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Episode 1555

Mystery Drawer

Amid court-ordered busing in the 1970s, a middle-school teacher tried to distract her nervous students on the first day of class with this strange assignment: find a monarch caterpillar. The result? A memorable lesson in the miracle of metamorphosis...

Long Shot vs. Long Chalk

Peter from Camden, New Jersey, wonders about the phrases not by a long chalk and not by a long shot. The former is used in the United Kingdom, while the latter is commonly used in the United States. Both suggest the idea of missing a mark by a...

Xylyl Meaning and Origins

Olivia, a sixth-grader in Somerville, New Jersey, says she and her classmates were flummoxed by a word on their spelling-bee study list: xylyl. It’s a term from chemistry, referring to a group of atoms derived from a liquid called xylene. One...

A Delicious Pangram

We talked about pangrams in an earlier episode, which prompted a delicious one from Laura in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey: I quickly mixed up a dozen jelly donuts for the big variety show.

This is part of a complete episode.

My Word is Born

Michael from Sherman Oaks, California, says that as a teacher in New Jersey in the 1980s, he heard students saying My word is born, meaning “You better believe me,” and later shortened to simply word. The research of linguist Geneva...

Episode 1550

Queen Bee

An artist asks strangers to write haiku about the pandemic and gets back poetic, poignant glimpses of life under lockdown. Plus, the new book Queenspotting features the colorful language of beekeeping! Bees tell each other about a good source of...