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Guitars as Axes and Woodshedding

Johanna in Munising, Michigan, has a funny story about a childhood misunderstanding. Guitarists sometimes refer to their instrument as an ax. But at least as early as the 1940s, the slang term ax referred to other instruments, including trombones...

Beta in Rock-Climbing

A rock climber in Omaha, Nebraska, wonders about the term beta, which her fellow climbers use to refer to  information about a particular route. It comes from the old practice of using Betamax video to record information about a climb. A good...

Shivaree, Charivari

A shivaree, also spelled charivari, is a raucous tradition of playing tricks on a newlywed couple. The practice was immortalized in the 1955 musical Oklahoma! This is part of a complete episode.

Ifs and Buts and Candied Nuts

A middle school teacher in Flower Mound, Texas, responds to students’ protests and excuses with if all our buts were candied nuts, we’d all be fat for Christmas. It’s probably a variation of a phrase popularized by former Dallas...

Chip on the Shoulder

If one has a chip on one’s shoulder, they’re spoiling for a fight. The phrase derives from the old practice of literally putting a chip of wood or other small object on one’s shoulder and daring an adversary to knock the chip off...