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AWADmail Issue 165

May 29, 2005

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

From: Alexis Melteff (aapm52ATyahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--effete

Who of my generation could ever forget Vice-president Spiro Agnew's comment that the peace movement was spearheaded by "an effete corps of impudent snobs". At many of his subsequent appearances, Agnew was followed by protesters wearing signs saying, "Impudent snob for peace". Incidentally, Spiro Agnew anagrams to "grow a penis".

From: Jasna Zlokic (stephenheroAThotmail.com)
Subject: effete

This "insult" is an interesting and a very instructive example of how sexism works inside language. How to most successfully humiliate a man? Why, liken him to a woman! Other meanings of the word (weak, ineffectual, decadent, self-indulgent) are then inevitably gendered, too, i.e. linked and equated with the female.

From: Meera Narayan (miranarayanAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--fustilugs

What a marvellous topic! Fustilugs reminds of a memorable phrase 'miserable molecule of mildew' from the absolutely delightful Tintin comics and dear Captain Haddock! To my mind, he was the indisputable emperor of curses. When we were children, we would faithfully copy them and in fact each one would vie to cap the other. So you would hear "pithecanthropes! pockmarks! poisoners! weevils! unfeeling monsters! interplanetary pirate! profiteers!.." and on the other side "Autocrats! body-snatchers! bashi-bazouks! terrapins! crab-apples! rhizopods! goosecaps! sea-lice! ectoplasm!.." ..sigh... those were the days.

From: David P. Wilkinson (wilkindaATmilwpc.com)
Subject: This week's theme

I'm eagerly looking forward to the rest of the week. In "Pudd'head Wilson's Calendar", Mark Twain elaborated on his attitude toward invective:

"In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied often to prayer."

From: Julie Lipkin (julonATmailblocks.com)
Subject: swears and insults

I love this week's theme, which brings to mind that wonderful scene with Valvert in "Cyrano de Bergerac". My daughter has a T-shirt with a list of Shakespearean insults. Among my favorites are "idol of idiot-worshipers", "crusty botch of nature," "highly fed and lowly taught," "roast-meat for worms," "fusty nut with no kernel" and "stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots" (that last being, I gather, a highfalutin way of saying "disease-ridden"). Why settle for a common four-letter word when there are so many felicitous ways to twist the knife?

From: Lori Drafahl (ldrafahlATflynnwright.com)
Subject: This week's theme - my first disappointment

I think you're assuming a lot about the Word.A.Day audience: I can't even pretend to agree that using verbal insults instead of using physical "manifestations" of anger is any kind of justification for swearing. I'm deeply disappointed in the choice to present words with this affiliation and with the purpose that you imply. You may dismiss me as a prude, but actually I'm more of a "positivist", which at times requires my attitudes to be prudish in order to treat other people with respect. Although I'm sure you're attempting to treat this subject with humor and lightness, "uncouth" is exactly right when it comes to swearing, and I don't consider this week's theme to be enlightening in any way. For that reason, I'll be removing myself from the mailing list. I hope that you'll consider my viewpoint, even if you may disagree.

From: Vivienne (avivaATcruzio.com)
Subject: discomfort with "offensive" words - sexist/racist/body-ist

I'm uncomfortable with the choice of word this time, fustilugs, because fat people face so much discrimination in the US, and this is a very body-ist similar-to-racist word, and as a feminist humanist social worker I am very aware of the pain that many women and some men have felt about their size, and the stereotypes people have about them being lazy slobs, etc. but interesting nevertheless and has a great ring to it, and most people wouldn't know what it was referring to - nevertheless, it will not be a word I use. Anyway, it is all in an education, but generally I feel that one can poke fun at oneself but not at others or groups of people, without risking hurting feelings or being misunderstood.

From: Brian N. Larson (blarsonATlarsonlegal.com)
Subject: ...except moderation

You write in the post about "fustilugs": "But remember, everything in moderation."

I remember this adage as "Moderation in all things." No worries, I think they mean the same thing. Perhaps this expression has been used by AWAD fans before, and perhaps someone has already pointed out the difficulty associated with it: Does the rule apply to itself? In other words, are we to practice moderation in practicing moderation? Does the rule thus support or even require occasional excesses?

Perhaps another formulation of the rule would be clearer? How about, "Moderation in all things - except moderation"? Perhaps, "Moderation in many (or most) things"? Maybe, "Excess in as few things as possible"? Of course, all these lack the comforting (and self-contradictory) absolutism of the original formulation. I say, keep the original rule - just bend it now and again - in moderation, of course.

From: Hope Bucher (hope-bucherATwebtv.net)
Subject: Swearing

In the book "Swearing A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English", the author, Geoffrey Hughes, states that there is a fascinating convention of ritual insult known as "flyting" which has "a disjunctive history, flourishing in Viking times, dwindling away in Middle English, reviving as a Scots literary genre in the Renaissance, and then largely petering out in Modern English although a continuation can be seen in the cognate practice of "sounding" in black American English."

Ashley Montague, in "The Anatomy of Swearing" reports that most of our swear words have considerable antiquity. An Anglo-Saxon peasant of the 10th century would understand several of them - and he gives examples. He adds that some cultures do not swear at all. The Japanese, Malayans, and most Polynesians, and most American Indians do not have native swear words.

Shakespeare, in my opinion, is the master of the collocation of insults - "lily-livered coward", etc. Linguistic scholars indicate that the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable insults remains a matter of usage, custom, etiquette, and happenstance rather than anything intrinsic to the word itself. We have such an interesting linguistic heritage!

From: Jennifer Christian (jennifer.christianATwebility.md)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--scut

"Scut work" is a very common term in medicine for the lower-level tasks such as drawing blood, calling the lab, moving the patient from here to there, writing out orders. As interns, we were referred to as "scut puppies."

From: Natalya Agar (nkagarAToptusnet.com.au)
Subject: Re: fustilugs

Despite a basic abhorrence of swearing, as it becomes more culturally prevalent, it's difficult to avoid four-letter words rising in my consciousness when under pressure. I try to remember the saying my mother once told me, "Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully."

So, it was with much delight that I discovered the Shakespearean Insult Generator in my inbox. I can now insult to my heart's content - guilt free!

From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--sudoriferous

Sudoriferous could perhaps apply to armadillos as well as to people. Armadillos are said to produce a musky odor that seems stronger when they feel threatened. I've never seen a jaguar, nor yet an armadillo dilloing in his armour, and I s'pose I never will (Kipling). But I've written a story about cane toads and armadillos migrating from the tropics to cooler zones, perhaps because of global warming. It's posted in my free e-book.

"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra." -Lewis Carroll, mathematician and writer (1832-1898)

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