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Episode 1504

Up Your Alley

Book recommendations, including a collection of short stories inspired by dictionaries, and a techno-thriller for teens. Or, how about novels with an upbeat message? Publishers call this genre up lit. Plus, a clergyman ponders an arresting phrase in...

Origins of the Name of “Murphy’s Law”

Mark from Richland Center, Wisconsin, wonders about the origin of the expression Murphy’s Law, which is often rendered as Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The concept has been around for years, but researchers Fred Shapiro, Stephen...

Episode 1557

Sock it to Me

In the 15th century, the word respair meant “to have hope again.” Although this word fell out of use, it’s among dozens collected in a new book of soothing vocabulary for troubled times. Plus, baseball slang: If a batter...

Someone Who is Always to Blame

Two close friends from Richmond, Kentucky, call to share their hilarious dispute about how to correctly describe the one of them who’s always to blame for something. Is she the fault default or the default fault? This is part of a complete...

Bad Vice and Vice President

Vice is a noun meaning bad behavior, but it’s also an adjective referring to an official who is second in command. Karen, a seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher in Waco, Texas, says her students wonder why. These two senses of vice come...

Foreign City Names in America

Why are some American place names pronounced differently than the famous place they were named after? Why is Cairo, Ill., pronounced “KAY-roh”? Why do Midwesterners pronounce Versailles as “Ver-SALES” and the New Madrid Fault...