24 Jul 2021

That Ship Name Has Sailed

Q. Why is it considered such bad luck to change a boat or ship’s name after it has been christened? . A. Life on the ocean is, as one could well imagine, rife with superstition. The naming of sea vessels is particularly fraught. Ancient Greeks would often assign their vessels

08 Jul 2021

Lurid Lockets

Q. “What I want from you is your voice.” Ursula the savage Sea Witch is bargaining with Disney’s Ariel. As collateral for temporarily turning Ariel’s tail into human legs, Ursula will seize The Little Mermaid’s ethereal voice. Ariel clutches her neck while Ursula elaborates. “No more talking, singing, zip.” To

09 Jun 2021

Lilibet, Elsa, or Zibby

Q. Congratulations to the Sussexes on the birth of wee Lilibet! Take it from a decidedly non-royal Elizabeth, certain names – especially those that have been around for a while – have an endless roster of commonly used variants (can we still use that word without cringing?) and nicknames. What

13 May 2021

Terrifying Town Names

Q. Fiction has brought us all kinds of alarming place names. Take C.S. Lewis who, in Chronicles of Narnia, invited us to: Burnt Island, Deathwater Island, Dragon Island .. Back on the workaday end of the wardrobe, what are some alarming town names on our maps? . A. Alligator Pond,

06 Apr 2021

Doctor Of Spin

Q. We know it’s bad. Just give it to us straight. No spin. Wait. Why is the word ‘spin’ used in this context? . A. Spin. After a while you come to recognize the facial, vocal, and verbal tells when Spokesperson X is locking into their spin. Oh boy. Here

04 Mar 2021

No Truck

Q. Where did the phrase ‘no truck’ originate? As in: “I have no truck with back room business deals.” . A. I want or have no truck with X. That is, I want no part of this. I refuse to be involved. How on earth are trucks relevant here? What

08 Feb 2021

A Flower Before Dying

Q. Where does the phrase ‘last hurrah’ come from? . A. This well-used idiom is rooted in a 1956 Edwin O’Connor novel entitled, yup, The Last Hurrah. In it, 72-year old career politician Frank Skeffington decides he’s going to take one more run – one final attempt, a last ditch

16 Jan 2021

With This Wedding Cake

Q. What are some wedding cake-related superstitions? . A. This sweet embodiment of forever love is rife with superstitions. Pity the Medieval couples forced to seal the fate of their marriage with wedding cake jenga. Great piles of spice buns were piled one atop another into an unwieldy tower. The

01 Jan 2021

12 Grapes for 2021

Q. Why is there a run on grapes in Spain on the days leading up to New Years Eve? . A. The grapes are for a tradition said to date back to the late 1800s. How to bring in a New Year of good fortune and health? Eat one grape

18 Dec 2020

A Dissing of Deer

Q. Why do some animals have such beautifully considered collective nouns while others are lumped together under rude, or perhaps worse, indifferent ‘nouns of assembly’? . A. It does seem unfair that we celebrate an exaltation of larks, a caravan of camels, pride of lions, streak of tigers, romp of