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AWADmail Issue 295February 24, 2008
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Wordsmith Chat with Ben Yagoda
A public lecture by Anu Garg
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location:
New Dictionary Highlights Nazi Words to Avoid:
Word by Word, Tribes Begin to Find Their Voice:
Retired Teacher Reveals He Was Illiterate Until Age 48:
From: Catherine Alington (calington gmail.com)
Today's word 'cairn' is a much-loved word from my tramping (backpacking) days. Finding a cairn meant you weren't as lost as you thought you were.
I also felt an absurd pride when I saw that the quotation came from my local newspaper, the Dominion Post. I believe the slang term 'knackered' is related to 'the knackers', where old horses were sent to be turned into glue. It's a word in common use here in NZ, especially in tramping circles.
From: Ian Bratt (ian.bratt implats.co.za)
The United Kingdom is criss-crossed with many paths and trails. Cairns are used extensively to mark points on these paths but particularly high points or path junctions.
In Scotland, where I grew up (and of course where the origin of the word comes from), it is tradition to carry a stone from the bottom of the mountain to place on a cairn at the top. In this way the cairn grows in size and the addition of stones also counteracts the effects of nature which tend to break down these cairns. There is an interesting entry in Wikipedia.
From: Sonya Lenzi (fastdiscgirl hotmail.com)
While I was hiking though the desert of Utah with friends we found ourselves hiking over very hard surfaces, or areas where "typical" trail signs didn't work. Our hike lasted many days and Cairn became our new "friend". My friends and I would make light of the situation of losing the trail by asking each other "Where has Cairn gone now?" "Did Cairn get lost again?" Luckily we always located her and continued on. Thank you for that memory jog.
From: Carolanne Reynolds (gg wordsmith.org)
The Inuit build inukshuks as markers, an artistic form of cairn in the Arctic. Also, the logo of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics is an inukshuk.
From: Liliana Mihai (liliana_mihai hc-sc.gc.ca)
Thanks for shedding some light with today's word on the place I live. It is a district in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, called Glencairn, and I always wondered where this name comes from. Now I have to figure out who was Glen, if it is not maybe just the common noun pointing to a valley.
From: Linda Owens (lindafowens netzero.net)
A cairn is sometimes suspected of being a message relayer. Some of the ancient cairns found along mountain ridges or the seashore have a large quartz rock inside. Quartz is supposed to hold messages or relay them and was used in old radios. People I know in Rhode Island, where I live, have found such cairns on old trails.
From: Frank Brown (frank.brown travelport.com)
This word always had a strong visual image for me, because it's not about sudden explosive growth, it's about gentle even growth, a little at a time, such as the moon waxing.
The picture in my mind is of old fashioned candle making, which involved dipping a weighted string in a vat of molten wax, waiting for it to harden, and then dipping it again and again, each time adding a thin new layer of wax, until the candle was complete.
From: Tamara Schoenbaum (tamholsch aol.com)
As one who grew up in Germany, I have noticed with amusement that the young in Germany say "echt?", when they solicit confirmation of something they find hard to believe, as in "really?". This is at least ten years old, but, like much of the language of youth, may still be transitory.
From: Phillippa Cribb (levcr debitel.net)
It was wonderful today to open A.Word.A.Day and see a real Dutch word, which brought memories, as I no longer live in Holland. It is not only a German word but also a Dutch word. The pronunciation is more guttural than the German pronunciation and it is used not only to describe 'the real thing' but also used with many question marks as a word of disbelief when someone tells you a tall story! Echt!
From: Pierre E. Biscaye (biscaye ldeo.columbia.edu)
Thanks to AWAD, I just learned the word "echt" today, but learned an opposite, also-German noun, "ersatz" fifty years ago when doing research in the US Army Signal Corps on quartz for frequency-control applications. The piezoelectric properties of the mineral quartz (the generation of an electric potential upon application of physical stress -- and its converse -- the physical change of shape under the application of an electric potential) are at the heart of all of the electronic devices so common in today's world: alarm clocks, cell phones, microwave ovens, computers, etc. Almost all such devices that count time do so using a thin wafer of quartz that vibrates at a given, precise frequency under an electric potential, hence the "quartz" wrist watch.
Into the 1950s and 1960s, the quartz used to make these quartz wafers was natural, if you will "echt", quartz from Brazil. The research being done by the Signal Corps, as well as by private companies, was to find a method for "growing" synthetic quartz crystals, "ersatz" quartz, that would have crystalline, and therefore frequency control characteristics better and more reproducible than those of "echt" quartz. That we have so many such useful and inexpensive devices in our world is in part owing to the success of these "ersatz" quartz programs, begun by the Germans in the 1930s.
From: Roger Craven (roger givitago.com)
An alternative spelling of this word is Ley. There is a town in Lancashire, UK called Leyland. This was where the bus factory was built which eventually became the company that owned a significant part of the British automobile industry. The entire industry was nationalized in the 1960s and after a few name changes the companies were called "British Leyland" during most of the 1970s, before being privatized as Rover Group in the 1980s.
British Leyland became synonymous with poor industrial relations (strikes), lack of investment, and massive government interference. So much so that to this day journalists in the UK will refer to Leyland whenever they want to encapsulate what is wrong with the state owning an industry and even as a shorthand for why the UK is no longer an economy based on industrial manufacture. Ironically, Leyland is rapidly on its way to becoming a term synonymous with old heavy industry and as far from its pastoral beginnings as it is possible to be.
From: Beth Vige (cevigegrand gmail.com)
As a student of the New Testament and, hence, koine Greek, I have become very familiar with "leukos", which is the Greek word for "shining white" or "white as pure light" -- when angels appear or when Christ is depicted in his full glory (as in the Transfiguration or Revelation), they are always described as "leukos".
Also, if I am not mistaken, "leukemia" comes from the same root.
Language is the apparel in which your thoughts parade in public. Never clothe them in vulgar and shoddy attire. -George W. Crane