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AWADmail Issue 102

November 30, 2003

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


Foreign Accent Syndrome:

Texas Accent:

From: Katie Behan (katieATbehan.ws)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--derring-do

I couldn't help but smile when I read about derring-do. It reminded me of The Court Jester, when Danny Kaye sings "Those who try to tangle with my derring-do, wind up at the angle that herring do. They hold their heads like very dead herring do."

From: Joseph Jacobs (jjacobsATidevelop.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--derring-do

> The same happened with pease which was wrongly assumed
> to be plural and became pea. The list goes on and on.

And suddenly the origins of an old nursery rhyme become clear...

Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold...

As long as I can remember, I've thought the construction of that one to be a little odd. Now I know why. :)

From: Skaria (trc_ceedskATsancharnet.in)
Subject: Re: acme and acne

Please clear my doubts about your comments on acme and acne. Although they appear next to each other in dictionary both differ in meaning very much. Both are different words. Then how can the word acne by misreading become acme.

acme: the highest point of perfection or achievement
acne: a disease of skin in adult

    The word acme, by misreading, became acne. Remember, when people gets acne, they get many "high points" on their skin. -Anu

From: Fred Ddorn (fdornATpacbell.net)
Subject: sherbert?

One of my favorites along these lines is sherbet. Apparently American speakers find this word difficult to pronounce, preferring to place an "r" after the second "e" making sherbert. This spelling and pronunciation has found its way into the dictionary. Nowadays when I ask for sherbet I usually get a funny look.

From: Jonathan B Rickert (rickertjbATstate.gov)
Subject: Aught/ought

I encountered this word for the first time as a Princeton undergraduate in the mid-1950s. At that time there were still alumni alive from the early years of the twentieth century. The class of, say, 1905, then was being cited as the class of aught (or aughty) five, and the class of 1900 was called that of aughty aught (though frankly I don't recall which spelling was used). About 100 years after those early pre-World War I students, I wonder whether or not current Princeton undergrads refer to their class years in the same way as did their predecessors.

From: Steven Lichtenstein (stlichtATaol.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sand-blind

J.R.R. Tolkien, that eminent etymologist, used this prefix for the name of one of the main characters in The Lord of the Rings: Samwise (half-wise, or perhaps half-witted) Gamgee, faithful servant of Frodo Baggins. A good-hearted and loyal friend, but not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. As Faramir perceptively remarks in The Two Towers: "Do not speak before your master, whose wit is greater than yours."

For some reason, in the British radio dramatization, Aragorn was given the line: "You are well called Sam-WISE" -- meaning it as a compliment, which it was in fact anything but!

From: Rhondda (rhonddaATbranford.com.hk)
Subject: hemidemisemiquaver

Americans don't use that word "hemidemisemiquaver", or any of the other words the English give to musical notes: minim, crotchet, quaver. I used to tell my students "I don't speak Quaver, look at the eighth-note here in bar 3...", and the Hong Kong Chinese kids, raised on doctrinally-pure Quaver, would sort of smile and then try to understand. I can, after 12 years, usually properly refer to a crotchet, quaver, and semi-quaver, but all those prefixes are just too confusing to keep straight. Likewise, their brains nearly short-circuit when I ask them to make the 64th-note a little louder.

From: Bill Hudgins (bhudginsAThammock.com)
Subject: hemidemisemi

The science fiction writer Keith Laumer in his stories about Retief, an intergalactic diplomat who was more Bondish than his ilk, often poked fun at the niceties of protocol using a format like hemidemisemiquaver. He would, for instance, refer to the prescribed attire for a function as a hemi-demi-semi-midmorning cutaway. I have adapted this approach in describing the behavior of my cats, i.e. they are taking their hemidemisemimidmorning nap. Often, I join them in this pursuit. One must observe the niceties, as Retief occasionally did.

From: Michael G Perrow (mgperrowATus.ibm.com)
Subject: derring-do

You've selected one of my favorite topics in etymology, where going back to the origins points to a clear mistake (which causes the new usage to obtain quickly, I'd bet) rather than a less-clear modulation that happens over decades or centuries, maybe.

I believe many of these changes occurred via the copying of manuscripts, but I could be wrong. I would guess in any case that such changes due to the read-and-transcribe process are less frequent today than 400 years ago.

From: Albert Saxon (catchrestATsaxonmarketing.com)
Subject: McLuhan misquoted for decades: He really wrote The Medium is the *Massage*

In keeping with this week's theme I wonder if you can help me correct a major misduplication or mispronunciation that is being perpetrated today.

For almost 40 years Marshall McLuhan's book "The Medium is the Massage" has been been misquoted as (sic) "The Medium is the Message." McLuhan in his continuously misquoted book said,

"All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political,economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected or unaltered. The medium is the massage."

Toward the end of the book he also says,

"... media, by altering the environment evoke in us their unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act -- the way we perceive the world. Were the Great Blackout of 1965 to have continued for a half year, there would be no doubt how electronic technology shapes, works over, alters -- massages -- every instant of our lives."

Since too few people read these days they hear "the medium is the message" bandied about by marketing professors, other college professors, media personalities and a host of other "knowledgeable types" -- none of whom have read the book, and accept it as truth.

It is natural to attempt to make sense of something we hear from an authority figure. Since too few question the validity of what authority figures say, and since that particular quote means nothing, they then try to concoct some significance to fit this mis-statement. They either come up with nonsense or give up and then pass along the misquotation while attempting to sound knowledgeable.

This may be a lost cause, but while I am still capable of some optimism, I hope not.

From: Clyde Dawson (clydawsonATxtra.co.nz)
Subject: New words from old

Thinking of words that came from mistakes with other words...

At a recent planning meeting of SeniorNet Horowhenua, our chairman referred to our facilitator as 'felicitator' and the word has stuck fast. I think it's a great word...It will ever be part of our vocab for the one who leads the fun part of a meeting.

From: David Boelzner (dboelznerATwrightrobinson.com)
Subject: This week's theme

I wonder if the same thing is happening with the past tense of the verb "lead." It seems to me it's about 80% of the time that I see "lead" used for the past tense, no doubt because of people's confusion with the conjugation of "read." There is some logic for the two being treated differently: "red" as a past tense would create confusion with another meaning of the word, while "led" presents no such complication. "Lead" as a past tense does create such confusion with the soft metal of the same name. Is it better to have to derive from context the distinction between the present and past tenses of a verb, as in "read," or between a present tense verb and a noun, as with "lead"? Of course, if "lead" is also used as a past tense, there's double confusion... Anyway, inattention to these matters has led ["lead"?] to widespread confusion and I suppose it cannot be saved.

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Australian Words (AWAD guest column)

Addressing Australia's Federal Parliament in Canberra on October 23, U.S. President George W. Bush lavished praise on Prime Minister John Howard. "You might remember that I called him a 'man of steel' - that's Texan for 'fair dinkum,'" he said. Dinkum and other odd Oz words are explained at http://www.age-net.co.uk/literature/Eric_Shackle/fairdinkum.htm And comments I've received from AWAD readers will be posted in the December edition of my e-book: http://bdb.co.za/shackle

Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. -Samuel Johnson

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