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Narrowback Irish

Sean, who is originally from Ireland, wonders if the term narrowback, which usually refers to second- or third-generation Irish-Americans, is considered a slur against the Irish. He also references an earlier conversation of ours about the term...

Lick the Calf Over

In response to our earlier conversation about the phrase to lick the cat over, meaning to repeat a laborious process, many listeners say they use the phrase lick the calf over to mean the same thing. Among the writers who have used it this way: Zora...

Insidious Ruse Wordplay

Melinda in Indianapolis, Indiana, shares a bit of wordplay in which someone is invited to repeat such phrases as “I’m a brass lock” and “I’m a brass key,” all leading up to a punchline in which the repeater is...

The Pet Name “Booby”

A Canadian-born caller says her mother, who is from Britain, addresses her grandson as booby. In The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, researchers Iona and Peter Opie write that booby is a children’s term for “a foolish...

Puddin’ Tame or Pudding Tane

“What’s your name?” “I’m Puddin’ Tame, ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!” This and other rhymes, such as “What’s your number? Cucumber!” derive from French, English, and American...

Like a Boss

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s witches’ knickers! What do you call stray plastic bags that litter the landscape? Also, what it means to do something like a boss, how to hyphenate correctly, and why we say we have a crush on...

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