have to be true to be a fact? When it comes to the difference between facts and opinions, some may argue that facts are merely claims that can be proven true or false. Most dictionaries, however, assert that in order for an...

Last Piece of Food

What do you call the last serving of food on a plate — the one everyone’s too embarrassed to reach for? That last piece has been variously known as the mannersbit or manners piece, a reference to the fact that it’s considered polite to...

Vowel Mergers

Do you pronounce the words cot and caught differently? How about the words don and dawn, or pin and pen? The fact that some people pronounce at least some of these pairs identically is attributable to what’s called a vowel merger. This is part...

Make Hay

If someone plans to make hay of something, they’re going to take advantage of it. It comes from the idiom “make hay while the sun shines,” based on the fact that moving hay can be a real pain when it’s dark and damp. This is...

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