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AWADmail Issue 81

June 13, 2002

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


From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

A library of poetry
nytimes.com
(free registration required)

Don't (word)play with your food
sfgate.com

'Ums' and 'uhs' contain meaning
www.nature.com

Mind your language
www.timesonline.co.uk


From: Robert Eisenthal (bssreATbath.ac.uk)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--eagre

Your comment on the paucity of words in the French language containing the letter "W" is interesting. When I did high-school French in the USA (50 years ago!), I was taught that "officially" the French alphabet has no "W" at all, and French words containing "W" are all of foreign origin (whatever that means). This is why when the Stewarts, the Scottish royal family, were in exile in France, the spelling of their name was altered to "Stuart", that spelling being the best approach the French language could make to the English, i.e. Scottish, pronunciation. I've also been told that among the Stuart/Stewart clan, this distinction has certain genealogical implications as to whether ancestors were among those who remained in Scotland and those who went to France.


From: Mike Pope (mpopeATmicrosoft.com)
Subject: "W" in French [eagre]

Germanic words that start with "w" show up as "gu" in Romance languages ("qu" in Latin). Examples from Spanish:

water = (a)gua in Spanish
William = Guillermo
what = que

Historically, the Romance languages first added a "k" to the rounding represented by the "w". (Thus the "qu" spelling -- an attempt to get "kw"). Then they dropped the rounding and kept the "k" sound. The "qu" spelling is largely historical, but is retained today as an orthographic convenience.

The coolest thing is that we have some instances in English where we retained the original Germanic "w-" word and then borrowed the Romance version, giving us related pairs:

warranty = guaranty
ward = guard


From: Scott Eldridge (scott.eldridgeATcommerceone.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--eagre

The thing I want to know is... When the tidal wave reaches the end of the estuary, does it become a crashing bore?


From: Colleen A. Fuller (colleen.fullerAThanscom.af.mil)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--imprest

Imprest stirred old memories of my government financial career. I oversaw a $6,000 imprest fund to purchase small items for a research laboratory environment. Along with the imprest fund came mock robberies and 12 a.m. phone calls from military police. The calls required me driving 20 miles to the military base, often on icy winter nights, in response to the security alarm in the locked imprest fund room. These days the credit card has replaced the imprest fund.


From: Julane Marx (julaneATentrenet.com)
Subject: comment on Arabic theme (Re: alembic)

The explanation you gave about how Arabic works interested me greatly, because the two examples of roots that you provided -- k-t-b for writing and s-l-m for peace -- are exactly the same in Hebrew. (This will not surprise historical linguists, who know that the two languages share a common ancestor, but may surprise some other people.) K-t-b also stands for 'writing' in Hebrew, wherein 'lichtov' means 'to write' and a 'ketubah' is a marriage contract (literally, 'a writing'). S-l-m is 'shalom' in Hebrew, and is used as a greeting like 'salaam' in Arabic. It means peace, like 'salaam', but its deeper meaning is one of unity or wholeness rather than submission.

I have long believed and often stated that the problem with the Israelis and the Arabs is that they are so much like siblings forced to share a room.


From: Valerie Jones (jonescvtATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--alembic

The alembic is still a regular occurrence here in rural Brittany, France. The still goes to each commune and cider makers take along their casks of cider to be turned into very very strong alcohol (we have tried it and know how strong it is) - the still is powered by wood and everyone brings along their pile of logs to distill their 'gout'. They also bring along a bottle of wine (or two) and a baguette type sandwich with paté or ham. It is all highly regulated, licences that have been passed down from generation to generation are necessary and as they are not being renewed, this is a bucolic vision that will be disappearing from view in the not too distant future. Then it will really become an apparatus formerly used...


From: Katharine Scarfe Beckett (kscarfebeckettAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--jihad

I was delighted to see that Arabic-derived words are this week's theme.

In the Arab world, 'jihad' means 'struggle', especially the struggle to improve oneself. It's like the confusion over the word 'crusade'. In the Arab world, it has only negative meanings, but an American dictionary gives it positive ones. 'Jihad' originated as a word with very positive spiritual meaning. It is being degraded by constant reference to it as a term of war only.


From: Amanda Kentridge (amandakAT012.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--houri

A recent article in the New York Times said that some historians and linguists believe that this was a (perhaps deliberate?) misinterpretation for the Arabic word for white grapes (the 3-letter root certainly would be responsible for this).

It makes much more sense to find white grapes, which were a great delicacy and highly prized, in a garden (the ideal of paradise) than beautiful virgins. As was probably the case then, nowadays one sees lots of old raisins working the fields and very few beautiful virgins.


From: Alain Cian (archoncommanderAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: houri

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld book 'Jingo' (page 245) there's a joke regarding the use of the word houri:

"Ah," he said, "it seems that I have died and gone to Paradise. Are you a houri?"
"I don't have to take that kind of language, thank you," Angua said.


From: Samit Mehrotra (samitATee.iitb.ac.in)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--talisman

The origin of the word "Talisman" - "tilism" reminds me of the Hindi serial "Chandrakanta" which was directed and produced by Nirija Guleri. The tele-serial showed mysterious people with magical powers practising "tilism" the art of doing the seemingly impossible. One especially interesting form of tilism was people assuming the form of different people much like the female professor in Harry Potter.


From: Naveenkumar K. (naveenkumar_kATinfosys.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--niddering

This topic immediately brings to my recollection the riddle:

Q: Which is the only English word that is always misspelt?
A: Misspelt.


From: Lily Mihai (lily.mIhaiATccra-adrc.gc.ca)
Subject: Thoughts

Your theme made me think at the law of minimum effort more than at typos or misspelling. I think a typo or a misspelling becomes accepted only if it satisfies the law of minimum effort (law formulated by the linguist André Martinet). And actually this is the way languages evolved in time: creative people changed spellings, ignorant people changed spellings, people not paying attention and doing typos changed spellings: from those, only the ones satisfying the law of minimum effort survived.


From: Rachel (rachel_209AThotmail.com)
Subject: Niddering, and other misspellings

Your theme this week reminds me of the story of the monastery whose principal work was the copying of old manuscripts. One industrious monk pointed out to the abbot that they were copying from a copy itself, and that, perhaps, they were inadvertently copying centuries-old miscopied works. The abbot agreed that that was a possibility, and sent the monk in search of the original.

Hours went by, and the abbot realized he'd not seen the monk in some time, so he headed to the deepest of the basements. There he found the monk, seated with an old manuscript opened before him, sobbing uncontrollably.

"My brother," said the abbot, "What has you crying so?"

The monk looked up at the abbot, and said, tearfully, "The word is CELEBRATE!"


From: Christine Tindall (olliecat60AThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: Misspelled Words

I will never forget what happened when I submitted a story for publication in my high school literary magazine, although it happened almost twenty years ago. The faculty member in charge insisted I had misspelled the word "subtlety". I argued with her for a second, then looked it up in the classroom dictionary. My spelling was indeed correct, but I had realised very quickly that accuracy was less important to her than her ego. Consequently I simply erased the word and re-wrote it exactly as it had been and handed the page back.


From: Ron Greenman (rgreenmanATmindspring.com)
Subject: misspellings

The Fundamentalist Revolution was on in Iran while I was at college. The following list of comments grew on the restroom wall.

Down with the shaw.
Shaw is a proper noun.
You mispelled Shah.
You mispelled misspelled. So did you.


From: John Knoderer (godloveseveryone_dot_orgATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--niddering

You wrote:
All the words featured this week had their spellings altered in the course of history because someone mis-read, mis-printed, mis-wrote, or mis-copied and missed the "right" spelling.

I happen to live in a city for which this is the case.

Gravette, Arkansas was named after the Gravett family. Someone mistakenly filed some state paperwork with the extra "e" on the end, and they found out that it was easier to keep the misspelled city name than it was to try to go back and correct it.

So, we have the Bank of Gravett in Gravette, Arkansas. The bank spells it correctly, the city does not.


From: Kathryn E Kaser (kkasercoATbossig.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--obsidian

Here in the Tri-Cities of Washington state near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation there is a project that has just begun called "in situ vitrification" and/or "glassification" which will encase nuclear material in man-made obsidian to prevent leaking into ground water. I have a number of samples of it in my office from a test site that my construction company dug up by request. It has to be handled carefully because the edges are so very sharp and cut easily, which is why the American Indians used obsidian for making arrowheads. The man-made obsidian is made by superheating the silica soils with electronic probes and melting the ground (full of silica) into glass. The test site we were hired to dig up was still so hot after one year that it melted the teeth on the backhoe. When sprayed with water, the exploding steam broke out the window of the water truck. (No one was injured!)

We also have samples of obsidian that has been expanded (I don't know the process) to 20 times the original size. It turns from black to gray and is very light weight, grainy, and when rubbed, makes the original sand/silica.


From: Kent Harrison (bkentharrisonATattbi.com)
Subject: filk singing

Another word resulting from a misspelling came about at a science fiction convention a number of years ago, when "folk singing" was to be put on the program and someone misspelled it as "filk singing." So now S-F conventions often have a section on "filk singing", which, as I understand it, is meant to be the songs of alien races, done as they might do it.


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

Your mention of Doolally prompted me to write a story, Candy is Dandy, But Lolly is Folly. It's in the June edition of my free e-book, with two other candied articles, Do Green M&Ms Turn You On? and Chewing Gum Pollution, at my e-book.


Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. -William Strunk and E.B. White, authors of The Elements of Style

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