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Smitten, Smite

A woman who is fond of the word smitten is curious about about the word’s origin. Smitten is the past participle of smite, so if you’re smitten with someone, you’re struck by them, metaphorically speaking. This is part of a...

What To Call a Parent Who Loses a Child

Although in English we have the terms orphan, widow, and widower, our language lacks a one-word term that means “bereaved parent.” A few other languages have a word for this, including Hebrew sh’khol and Sanskrit vilomah. This is...

Who Is She From Home?

Who is she from home? meaning “What’s her maiden name?” is a construction common in communities with significant Polish heritage. It’s what linguists call a calque — a word or phrase from another language translated literally...

Vowel Mergers

A Dallas, Texas, caller says his girlfriend from a rural part of his state has an unusual way of pronouncing certain words. Email sounds like EE-mill, toenail like TOW-nell, and tell-tale like TELL-tell. These sounds are the result of a well-known...

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