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Toi Toi Toi

Laura in San Diego, California, wonders about the tradition of performers saying Toi toi toi to each other backstage to wish each other a good performance. It’s possible that it derives from the ancient idea that spitting three times can ward...


Asafetida, the plant used in asafidity bags intended to ward off disease, is also a common ingredient in Indian cooking, and it’s said to counterbalance heavy spices and relieve stomach cramps. This is part of a complete episode.

Asafitidy Bag

What’s an asafidity bag? Variously spelled asfidity, asfedity, asafetida, asphidity, and assafedity, it’s a folk medicine tradition involves putting the stinky resin of the asafetida or asafoetida plant in a small bag worn around the...

Keep At Bay

To keep something at bay means to maintain a safe distance from it. But does this expression derive from an old practice of using bay leaves to ward off pestilence? This is part of a complete episode.


bee-hawking  n.— «Wasps, and hornets in particular, are major predators of bees and the largest ones can make even the giant bees look puny. Some invade hives and steal grubs, while others swoop in and pluck loitering bees from the surface...

yellow bird

yellow bird  n.— «For another, ward leaders have been known to take street money from candidates, promise support and then not deliver. There is a name for this, too. These ward leaders are called “yellow birds,” after the old airline...