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AWADmail Issue 167

June 11, 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: Interesting stories from the net

Learning a language by talking rubbish:

The pithiest language gets first dictionary:

BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary organize a wordhunt:

From: Melissa Emmons (melissa.emmonsATmedtronic.com)
Subject: Re: Spelling bee

I was watching the Spelling Bee finals yesterday wistfully. I had been a bit of a spelling prodigy when I was young. The word which knocked me out of the chance to advance to the state finals, when I was in the 5th grade, was "amontillado" which is a type of Spanish wine.

While watching Spelling Bee, as I tried to spell along with the kids in the competition yesterday, I was amazed at how much a word's etymology, or language of origin, provided assistance. Words with a Greek, or French origin, for example, could generally be counted upon to have certain sounds spelled in a predictably consistent manner.

I was amazed at how knowledgeable these children were about the origin of words: Many times they would ask, "Does the word contain ____, which is the Latin word meaning, ____ ?" When given the affirmative, they would proceed to spell the word promptly with newfound confidence. I'll confess that even with that help, though, I was probably only able to spell about a third of the words correctly that they were tackling!

I believe I was destined to be involved in spelling bees: Aptronymically, my name is Melissa, which is Greek for "honey bee"! There is a plant which shares my name: Lemon balm, or bee balm, which has the name "Melissa officinalis". It is so named because its lemon-scented leaves and flowers are attractive to bees.

From: Charles D. Rubin (shishudasATyahoo.com)
Subject: Bees

When I was a student at MIT in the 1980s, I attended a "differentiation bee" where math whizzes would solve increasingly complex calculus problems in their head, as well as a "punning bee" which required participants to come up with rapid-fire puns on any given topic until someone stumbled.

From: Mary P. Kuhfeld (marypulverATaol.com)
Subject: Bee

I remember canning bees my mother participated in with my two aunts in east central Illinois. Aunt Mamie had a peach tree, Mom had a couple of plum trees, and Aunt Velva made a wonderful creamed corn. We'd go in succession to each house over the summer, the kitchens would fill with steam and wonderful smells, and we cousins would play in the yards. And in the dead of winter, opening a jar of peach preserves, plum jam, or creamed corn would recall those summer days.

From: Ron Rifkin (riffkidATearthlink.net)
Subject: Our spelling problem (terete)

> In many languages, such as Hindi or Spanish, words
> are pronounced just as they are written...

As an American living in Italy, I encountered this situation. When I would ask an Italian how to spell a particular word, they'd invariably just repeat the word, usually louder! Spelling is not a problem for them, since every letter has only one sound. Tellingly, they use English to describe what I've asked them to do: "fare lo spelling"

From: Shirley Ebel (inaweoflifeAThotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--hodiernal

I came across this word a couple of years ago while reading some of the works of one of my favorite writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is from his essay entitled "Circles":
"Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through which a new one may be described."

From: Jon Paul Draskovic (jonAThousingjustice.org)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--oligopsony

I found it rather interesting that Oligopsony was your word of the day, paralleled to Oligarchy. In light of the recent political and governmental winds I have picked up an old favorite book, "1984" which details the epitome of an Oligarchy. I think that many individuals who have been persuaded into a surrendering of critical thinking by recent events and live in the constant mentality of fear would do well to read "1984" and see how similar our culture of terror is becoming to McCarthyism of the 50's and Big Brother of "1984". The villains may have changed, however the fear and paranoia remains static and omnipotent throughout all three.

From: Kirt Willis (willisk1ATprodigy.net)
Subject: oligarchy

Your definition of oligarchy goes too far. The inclusion of the phrase "and used for selfish and corrupt purposes" is an extension to the main meaning. An oligarchy is not inherently bad. It can be evil, benign or benevolent. In fact, may US cities are oligarchies where the responsibility for rule is mediated through a council that shares the governing power. While these individuals are elected to their position, their operation from that point forward is an oligarchy.

From: Stephen Montsaroff (a-stmontATmicrosoft.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--peccavi

Apocryphal or not, the story is even better if with the understanding that Napier was under explicit instructions that
1. He was not to attack Hyderabad.
2. If provoked to fighting, he was under no conditions take Hyderabad, Sind's capital.

He then (according to the story) send the one word message Peccavi to London and the recipients absolutely understood that he had violated his order and taken the city -- the old British boy school Latin training.

I choose to believe the story as, to quote Mason Williams "Who needs truth, if truth is dull."

From: Peter Hoare (p.hoareATvirgin.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--peccavi

There's a follow-up to the story about "Peccavi". When another general annexed another Indian province, some wit wrote:

'Peccavi' - I've Sind - wrote Napier so proud;
More briefly Dalhousie wrote 'Vovi' - I've Oudh.

Vovi is Latin for 'I vowed' so it's a slightly more complicated homophonic reference. It's probably at least as apocryphal as the Peccavi story, but it shows the Victorian concern for brevity based on a sound classical education!

From: William Simon (billATsimon1.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--peccavi

Your peccavi story reminds me of another, also apocryphal: That after Napoleon's army had captured a town, his commanders came to his tent for instructions. Napoleon was taken with a coughing fit, and exclaimed "Ma sacre toux!" whereupon the commanders went out and gave orders that all the townsfolk be executed. (Get it?)

Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

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