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AWADmail Issue 69

February 24, 2002

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


From: Brian Swisher (swisherbATbiotronik.com)
Subject: Booth's escape... (Re: sockdolager)

I commend your choice of the word "sockdolager" and its unique place in American history, but I have to differ with you on your history:

"Booth fired his gun at that precise moment to muffle the loud noise of his shot with the guffaws from the audience, and quietly escaped."

That certainly was his plan, but it didn't work out that way. Mary Lincoln shrieked when Abe slumped over with blood on his head, and Booth struggled briefly with Major Rathbone, slashing him badly with the big knife he was also carrying. Then Booth attempted to vault from the Presidential box to the stage. He was an accomplished athlete and might have made the 10-12 foot jump had not his spur caught on the bunting around the railing. He landed askew on one foot and broke his ankle, which did not prevent him from hobbling off in the confusion, while shouting something that is most often reported as "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants!" -- the state motto of Virginia).

Incidentally, Booth's broken leg was treated by Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was later, probably wrongly, accused of being one of the assassination conspirators and exiled to the Dry Tortugas. Because of his heroic actions during a yellow fever epidemic there a few years later, he was pardoned, but his name gave rise to another American colloquialism: "Your name is mud."

    Thanks for your correction on Booth's "quiet" escape. That was quite an escape. Unfortunate incrimination of Dr. Mudd may have helped popularize the idiom but it didn't originate with him. It existed many years earlier. -Anu


From: Mary C Locker (kago2ATjuno.com)
Subject: Sockdolager

I've been fortunate enough to go river rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Between mile 78 and 79 there is a rapid to run that is both exceptional and outstanding (rated a 9 on the grade 10 scale of difficulty). The rapid is named Sockdolager because, as our river guide warned us, "it packs quite a wallop". He was ever so correct, and I'd do the entire trip over again just to ride those particular waves.


From: Judy Gustafson (kb6unfATaol.com)
Subject: Sockdolager

The word, "sockdolager," also made its way into Twain's Huck Finn. In chapter twenty, Twain writes,

"... about ten o'clock it come on to rain and blow and thunder and lighten like everything; ... a body don't see such a storm as that every day in the week, not by a long sight. My souls, how the wind did scream along! And every second or two there'd come a glare that lit up the white-caps for a half a mile around, and you'd see the islands looking dusty through the rain, and the trees thrashing around in the wind; then comes a h-whack! -- bum! bum! bumble-umble-um-bum-bum-bum-bum -- and the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away, and quit -- and then rip comes another flash and another sockdolager. The waves most washed me off the raft sometimes...."


From: Ed Tabor (thousandyearsATaol.com)
Subject: Presidents' Day

Despite the fact that the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington were officially separate until 1971, only Washington's birthday was a federal holiday, and only Washington's birthday was a bank holiday in most states.

The move to have all official holidays be observed on Mondays to provide three-day weekends, pleasant as the results are for all of is, was primarily the result of very heavy lobbying of Congress by the hotel and travel industries. Long weekends enable more of us to travel.

    I've received a few other messages about this. Some said moving holidays to Monday was to avoid a four- or five-day weekend. Others claimed it was to save on heating/cooling costs. -Anu


From: Eleanor Dugan (duganekATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bloviate

President Warren G. Harding is also partially responsible for adding another cobbled word to the English language. A grammarian wag once commented that, "Harding came from a small Ohio town called Normalcy to which he constantly desired to return."


From: Sam Robinson (robinsonsATun.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--watergate

The suffix "-gate" seems to be used not just in English. Indonesia has had amongst its big headline-makers over recent years:

Baligate - a scam that relieved Bank Bali of about US$70 million during its bail-out by the state
Bruneigate - the alleged misappropriation of a multi-million dollar gift from the Sultan of Brunei
Buloggate - the alleged theft of funds from State-Owned Enterprise BULOG ... and in keeping with the American origin of the suffix, there was even a Hollywood flavoured Buloggate II.


From: Gerard McEwen (grmceATcobweb.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--watergate

During the recent Australian Federal election the Government propagated the false story that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard when confronted by H.M.A.S. Adelaide. As this story unravelled in Senate Estimates hearings a letter writer to 'The Australian' newspaper referred to it as 'childreninthewatergate'.


From: Earl Bender (earlATavenel.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--throttlebottom

As one of the few folks who have probably ever seen Of Thee I Sing performed, I concur that it is quite a funny and sometimes brutal satire. For me, the funniest running gag continuing through the whole production is that Throttlebottom cannot get a Washington, D.C. library card because no one will recognize the Vice President as a person or a job.


From: Lee Hartsfeld (hartsflATnationwide.com)
Subject: Presidential connections

This week you promised "words with presidential connections," but "Enron" has yet to appear. Or "Lay."


From: Joe Chapline (joechapATsrnet.com)
Subject: dactyls

In choosing Wintergreen and Throttlebottom as the names for the two candidates, (Pres. and VP) the authors of "Of Thee I Sing" reflect the law of the tripod. A tripod can always find stability no matter how rough the ground under it. The dactyl is the "tripod" of language. It represents stability and gives a feeling of comfort and is easy to remember.

The names of the two candidates, Wintergreen and Throttlebottom reflect this point of sensitivity. Wintergreen is a dactyl; Throttlebottom, with four syllables, clatters and suggests instability. He is likely to be the loser, or to come in second, in an election.

The mottoes that have become famous are all tripods: "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity;" and " Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness." Winston Churchill tried to break the mold with "Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Tears" but the world has cut him down to size by eliminating one of his travails: Today it is "Blood, Sweat and Tears." "Toil" has dropped out for contributing "instability" to the motto. If tripods are so stable, where did nature get our five-dactyl hands? The three-toed sloth would seem to have the edge on us.


Dictionary: Opinion presented as truth in alphabetical order. -John Ralston Saul, essayist, novelist, and critic (1947- )

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