"I'm trying to stave off a cold," a friend said. Another responded, "Wine will work for that." Neither probably realized that, indeed, to "stave off" has its origins in wine, or something like wine.  Continue reading...
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For the latest installment of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at the peculiar history of the word pumpernickel — a kind of German bread with an origin that turns out to be downright devilish.  Continue reading...
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People awakening from a "nightmare" often have the sensation that they can't breathe. Not surprising: That's where the word "nightmare" comes from.  Continue reading...
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When the Academy Awards were given out last month, entertainment news was full of commentary about which movies, directors and performers should have been nominated but weren't—who got snubbed by those snobs in the Academy. That made me wonder if snub and snob were etymologically related.  Continue reading...
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On the latest installment of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the roots of the festive word carnival, associated with pre-Lenten celebrations around the Christian world. Some scholars speculate that the true origins of carnival actually lie in pagan rituals predating Christianity.  Continue reading...
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At a time when every civilized man carried a sonnet to his secret lover tucked into a back pocket, Shakespeare's sonnets out-swooned every other swoon-seeker's, and Sonnet 116 "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," has remained a favorite of lovers everywhere. For Valentine's Day, master some tricky words using our Sonnet 116 Vocabulary List.  Continue reading...
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Last night, Jon Stewart announced that he will be retiring from Comedy Central's The Daily Show. We'll miss Stewart and his writing team for lots of reasons. But as dedicated vocabularians, we'll be especially sorry to see the end of Stewart's skewering of overhyped news through clever use of word blending, known as portmanteaus.  Continue reading...
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