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Brother and Sister-In-Laws

A San Diego, California, listener bemoans the lack of a specific term for the person who is married to one’s brother or sister. The best we can do in English is brother-in-law or sister-in-law, but often that needs further clarification. This...

Origin of Boston Accent

The stereotypical Boston accent is non-rhotic, meaning it drops the “r” sound. Before World War II, such lack of rhoticity was considered prestigious and was taught to film and radio actors to help them sound sophisticated. This is part...

Voracious Reader

If someone calls you a voracious reader, would you be flattered or insulted? And is it better to be a voracious reader of nonfiction rather than novels? The word voracious, which shares a root with devour and carnivore, might connote a lack of...

Ruthful

Someone can be ruthless, but can that person be ruthful? Ruthful is indeed a word that derives from an old definition of ruth meaning “the quality of being compassionate.” But unpaired negatives, like ruthless, unkempt, uncouth, or...

Boffin

Martha shares a British article that begins, “Boffins have discovered a strange new type of spongy mushroom.” But what, you may ask, is a boffin? The word boffin denotes an intellectual with a specific expertise and general lack of...

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