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Episode 1586

Mittens in Moonlight

Need a slang term that can replace just about any noun? Try chumpie. If you’re from Philadelphia, you may already know this handy placeholder word. And there’s Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, and … The Bronx — why do we add...

Episode 1584

Sleepy Winks

It was a dark and stormy night. So begins the long and increasingly convoluted prose of Edwards Bulwer-Lytton’s best-known novel. Today the annual Bulwer-Lytton Contest asks contestants for fanciful first sentences that are similarly...

Episode 1599

What in Tarnation

Language is always evolving, and that’s also true for American Sign Language. A century ago, the sign for “telephone” was one fist below your mouth and the other at your ear, as if you’re holding an old-fashioned candlestick...

Tarnation, Gumption, and Brogans

Lanessa in San Antonio, Texas, remembers once when her Tennessee-born grandmother saw her grandfather coming home from work and tromping into her pristine kitchen: “What in the tarnation? You don’t have any gumption! Don’t come...

Have to Eat a Peck of Dirt

Andrew from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, recalls a phrase his grandmother used: You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die. A peck is a unit of dry measure equal to a quarter of a bushel. Peck is also a term of approximate measure, as in to...