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AWADmail Issue 758

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

Sponsor’s Message: What does old school mean to you? “Thank you” instead of “No problem”? How about: saddle shoes. White handkerchiefs and white gloves. A hand-written note. Hitchhiking. Let us know -- we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Scott Eichel (see below), as well as all you traditionistas out there the chance to tell us what you miss most about the world we are losing or have already lost. You may even win some of our authentic ludic loot, to boot. ENTER The Old’s Cool Contest NOW.


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

To Speak is to Blunder
The New Yorker
Permalink

The 10 Most Mispronounced Words of 2016 and What They Say About the State of the World
Quartz
Permalink

The Loud, Empty Word That Defines President-Elect Trump
The Daily Beast
Permalink

Is the Chinese Language a Superstition Machine?
Nautilus
Permalink


From: Charles H. Hegarty (chheg61 yahoo.com)
Subject: Brahmin

Would a Brahmin speak to/with a Lodge or a Cabot? Would a proper Bostonian speak with/to a literal Brahmin? Let he who is without sin stone the first caste. Those who have no aptitude shall seek a classless society.

Charles H. Hegarty, St. Johnsbury, Vermont


From: Raka Maitra (raka.maitra gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--brahmin

I have enjoyed your posts; however, this post has some misinformation in the sources it quoted! Brahmin only means someone who is closest to Brahma. Brahmins, therefore, follow a spiritual path and are the highest caste.

Most brahmins who rose to prominence such as Shankaracharya, Ramana Maharishi, and Ramakrishna had neither political power nor wealth but lived in poverty, though widely respected as almost saints.

Raka Maitra, London, UK

We describe words as they are used in the English language today. In the English language. And today. Take another word we have borrowed from Sanskrit: jungle. You wouldn’t say that the word should mean in English what it means in Sanskrit: arid land.

I understand the desire to see a word retain its “purity”, but time and travel changes everything. Why should language be immune from it? Words often change meaning, spelling, or pronunciation, sometimes all three, as they travel across time and space (see more examples here and here).

It’s an etymological fallacy to claim that a word should mean what it meant in its source language or that it should mean today what it meant a few hundred years ago.
-Anu Garg


From: Johan Daniel Rich (ohan.d.rich gmail.com)
Subject: Brahma bull

Another very different meaning of the word Brahmin in English is the name of a breed of hump-backed beef cattle which originated in India. The breed is quite popular in the USA, where it is sometimes called Brahmas.

Johan Daniel Rich, East London, South Africa


From: Ari Corcoran (via online comments)
Subject: brahmin

Then there is the Brahminy kite, a mid-sized raptor in varying subspecies from present-day India to Australia (Haliastur indus). It’s a beautiful bird: a couple of them sit on a particular branch of a black wattle tree in our backyard in Darwin every monring.

Ari Corcoran, Darwin, Australia


From: Brian Barratt (umbidas tpg.com.au)
Subject: Avatar

I commend this exhaustive list of links to the use of avatara in Sanskrit scriptures.

Brian Barratt, Melbourne, Australia


From: Mike Carpenter (mccarp dakotacom.net)
Subject: Pundits: O’Reilly/Shankar

I consider it obscene to have Bill O’Reilly’s picture next to Ravi Shankar. Actually, anyone from Fox, ever, at all. And I don’t understand Mara Liasson’s being there at all lending veracity to purveyors of lies, not misinformation, lies.

Michael Carpenter, Tucson, Arizona


Email of the Week: Brought to you by OLD’S COOL -- Backward and Upward!

From: Scott Eichel (seichel407 gmail.com)
Subject: Pandit/Pundit

The term Pundit is somewhat overused in the political/media universe, but apart from the common meaning of commentator/pontificator or, alternatively, wise, learned person, there is another use which was to describe the highly intelligent and carefully selected native surveyors of the border regions of 19th-century India.

Peter Hopkirk, a British journalist and author, wrote widely on Central Asia and the strategic tussle between Britain and Russia over the land approaches to India, which had endured for decades but reached a crescendo during the 19th century. In his fascinating book, The Great Game (as well as in others), Hopkirk recounts, among other things, one of the curious, yet very important, aspects to this competition between the two great powers, which was the British strategic need to survey the country which separated India from its neighbours to the north and thence Central Asia, which in turn formed the land approaches to Britain’s prized colony.

The British had embarked on an extensive survey of these remote regions, but soon found they were barred access by some of the often secretive neighbouring peoples who were disinclined to allow foreigners to roam the mountainous countryside intruding on holy sites and other protected areas. The British duly recruited a cadre of exceptionally bright native people in the region and trained them to survey, using primitive but effective methods, such as measuring distance by rigorous pacing, aided by cunningly altered prayer wheels and measuring altitude by temperature observations while boiling water. Some of these operatives, who came to be known as Pandits or Pundits, also received training in the use of the sextant, but for the most part their methods were simple and designed to avoid notice, let alone suspicion.

It is widely thought by British military historians that the Pandits, some of whom were decorated and some of whom lost their lives, played a crucial role in Britain’s perceived strategic success over Russia in the subcontinent.

Scott Eichel, Victoria, Canada


From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
Subject: Re: Pundit

In India I’m called a pundit, and my motto is: No Punjab too big, no Punjab too small.

Richard Stallman, Boston, Massachusetts


From: David Silverman (silverman.david.m gmail.com)
Subject: Swami

I’ve lived in both Malaysia and Indonesia and ever since 1971 I’ve wondered if their word for husband, suami (pronunciation the same as swami) was etymologically related. My Tamil friends in Malaysia thought there may have been a connection but really didn’t know.

Dave Silverman, Antalya, Turkey (but planning to move to Thailand soon)

Yes, it is. Also, the English word “husband” is, etymologically speaking, master of the house. Peer into the fossils of the language and human history reveals itself.
-Anu Garg


From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: avatar

Illustration: Alex McCrae
Illustration: Alex McCrae
Elephant-headed Hindu deity, Ganesha, conqueror of obstacles, and the Great Buddha have their respective avatars. In my illustration I’m attempting to visually convey a kind of equanimity or amity between two of the world’s major pathways to individual spiritual growth and enlightenment; hence the display of mutual respect and piety between the two devout practitioners of their faiths in this imagined ecumenical scenario.

Several ancient Sanskrit-rooted words have been co-opted in the West, particularly in the field of entertainment. Here I’ve united flamboyant Brit pop singer, Culture Clubs’s Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon”, with a female Navi, one of the principal blue “alien” creatures from director James Cameron’s mega-grossing-box-office hit film Avatar.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California


From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. brahmin
2. avatar
3. pundit
4. swami
5. karma
= 1. rank
2. Rama
3. avid wit
4. rapt man
5. I ambush
= 1. a rank up
2. drawn
3. smart
4. imam
5. via habit
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)   -Josiah Winslow, West Allis, Wisconsin (josiah12301 yahoo.com)


From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Limericks

Seems the Fortunate Few don’t much care
‘bout the worries the rest of us share.
We have little in common
with the privileged Brahmin.
Let’s face it, folks. Life isn’t fair.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Though he might be as rich as a Brahmin
In Boston we think the man’s common.
New Yawk and L.A.
Weren’t fooled for a day
And up heah we find Donald alahmin’.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


If you wish to create your own avatar,
There is really no need to search very far.
Don’t just turn yourself blue;
be a “you” that’s more you.
In your favorite Game you will be the star.
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

A TV Reality superstar
Had quite a behavioral repertoire.
Each week using Twitter
He’d launch insults bitter.
Now guess who’s democracy’s avatar?
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)


A job as political pundit
Was offered to me but I shunned it.
The money they’d pay
For what I have to say
Based on last year, I’d have to refund it.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

The political choice of a pundit
Gives pause to those finding him unfit.
Once Trump was elected,
The posts he selected
Seem like a macabre whodunit.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)


We’re told of a savvy old swami
who wisely survived a tsunami.
He folded a bird,
and then, so we’ve heard,
flew away on his bold origami.
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

The weather in India’s balmy,
There’s wisdom from many a swami,
The Taj you should visit,
The curry’s exquisite,
But oy, there’s no decent pastrami.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

At the top of the mountain the Swami
Declared “It’s a karmic tsunami.
The Carnegie Deli
Cannot fill your belly.
You must find a new source for pastrami.”
-Adam Perl, Ithaca, New York (adam pastimes.com)

A Swami who lived in Mumbai,
And known as a very wise guy,
When told how pathetic,
A life so ascetic,
Gave a mystical smile in reply.
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

A dude who felt like a swami,
Lusted to use his salami,
But maidens would shirk,
The self-centered j erk,
Who settled for self-pleasure palmy.
-Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey (doxite verizon.net)


The price of our drugs is demented.
No truly free market’s attempted.
But someday Big Pharma
May learn about karma
When someone like Bernie’s elected.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

It’s said, “As you sow, so you reap.”
These are words to live by and keep.
It’s not just the farmer
Who must deal with karma.
Remember, so don’t be a creep.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)


Sanskrit is funny -- but not like ‘Ha! Ha!’
With brahmin and pundit, and a-va-tar.
But with swami and yogi,
Mahatma and sathya,
They’ve pushed it a bit too far.
-C. William Elliott, Sarasota, Florida (evenports msn.com)


From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Puns to be read sanskritiques

Are male cross-dressers Brahmin?

If he misbehaves in office let’s avatar-and-feather party for Trump.

As soon as I read the Jan 4 AWAD, I pundit.

Yogis are found “way down upon the Swami River.” (Did that Foster an Induscribable groan? Ganges get any worse?)

If you sugar-coat Hinduism, do you karma-lize it?

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma


From: Bev Hock (bevvhock gmail.com)
Subject: Gift subscriptions

I have received delighted thank you messages from the people to whom I sent the gift subscriptions. A broad vocabulary increases understanding of the world, and I wanted to share that with friends and family.

Beverly Vaughn Hock, San Mateo, California


A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it. -Lewis H. Lapham, editor and writer (b. 8 Jan 1935)

Jan 1, 2017
This week’s theme
Words borrowed from Sanskrit

This week’s words
brahmin
avatar
pundit
swami
karma

How popular are they?
Relative usage over time

AWADmail archives
Index

Next week’s theme
Words that appear rude, but aren’t

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