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Is There a Tail in Telltale Sign?

Ten-year-old Alex, from Oceanside, California, wonders if a cat’s flicking tail inspired the expression telltale sign, meaning “an indicator.” The word is telltale, not its soundalike telltail. About 400 years ago, a telltale was a...

Episode 1549

Navel-Gazing

In 1971, when a new public library opened in Troy, Michigan, famous authors and artists were invited to write letters to the city’s youngest readers, extolling the many benefits of libraries. One of the loveliest was from E.B. White, author of...

Light a Shuck

Light a shuck means “to skedaddle” or “leave quickly,” and is often found in cowboy literature. It’s a reference to moving quickly while using a burning corn shuck to light one’s way, and may also be influenced by...

Towheaded and Towhead

Someone who’s towheaded has very light blond hair. Tow is an old word for flax, and flaxen-haired is a synonym for towheaded. Towheaded can also describe someone with tousled hair. This is part of a complete episode.

Episode 1506

Oh, For Cute!

A stereotype is a preconceived notion about a person or group. Originally, though, the word stereotype referred to a printing device used to produce lots of identical copies. • The link between tiny mythical creatures called trolls and modern-day...