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Grammar, Punctuation & Phrases

A collection of answers to grammar, spelling and punctuation questions, plus explanations on the origins of popular phrases.

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Malarkey: What's the Story Behind Joe Biden's Favorite Word?

President-elect Joe Biden has pretty much made 'malarkey' a household word, so we thought we'd do some research into its origin story.

What's the Meaning Behind the Latin Phrase 'Caveat Emptor'?

The Latin language may be dead, but this phrase, which originated 2,000 years ago, is still used in legal and financial docs. So what does it mean?

How Many Butts in a Buttload?

If you've ever expressed the charming idea that you have a buttload of something – a buttload of laundry to do, a buttload of tacos to eat – you may have wondered what the measure of a buttload actually is and where the phrase came from.

Why Do We Say We're 'In a Pickle'?

Ever found yourself in a pickle and wondered, "Hey, why the heck do we call it a pickle?" Let's see if we can swim through the brine and find out.

The Phrase 'Riding Shotgun' Came Way After the West Was Won

The phrase (which means to ride in the front passenger seat of the car) seems like it might have come about during the Wild West. But it actually took a detour through Hollywood.

What Does Latinx Mean Anyway?

The term Latinx has emerged recently as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino and Latina, but not everyone is on board. In fact most Hispanics haven't even heard it before.

How Did Lefties Become Known as 'Southpaws'?

From the worlds of politics, professional baseball and old-time boxing came a term still in use today to describe someone who has a left-handed predilection.

Why Do We Say, 'Close, But No Cigar'?

You didn't ask for a cigar. Maybe you don't even like them. So why is someone abruptly denying you one?

What Does It Mean to 'Take It With a Grain of Salt'?

'Take it with a grain of salt' means to be skeptical about something. But where does the phrase come from?

Call it Arroba, Kukac or Strudel: The History of the @ Sign

The @ sign is so much a part of the internet that it may surprise you to know it's been around for at least 1,500 years.

Why Was the Mad Hatter Mad?

The Mad Hatter makes quite an impression in the 'Alice in Wonderland' books and movies. But the expression 'mad as a hatter' actually predates this character. So, where did the term come from?

Comma vs. Colon: Take Our Punctuation Quiz!

Punctuation can really make or break a sentence. Test your knowledge of basic (and not-so-basic) punctuation conventions by taking this quiz!

Are You a Grammar Geek? Take Our Quiz!

We all learned about grammar in grade school, but some of us retained the knowledge better than others. Test your knowledge of the finer points of English with our quiz.

How Did 'Bourgeoisie' Become a Bad Word?

If someone calls your tastes 'bourgeois,' should you thank them or shake a fist? You might have to check first with Moliere, Marx or Migos to be sure.

Why Do We Say 'Holy Cow'?

The Hindu religion considers cows holy. But that's certainly not why we utter the expression. So what's the story behind it?

Get to Know the Greek Alphabet, From Alpha to Omega

Even if you hardly know your beta from your zeta, chances are you've used Greek letters at some point in your life. What are they and why are they so common?

What's the Difference? Quiz

Does anyone really know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Or a hurricane and a cyclone? You're about to learn with the answers to this quiz!

Use of the Exclamation Point Has Exploded!

Once this skinny mark of excitement was mainly the provenance of excited teenage girls and inexperienced novelists. But now we're all peppering our sentences with exclamation marks. Is this a good thing?

What on Earth Were They Talking About? A Quote Quiz

You might know the quote but do you know what the speaker was referring to? See how many of these famous quips or disses you recognize.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says 'That's Just Semantics'?

In our modern vernacular, the phrase "that's just semantics" has somehow become shorthand to insinuate the speaker has argued something trivial or unimportant. But what does it really mean?

Don't Come Up Short: The Ultimate Abbreviations Quiz

Abbreviations are supposed to make things easier, but when people misuse or misunderstand them they often do just the opposite. How well do you know these commonly flubbed abbreviations?

The Memorable Mnemonics Quiz

Mnemonic devices are little tricks — like acronyms and phrases — that help us memorize important info. Our quiz will test your knowledge of everything from geography to music scales. And every single answer has a fun mnemonic attached.

Why 'Poop' and 'Wiggle' Are Funny Words, According to Science

That old comedian's advice that the "k" sound is always good for a laugh has been proven true, too.

A Shrewdness of Apes? Collective Nouns Are a 500-Year-Old Language Fad

Groups of animals sure have some funny names. You can thank the Book of St. Albans for that.

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