Code Switch: Word Watch Each week, we take a look at a word or phrase that's caught our attention, whether for its history, usage, etymology, or just because it has an interesting story. This week, we look into how we came to call cannabis "marijuana," and the role Mexico played in that shift.
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Code Switch: Word Watch

Nine out of 10 workers on the transcontinental railroad were Chinese. These indentured laborers, derogatorily called "coolies," became a prime target for criticism in the mid-19th century. Joseph Becker/Library of Congress hide caption

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Joseph Becker/Library of Congress

A photograph of a group of elderly men sitting on a mat, taken in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, circa 1865. Two of the men are looking at each other with contempt, suggesting that they may actually be enemies who have been persuaded to be photographed together as examples of native "thugs." Getty Images hide caption

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Getty Images

Anton Refregier's Beating the Chinese is a panel in the History of San Francisco mural at the city's Rincon Center. Chinese immigrants were frequent targets of hoodlums in the late 19th century. Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress hide caption

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Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress

The arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry's "black ships" in Tokyo Bay in 1853 helped persuade the Japanese to negotiate a treaty. Perry had more firepower than all the coastal artillery defending Tokyo Bay. AP hide caption

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AP

The "boondocks" or "boonies" refers to places that are in the middle of nowhere. But few people know that the phrase was made mainstream by a fatal military training accident. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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iStockphoto.com