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AWADmail Issue 36Jul 1, 2001
A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Last week's selection of new words from the OED, beginning with "full monty" generated hundreds of responses about the origin of the term. Here they are in decreasing order of popularity. It is quite possible one of these is true, but lexicographers have been unable to find any authoritative documentary evidence as proof:
From: Luana Kyle (luanakyleATwebtv.net)
The whole nine yards,
From: Edward Buhl (etbuhlATaol.com)
Your comment (in connection with the full Monty) about the relative ease of new words finding their way into language, especially English, is most appropriate. But the French are not quite as slow at this as your comment may imply. It is true that the French Academy is writing an official dictionary of approved French words, and after decades of effort is only about half-way through. But the French themselves pay little attention to this (other than to joke about it) in daily life. They coin words as quickly as we do, sometimes by borrowing English or other foreign words as we do, other times by simply inventing new ones. With typical Gallic humor, meter maids (as we call them) were first known as "aubergines", which means "eggplants", because their uniforms were purple. The name stuck, so much so that while living in France (3 years) I never learned the official word for meter maid. It was never used. Eventually, the government found the appellation "aubergines" sufficiently embarrassing that they changed the color to blue; whereupon the French immediately changed the name to "Gitanes", the name of a brand of cigarettes which come in a box the same shade of blue as the new uniform. The government can't win this.
The French tend to borrow English for things that may have originated here, especially in the area of technology. But eventually they develop their own word, such as "ordinateur" for computer. That's the word in common usage in France today, even in contracts and other official documents, although I doubt seriously that the French Institute has even gotten to the letter "o" in the official dictionary.
As with most societies, in France it is the young people who coin the most new words, at a rate that outstrips any efforts by adults to keep up. This is deliberate, a sort of code which is designed to exclude adults , who would otherwise be interfering in the lives of youngsters even more than they normally do. I found as an adult with reasonable fluency in French that I had little or no difficulty understanding what adults were saying. I hadn't a clue what the kids were talking about. Of course, most of the words invented by kids will never make any dictionary. They will be discarded and forgotten before the next generation comes along. But consider what this means: entire dialects can arise, flourish and die within a few years; they can overlap others of their kind which will have a similar fate, and linguists centuries from now will go crazy trying to decipher what they meant. Conclusion: the spoken language and the language of letters and of dictionaries are entirely different things, especially among the young.
From: Steven Krauss (skrauss99ATyahoo.com)
"Retail therapy" is in the OED? They're slipping. I may be letting my moral sense interfere with my love of words, but this is a bogus, decadent phrase and concept. There are plenty of exciting, interesting words (like "redd") that you could be teaching me. More of those, please, and less (preferably none) of these ephemeral neologisms.
From: Robert L. Scott (scottrobATstate.mi.us)
I've found the words this week to be fascinating, especially since most of them are new to me, even if the concepts are not. I wonder, though, whether easy on-line updates to the OED (or any other dictionary) are such a great thing.
The inherent slow pace of print publishing serves a useful purpose with dictionaries, ensuring that new entries can't be rushed into place before their endurance has been tested for a least a few years.
Will all the words for this week still be in use even five years from now?
From: Mary K. Taylor (mary_k_taylorATqvc.com)
I work for QVC as a copywriter, writing product descriptions for our Internet shopping site. Each day, I forward the day to our group and we have a monthly contest. Each person that uses the word of the day on that day, gets a point for every use. For the most part, we use it in conversation and email chats. Only one point has been garnered for use in a description for a product on the website, but it's early yet.
From: Glenn Fleishman (glennATglennf.com)
At 10:04 AM -0400 6/18/01, Aiden Dolan wrote:
75% proof? Sorry, Aiden! 75% alcohol = 150 proof. Proof is double the alcohol content.
From: Daniel Zimmerman (bardoAToptonline.net)
I love your site, and have used it to create a new poetic form, ISOTOPES. You can see two of them at wings.buffalo.edu and Frame Publications in London will publish 16 of them this summer.
From: Chris Elmore (elmorecATattglobal.net)
You said: "If a word fills a need, it is a word, no matter whether it's in a dictionary or not."
This has always been my philosophy when playing Scrabble. <G>
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. -Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1889-1951)