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Clodhoppers

Amber from Charlotte, North Carolina, wonders why big, heavy shoes are called clodhoppers. Originally, clodhopper was an insulting term aimed at rustics or rubes, a reference to farmers who must literally step over clods of dirt to do with work. It...

Episode 1524

Kite in a Phone Booth

Stunt performers in movies have their own jargon for talking about their dangerous work. In New York City, the slang term brick means “cold,” and dumb brick means “really cold.” Plus: the East and Central African tradition...

Episode 1508

Take Tea for the Fever

Silence comes in many forms. Writer Paul Goodman says there is, for example, the noisy silence of “resentment and self-recrimination,” and the helpful, participatory silence of actively listening to someone speak. • The strange story...

Episode 1503

Piping Hot

The game of baseball has alway inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word stuff, for example, can refer to a pitcher’s repertoire, to the spin on a ball, or what happens to the ball...

Episode 1609

Hot Gossip

Gossip goes by many names: the poop, the scoop, the lowdown, the dope, the scuttlebutt, the 411, the grapes, the gore, and hot tea. Plus, John Donne’s love poems are among the greatest in the English language, even as they’re famously...

You’re Going to Get a Potch!

Stacy from Marquette, Michigan, says her German-born grandfather would warn that she was going to get a putsch or potch, meaning a “a gentle slap” on her bottom, if she misbehaved. The German verb Patsch means “slap.” The...