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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The weather is getting warmer, so you might start to see men arrayed in stylishly rumpled seersucker suits (especially in the American South). On the latest installment of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I followed the thread of seersucker all the way back to its Persian roots, and then looked at how both the fabric and the word spread around the world.   Continue reading...
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"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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