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Take a Licking and Get Your Licks in

Paul in Camden, Maine, has adopted a new pup, and the dog’s exuberant face-licking has Paul wondering about the many meanings of the word lick, which include getting his licks in and takes a licking, which refers to the act of forcefully...

An Eke Name, Nickname

The verb to eke, as in to eke out a living or eke out a win, derives from Old English eaca, meaning “addition” or “supplement.” The expression an eke name, or literally “an additional name” was later altered by...

Hope in the Dark

The Old English word galan means “to call” or “to sing enchantments.” It’s the source of the obsolete word galder meaning “charm” or “incantation,” as well as nightingale, the name of a bird...

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...

“To Boot” Origins

Maribel in Montgomery, Alabama, asks about why we say to boot to mean in addition. This kind of boot has nothing to do with the kind you wear on your feet. It’s from Old English bot, meaning advantage or remedy, and is a linguistic relative of...

Brass on Your Face

The expression to have brass on one’s face is used in the South Atlantic region of the United States to describe someone who is bold or overconfident. There’s a similar idea in the word brazen, which derives from an Old English word for brass. This...

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