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Mustard On It

When does a word’s past make it too sensitive to use in the present? In contra dancing, there’s a particular move that dancers traditionally call a gypsy. But there’s a growing recognition that many people find the term gypsy...

Hot Mess

Sneaky contract lingo, advice for writing well, and preserving a dying language. Say you’re scrolling through an online transaction where you’re asked to read the “Terms and Conditions.” Do you actually read them or just check the...

Sneeze Confirmed the Truth

If someone sneezes while you’re saying something, a Yiddish speaker might say “G’nossem tsum emes,” or “The sneeze confirmed the truth,” meaning that what you just said is true, and the sternutation proves it. An...

Gracious Plenty

When somebody sneezes, we say bless you or gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something — or are they? Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit...

Pronunciation of “Secreting”

To secrete means “to produce and discharge a fluid,” a back-formation from secretion. But a similarly spelled verb means “to deposit in a hiding place.” For both verbs, the pronunciation of the past tense, secreted, requires...

Cough Etiquette

When somebody sneezes, you say “bless you” or “gesundheit,” but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say “excuse me.” A commenter on Paul Davidson’s blog sets...

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