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Why Are Some Competitions “Heats”?

Why do we use the word heat to denote a preliminary qualifying race? Hundreds of years ago, a single instance of heating something such as a piece of metal over a fire for metalworking was called a heat. Later that term was applied to “a round...

Episode 1530

Mrs. Astor’s Horse

“What has a head like a cat, feet like a cat, a tail like a cat, but isn’t a cat?” Answer: a kitten! A 1948 children’s joke book has lots of these to share with kids. Plus: an easy explanation for the difference between...

Mrs. Astor’s Pet Horse

Julie in Greenwood, Indiana, says her mother was fond of the expression Mrs. Astor’s pet horse, meaning “someone who dresses ostentatiously.” The phrase refers to Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, from the ultra-wealthy Astor...

Episode 1453

Hell for Leather

Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900’s, a door-knocker wasn’t just what visitors used to announce their arrival, it was a type of beard with a similar shape. And in the 21st century: Is it...

The Pet Name “Booby”

A Canadian-born caller says her mother, who is from Britain, addresses her grandson as booby. In The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, researchers Iona and Peter Opie write that booby is a children’s term for “a foolish...

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