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Wheel of Yew


In last weekend’s archive episode, we wondered who thinks up those crazy names for paint chips. We also discussed “spam” and “gringo,” dashes and semicolons, the term “first annual,” and wearing “bobos.”


We asked you to come up with clever collective nouns for plants, like “a shepherd of phlox.” We’ve received some beauts, including “a pride of dandelions” and “a churn of buttercups.”

Listeners also posted some winners on the “A Way with Words” discussion forum. “A buddy of holly”? “An isle of yew”? (Say it three times fast.) Share your clever collective nouns here:


Speaking of collectives, a “cete” is “a group of badgers.” David Foster Wallace circled this word in his American Heritage Dictionary. You can see other words that caught his eye here:


The new David Foster Wallace archive at the University of Texas is the subject of a long article in Newsweek. The online version features photos of Wallace’s scribbled comments in other books and outtakes from “Infinite Jest.”


Okay (or would that be “OK” or “O.K.”?), listen up. Roy Blount Jr. has a review of Allan Metcalf’s new book, “OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.” The review itself is pretty amusing.


BEHIND THE SCENES: Longtime listeners may recall our conversation about “frass,” the scientific term for “caterpillar poop.”

We never expected to see this word used effectively in a non-scientific context, but last week we ran across it in a knockout of a poem. It’s called “Childhood,” by Debra Bruce:


Have a frass-free week,

Martha and Grant

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Further reading

Walkie Talkie (episode #1541)

One of the most powerful words you’ll ever hear — and one of the most poignant — isn’t in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The word is endling, and it means “the last surviving member of a species.” The...

Clever Clogs (episode #1539)

Ribbon fall. Gallery forest. You won’t find terms like these in most dictionaries, but they and hundreds like them are discussed by famous writers in the book Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape. The book is an intriguing collection...