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Today I Learned

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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 surprisingly creative interpretations of words and phrases the rest of us take for granted!

This episode first aired August 26, 2021.

What is a Loose Cannon?

 John, a 10-year-old from Dallas, Texas, wonders why an unpredictable or uncontrollable person is called a loose cannon.

Chosen at Random

 Tracie in Madison, Wisconsin, shares her childhood misunderstanding about the town of Random, the place where she assumed that all sweepstakes winners were chosen.

How to Pronounce Caramel

 Kadee, a Texas sixth-grader, wonders about how to pronounce the word caramel. There are at least seven different ways to pronounce the name of this gooey treat, including some with two and three syllables.

The Abbreviation for “Number”

 A high-schooler in Indianapolis, Indiana, wonders why the word number is abbreviated as no., given that there’s no letter O in the word. The answer lies in the Latin word numero, which is the ablative form of the Latin word for number, numerus. The word ounce comes from the Latin unit of measurement uncia, which found its way into Medieval Italian as onza, the source of our own abbreviation for ounce, or oz.

Is a Whistle Really all That Clean?

 Fourteen-year-old Harry from Charlotte, Vermont, asks why we say something is clean as a whistle. Clean as a whistle refers not to a physical whistle, but to the purity of the sibilant sound.

My, You’re Really Excited About Hanging Out at the National Mall

 Tommy in Lexington, Kentucky, recalls that when he was a youngster, a sightseeing trip to Washington, D.C., led to a hilarious misunderstanding about exactly what might be on offer at the National Mall.

Barely and Nearly

 Matt from Waukesha, Wisconsin, has been discussing the words barely and nearly with his 10-year-old son Simon. They know the two words are nearly alike, but how exactly?

Run Home!

 A listener shares his youthful experience of misunderstanding the rules of baseball and what it means to run home, and Martha confesses to a similar goof as a junior-high-school-age basketball player.

Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word

 Sam from Nichols, New York, reports that as a boy, he misunderstood the lyrics to the song “Home on the Range.” What, he wondered, is so discouraging about the word seldom?

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

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