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Why is Q Followed by U?

Quinn from Excelsior, Minnesota, is five years old — well, five and three-quarters, as she points out. She wonders why the letter Q is so often followed by U. In Old English, the alphabet didn’t include the letter Q. The word quick, for...

Origin of “Flea Market”

A flea market is a type of bazaar, usually outdoors, where vendors of secondhand and discount goods sell their wares. But why flea market? The term probably reflects the influence of two linguistic strains: In 18th-century New York City, the Fly...

Oh My Stars and Garters

The exclamation “Oh my stars and garters!” likely arose from a reference to the British Order of the Garter. The award for this highest level of knighthood includes an elaborate medal in the shape of a star. The expression was probably...

Seen From a Galloping Horse

Growing up in Jamaica, a woman used to hear her fashion-designer mother invoke this phrase to indicate that something was good enough, even if it was flawed: “A man on a galloping horse wouldn’t see it.” Variations include...

A Skosh about Surfing and Tweets

Ahoy! We kicked off the new fall season of "A Way with Words" this weekend, asking, "How much humor and personality can you pack into a 140-character update? A lot, it seems. We discuss funny Twitter feeds, the origins of...

Words That Will Color Your World

Happy September! In this week’s archive episode, “Sailor’s Delight,” we talk about weather proverbs, pooflapoo pie, tricks for remembering how to spell difficult words, and alternatives to the word “mentee.” We...