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Episode 1508

Take Tea for the Fever

Silence comes in many forms. Writer Paul Goodman says there is, for example, the noisy silence of “resentment and self-recrimination,” and the helpful, participatory silence of actively listening to someone speak. • The strange story...

Episode 1502

Mimeographs and Dittos

How colors got their names, and a strange way to write. The terms blue and orange arrived in English via French, so why didn’t we also adapt the French for black and white? • Not every example of writing goes in one direction across the page...

Episode 1590

Primary Colors

Centuries ago, monks who took a vow of silence developed their own hand signs, with hundreds of gestures, that are still in use today. Plus, how do speakers of different languages distinguish similar shades and tints of colors such as red, yellow...

When Your Car is “the Machine”

Matthew in Cincinnati, Ohio, says his grandfather used to refer to his car as the machine. Around the turn of the 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon to apply the term machine to automobiles. This is part of a complete episode.

Episode 1541

Walkie Talkie

One of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear — and one of the most poignant — isn’t in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means “the last surviving member of a species.” The...

The Meaning of Swarf

Mark in Bostonia, California, works in a machine shop where a sign warned: Beware of coolant and swarf. The word swarf refers to filings or dust created from machine work. Swarf can also function as a verb meaning “to cover with dust or grit...