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AWADmail Issue 362

June 7, 2009

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Interview with a linguist:
Mother Jones

People may be able to taste words
BBC News

From: Arlan L Rosenbloom (rosenal peds.ufl.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--trammel
Def: 1. Something that limits or hinders. 2. A fishing net having three layers. 3. An instrument for drawing ellipses. 4. A shackle used in training a horse to amble. 5. An instrument for gauging and aligning parts of a machine. 6. A hook for hanging a pot or a kettle over a fire.

What immediately comes to my mind (and probably that of every other Wisconsin alumnus) when I (rarely) hear the word "trammel" is the inspiring plaque on the iconic Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, quoting a Board of Regents report of 1894 exonerating a professor accused of teaching pernicious ideas: "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."

From: Des O'Neill (oneill silcom.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--grig
Def: 1. A cricket or grasshopper. 2. A small or young eel. 3. A lively or lighthearted person.

In my misspent youth in Ireland, "grig" was a verb, meaning to tease or to taunt. "We were grigging him" meant that we were teasing someone.

It could also be transitive: We were grigging him about his girlfriend.

From: Eileen O'Brien (obriene cadmus.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--the growliest!
Def: 1. One that growls. 2. A container brought by a customer to fetch beer. 3. A small iceberg. 4. A four-wheeled cab. 5. An electromagnetic device for testing short-circuited coils.

No names, please -- but "Dave from Maryland" is ALL OVER today's definitions! Please look at what he did in just six minutes to illustrate the five meanings of "growler" you sent out.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--growler & gaff

Growler is so expressive that there's a wide variety of informal senses of the word. Same with gaff. Here's a sampling of readers' comments:

In teaching, we use the term 'growler' for a student who can't sing in tune!
-Lynda Lunn (lmglunn yahoo.co.uk)

It is also the name of the sound box put inside "talking bears" of yore. Steiff bears used to have them (and I'm sure others did too).
-Liza Little Bear Goldberg (lbeargoldberg gmail.com)

I guess you can add another meaning to 'growler', a slang term referring to a woman's private parts.
-Richard Jones (rich annexia.org)

I came across the word "growler" as a Victorian-era slang word for a sausage in the book "Homunculus" by James P. Blaylock. The same meaning also apparently applies in New Zealand, although I have never heard it used. It always struck me that you could almost certainly get away with a complete lack of linguistic verisimilitude in period novels. Just have the characters in your 16th Century romance refer to mutton pies as "plakes", and how many of your readers will ever call you on it?
-Stephen Harvey (ten.rajhsifllehs shellfishjar.net)

In Yorkshire, in the North of England, growler is also used as a slang term for a pork pie. Yorkshire used to have a rich fund of dialect words, many of which I suspect are falling into disuse. The one which completely threw me when I moved back to Yorkshire aged 12, after growing up "in't South" was "laik" as in the invitation "Are you laiking football?" It means to play, but was used much more frequently than that word. It always seemed to me to have a Norse origin, as do so many Northern English place names.
-Noel Akers (noel oleana.co.uk)

In Phillip Craig's mystery series set on Martha's Vineyard (an island off the coast of Massachusetts), a "growler" is a very large clam.
-Diane Crane (dcrane95 earthlink.net)

In the US Navy a growler is a station to station telephone that employs a small hand crank to produce a growling noise at the called station.
-Lane Reynolds (lane.l.reynolds navy.mil)

I've also heard this word used in a communications context, particularly in the military. A growler can be a military radio. I imagine this comes from WWII and the Korean War, and possibly earlier, when a radio set was hand cranked, and produced a growling sound (similar to a phone ring) that would alert the recipient to pick up the receiver and hear the message. I'm sure I remember an old M*A*S*H episode when Colonel Potter told Radar O'Reilly to "get on the growler to I corps". Growler takes me back, to my Navy Submarine days; we would use Sound-Powered Phones during fire and emergency drills. On Navy vessels, sound-powered phones were installed to provide a means of communication if ship's electrical power was cut. It is basically like the tin cans with the taut string between them, with the sound vibrations carried along the string amplified by the tin can, using no external power source. The sound-powered phones sounded about the same too. You could understand the person, but it sounded as if they were many miles away, speaking out of a garbage can.
-Gordon Hendrickson (djenga comcast.net)

A growler also refers to a large-mouthed black bass and several American naval vessels have received that name. My dad worked on the USS Growler SSG-577, a submarine built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine, and I went to its launching in April, 1958.
-Chuck Dinsmore (salamanderdoc yahoo.com)

As I recall, in railroad parlance, "growler" defines a diesel locomotive.
-Ed Mansfield (edmans pacbell.net)

I have another definition for the word that I heard. The late Steve Irwin was in Antarctica filming an episode of his Crocodile Hunter show. He was aboard a sailboat, and was in the bow on watch, for large pieces of ice, which the boat's crew called growlers, for the sound they made as they scraped along a ship's hull. Steve's job was to stand there with a long pole, and push these pieces of ice aside so they would not damage the hull of the ship.
-Lynda-Marie Hauptman (miladyblue gmail.com)

A more recent definition of growler includes the messages and icons that appear translucently on your computer screen for a short time (Macs use that term but I don't know if it is industry wide).
-Paul Blumstein (pbandj pobox.com)

A euphemism for the pre-fabricated burgers once served at the student cafeteria at Memorial University of Newfoundland; for their obvious effect once ingested!
-Tor Fosnaes (tor mobilewords.ca)

In northern England there is a general liking for pies as a fast food. When the pastry is particularly heavy they can cause quite severe indigestion. For this reason, such a pie is known colloquially as a growler.
-Tony Kelly (tony.kelly bolton.gov.uk)

Also refers to the portable electric toilets used by wilderness guides in areas such as the Grand Canyon.
-David Franklin (franklind pepperlaw.com)

A slang meaning I've often heard for this word is 'outhouse'. In Ferndale, Washington (just off I-5) there is a company with a sign, "Growler Inc." I think they install and clean portable toilets.
-Nancy Hilty (nhhilty yahoo.com)

In my somewhat downscale, US middle-class upbringing the word "growler" referred to the bathroom. 'nuff said.
-Robert Olsen (rolsen aldrichandbonnefin.com)

I've heard 'growler' used to describe an electric company employee who checks on isolated (one home in a neighborhood) electrical outage reports. In situations where the problem is likely to be as simple as a blown fuse the power company doesn't want to send a whole team or even devote a large truck to resolving it, so they send a 'growler' in a small van.
-Art Yaffe (art_yaffe yahoo.com)


One more meaning for "gaff". It's the spar at the top of a gaff rigged sail. See figures 1 and 2.
-Martin Greenberger (mgreenberger sbcglobal.net)

Gaff also means somewhere to stay or live, often implying a temporary or slightly disreputable lodging, or a place to keep your stuff (clothing, tools, stolen goods). It is in widespread use in that way especially among people who may use other slang and who are consciously avoiding 'upper class' language.
-Griselda Mussett (mussetts btinternet.com)

In the entertainment world, to gaff means to direct or tell others what to do especially in the movie/TV lighting field. My husband spent thirty years as a lighting gaffer.
-Honey Glick (nanahanna635 aol.com)

I work in the theatre, and we are daily in need of some way to quickly patch, contain, hem, block, et cetera. The theatre technician's best friend is something called Gaffers tape, or as we more commonly refer to it, "gaff". I can't tell you how often one hears, "Gaff! Stat!" "Just gaff it!" "Can you see that paint doesn't match the gaff?" Used as a verb, a noun, or an adjective, "gaff" is as useful a tool as it is a word.
-Sam Wootten (samwootten yahoo.com)

From the first definition of the noun gaff, a pole with a hook on the end, used to land large fish, a similar device was used in (I believe) the days of Vaudeville to remove a performer from the stage who either outstayed their welcome or whose performance did not meet the expectations of the manager of the house. To be gaffed would then logically fit the first verb definition (to stand or take the gaff: to receive severe criticism or to endure hardship).
-Joe Holland (basic.joe att.net)

A gaff is also an underwear worn by female impersonators and cross-dressers to assist in presenting a smooth and feminine-like appearance of the genital area, especially when wearing tight or form-fitting clothing. In an interview (I think it was on Johnny Carson) with Patrick Swayze about his film "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" Mr Swayze discusses using a gaff for that purpose.
-Katra Briel (katra.briel sbcglobal.net)

Forty years ago I was a lineman with Mountain Bell. We called the climbers we strapped to our legs 'gaffs'.
-Jim Weaver (usijim gmail.com)

Reading about "gaff" I'm reminded of a term I learned as a GI overseas -- "GAF" which is actually an acronym for Give A F..k and might even be spelled GAFF if one wished to add "flying". I am not attempting to steer A.Word.A.Day onto perilous ground with vulgarity, but only to make you aware of a term that surely still lives among my compatriots, most (surely all, given the amount of time that has passed) of which have long since returned to civilian life (or gone onward), taking their newfound vocabulary home with them. Much American English slang originated in the subcultures represented by groups of military personnel sequestered at overseas bases in unfamiliar countries and surroundings. They often developed whole new vocabularies to describe the new ideas and concepts their surroundings presented. The definition of the term GA(F)F seems to me to indicate a careless attitude on the part of the individual so described, especially about the mission one was sent to to the base/country to perform. Thus one called GAF/GAFF might feel insulted, if the job ("accomplishment of the mission") was important to them, or in different circles, a compliment, such circles typified by the groups of draftees common during the Vietnam conflict who had no wish to be where they were (which may have been anywhere in CONUS [Contiguous United States] or an overseas area) or to be doing what they had to do. Such people often turned GAF very quickly, especially in dirty, thankless jobs, which abound in the military.
-David Chapmon (dave postman.riken.go.jp)

From: Bruce Sloane (sloane crosslink.net)
Subject: This week's words

This week is bargain week! Five words with 20-some different meanings -- five for the price of one. That makes it a win-win-win-win-win!

The shorter a word, the more meanings it has. -Paul A Delaney, meteorologist

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