Why do we take something uncertain “with a grain of salt”? The answer involves a universal antidote to poison, Bible commentary, and some questionable photos of Ireland.
Where did s’mores come from? The answer involves the Girl Scouts, a Wikipedia hoax, and the Father of American Vegetarianism.
Why do we have such strange ways of saying we’re in love—whether we’re infatuated, head over heels, or crushing on someone? The answer involves structural metaphors, semantic change, and secret diaries.
Why are apples seen as the “default” fruit in Western culture? The answer involves Greek myths, Latin spelling mistakes, and English semantic narrowing.
Why do good spellers compete in a spelling “bee”? The answer involves all the favorite subjects of a spelling bee winner—etymology, philology, and, of course, spelling.
What’s a bandwagon, and why is everyone jumping on it? The answer involves the circus, Theodore Roosevelt, and cognitive biases.
Why does the word salad sound suspiciously like the word for salted in many languages? And where did salads come from, anyway? The answer takes us from ancient Rome to the high-class hotels of New York to Tijuana, Mexico.
Why do people run for fun—not because they’re being chased by a tiger or forced to run the mile in gym class? The answer involves the Olympics, the police, and advocacy for women’s athletics.
Why do we know to automatically stop at a red traffic light and go at a green light? The answer involves a train crash, a gas explosion, and the Model T Ford.
Why do we blow out candles on birthday cakes? The answer involves Egyptian theocracy, the moon goddess, and (as for many holidays) the mixing of Christian and pagan tradition.