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Episode 1537

Bug in Your Ear

Is there something inherent in English that makes it the linguistic equivalent of the Borg, dominating and consuming other languages in its path? No, not at all. The answer lies with politics and conquest rather than language itself. Plus: a new...

Put a Bug in One’s Ear

Jamie from Calais, Vermont, says an unfortunate experience with an insect made her wonder about the expression to put a bug in your ear or put a bug in one’s ear, meaning “to make a strong, insistent suggestion to someone.” An...

Episode 1535

Beside Myself

The new Downton Abbey movie is a luscious treat for fans of the public-television period piece, but how accurate is the script when it comes to the vocabulary of the early 20th century? It may be jarring to hear the word swag, but it was already at...

To Be Beside Onself

Peter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, asks how the expression I’m beside myself came to mean “upset” or “unsettled.” The phrase suggests an out-of-body experience and came into English in the 14th century via a French...

Expressions from the Bible

Land of milk and honey, Judgment Day, and root of all evil are well-known phrases that first appeared in English translations of the Bible. There are several less obvious ones, though, including bottomless pit, meaning an abyss, which first appears...

Episode 1445

You Bet Your Boots

You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more – and make sure to include a wide variety of publications. But what if you just don’t have that kind of time? Martha and Grant...

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