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AWADmail Issue 156

March 12, 2005

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: Antedating, postdating, and interdating words

Have you come across the verb "to pigeon-hole" in a text from before 1879? The Oxford English Dictionary periodically issues appeals for citations of words they're working on.

From: Julia Bell (julia.bellATtotal.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gamboge

I was surprised to see your definition of the word gamboge didn't include the spice gamboge. My nanny, who is Sri Lankan, introduced this ingredient to me used extensively in Sri Lankan cookery. Presumably, the gamboge I have been using in the kitchen is the fruit of the tree you mention.

From: Andrew Pressburger (andrew.pressburgerATprimus.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--vernissage

Because of its apparent similarity to the word vernal, and because of the Impressionists' custom of staging outdoor exhibitions of their new works in the spring, the word "vernissage" has come to be translated into some languages (my native Hungarian, for example) as "spring showing".

From: Bluey Zatoff (duke.of.lamarATgmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Fleet Street

Known by many as 'The Street of Shame', reflecting the bilge that is often printed in the British tabloids... and even some of the more 'respectable' newspapers.

From: Tim A. Pasden (tapasdenATsinosplice.com)
Subject: multi-lingual life

While in graduate school, I worked with a fellow student who had been born in Turkey. Since his father was a physician, he could afford to send his son to the German gymnasium (the US equivalent of high school). For college, Sirman came to the US.

Sirman told me that, as a result, he did his arithmetic, like counting pocket change, in Turkish, his algebra in German, and his calculus in English. The language was embedded into the skills that he learned.

From: Yosef Bar-On (jobaronATgalon.org.il)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gamboge

I have many friends here in Israel, originally from many Eastern European countries. They all speak Hebrew fluently, though some have stronger European accents than others, but all of them, without exception, do their counting in their mother tongues, mostly in Yiddish.... Often they are not even aware of this... Me? I find that I count in English, what else?

From: Robert Joynt, MD, PhD (robert_joyntATurmc.rochester.edu)
Subject: Re: gamboge

I enjoyed your Akbar-Barbil story about the multilingual man and how his mother tongue was discovered.

In neurology there are two observations pertinent to this issue. The first is Ribot's law. This states that a multilingual person who has an acquired aphasia (problems with the formulation and comprehension of language due to a cerebral lesion) will, when recovering, use his first acquired or mother tongue. The second is Pitres's law, which refutes the latter, stating that the recovering patient will use the language most employed prior to the onset of aphasia. I have seen examples of both of these occurrences. I never tried kicking them.

From: Robert Lesco (rlescoATyahoo.com)
Subject: AWAD

Interesting tale today. When I meet multi-lingual people I like to ask what language they count in, what language they pray in and what language they swear in. You would be surprised, without regard to how the first two are answered (and your story notwithstanding), just how many people prefer Anglo-Saxon curse words. They tell me they are so much more satisfying to spit out.

From: Anne Davenport (davenpaeATmuohio.edu)
Subject: Re: Akbar stories

I loved your King Akbar story. When I was very young, my grandfather, a proficient linguist, was the international sales rep for a manufacturing company. He spent quite a bit of time in other countries and, when home, often had foreign friends stay with him. I was visiting once and was shocked by the dark skin and brown eyes of an Indian who had come to stay. I invited myself onto his lap and asked him what was wrong with his eyes. The fact that, at five, I had never seen brown eyes before tells you something about my family. He told me that brown eyes were warm and friendly. Blue eyes were like "looking through a skull at the sky". My reaction to that must have been intense, because he put his arms around me, nestling me in his lap, and told me Akbar stories until supper time. It was a high point in my young life, and I'm sure it's the reason I like dark eyes and Indian accents. Memory is an amazing thing; your comments brought forth a 45-year-old memory as though it happened last week. Thank you for the excursion.

From: Benjamin Parker (bhparkerATdubal.ae)
Subject: Akbar-Birbal stories

The one about the linguist makes an interesting story, and would make sense to me, except I have found the opposite to be true in my own experience. Not being one for uttering foul language myself, I have nevertheless found it easier to do so when speaking another language. Perhaps the lack of childhood or other associations makes the words seem less to me than they are to those whose language they come from.

From: Norton (nortonATvonl.com)
Subject: Argentina - Southernmost country?

You may still be correct about Argentina being the southernmost country. Like many nations, Argentina has scientific bases in Antarctica. Those on the mainland fall under the Antarctic Treaty, which specifically says that Antarctica is international territory that cannot be claimed by any one nation. However, the islands of the Southern Ocean are in a grey area (no weather pun intended) in terms of how 'Antarctica' is defined. I think some definitions use a latitude, e.g. 60 deg S, others use the Antarctic convergence, an oceanographic boundary where water temperature changes by about 3 deg C. Both Argentina and Chile lay claim to some 'Antarctic' islands. A quick Google search came up with this web site in which the southernmost islands claimed by Argentina and not Chile are listed as the South Orkneys (60.5 deg S). This would make Argentina the southernmost country.

The appropriately beautiful or ugly sound of any word is an illusion wrought on us by what the word connotes. -Max Beerbohm, writer, critic, and caricaturist (1872-1956)

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