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AWADmail Issue 404

March 28, 2010

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

This week's Email of the Week is from Edmond Spaeth (see below), who receives the Uppityshirt of his choice, and there's a heck of a selection.


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

I, Translator
The New York Times

The New Klingon: Na'vi
Slate


From: Dianne Cowan (diannecowan rcn.com)
Subject: cloud-cuckoo-land
Def: An idealized, unrealistic state; a place out of touch with reality.

CloudCuckooLand is the name of my wireless network. "City in the sky, built by the birds in collaboration" with humans is a poetic, though not terribly accurate, description of wireless communications.


From: Richard Aronson (aronson sierratel.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--moment of truth
Def: A crucial point; a turning point; a decisive moment.

To think all those times I've heard Tom Lehrer's "In Old Mexico", I never knew that he was citing a bullfighting term when he sang "the moment had come" at the bullfight. It reminds me of reading Rex Stout's Some Buried Caesar. Archie Goodwin was fleeing from the bull Caesar, tried to leap a fence, caught his foot, and fell headlong, after which Lily Rowan called him "Escamillo" for no reason I understood. Years later, when the Fresno Grand Opera sang Carmen, I learned Escamillo was the toreador, and Rex Stout could count on his readers understanding that reference. I doubt popular authors or composers could count on such an erudite cultural reference today.


From: James Lee (james.lee undp.org)
Subject: moment of truth

Thanks for another interesting week! In reading the entry "moment of truth/momento de la verdad", I was reminded of the French writer Henri de Montherlant, who spoke of the "terreno de verdad", stretching the image spatially and temporally. I find it useful when there is a need to establish an environment in which one can be completely honest -- Montherlant might have said brutally so. Writing on Montherlant in the first issue of the London Magazine in 1961, John Cruikshank noted, "The sanded arena is the terrain of truth precisely because the matador, facing the bull, is seen as he really is. He cannot deceive himself, nor can he easily deceive the spectators. Genuine danger, and the skill necessary to avert it, combine to remove his human disguises and enforce honesty.

Montherlant wrote in French but he traced his family (many generations previously if indeed true) to Catalan origins. Many of his themes are Spanish and he took part in bullfights himself. He kept the Spanish term "terreno de verdad' in his writing presumably because he found it more compelling in the original or because he found it untranslatable. Perhaps best known as a playwright, he was elected to the Académie française.


From: Elizabeth Gray (elizabeth.gray ci.austin.tx.us)
Subject: moment of truth

My Spanish born and bred partner comments: "I think the explanation does not reflect the essence of the term, which is the moment when you risk every thing you have in order to accomplish your objective. Last Sunday was el momento de la verdad para Obama."


Email of the Week
(Courtesy Uppityshirts -- Smart t-shirts for smarty-pants.)

From: Edmond Spaeth (edspaeth aol.com)
Subject: Bread and circuses
Def: Things intended to keep people happy and to divert their attention from problems.

Bread and Circus was the name of a health food store chain in the Boston, Massachusetts, area from 1975. In 1992 it was acquired by the Whole Foods Market chain of Austin, TX.

In this day and age, the politicians and ball club owners keep the populace happy by inflicting new baseball stadia on the citizens to keep them amused. Some examples come to mind: Yankee Stadium, and Citi Field in the New York City area.


From: Mark Worden (mworden wizzards.net)
Subject: Bread &

HDTV, DVDs, MTV, NBA, NFL, March Madness,......amusing ourselves to death (Neil Postman).


From: Ana Lorena Esteban (estebana unican.es)
Subject: Pan y circo

In relation to this expression, although it seems that the expression "pan y toros" exists, I have never used or heard it. To my knowledge, it is much more common for Spanish people the use of "pan y circo".


From: Janet Weeks (jan.weeks owp.csus.edu)
Subject: Bread and circuses

Bread and circuses may make some people happy but certainly not circus animals. Circus animals learn their tricks through standard industry practices of using bullhooks and other instruments to poke, prod, strike, shock, and beat the animals to "train" them--all for an hour of human "entertainment". In reality, the tricks the animals are forced to perform are frightening, unnatural, and even painful. Between shows, animals are confined in cramped quarters, deprived of social interaction, and are forced to stand or lie for hours on end in their own excrement. Circus animals typically spend 11 months out of a year in transit to the next show and the next. This is no way for any animal to exist, whether wild or domestic. True human happiness derives from kindness and compassion, NOT cruelty.


From: Dr. Bob Hartsell (u4eah sbcglobal.net)
Subject: God's Acre
Def: A cemetery, especially one next to a church.

When I was growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, I heard of a custom among farmers -- at least Southern farmers, called God's acre. The custom was to commit the proceeds from that acre to the church.

There was a belief among at least some farmers that God's acre produced more than any other given acre on the farm.

We were dairy farmers, not land farmers, so I had no personal experience with this; but I heard of it enough to conclude that it was a genuine--if limited--practice.


From: Nyal Williams (nyalwilliams comcast.net)
Subject: God's Acre

I have heard God's acre used in a different way in the Southern USA. Some farmers would declare a particular spot of ground as God's acre and the proceeds of the crop grown there would be given to the church. This was a substitute form of tithing. Some farmers were accused of not designating the plot until all the crops were near harvest and then designating the poorest as God's acre.


From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
Subject: God's acre

Couldn't help being reminded of Erskine Caldwell's great novel from 1933, in which one of the protagonists, Ty Walden, who dedicated the proceeds of one acre of his land, on which he digs for gold instead of farming, to God. Mr Walden, however, constantly moves the designated acre around so that he never digs on it, in order not to risk that his gold would go to God. In the end, neither God nor Ty Walden benefit from the enterprise


From: Madlon Laster (mtlaster comcast.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--God's acre

The phrase God's acre interested me because, when my in-laws were living in Maryville, TN, my father-in-law -- an Alabama farm boy and Presbyterian minister -- talked about "God's little acre". It was a garden section where what you raised was given to the poor or sold and the money helped the poor. It was a bit of agricultural tithing, I guess. At one time he was helping children living at the Children's Home to make a garden.


From: Rodney Nicholls (rodney.nicholls kerwinphotography.com)

Subject: God's Acre

Your word of the day brought to mind my father's term for a cemetery. As an ex-sailor his language was often colourful. He used to call a cemetery a "bone-orchard".


From: Topi Linkala (nes iki.fi)
Subject: paper tiger
Def: One who is outwardly strong and powerful but is in fact powerless and ineffectual.

Paper Tiger has a nice opposite: Glass Cannon. Formidable on attack but fragile on defence.


From: Dale McMillen (dale.mcmillen hp.com)
Subject: paper tiger

The first time I heard the term "Paper Tiger" was in the 1980s and I was working for a government contractor. Intead of the sense "outwardly strong, but ineffectual", the term was used to describe a contract manager who was a "documentation nazi". Everything needed tons of documentation. Thus, he was a "Paper Tiger".


From: Anne Golden (ag outtengolden.com)
Subject: Loan translation

Years ago, before I visited Greece, I tried to learn modern Greek (and failed, except for a couple of sentences the proved useless when I got there). But I saw a handbill on the street, picked it up, and laboriously translated the first word of the heading: Second. Then I translated the next word: Hand. Then the last word: Cars. Wow! I had never expected it to be so literal.


From: Mark McSwain (mpm82 aggienetwork.com)
Subject: Languages freely borrow words from one another.

German offers an interesting example of this. The word for a television set is "Fernsehapparat" literally "far-seeing machine" a very literal translation of tele-vision.

In one of those cultural peculiarities, the television set is also called both the "teh-fow" (from the German phonetic pronunciation of "tv") and also "tee-vee" from the American usage. (That, and FSA--"eff-ess-ah"--a bit ungainly, as well.)


From: Ross Bracco (xqzt rochester.rr.com)
Subject: This week's theme

I wonder if there's a word for that coincidence that you learn a word or a term right at the same time you notice its being used around you?

Just this weekend I noticed the label on Sriracha hot sauce saying that it's good on, among other things, hot dogs. Further down the label is the Spanish translation, and I was amused to see "perros calientes", and wondered whether this was a loan translation, or just a bad translation!


From: Laura Taivalaho (puulihuna gmail.com)
Subject: calque

"Calque" is a loan word and "loan word" is a calque. A good way to remember!


From: H. Dean Hines Jr. (xtdean gmail.com)
Subject: Thanks!

In October 2008 my job of nearly 20 years became a casualty of our languishing economy. During the ensuing months, while I was not able to find replacement work, I did stumble across a new MBA program here in my home city of Fort Collins, CO. I discovered it at the beginning of March and had to apply a fortnight later! I took the GRE cold turkey and scored well enough to gain acceptance into the program. My verbal score was well into the 90th percentile... part of which I attribute to my years of reading Wordsmith.


A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. -Richard C. Trench, poet (1807-1886)
This week's theme
Loan translations

This week's words
cloud-cuckoo-land
moment of truth
bread and circuses
God's acre
paper tiger

Next week's theme
Words borrowed from German

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