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Helter-Skelter Reduplicatives

Jerrell in San Antonio, Texas, is curious about the term helter-skelter, meaning “haphazardly.” English is full of such reduplicatives, also called rhyming jingles, flip-flop words, or echo words. They fall into three categories: one...

Episode 1529

At First Blush

Book recommendations and the art of apology. Martha and Grant share some good reads, including an opinionated romp through English grammar, a Spanish-language adventure novel, an account of 19th-century dictionary wars, and a gorgeously illustrated...

Icelandic for Cherry on Top

In Icelandic, the phrase analogous to our cherry on top of the sundae, meaning “a little something extra,” translates literally as “the raisin at the end of the sausage.” This is part of a complete episode.

Loanwords with Altered Meanings

John in Brattleboro, Vermont, is pondering words and phrases that change their meaning when they move from one language to another. For example, in Germany the English phrase public viewing doesn’t have to do with a wake, but a live sporting...

Infixing and Tmesis

Scott in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wonders if the words nother as in a whole nother and abso-bloomin-lutely are real words. Yes, they are! The construction a whole nother is an example of what linguists call tmesis, which involves the insertion of a...

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