For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word.  Continue reading...
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With the boxing movie "Southpaw" opening, it's a good time to ponder where the term "southpaw" came from as an epithet for a left-hander. Baseball and boxing have both used the term for a long time to label lefty athletes, but which came first?  Continue reading...
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July 11, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first musical use of the word jazz. To celebrate, we've put together a list of vocabulary from quotes about what Jazz is as an art form and what it has meant in the lives of those quoted, as well as links to the story of jazz's origin.  Continue reading...
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The news coming out of Greece these days can be downright perplexing, leading many in the news media to recycle the old phrase, "It's all Greek to me." I talked to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered about the origin of the expression.  Continue reading...
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For my latest appearance on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at the clownish roots of the word bozo. While the image of TV's Bozo the Clown is familiar to many generations of American youth, how did Bozo get his name in the first place? The answer may lie in vaudeville.  Continue reading...
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Sunday is the longest day of the year and the official start to summer. To get ready, we're taking a look at the words and terms enshrined in our language that capture our collective experience of the summer season — trotted out once again like the shorts and sandals we've been waiting all winter to wear again.  Continue reading...
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On the latest episode of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at a classic Yiddishism: kibitz, which can mean "make unwanted comments (as a spectator at a card game)," or something more general like "chitchat." While it's a word with a rich history, its origins are ultimately mysterious.  Continue reading...
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