Lost Words Of Colonial America: A Glossary

LANGUAGE EVOLVES so rapidly that today we can no longer even understand some of the words the American colonists brought with them from Europe or devised to fit their lives in the New World. Here are some startling or amusing examples:


American Legion ( n. ) Read more »

O.k. The Last Word

When did we start saying it? And why?

FROM THE OIL FIELDS of Indonesia to the tulip fields of Holland to the rice fields of Brazil, a traveler overhears conversations sounding something like this:

FIRSTNATIVE : “Unintelligible unintelligible unintelligible, okay?”

SECONDNATIVE : “Okay.” Read more »

Marks For The Marketplace

The Curious World of the Trademark

Millions of readers have been pleasured by the writings of John Steinbeck, but there was no joy in the Atlanta headquarters of the Coca-Cola Company when the Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist’s The Wayward Bus reached the executive suite.

”‘You rather have a coke?’ ” asked the traveling salesman who was trying to move in on the blonde at the bus stop lunchroom.

”‘No. Coffee’ ” she replied. ” ‘Cokes make me fat.’ ” Read more »

Pronounce It “callaradda,” Son

The year is 1859. Throughout the region popularly called Pikes Peak, a hoard of gold-hungry miners are swarming around the front range of the Rocky Mountains, spurred by discoveries of the rich mineral at Cherry Creek and Clear Creek and in the foothills that rise above the little supply town of Denver. Even as the hills are being turned from wilderness into mining camps, some settlers are already looking beyond the muddy streets and make-shift laws toward a goal: statehood. Read more »

The Man Who Named America

How America got its name is a slightly fantastic tale involving an obscure German scholar who happened to think more highly of Vespucci than he did of Columbus. George R. Stewart tells the story in this excerpt from his new book, Names on the Globe, which will be published by Oxford University Press next month.

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S•x Education

“Your body is a temple,” our ancestors told their pubescent youngsters. ‘Now go take a cold bath”

Standards of propriety were lofty indeed

Something called delicacy overtook Americans soon after our successful Revolution. Like an incoming tide, it flowed all over the nineteenth century, reaching its high-water mark about a hundred years ago. From that point it slowly receded, leaving behind rock pools of what came to be identified as prudery.Read more »

Exit Lines

About to die at the untimely age of forty-four in 1883, Dr. George Miller Beard, a Connecticut physician and pioneer in neurology, remarked: “I should like to record the thoughts of a dying man for the benefit of science, but it is impossible.” And with those words, Dr. Beard passed beyond further speech. Regardless of their inner thoughts, we do at least know what many individuals uttered before giving up the ghost.Read more »

Whistle Talk

Locomotive whistles had a language all their own

The switchmen knew by the whistle’s moans That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones.

As the ballad says, Casey Jones was a famous hand at the whistle. His was homemade, with six cylinders banded together, and he could make it cry like a plaintive whippoorwill, say prayers, or scream like a banshee. Read more »