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Johnny Pump

Paul in Centerville, Massachusetts, says his parents, who hail from Brooklyn, New York, always referred to a fire hydrant as a Johnny pump. This term is largely confined to New York City, and may derive from the fact that these sources of water were...

Beside Myself (episode #1535)

The new Downton Abbey movie is a luscious treat for fans of the public-television period piece, but how accurate is the script when it comes to the vocabulary of the early 20th century? It may be jarring to hear the word swag, but it was already at...

Greek Letter Word Game

Quiz Guy John Chaneski’s puzzle involves subtracting the names of Greek letters from sentences. For example, the name of which Greek letter could be removed from the following sentence to leave another English word? I piled my gear on the...

Mrs. Astor’s Horse (episode #1530)

“What has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but isn’t a cat?” Answer: a kitten! A 1948 children’s joke book has lots of these to share with kids. Plus: an easy explanation for the difference between...

Mrs. Astor’s Pet Horse

Julie in Greenwood, Indiana, says her mother was fond of the expression Mrs. Astor’s pet horse, meaning “someone who dresses ostentatiously.” The phrase refers to Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, from the ultra-wealthy Astor...

Gift Horse (episode #1528)

The edge of the Grand Canyon. A remote mountaintop. A medieval cathedral. Some places are so mystical you feel like you’re close to another dimension of space and time. There’s a term for such locales: thin places. And: did you ever go...

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