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AWADmail Issue 510

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

Robo-Readers: the New Teachers' Helper
Science World Report

Capturing the Wajarri Language Brings Joy to Elders
ABC News

From: Dennis Zickerman (DennAZ911 aol.com)
Subject: alley-oop
Def: interjection: Used as an exhortation or to signal the start of an activity; noun: A basketball move.

Also, in football, a long pass into the endzone, thrown on a high arc, allowing the receiver to leap higher than the defenders to catch the ball. Made famous by Y.A. Tittle to R.C. Owens.

Dennis Zickerman, Sierra Vista, Arizona

From: Sally Nasman (sfnasman lbl.gov)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--alley-oop

I'll never forget my first day in school as a 17-year-old exchange student in Sweden. I knew no Swedish other than yes, no, thank you. All I heard was the babble of an unfamiliar language yadda-yadda "alley-oop", yadda-yadda-yadda "alley-oop", etc. That word turned out to be "allihop" which in Swedish means everybody. Interesting how we learn languages (and other things) by having some familiar bit to "hang our hat" on. In this case, it was the familiar sound of one of my favorite words!

Sally Nasman, Berkeley, California

From: Maireaine Cohen (maireaine hexatron.com)
Subject: Alley Oop

Does anyone remember the old caveman comic strip? The caveman was named Alley Oop, and he rode on a dinosaur. There was also a novelty song in the early 60s of the same name, about the caveman character.

And the song, sing along... (video).

Maireaine Cohen, Whippany, New Jersey

From: William Baxter (wbaxter cnsp.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--alley-oop

Alley-oop? Earliest documented use 1923? That kind of shoots down the story told me by my grandfather, who participated in The Great War. American units were commonly headed by French officers, and that the phrase was the dreaded trench-warfare Franglish for "Let's go (allez) up." According to gramps it was brought back by the returning Americans and later reinforced in this culture as a cartoon character. Even spurious derivations if sufficiently entrenched deserve to be noted.

William Baxter, Santa Fe, New Mexico

From: Kathryn Kaser (kkaserco dwwireless.net)
Subject: alley-oop

This word reminds me of something we used to say in Iowa when I was growing up in the late 40s and early 50s: Olly olly oxen free.

We yelled it when playing hide and seek and also when playing a game involving a large shed. Someone on one team would throw a ball over the shed to an unseen team on the other side.

Kathryn Kaser, Kennewick, Washington

From: Janet Rizvi (janetrizvi gmail.com)
Subject: kickshaw
Def: 1. A fancy dish; delicacy. 2. A trinket.

Way back in the fifties, when perhaps I'd missed a supervision (Cambridge-speak for tutorial) for some reason or other, my supervisor sent me a note: 'Come on [day & time] armed with an essay on a subject of your choice. Knock up a dainty little kickshaw.' I've always cherished that.

Janet Rizvi, Gurgaon, India

From: Susan Brande (susan.brande gmail.com)
Subject: kickshaw

This reminds me of my almost proper father-in-law sidling over to me at a party his wife had worked so hard to prepare and telling me the platters of "kickshaw" were who re's ovaries, an anglicized aberration of hors d'oeuvres.

Susan Brande, Monroe, New Hampshire

From: Barbara Ulman (bzbu sti.net)
Subject: toot sweet
Def: Quickly; immediately.

Claude Bolling wrote a suite for trumpet, piano, and percussion named Toot Suite.

Barbara Ulman, Coarsegold, California

From: Viv Brown (vivjbrown gmail.com)
Subject: toot sweet

Impossible to see this word without thinking of the wonderful song from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" -- we had an LP of this when I was a child. One of the inventions of Caractacus Potts, it looks as if the candy canes with holes in will be a great success until the factory is overrun by dogs who are attracted by the whistling sound! Some great lyrics in this musical (loosely based on a story by Ian Fleming) from the Sherman Brothers:

"Don't waste your pucker on some all day sucker
And don't try a toffee or cream
If you seek perfection in sugar confection
Well there's something new on the scene
A mouth full of cheer
A sweet without peer
A musical morsel supreme!
Toot Sweets!
Toot Sweets!
The candies you whistle, the whistles you eat.
Toot Sweets! ..." (video)

Viv Brown, Solihull, UK

From: Diana Louis (ambrose hol.gr)
Subject: toot sweet

In our family (where we speak Greeklish and Franglais) we often end a letter with "a toot sweet and the tooter the sweeter".

Diana Louis, Athens, Greece

From: Dave Zobel (dzobel alumni.caltech.edu)
subject: Mayday: Radio distress signals of the ancient Romans
Def: A distress signal; a call for help.

As a first-year Latin student, I was delighted to realize that the second-declension vocative "mee dee" (pron.: "may day") translates as "O my God!"

As a second-year Latin student, I was heartbroken to discover that both "meus" and "deus" are irregular in the vocative, and thus "mee dee" translates as "Me no talking Latin so good."

Dave Zobel, Los Angeles, California

From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: m'aidez

There is something strange about "m'aidez": it's not the usual way to say "help me" in French. That would be "aidez-moi", the imperative. "M'aidez" is indicative, as in "Vous m'aidez beaucoup"; the subjunctive, which could be used in a command, would be "m'aidiez", as in "Je veux que vous m'aidiez." So why did "m'aidez" get used there?

Dr Richard Stallman, President, Free Software Foundation, Boston, Massachusetts

A number of readers raised this. Thanks to everyone who wrote. The English word mayday is a phonetic respelling not of m'aidez, but m'aider, which is a shortened form of venez m'aider (come help me).
-Anu Garg

From: Sterling Ory (sterlingory gmail.com)
Subject: Petit = Petty

In New Orleans the company General Mills Sales, Inc. markets canned sweet peas labeled "petit pois". As I've grown up here, I have always heard it pronounced by the locals as petty paw.

Sterling Ory, New Orleans, Louisiana

From: Isabelle Pellé (isa.pelle bbox.fr)
Subject: French and English

The reverse is true, too: a number of English words have been adopted into French to the extent that French politicians have been led to make it compulsory to use French equivalents for a number of them: we don't write emails but méls, for instance. Only people working in the administration take notice of it! But there are also phrases which we send back to you after a sort of symmetrical change: to take a French leave in France becomes "filer à l'anglaise". Whereas French fries for us have no nationality! No doubt, all this goes back to a time when a big part of France was English, and when a Norman duke became William the Conqueror... I find that the two languages are sort of complementary to each other. Being a native French speaker, at times I feel that only an English word will express what I mean in a French context, and the other way round.

Isabelle Pellé, Barbizon, France

From: Harold Hyman (shandhh verizon.net)
Subject: transliterating words from one language to another

The French, when discussing Russian politics, are careful to write the presidential contender's name as Poutine which is very close to the Russian pronunciation. If spelled Putin (as we know it) the French pronunciation would result in a connotation that could imply more than is intended.

Harold Hyman, Acton, Massachusetts

From: Mary Ann Kull (makull0428 roadrunner.com)
Subject: anglicizing

These anglicized French words brought to mind a story from years ago. As a newlywed, a friend's wife made up the menu for the week. On Friday she planned to serve quiche lorraine and her husband, looking over the menu, asked who this Quickie Lorraine was. We still refer to quiche as quickie.

Mary Ann Kull, East Aurora, New York

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

From: Betty Feinberg (bgfeinberg cox.net)
Subject: anglicized words

One of my favorite stories is of an elegant French restaurant in San Francisco that was named Le Poulet d'Or until patrons rich on gold started calling it the Poodle Dog, as it is now known.

Betty Feinberg, Tucson, Arizona

From: Joan Hodgson (peacock mts.net)
Subject: Anglicized words

I grew up in North-East England just after WWII and heard the phrase 'san fairy Ann' frequently. It was brought back by troops returning from France. It was used to say don't bother or it doesn't matter, anglicized version of "ça ne fait rien".

Joan Hodgson, Winnipeg, Canada

Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it. -Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

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