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AWADmail Issue 11

September 4, 1998

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

    This compilation is based on the words sent during Aug 24-30, 1998. Check out the archive for Aug 1998 to see the words.

From: Floyd Vest (vestmonATauburn.edu)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--limerick

Long-time listener, first-time caller. :-)

There once was a young man of Words
Who mailed definitions to nerds.
To drop in conversation,
"cwm" or "suspiration,"
Makes everyone sound quite absurd.

From: John Lucas (johnlucATiname.com)
Subject: Rialto

I always thought the Rialto was a bridge (been there, stood on it) - the one with the shops lining it. Went back to my Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice) and found two quotes:

"What news on the Rialto?" which implies the bridge; and
"Signior Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me" which implies the marketplace.

Am now totally confused. Was the bridge named after the island? Please help!

    Besides the American Heritage Dictionary, I checked the Oxford English Dictionary, and Webster's Third New International Dictionary and none of these mention anything about the bridge. On the Web, I was able to find www.rialto.it and www.rialto.com both of which allude to a bridge. Maybe a Venetian on this list can give us an authoritative reference. -Anu

From: Julian Allason (julian.allasonATdial.pipex.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bobby

You might like to know that this word is obsolete in the UK, and is used only by American tourists. In the quoted sentence the usage was deliberately archaic, intended to convey irony.

From: Merry Lloyd (merryATclear-lake.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--bobby -Reply

Just wondered if you know what a female bobby is called? It's a Booby Bobby. Made that up one year when we were in the UK, and our children still laugh about it.

From: Anne Clayton (claytonaATjud.state.mi.us)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--bobby -Reply

Please note that Sir Robert Peel was Home Secretary to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (usually called Britain) - not just England in 1829.

    Also noted by Matt Townsend (townsendATcf.ac.uk) and Peter Riocreux (peter.riocreuxATcs.man.ac.uk). -Anu

From: Susan Carroll (scarrollATiona.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bobby

In Ireland the police (gardai) are sometimes called 'Peelers' after Robert Peel also!

    Also mentioned by Deborah Peifer (dpeiferATdelphi.com), David Waterman (dwatermanATlearningco.com), and Barry Kingsbury (barrykATnoblenet.com). -Anu

From: Paul Choboter (choboterATmath.ualberta.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--jesuit

I object to your promotion of the word Jesuit to mean "one who deceives by the use of subtle arguments". I do not doubt that it probably is an actual definition, albeit quite obscure. And I realize that your service is meant to provide obscure words and definitions to your readers.

However, this definition has negative connotations about an entire group of people. When you distribute such a definition, you teach your readership to think negatively about the group. Individuals have been found guilty of bigotry and of spreading hatred for doing as much, and to a much smaller audience, I might add.

You know you have a very wide audience, and so what you write carries a large accumulated influence. With this power, responsibility must be exercised. Please be careful in the future about spreading prejudice.

    I'm sorry the phrase "one given to subtle casuistry" in the dictionary definition offends you, but I have been told that casuistry is an integral part of being a Jesuit, and in fact they take pride in it. I looked in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. I didn't see anything relevant about this issue under the entry Jesuits but found a separate entry for Casuistry:

      "The art of applying principles of moral theology to particular instances. After Trent, the study of cases of conscience was imposed upon all studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. The term came to be identified with hair-splitting and evasion, and to have a pejorative sense. It drew the scorn of Pascal, both upon the discipline as such, and upon the Jesuits who were its leading proponents. But the practice of casuistry in the sense defined above is indispensable if the abstract norms of morality are to be applied to the practical decisions of Christian living."

    I also consulted Vimala, my erudite friend, author of several books, the closest you can get to a walking library. Her response follows. Still, you are entitled to your opinion. Thanks for taking the time to let me know how you feel. -Anu

From: Vimala Rodgers (vimalphaATiihs.com)
Subject: Re: jesuit

Jesuits are renowned for their "subtle casuistries"; it's part of their reputation for being mental gymnasts. The ones I know are kind of proud of it, to be honest. St. Ignatius Loyola founded the order, the Society of Jesus, sometime in the 16th century. A Jesuit receives two years of spiritual training, followed by 13 years of academics...which should tell you something about their focus! They are known for their mental acuity, which they cloak with philosophical religiosities... what the AHD calls "subtle casuistry."

Jesuits are well known for starting schools and universities all over Europe, and later on in the US and Canada. Their focus is education. They were also the priests (along with others) that, upon claiming North America as mission territory, "civilized" the Native Americans. They are also the priests that surround the pope. Let's see what else...I used to go round and round with them; they have brilliant minds and can discuss almost any topic thoroughly.

Until 1964 (Vatican II) it was a mortal sin (you go to hell for committing one of these) to eat meat on Friday. My dear, brilliant, hair-splitting Jesuit friend lived in the state of Washington, very near the Canadian border. On Fridays he would go over the border to Canada for breakfast, to dine on bacon & eggs, his favourite morning menu. His logic (and he had an abundance of that!) was this, straight-faced: "Only in a country that is not a mission country is eating meat a mortal sin; Canada is still mission territory, so no sin is involved." THAT's how they split hairs!

In college, when anyone wanted to skirt canon law and its moral implications (in other words, get away with something and not end up in purgatory or hell for doing it)...the comment was common: "Call a Jesuit; he'll show you how to do it clean and clear!"

From: Mari Lynch (mariATwitty.com)
Subject: jesuit discussion

I thought you might receive some comments on today's word, "jesuit". My 74 y/o mother had 19 years of Catholic education, and I thought she should clarify the reputation of the Jesuits. Her response to me follows. Thought you would find it a bit interesting.

WE LOVE WORD A DAY! Thank you so much for doing this!

"Checked my e-mail, naturally, only to discover we're discussing Jesuits today! While revered universally for their intelligence, scholarly pursuits and missionary spirit, the Jesuits have always had the reputation for splitting hairs. In college we had long discussions about what constituted a one ounce roll, whether one could borrow from main meals in the fasting scheme of things to have a mid-meal snack. (Sounds like Weight Watchers.) There were also many discussions about what constituted a chaste kiss or mental reservation (white lie). When in doubt, the solution was to ask a Jesuit. He would find a way for one to have her cake and eat it too."

From: Roy Lewis (rlewisATkronos.com)
Subject: Question

I have enjoyed receiving AWAD for some time and I look forward to expanding my vocabulary each day.

My question concerns words that do not contain the letter 'E'. I have heard that there is an entire book that contains no words with the letter 'E', but I have not been able to find any references to it.

Would you know about this book or is it simply one of those urban myths I hear about.

    There are several books that are written without any e's. A work of this kind, where a letter is missing from the whole text, is called a lipogram. In spite of what it sounds like, a lipogram is not a message delivered by means of osculation. Nor is it what comes out of liposuction. The word lipogram is a back-formation from Greek lipogrammatos meaning lacking a letter, combining Greek lip-, weak stem of leipein, to leave, be wanting and grammat, letter. Lipography is the term for omission of a letter in writing.

    The Oxford English Dictionary carries a citation claiming Greek poet Lasus, born in Achaia 538 BCE as the first author of a lipogrammatic verse. Tryphiodorus's Odyssey is an epic lipogram where alpha is missing from the first book, called Alpha, beta from the second book, Beta, and so on.

    Coming back to books written without e's (I'm sure writing them is not something everyone can do with ease), Ernest Vincent Wright's 1939 novel Gadsby is written without the second vowel. One of the best known e-less works is Georges Perec's lipogrammatic French novel, La Disparition. Its plot is full of wordplay, puzzles, and other word-fun. For example, a character is missing eggs, or is unable to remember his name because it needs e in the spelling. There is a (near) pangram, a construction using all the letters from the alphabet too. Since e is forbidden, the pangram has the whole alphabet except the e. Though it may be hard to believe considering the restriction under which it is written, the novel is said to be quite engrossing. Apparently, many reviewers were not even aware that a special constraint was used in writing it. After writing the novel, Perec faced a protest from the a, i, o and u keys on his keyboard that they had to do all the work and e was leading an e'sy life. So Perec had no choice but to write a short work called Les Revenentes, where the only vowel used is e. A writing composed using only one of the vowels is called a univocalic.

    If that doesn't sound incredible enough, here is more news. La Disparition has been translated into English as A Void by Gilbert Adair. Of course, the translation also doesn't have any e's in it. In case you have not already noticed, both the phrases "La Disparition" and "A Void" have only vowels a, i and o in them, same as the word "lipogram". And Void's protagonist is named Anton Vowl.

    One may wonder why e is chosen as the prohibited letter in many lipograms. E is the most frequently appearing letter in the English language and thus it makes the task more challenging. One has to give up some of the most common pronouns such as he, she, we, me, and so on. What is more, even the use of the article "the" becomes forbidden. On the other hand, writing a lipogram where q is declared non grata would be elementary, unless you were writing about the British monarchy. To see more examples of lipograms and other word fun, you may want to check out Word Ways, a quarterly journal of recreational linguistics.

    One can write numbers from zero, one, two... onwards, and not use the `a' key on the keyboard until reaching thousand. As for the literary merit of that composition, I'm not very certain. -Anu

From: Al Lauer (speddaddyATaol.com)
Subject: New Member

I have provided a Word for Today to my high school students for a number of years. Alas, I have found myself repeating too often. I have my favorites, it seems. I need some fresh verbal meat. I'm hoping your service will open my horizons...and maybe give the kids a few new words to ponder and hopefully utilize. Hey, and I'm not above taking a crack at some new ones myself.

    Thanks for writing and sharing your love of words. Many teachers on this list use AWAD in their classrooms. I'd rather give you fresh verbal fodder, but that's a topic for another time. -Anu

Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne

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