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AWADmail Issue 43

Aug 19, 2001

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


From: Phyllis Ann K. Bratton (pbrattonATjc.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson-Jobson

From a long Time ago, I remember an episode of the newer version of The Honeymooners where for some reason Ralph, Alice, Trixie, and Norton were all on an ocean-liner going to Europe. Ralph becomes convinced that Alice is having a fling with another passenger, and after hearing "Arrivederci", is convinced that the man's name is "Harry Vedurchy" (spelling approximate). It was quite a howler in context!


From: Steve Benko (steve.benkoATgecapital.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson-Jobson

As a baseball fan, I can't pass up the opportunity to point out "reverse" Hobson-Jobsons, entering foreign languages as our national pastime spreads to other cultures. There are many examples, but my favorite is Cuba and other Latin countries where a "home run" is a "honron" (silent h).


From: Beverly Olson-Dopffel (beverly_olson-dopffelAThp.com)
Subject: Hobson-Jobsons

I'm especially happy to know now what to call words which have long amused me, such as the French "pique-nique" or the German "wischiwaschi" pronounced here with an English 'v' sound for the 'w', naturally.


From: Robert Richter, MD (gladbobricATaol.com)
Subject: Hobson-Jobson

One way of pluralizing a noun in Hebrew is the addition of the syllable (transliterated) "-im" at the end. Thus arose the early term (and terrible pun) for automobile headlights when modern Hebrew found itself without a word for them. Taking a cue from one of the then-current brands of American headlights, Sealed Beam, the Hebrew simply took this as a ready-made plural, and made it silbim. I don't believe I ever heard the singular, which would be silb, and am pretty sure that the plural, itself, has now been supplanted by a noun more honorably derived.


From: Beth Graham (egrahamATsanantonio.gov)
Subject: Hobson-Jobson

Your word today brought up something that has always puzzled me - it seems that the British, in particular, had a lot of trouble transcribing words from other languages into British pronunciation. The person who first wrote the name of the Chinese imperial city, for example, must have been hearing-impaired in some fashion - in my opinion, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to hear "Peking" in "Beijing." (Does that also mean the dogs we've known as "Pekingese" for years are really "Beijingese" and what does that do to the nickname "Peke"?)


From: Ted E Riley (rilt235ATlni.wa.gov)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson-Jobson

In the Peace Corp thousands of these things rose and died. Example: the Marathi word for diner or meal is Jzewun (sort of) we spoke of eating a meal as "Grabbing some J-1."


From: James Dignan (grutnessATsurf4nix.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Hobson-Jobson

Here in New Zealand there are plentiful examples of Hobson-Jobson phrases and words - the most well-known internationally probably being 'taboo' from the general Polynesian word Tapu, meaning sacred.

Another notable example is the phrase "Up the boo-eye" (common in both Australia and New Zealand), meaning the same as the more internationally known "up the creek" (or "up s**t creek") - "the boo-eye" originally being the Puhoi River, a small stream in the far north of the country. Puhoi is a Maori word meaning slowly moving water (thus making it navigable, but only with great effort from the canoeist).


From: Ariel E Herman (arimikoAThotmail.com)
Subject: Japanese Hobson-Jobson

People who are learning the Japanese language, like myself, often use a form of writing called romaji. Romaji is the translation of the traditional Japanese phonetic system into Roman type. Sort of a form of Hobson-Jobson in itself! Also, even the word "romaji" is like Hobson-Jobson. To create the word, the Japanese adapted the English word "Roman" into "roma" and added the suffix "ji," meaning "character" or "handwriting."

Hobson-Jobson is quite common in Japanese, because many new words have been added to the language...mostly from foreign languages. As an example, the word for "America" in Japanese is "Amerika."

In addition, a lot of Hobson-Jobson of Japanese words occurs in English (though mostly only where sound is concerned). For instance, the word "kamikaze" is a combination of the Japanese word "god" and "wind" (thus translating into "divine wind"). If said correctly in the Japanese tongue, the 'i' should be pronounced as a long 'e' would, and the 'e' like the one in "met." In a similar case, the word "sake" (Japanese rice wine), which, in English, is often pronounced "SA-kee," should be said more like "sa-keh," and with no syllabic stress.


From: Peter Hassett (peterhassettATwebtv.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--dittography

Reminds me of a childhood joke:
"Can you spell 'banana'?"
"Yes, but I don't know when to stop!"


From: Neal A Adolf (naadolfATbpa.gov)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--epenthesis

A pet peeve among long-time residents of Oregon, is the way in which the name of their state is pronounced by outsiders. Natives and long-time residents pronounce the name "OR-gun", much like the work organ. They bristle when hearing it epenthesized and pronounced OR-ee-gone.


From: M. Roult (roultmATnetscape.net)
Subject: epenthesis

Epenthesis is responsible for the "p" in "Thompson," originally "Thomas's son." One example of epenthesis cited by the preeminent linguist Noam Chomsky was his own last name, generally pronounced as if it were spelled "chompsky." In honor of Dr. Chomsky, one of the chimps at one of the labs where they were trying to teach chimps sign language was named Nim Chimpsky. The pun was a fitting tribute!


From: Vicky Tarulis (be_well_vickyATyahoo.com)
Subject: Epenthesis

My husband is originally from Lithuania. Most Americans make it an epenthesis when they pronounce it Lith-a-uania! But my all time favorites are real-a-tor, nuc-u-lar and ath-a-lete!

    These examples of epenthesis (for realtor, nuclear, and athlete) besides ma-so-na-ry, pas-tor-i-al, Ak-a-me, ar-thur-itis (for masonry, pastoral, Acme, arthritis) were shared by a lots of linguaphiles as their pet peeves. -Anu


From: Hal Lewis (hlewisATphysics.ucsb.edu)
Subject: waxing vexatious

Ah, you say "don't wax the cat." I once testified at a hearing in which I made a pitch for something or other---doesn't matter what---and ending with an apology for waxing eloquent. When it appeared in the official government transcript I was quoted as apologizing for waxing elephants. I tried to assure everyone in sight that I had never entertained any desire whatever to wax elephants, but to no avail. They didn't believe me.


From: Jonas Söderström (jonasATxkom.se)
Subject: Re: lots of vowels in a word

The opposite cases can be found in Georgian. Vogt (1958) lists four 6-consonant clusters, twenty one 5-consonant clusters and over one hundred 4-term clusters.

Examples are "mtsvrtneli" ("trainer"), "me vbrdsqinav" ("I shine") or "prtskvnis" ("he or she peels"). Bernard Comrie adds that "if one cares to imagine a personified orange saying 'he peels us', we can produce an 8-term cluster: 'gvprtsknvis'" (ts counted as one consonant, usually transliterated with c).

(Sources: Bernard Comrie: The languages of the Soviet Union, Cambridge language surveys, 1981; David Marshall Lang: The Georgians, Thames and Hudson, 1966.)

In a graveyard in Petersburg, I found a gravestone from the Soviet 50's, on which a particular party member was praised for his "oboronosposobnost" - a word with seven vowels, all of them o's. Oborono-sposobnost means "capacity or talent to defend" (something), btw.


From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Vowels

An inner suburb of Sydney has eight Os in its name: Woolloomooloo.


From: Joanna J Spencer (jeeanna-swpATjuno.com)
Subject: warren

Thanks for including the word "warren" a few weeks ago. I've always known that a warren is a rabbit's home, but I also thought it had reference to a strict officer, like a prison guard. Obviously many of the people at my school have the same misconception, because--I'm ashamed to admit--we've started calling one of our rather strict and stern teachers "Warren". Why in the world would so many people be mistaken?

P.S. The teacher thought that "warren" meant the same thing as we did.


From: Phil Curl (philip.curlATsaic.com)
Subject: RE: A.Word.A.Day--retail therapy

I know this was several weeks ago, but I thought you'd enjoy this. I loved learning the term "Retail Therapy", and was searching some other dictionaries for it, when a web server spit out this automatic, but appropriate, response:

"No entry found for retail therapy in the dictionary.

Try your search for 'retail therapy' at:

Amazon.com - Shop for books, music and more"


From: Augusto Buonafalce (augustoATcdh.it)
Subject: Vowels

Speaking of vowels, we have a word in Italian where all the five vowels are present and actually pronounced. It is aiuole (flower-beds).


From: Russ Harben (russharbenATaol.com)
Subject: Re: AWADmail Issue 42 (Scud)

Your reasoning behind your decision not to include the Gulf War missile name in the definition of "scud" is slightly incorrect. The word scud" is not its official name or trademark, but rather, a NATO code name for the Soviet-designed SS-1 surface-to-surface missile.

Often during the Cold War, intelligence sources in the West became aware of new Soviet aircraft and missiles before their official designations were known. In order to keep them straight, NATO developed a system for assigning them code names. For example, the code names for fighter aircraft all began with the letter "F." Bombers began with the letter "B," cargo planes with "C," and helicopters with "H." Missiles used a similar code name system. Air-to-air missiles began with "A," surface-to-air with "G," air-to-surface with "K," and surface-to-surface with "S."

It is rumored (but unconfirmed as far as I know) that the words that NATO officials chose for code names were specifically selected because they sounded ugly or derogatory, as a subtle form of propaganda. While some of these words are genuinely disparaging, many have completely innocent -- although obscure -- definitions. Some rather interesting examples:

AA-6 Acrid
Tu-22 Backfire
Yak-40 Codling
Il-18 Coot
MiG-15 Fagot
Su-15 Flagon
SA-11 Gadfly
Ka-50 Hokum
Mi-2 Hoplite
AS-18 Kazoo
SS-3 Shyster
SS-21 Scarab

Maybe they were trying to get people to take these weapons less seriously. Personally, a "Shyster" missile sounds to me like slang for a frivolous lawsuit.

An extensive list of Soviet aircraft code names can be found here.


Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. -Learned Hand, jurist (1872-1961)

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