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Rank and File

Alex from Columbia, Missouri, wonders about rank and file, meaning “the members of the body of an organization as opposed to its leaders.” In 12th-century France, the words renc or ranc referred to a row of soldiers. The word file means...

Prison Book Donation Programs

What kind of book is most often requested by people who are incarcerated? The book that prison inmates ask for the vast majority of the time is a dictionary. These books, as well as thesauruses, prove useful for mastering reading skills, writing...

Unfortunate Initials of “WTF”

The World Tae Kwan Do Federation has dropped the word Federation from its name, and will no longer be known as the WTF. As the organization’s president explained: “In the digital age, the acronym of our federation has developed negative...

We’ve come a long way!

In 2007, the public media organization that created A Way with Words had a problem. They loved our show but a deep recession meant the station couldn’t afford to keep producing it. So they canceled it. That could have been the end of A Way...

Wooden Spoon

In Cantabrigian tradition, a wooden spoon was jokingly awarded to low achievers in mathematics. That practice later extended to other types of competitions. It’s also key to a heartwarming story about a charitable organization that arose from...

Slave vs. Enslaved

The organization Historic Hudson Valley describes the African-American celebration of Pinkster in an exemplary way. It avoids the use of the word slave and instead uses terms such as enslaved people, enslaved Africans, and captives. It’s a...