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Episode 1548

Yak Shaving

There was a time when William Shakespeare was just another little seven-year-old in school. Classes in his day were demanding — and all in Latin. A new book argues that this rigorous curriculum actually nurtured the creativity that later flourished...

Picayune

Mike calls from Bloomsberg, Pennsylvania to ask about the word picayune, meaning “petty.” Why would a New Orleans newspaper call itself The Times-Picayune? The adjective picayune, meaning “trifling” or...

Nothing to Sneeze At

Forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry...

The Big Apple

Why is New York City called the Big Apple? In the 1920s, a writer named John Fitz Gerald used it in a column about the horseracing scene, because racetrack workers in New Orleans would say that if a horse was successful down South, they’d send...

Strange Spelling Bee Words

Why do spelling bees include such bizarre, obsolete words as cymotrichous? Why is New York called the Big Apple? Also, the stinky folk medicine tradition called an asifidity bag, the surprising number of common English phrases that come directly...