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Jan 30, 2012
This week's theme
Dickensian characters that became words

This week's words
wellerism
fagin
gamp
scrooge
gradgrind

Sam Weller from Charles Dickens's novel Pickwick Papers
Sam Weller
Illustrator: Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke) (1856-1937)

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Next week marks the 200th anniversary of the British novelist Charles Dickens's birth. The London of Dickens's time was a bleak place: little social support, debtors' prisons, pollution, and children working in factories.

If you look at the Republican presidential aspirants today you'd think they want to return to those good old times: no environmental regulations; no worker protection laws; no social safety net; and children working as janitors.

As a child Charles himself was forced to work in a boot polish factory. All that he saw around him and experienced is reflected in his novels. It's a sign of an author's genius when his characters step out of the stories and become words in the language. Dozens of Dickens's characters are now part of the English language. This week we'll meet five of them.

Contest: Can you come up with an original wellerism? Send it in to the contest.

Prizes: Best entries will receive their choice of any of the following prizes:
  o Word game: One Up!
  o T-shirt: AWAD to the wise is sufficient
  o Any of my books

How to Enter: Send your entries to contest@wordsmith.org by this Friday. Be sure to include your location (city/state/country). Selected entries will be featured in this weekend's AWADmail. (see results)

To get you primed, here are a few wellerisms from me:
"So far, so good," said the escapee as he looked at the prison in the distance.
"Beauty is only skin deep," said the woman as she received a Botox injection.

wellerism

PRONUNCIATION:
(WEL-uh-ri-zuhm)

MEANING:
noun: An expression involving a familiar proverb or quotation and its facetious sequel. It usually comprises three parts: statement, speaker, situation.
Examples:
"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
"Prevention is better than cure," said the pig when it ran away from the butcher.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Sam Weller and his father, characters known for such utterances in Charles Dickens's novel Pickwick Papers. Earliest documented use: 1839.

USAGE:
"A particularly telling example of a wellerism discussed by Dundes is the following:
'Shall I sit awhile?' says the parasite before becoming a permanent dweller."
Wolfgang Mieder; Alan Dundes; Western Folklore (Long Beach, California); Jul 2006.

Explore "wellerism" in the Visual Thesaurus.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the human heart can hold. -Zelda Fitzgerald, novelist (1900-1948)

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