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We hope that when it comes to conversation about language, you haven’t been sufficiently suffonsified, because there’s lots to talk about in this week’s archive episode. For starters, there’s the way some pets take a while to let you know their names.

Also, have you ever been called a “stump-jumper”? How about a “snicklefritz”? Why do we call a state of bliss “hog heaven”? And what’s the last word in the dictionary? (Hint: Whether it’s “zyzzyva” or “zyxt” depends on which dictionary we’re talking about.) Listen to our “Sufficiently Suffonsified” episode here:


This week’s email question comes from Indianapolis listener Kelli Trujillo: “What are ‘laurels,’ as in ‘sit on our laurels’?” Thanks for the question, Kelli. In ancient Greece and Rome, if you did something outstanding, like winning an Olympic contest, you were honored with a crown made out of fragrant laurel leaves. That’s what all those guys are wearing after the chariot races. By the way, that leafy crown was called a “stephanos,” the source of the names “Stephen” and “Stephanie.” (Or, as in the case of our outstanding senior producer, “Stefanie.”)

You see the same idea in the term “laureate,” as in “poet laureate” and “Nobel laureate.” A laureate is a “person of great distinction,” worthy of the highest honor. At least as early as the mid-19th century, phrases like “to rest on one’s laurels” or “repose on one’s laurels” or “retire on one’s laurels” meant to be content with one’s past achievements, rather than striving for more.

In other news this week: OMG, textspeak is “soooooooo 19th century”! At least that’s what a headline in The Guardian newspaper suggested this week. On closer inspection, though, it seems that an upcoming exhibit about the history of the English language at the British Library includes some Victorian-era wordplay that looks a lot like a text message. Check out these lines from an 1867 poem by Charles Bombaugh: “He says he loves U 2 X S,/ U R virtuous and Y’s,/ In X L N C U X L/ All others in his i’s.” Actually, the whole exhibit, which opens this winter, looks like a lot of fun:


Also on the “Libraries We’d Like to Visit” front, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opens this fall in Indianapolis. The Associated Press reports that Vonnegut’s eldest daughter Edie is lending the library a collection of the many rejection letters the Indiana native received when he was starting out: “We have boxes of rejection letters, letters saying, ‘You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.’ He did not have an easy time of it, and I think for anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”


There’s a lot of other cool information about Vonnegut, including videos of the late author, on the library’s Facebook page, which you can join here:


While you’re there, if you haven’t already, be sure to join our Facebook page. We post more news and tidbits there throughout the week, and invite you to do the same:


Is there a not-to-be-missed library exhibit about language where you live? Let us know and we’ll mention it in the next newsletter.


Martha and Grant

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Further reading

Electric Soup (episode #1635)

When an international team of scientists traveled to a research station in Antarctica for six months, the language they all shared was English. After six months together, their accents changed ever so slightly — a miniature version of how language...

Fine Distinctions and Usage Guide Books

What’s the difference between ethics and morality? Between a proverb and an adage? Eli Burnstein’s Dictionary of Fine Distinctions: Nuances, Niceties and Subtle Shades of Meaning ​​(Bookshop|Amazon) helps readers distinguish between such...

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