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AWADmail Issue 505

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

They're, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve
The New York Times

Modern Era Brings Death to Words
Science News

From: Emanuela Ughi (ughi dipmat.unipg.it)
Subject: Riccio Capriccio (Re: capricious)
Def: Whimsical, impulsive, unpredictable.

Riccio (or ricciolo) in Italian means also "curl", so that there is a saying: "Ogni riccio un capriccio" (Every curl, a caprice) and a song "La donna riccia non la voglio no" (I don't want a woman with curly hair, since she is supposed to be capricious). (video)

Emanuela Ughi, Perugia, Italy

From: Denise Koster (jkoster earthlink.net)
Subject: capricious

My children (who are 13, 10, and 8) know what this word means. Rather than use that time-honored response of "because I said so," I say "because I am arbitrary and capricious." There are always opportunities to build your child's vocabulary.

Denise Koster, Rochester, Minnesota

From: Jim Tang (mauijt aol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--capricious

How delightful to learn that the legal term of art for the most demanding standard required to overturn a Federal law (that being arbitrary and capricious) translates to proving that such a government action is hair-raising. Not so delightful are some recent United States Supreme Court 5-4 decisions, Citizens United being the most notorious, that have many outside the Court tearing out their upraised follicles. The propensity for baldness among the Court's majority might serve to explain its lack of empathy for the hapless citizenry being subjected to SuperPAC abuse.

Jim Tang, Kula, Hawaii

From: Monroe Thomas Clewis (mtc mtclex.com)
Subject: capricious

I impulsively leapt for the dictionary upon reading your etymology of "capricious" because I had always thought the word sprang directly from "capra" the Latin word for she-goat, a notoriously skittish and impulsive animal. What a surprise to discover a hedgehog hiding behind the goat! It seems (etymology being more art than science) having compounded "capriccio" from "capo" for head, and "riccio" for hedgehog, the Italians started noticing the similarity of sounds between "capriccio" and "capra" so that gradually the impulsive goat-like sense nosed out the frightened, hedgehog sense. In an international hop, skip, and jump starting with Latin "caput" for head, the Italian word "capriccio" then bounded to France as "capricieux", and finally landed in England as "capricious," the word we know today. Quite an astonishing transformation from hedgehog to goat, from fright to whim. Truly the magic of words!

Monroe Thomas Clewis, Los Angeles, California

A number of readers questioned the origin of this word. As you note, the meaning of this word was influenced by Italian capra (goat) in a process known as folk etymology (falsely assumed etymology). For a week of words formed by this process see here.
-Anu Garg

Email of the Week -- (Brought to you by One Up! -- Hello doubledomes!)

From: Gene A. Hoots (ghoots cornercap.com)
Subject: bucolic
Def: adj.: 1. Pastoral; rustic. 2. Of or relating to a herdsman or a shepherd. noun: 1. A pastoral poem. 2. A farmer; shepherd.

In 1988 in Winston-Salem, NC the mere use of the word bucolic was enough to send some people into a fit of anger. The new CEO, Ross Johnson, of hometown company RJR Nabisco had described the city as bucolic and had then moved the corporate headquarters to Atlanta. Local people took exception to having their town described as bucolic. Bryan Burrough and John Helyar captured this in their bestseller, Barbarians at the Gate -- "Bumper stickers began appearing around town, 'Honk if you're bucolic'."

Gene A. Hoots, Charlotte, North Carolina

From: Frank Schorn (frank.schorn gmail.com)
Subject: Bucolic

Your use of the word bucolic in a quotation describing the English countryside in the movie War Horse brought to mind a similar equine movie: The Black Stallion. In that film, Alexander the Great's own war horse, Bucephalus, plays a major inspirational role. The name Bucephalus, or "ox-head" also derives from the same root as bucolic. Both the fictional Joey and the historic Bucephalus were heroic animals, larger than life, that were drawn into our human wars without their equine consent. Yet in each movie, horses provide a counterpoint, portraying war as destructive and hellish, and certainly not bucolic.

Frank Schorn, Glendale, New York

From: MitchellB (via Wordsmith Talk forum)
Subject: bucolic

Also derived from "bous" is the endearing nickname Bossie for a cow.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andpress sympatico.ca)
Subject: Bucolic

The name of Alexander the Great's favourite horse was Bucephalus, literally ox-head. This identity crisis was the result of his immense dimensions, cap-a-pie. Small wonder he acted boisterously every time he observed his awesome shadow. Alexander tamed him by turning his bovine head toward the sun, nearly blinding him. Thus he was unable to see what an ox he was.

Alexander's horse-fancying father, Philip of Macedon, was so impressed by the youngster's shrewd intellect that he couldn't help exclaiming: "O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."

Horse-taming is probably as good a pretext for imperialism as any other one might come across.

Andrew Pressburger, Toronto, Canada

From: Bryan Todd (boyanlj gmail.com)
Subject: Cuckold
Def: noun: A man whose wife is unfaithful. verb tr.: To make a cuckold of a husband.

The Chinese have an expression to describe just such an unfortunate man: "He's wearing a green hat." Travel in China and of course you'll find lots of men and women wearing hats. Nevertheless, they studiously avoid the color green.

Bryan Todd, Lincoln, Nebraska

From: Tara Walsh (taramcgwalsh gmail.com)
Subject: cuckold

I hope you will apply equal attention to the parallel word for when a husband cheats on his wife: cucquean.

Tara Walsh, Sebastopol, California

From: Carsten Kruse (c-kruse t-online.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cuckold

It's quite interesting to see that in a lot of cultures this term is associated with somebody "getting horned".

The German counterpart is "Hahnrei" and refers to a castrated rooster (capon). I was very surprised to read that -- owing to a "new interpretation" of adultery -- a husband who deliberately accepts the state of being cheated is now referred to with the English loanword ... cuckold.

Carsten Kruse, Gera, Germany

From: Tish Lehman (pvl umich.edu)
Subject: lyceum
Def: 1. A lecture hall or an institution that provides public lectures, discussions, concerts, etc. 2. A secondary school.

When I was in high school in rural Nebraska in the 50s, lyceum was the term used for general assemblies of the student body in the gymnasium to hear visiting lecturers and sometimes international music acts about once a year. In that pre-TV time for us, it was a rare and marvelous glimpse of the outside world of travelers to South America and twin Chinese singers. Only the math teacher, Mr. Veskerna, pointed out that lyceum and gymnasium were both Greek words.

I was disappointed when my own children went to school and such affairs had been downgraded to the pedestrian "assembly".

Tish Lehman, Ann Arbor, Michigan

From: Eric Hoy (eric.hoy utsouthwestern.edu)
Subject: lyceum

Another word derived from lykos is lupus. In medicine, the autoimmune disease Lupus Erythematosus derived its name from the facial rash that is seen in many people with the disease. Many years ago, I learned that the name was coined by the 12th century physician Rogerius, because he thought the facial rash resembled the fur around the eyes of the wolf. Since that initial definition, I have heard that the term was used because the rash resembled wolf scratches and bites. Recently, I heard a third explanation, that the term lupus referred to a mask worn by women in France to cover the facial rash. The mask is called a "loup", the French word for wolf.

Eric Hoy, Dallas, Texas

From: David Underhill (drunderhill yahoo.com)
Subject: littoral jubilee
Def: 1. A special anniversary of an event, especially a 50th anniversary. 2. Rejoicing or celebration.

Here in SW Alabama a jubilee is also an odd but welcome event (owing apparently to winds, currents, and oxygen levels in water) where fish and crabs abandon Mobile Bay and fling themselves ashore to be picked up by whoever comes running when word spreads that a jubilee is under way. More here.

David Underhill, Mobile, Alabama

From: Cathy Varney (roncathvarney aol.com)
Subject: jubilee

In Spanish the verb 'jubilar' is to pension off and 'jubilado', the past participle, means retired. I suppose that after working for 50 years you can celebrate your jubilee by never going back to the job.

Cathy Varney, Rio Rancho, New Mexico

From: Sean Ferguson (ferguson.s.k gmail.com)
Subject: Jubilee

Though jubilee refers to a celebration, it refers a very specific type of celebration: The most important meaning of jubilee has to do with repudiating all debts and freeing slaves from captivity, which was done every 50 years in ancient times. We live in a world that is currently enslaved by debt, causing people to work minimum-wage jobs that they hate for their entire lives with nary a hope of escaping from the shackles of economic bondage imposed by usurious loans.

People in third world countries have had their vast resources auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder, leaving the people no hope of any sort of economic freedom whatsoever. At no other time in history has the true meaning of jubilee been as important to understand as it is now. Repudiation of all debts, public and private, would allow the human race economic freedom. And THAT would be a real reason to celebrate.

Sean Ferguson, Kent, Ohio

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go. -William Shakespeare, playwright and poet (1564-1616)

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