AWADmail Issue 395
January 24, 2010
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
Language Structure Is Partly Determined by Social Structure
Reading Forwards and Backward
This week's Email of the Week is from Jan Moppert (see below)
(Courtesy Johnny Mustard - "Put some mustard on it.")
From: Allen Foster (allen foster-brague.net)
Def: Harshness or roughness.
I learned this word as a child, listening to HMS Pinafore. Having heard
the captain say "dammy" in a heated moment, Sir Joseph Porter has him
removed from the deck with these words:
Go, ribald, get you hence
To your cabin with celerity.
This is the consequence
Of ill-advised asperity!
From: Iain Calder (icalder groupivsemi.com)
In science, particularly materials science, "asperity" is not only
used as a general term for roughness. It is also commonly employed when
referring specifically to projections from the surface: these are known
as asperities. An asperity is usually microscopic and has some connotation
of being rather pointed, but not necessarily.
From: Granville Pool (teacupfarm comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--obscurantism
Def: 1. Opposition to the spread of knowledge. 2. Being deliberately vague or obscure; also a style in art and literature.
This word reminds me of Charles Dickens's Circumlocution Office in
From: Chris Knipp (ccknippart gmail.com)
Subject: Re: sedulous
Def: Involving great care, effort, and persistence.
The phrase "sedulous ape" should have been mentioned. It was used by Robert
Louis Stevenson, among many, in his essay The Sedulous Ape
and by many others, and is a famous phrase:
Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which
a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was
either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must
sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality. I was unsuccessful,
and I knew it; and tried again, and was again unsuccessful and always
unsuccessful; but at least in these vain bouts, I got some practice in
rhythm, in harmony, in construction and the co-ordination of parts. I
have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth,
to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire,
and to Obermann.
From: Sherry Lawson (slteach11 yahoo.com)
Your A.Word.A.Day for 1-20-10 has a misspelled word in the USAGE section
for the word SEDULOUS. The word 'pernickety' does not exist, but the word
persnickety does. Someone wasn't being 'sedulous' with the proofreading
on that quote by Elizabeth Bishop.
'Pernickety' is a variant of the more common spelling 'persnickety'.
From: Kitt Healy (gracekhealy gmail.com)
Def: Stoppage, especially a temporary one.
Almost perfect timing with the word "surcease!" It appears conspicuously in
Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem "The Raven":
Eagerly I wished the morrow; -- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow -- sorrow for the lost Lenore --
Edgar Allen Poe's 201st birthday was Jan 19! An involuntary shout out! Well
From: Stephen du Toit (stephen magicfactory.org.uk)
"This week's words in AWAD were chosen by following precisely that route.
You could call it Brownian Motion, Browsing the Web, or Looking Words Up In
I vote for Gargian Motion, or perhaps we could just call it Gargling.
Email of the Week
(Courtesy Johnny Mustard
- "Put some mustard on it.")
From: Jan Moppert (jan.moppert gmail.com)
Subject: This week's words
You beckon one of my warmest dating memories from 25 years ago. I had a
fierce crush on a rising young writing talent and stopped in to visit him
on my way home for the holidays. We were in his apartment with nothing to
do and the conversation turned to words. We picked up the dictionary to
investigate his favorite word "gossamer". Three hours later we were still
following words, as if we'd found a diamond mine. Most friends cannot
understand why this was so much fun, but I'll cherish that memory forever.
From: Nancy Hurley (abhurley memphis.edu)
Subject: Looking Up Words in a Dictionary
This reminds me of our grandmother, who introduced us to a rainy-day game
she called "q.v.'ing" (from the Latin abbreviation for "which see"). We used
either the dictionary or encyclopedia--and looking up the cross-references
kept us occupied for hours!
From: Mike Wagner (wagstr6 bellsouth.net)
Subject: a comment on this week's theme
Sydney Harris, the late Chicago newspaper columnist, used to periodically
write a column under the heading, "Things I learned while looking up
From: Laurance Lancaster (llancaster olypen.com)
Subject: Word lookup'g
Your comment about getting sidetracked while looking up a specific word(s)
reminded me of an event that happened in 7th grade.
I had a tendency to finish class assignments well ahead of the pack. As
a result I tended to become a distraction to the others. Well, Mr. Hare,
getting frustrated by now, told me that if I couldn't sit still and be quiet
to go read the dictionary. He assumed I'd demur and keep still. Well,
we had those humongous dictionaries with their own pedestals. I just knew
that every "dirty" word in the world could be found within those pages.
To this day I still peruse my circa '75 Webster/Time paperback version. I
love words and always prefer painting pictures when explaining, relating,
or just 'conversating'.
From: Catherine Vidinha (cvidinha smma.com)
Subject: The week's theme
I was delighted to read your theme for the week -- in our hyptertexted,
search-engine-powered, metadata world, the only things easier to find than
the answer we set out looking for, are distractions along the way! I've also
heard this referred to as "wikiwalking" in reference to the interlinked
articles on Wikipedia, wherein, as the comedian Eddie Izzard would surely
attest, you can start out looking up Renaissance modes of transport,
and end up learning about Linux.
From: Stephanie W (trumpetrocks hotmail.com)
Subject: Response to Prillaman on canonical (Re: AWADmail 394)
Also being a music geek, I want to jump into the mix and point out that while
Pachelbel's Canon in D bass line repetition does qualify as a passacaglia,
Pachelbel (or the person who later discovered and named this piece) didn't
completely screw up in labeling it a canon.
There are just about as many ways to have a canon as a composer can
be creative. Row, row, row your boat is an example of a canon at the
unison -- the second voice enters the piece on the same note that the
first voice began (i.e. the first Row is always the same note). A canon
can have the second voice enter at any interval the composer desires,
although some intervals are more likely to sound conventionally "good"
than others. Other games composers play include having the second voice
state the theme backwards, upsidedown, twice (or some other proportion)
as fast, half (or some other proportion) as fast, upside down and backward and
twice as fast and at the 5th all at once... Of course the more complicated
the composer makes the game, the more difficult the task to make the piece
sound "good" and obey the musical rules.
Back to Pachelbel, this canon actually starts at the unison. Although it
may sound as though the initial melody is just repeated and harmonized,
it is the first voice continuing along on the lower notes (the harmonizing)
that is continuing the first statement of the canon, with the second voice
bringing in the original melody and the second statement of the canon.
So part of the genius of Pachelbel is that he fitted his canon over a ground
bass, and it all sounds beautiful. It works just like Row, row, row your
boat, (Pachelbel does even get to a three-part canon) but you need one
more friend to sing bass!
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. -George Orwell, writer