Category Archives: Language

Are the “Snozzberries” in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Referring to Male Genitalia?

snozzberry

Domenic V. asks: Is it true that the snozzberries in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were dicks? Given the dark undercurrent of Roald Dahl’s works, perhaps it wouldn’t be surprising if his famous snozzberries mentioned in the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) made into the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), were, in fact, penises. […]

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Do Words Get Removed from a Dictionary When People Stop Using Them?

dictionary-unlimitted

Kerry U. asks: When words fall out of usage are they removed from the dictionary? The Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is generally regarded as the single most comprehensive record of the English language to exist. Included in this work are many thousands of words considered completely “obsolete” by lexicographers. You see, in something of a Hotel California […]

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Why is it Called “Going Dutch” When You Pay for Yourself?

going-dutch

Michael W. asks: Why is splitting the tab and paying for yourself called Dutch? The idea of paying for yourself when out with friends being referred to as some expression including the word “Dutch,” seemingly incorrectly is often connected to the fact that for several centuries beginning in the 17th, the word Dutch had a negative connotation in English, variously […]

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What’s a MacGuffin in Films and Why is It Called That?

Hitchcock

Shih C. asks: Why are McGuffin’s in films called that? In the last scene of the 1941 film classic, The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) hands over a murderer (played by Mary Astor) and a black falcon statuette to authorities. When asked what the statuette was exactly, Spade looks off in the distance and rather unsatisfactorily explains, […]

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Where Did the Saying “I’ll Eat My Hat” Come From?

eat-hat

Jeremiah C. asks: Did people actually used to eat their hats? If not, where did the expression come from? “I’ll eat my hat” is an utterance commonly used when a person is absolutely certain that something will not happen. But where did this unusual phrase first originate and have there ever been any recorded instances of people actually eating their […]

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Why Things That Are Haphazardly Built Are Called “Jury-Rigged”

duct-tape

David N. asks: Who was the Jerry in the expression Jerry-rigged? Although many describe shoddy workmanship or a hasty, temporary repair as jerry-rigged, in its original incarnation, the term was actually jury-rigged. While jury as a noun meaning a group of peers that decide the outcome of a legal proceeding has been in use English since the early 14th century, […]

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The Curious Case of the American Accent

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Hey, youz! Whah do ‘mericuns have all differnt aks-ay-ents? It’s, like, totally confusing and somewhat bizzahh, dontcha know. TALK THIS WAY An accent is “a manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location, or nation.” That’s not to be confused with a dialect, which is a specific form of […]

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Why We Call Certain Types of Threats “Blackmail”, and The Origin of the Lesser Known “Buttockmail”

blackmail

Karl M. asks: Why is it called blackmail when you threaten to reveal something about someone if they don’t give you money? “Blackmail” has its roots in the early 16th century, first used by English farmers living on the England/Scotland border. It derives from the Middle English word “male” which itself is thought to derive from the Old English word […]

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The Surprisingly Reasonable Answer to the Age Old Question- Why Do We Drive on Parkways and Park on Driveways?

the-blue-ridge-parkway

Eric J. asks: I know it’s an old joke, but seriously, why do we drive on parkways but park on our driveways? There has to be a good reason we say it this way, right? To most people the fact that we drive on parkways and park on driveways is rarely pondered upon. This only comes to mind when pointed […]

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Where the Term “Bootlegging” Came From

bootleggers

Mark Y. asks: Why were people who made alcohol during prohibition called bootleggers? Although Prohibition officially began on January 16, 1920, the impetus for banning the production, sale, importation and transportation (though not the consumption) of alcohol had been brewing for decades before. Part of a string of reforms introduced by Progressives, Protestants and other activists to cure all of […]

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Why are Breasts Called “Boobs”?

two-oranges

Jared M. asks: Why are breasts called boobs? There’s an oft repeated and decidedly untrue claim that Eskimos have hundreds of words for “snow”. (Beyond the fact that there is no single “Eskimo language”, when talking about the wider Eskimo-Aleut language family, these actually have roughly the same number of root-words for snow as English.) The false claim that they […]

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