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Interesting Foreign Expressions

The French expression peigner la girafe means to do a useless, tedious, or annoying job, but literally translates as “to comb the giraffe.” That’s one of the many gems in Mark Abley’s new book Watch Your Tongue: What Our...

Misplaced Foreign Inflections

Open your kitchen cupboard or a cookbook, and chances are you’ll come across a lot of spices and peppers with recognizable names that you still can’t pronounce properly, like turmeric, cayenne, and habanero. We often give foreign...

Foreign Word Origins

A Panama City, Florida, caller wants to know the origin of kowtow, as in “to agree in an excessively eager or annoying way.” Kowtow comes from a Chinese term that means “to bow extremely low out of respect,” from words that...

Foreign Origin of an English Idiom

The idiom safe and sound tells the story of the English language in three words: safe comes from French, and sound is a Germanic word with the same root as Gesundheit, meaning “health.” This is part of a complete episode.