Search the Site
Mailbag Friday: "Hot Dog"
July 4, 2008
Welcome to the latest installment of Mailbag Friday
, our new feature for answering readers' questions about word origins. For this special Fourth of July edition, we have a very timely query from Jason B. from Wilmington, DE. "I've heard a lot of stories about the origin of 'hot dog
.' What's the frank truth? I await your answer with relish."
Mailbag Friday: "Bamboozle"
June 20, 2008
Welcome to a new feature on Word Routes: Mailbag Friday! This is where we answer your questions about the origins and evolving usage of words and phrases. If you've got a burning question, just click here and we'll do our best to address it in a future installment of Mailbag Friday.
First up is Lisa W. of Smyrna, DE, who writes: "Our youngest son earned the
nickname 'The Bamboozler' at an early age, for his uncanny ability to
outwit his unsuspecting parents. That got me thinking, where does the word bamboozle
Mailbag Friday: "Pipe Dream"
July 18, 2008
For today's installment of Mailbag Friday, our question comes from VT subscriber Barry Francolino in Romania. (One of our many far-flung correspondents!) Barry writes, "Just interested to know where the word/phrase/idea pipe dream
comes from." The definition given by the Visual Thesaurus, "a fantastic but vain hope (from fantasies induced by the opium pipe)," gives a whiff of its origin.
Mailbag Friday: "Mad Hatter"
August 8, 2008
Today's question for Mailbag Friday comes to us from Valerie P. of Ottawa, Ontario. Valerie writes: "I was visiting a heritage village in Nova Scotia when a guide in a traditional tailor's house told me the origin of the expression, mad hatter. He said that the beaver fur the popular top hats were made of was preserved with mercury. The workers gradually absorbed this mercury while making the hats and eventually became mad. The explanation seems a bit sketchy; can you fill in the details, or correct the explanation?"
Mailbag Friday: "(Over)whelmed"
August 22, 2008
Welcome to Mailbag Friday, where we answer your burning questions about the origins of words and phrases.
Ivete L. of New York, NY asks: "You can be overwhelmed, and I suppose you can even be underwhelmed. But why can't you be just plain whelmed?"
Mailbag Friday: "Widespreadly"?
September 5, 2008
For today's Mailbag Friday, we hear from Barbara Z. of Norfolk, VA. She writes: "On the radio I was listening to the beginning of "The Thomas Jefferson Hour" in which Clay Jenkinson speaks as if he were Jefferson. I heard him say the following:
'I happen to live in the first great era when books were widespreadly available...'
? That one is new to me!"
Mailbag Friday: "Reticent"
March 20, 2009
Maria C. of Jersey City, NJ writes in with today's Mailbag Friday question: "My coworker always uses the word reticent when he really means reluctant. Isn't he using the wrong word?"
Mailbag Friday: "Texted"
April 17, 2009
Today's Mailbag Friday question comes all the way from Dakar, Senegal. Jodi W. asks: "What's up with texted? As in, 'I texted her yesterday.' Is it a real word?"
Mailbag Friday: "Caveat"
August 14, 2009
Laura C. of Wantage, N.J. writes in with today's Mailbag Friday question:
Co-workers keep using the word caveat around work and it's driving me crazy.
People will say, "This is a great plan, but the caveat is..." (meaning
'the hook or catch is...'). Sometimes they'll use it as a transitive verb: "Let's caveat that
proposed media spend."
Is this really acceptable?
Mailbag Friday: "Phoning It In"
October 17, 2008
It's time once again for Mailbag Friday! Marc T. of New York, NY writes: "John McCain recently said that he put his campaign on hold to work on the Senate bailout package because 'it's not my style to simply phone it in.' Why do we talk about doing something in a lackluster or perfunctory way as phoning it in? Who originally did the phoning in, anyway?"
The history of American slang is often illuminating, and this is no exception: tracing the origins of this expression tells an intriguing story about the intersection of the technological and the theatrical.