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Episode 1613

Blessing Box

Is there such a thing as a “neutral” accent, and if so what does it sound like? And that quirk in the way southern Californians talk about freeways. They’ll say things like take the 405 and get on the 8. Why the definite article...

Vigesimal

If you know someone with a 20th birthday coming up, you’ll want to tuck this word away in your pocket: vigesimal. It means “having to do with the number 20,” and comes from Latin vigesimus, or “twentieth,” a relative of...

Wilful Waste Makes Woeful Want

A caller in Cooperstown, North Dakota, remembers her West Virginia-born grandmother’s stern warning: Willful waste will lead to woeful want. The more common version, Wilful waste makes woeful want, goes back to the 18th century. Other versions...

Episode 1612

Fair Dinkum

A magnificent new book celebrates the richness and diversity of 450 years of written and spoken English in what is now the United States. It’s called The People’s Tongue, and it’s a sumptuous collection of essays, letters, poems...

Tarzan of the Flowerpot

If you want to describe people who have an overly high opinion of themselves, here’s some handy Spanish slang: In Argentina, you might describe such a person as Tarzán de maceta, or “Tarzan of the flowerpot.” You might also call...

Episode 1588

East Overshoe

Some people work hard to lose their accent in order to fit in. Others may be homesick for the voices they grew up with and try to reclaim them. How can you regain your old accent? Also, a compelling book about scientific taxonomy shows how humans...