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Minima and Maxima

Celia, from Spokane, Washington, is unhappy that fewer and fewer English speakers seem aware of the correct plurals of Latin and Greek words. She is bothered, for example, when someone refers to minimums rather than minima. Minima is more often a...

Episode 1578

Today I Learned

Youngsters want to know: What’s the difference between barely and nearly, and what’s so clean about a whistle, anyway? Plus, adults recount some misunderstandings from when they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Kids do come up with some...

Why is Q Followed by U?

Quinn from Excelsior, Minnesota, is five years old — well, five and three-quarters, as she points out. She wonders why the letter Q is so often followed by U. In Old English, the alphabet didn’t include the letter Q. The word quick, for...

Episode 1567

Kiss the Cow

An anadrome is a word that forms a whole new word when you spell it backwards. For example, the word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts.” Some people’s first names are anadromes. There’s the girl named Noel...

Showing Sarcasm with Punctuation

When writing his doctoral dissertation, John in Bardstown, Kentucky, used an upside-down question mark after a comment to indicate he was being sarcastic. Is there a punctuation mark that serves this function? Over the centuries, several have been...

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