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Episode 1583

Made from Scratch

Enthusiastic book recommendations! Martha’s savoring the biography of Alexander von Humboldt, the 19th-century explorer, polymath, and naturalist who revolutionized our understanding of nature and predicted the effects of human activity on...

Episode 1599

What in Tarnation

Language is always evolving, and that’s also true for American Sign Language. A century ago, the sign for “telephone” was one fist below your mouth and the other at your ear, as if you’re holding an old-fashioned candlestick...

A Vowel Perforation Called the Diaeresis

Sidney in Boston, Massachusetts, is curious about the diaeresis, that pair of dots that occasionally appear over a vowel in words such as naïve and coöperate. In ancient Greek diairesis, meaning “division,” applied to those dots in...

Episode 1572

By a Long Shot

Imagine telling someone how to get to your home, but without using the name of your street, or any other street within ten miles. Could you do it? We take street names for granted, but these words are useful for far more, like applying for a job or...

Episode 1592

You Talk Like a Sausage  

Do you refer to your dog or cat as “somebody”? As in: When you love somebody that much, you don’t mind if they slobber. In other words, is your pet a somebody or a something? Also, for centuries, there was little consistency in the...

Rope vs. Line, Sailors vs. Landlubbers

Tim is a rancher, dogsledder, and a former commercial fisherman in Alaska. He’s observed that the words rope and line are used differently in each of those professions depending on context, and using them incorrectly can mark a person as a...