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Origin of the Word “Paraphernalia”

Rachel from Ashland, Virginia, wonders about the origin of paraphernalia, or “items belonging to a particular person or used for a particular activity.” In ancient Greece, the pherna was a bride’s dowry, and the parapherna was her...

Why Doesn’t a Surgeon Surge?

If an operator operates, why doesn’t a surgeon surge? The word surgeon comes from ancient Greek cheir, which means “hand,” and ergon, “work,” surgery being a kind of medical treatment done by hand, rather than the work...

Episode 1502

Mimeographs and Dittos

In this episode: How colors got their names, and a strange way to write. The terms blue and orange arrived in English via French, so why didn’t we also adapt the French for black and white? • Not every example of writing goes in one direction...

Gone to Seed

This week on A Way with Words: Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. • Some restaurants now advertise that they sell “clean” sandwiches. But that doesn’t mean they’re condiment-free or the...

Word For Being Out of Place

An anachronism is something that’s placed in the wrong time period, like a Roman soldier wearing Birkenstocks. But what’s the word for if someone or something is literally out of place geographically speaking? You can use the word...

Greek Roots

The words plethora and drastic both have roots in ancient Greek. Both were first used in English as medical terms, plethora indicating “an excess of bodily fluid” and drastic meaning “having an effect.” This is part of a...