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AWADmail Issue 172

August 6, 2005

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

From: Rejean Levesque (kevelATvideotron.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

I am presently reading a Sci-Fi novel by David Brin called "Kiln People" and one of the secondary characters in the story is named Gadarene. He kind of rushes in dangerous situations without thinking much. Some coincidence!

From: Tom Houston (thoustonATus.ibm.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

There was a famous political controversy in Victorian England over the pigs who plunged from the Gadarene cliff.

Your word "gadarene" reminded me that in the 1870s, the cliff where those swine perished became a personal battleground for two of Britain's most eminent statesmen of that era, no less than former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and former Prime Minister William Gladstone, lifelong rivals who engaged in an acrimonious (and to some of their contemporaries, hilarious) public dispute over that New Testament miracle.

Disraeli wrote that the destruction of valuable livestock violated property rights, a somewhat facetious claim that had implications for certain social conflicts of that era. Gladstone, for decades the political nemesis of Disraeli, perceived this as blasphemy from a non-believer, and indignantly defended the ethics of Jesus, using various arguments (the pigs, for example, obviously were not kosher) that Disraeli successfully subjected to ridicule. Although Gladstone far surpassed Ma Ferguson as a biblical scholar (she cannot have been more than a little girl at this time), to many dispassionate readers of the London newspapers that published their ripostes, Disraeli prevailed in this debate, thereby damaging Gladstone's prestige and possibly also his health.

According to Merriam-Webster, "Gadarene" is unattested in the United States before 1922, but I suspect that the original need for the term in England originated with this famous Victorian controversy. Perhaps the word 's connotations once included not only demonic pigs, but also "pigheaded" old men striving to humiliate each other?

From: Kiko Denzer (potlatchATcmug.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--potter's field

If this is a reference to the land where the "potter" dug his/her clay, it would make good sense. It would be too poor for agriculture, and due to the mining activities for the clay, it would be just about worthless for anything else -- not to mention full of holes perfect for burial.

From: Don Anderson (dandersoATfechheimer.com)
Subject: potter's field

A 'wonderful' use of the term 'potter's field' is in the Frank Capra movie It's A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Of course, the antagonist is 'Mr. Potter', portrayed 'wonderfully' by Lionel Barrymore. In the first part of the movie George Bailey is helping poor people build homes in 'Bailey Park'. In the later part of the movie where George has never been born, it is referred to as '(Mr.) Potter's Field'; a graveyard.

From: Nicole Salazar (nicole.salazarATchasemerchantservices.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--potter's field

I wonder if kids today will view this term as a reference to the Quidditch field that Harry Potter and friends regularly compete.

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

Thorny Acacia bushes, which grow wild all over Israel and much of Africa and the Middle East, are of value only to goats and wild gazelles, the only animals capable of overcoming the long sharp thorns to reach the sweet fruit during the dry summer months. The Latin name, Zisiphus Spina Christi, obviously refers to the legend that Roman soldiers took branches of Acacia to make that crown of thorns.

From: Mark Pigman (mark.pigmanATci.tacoma.wa.us)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--crown of thorns

There is also a crown of thorns gourd.

From: Sharon Higgins (skhigginsATmac.com)
Subject: NYTimes.com: Bible Course Becomes a Test for Public Schools in Texas

Since this week's AWAD theme is biblical, you might find this article of I had not heard of the Ma Ferguson incident you cited before, but having lived in Texas for nine years, I have no doubt of its veracity and I can tell you that there are many people (not just residents of Texas) who even today would be surprised to learn that the Bible was not written in English.

From: Madlon T. Laster (mtlasterATshentel.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

My late father-in-law, a Presbyterian minister, was serving a church in Tennessee when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out in the 1950s. An elderly woman remarked to him, as she left the church, that she didn't see why we needed a new Bible (the RSV). "If the King James Version was good enough for St. Paul, it was good enough for [her]."

From: Mickey Trent (mikitATio.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

The Ma Ferguson story reminded me of another great, but non-biblical, pronouncement from Texas history. It is said that circa 1920 during a debate in the Texas legislature concerning ending the practice of public hanging in the state, one legislator declared, "If hanging was good enough for my daddy, it's good enough for me!" I'm a native daughter and feel free to note that our fair state has spawned a number of numbskulls - and not all of them in the past, either.

From: Dean Whitlock (whitlockATsover.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

Ma Ferguson's lapse reminded me of a similar pronouncement I heard on a "Christian" radio station in Omaha, Nebraska, back in the mid-1960s. The DJ proudly and very self-righteously proclaimed that he only played hymns - God's music (his words) - none of that secular stuff; and he went on to list the offending composers, including Beethoven and Bach. Now Beethoven he could have made a case for, but apparently he didn't know that Bach had been a church organist and choirmaster most of his working life and that the majority of Bach's music was very religious. Perhaps it was Bach's use of Latin that threw him off - another good argument for the teaching of foreign languages!

From: Marisa Carder (marisa_carderATmckinsey.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--gadarene

I just read Christopher Moore's hilarious "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal". Many New Testament stories are retold from Biff's viewpoint, including the story of the gadarene pigs... whose owners then appear, an angry mob, furious at the death of their livelihood. =)

From: Charles Ottinger (cfottingerAToptonline.net)
Subject: Gadarene

Today's word reminds me that, read in its original languages, the Bible contains many puns. Read in English, the possible puns are also rife. One of my favorites is that the Gadarene story is biblical sanction for deviled ham.

From: Bill Myers (myersbillAThotmail.com)
Subject: Christ's language

Spaniards have been known to refer to their language as "cristiano" (Christian). This would seem to be a legacy of the middle ages, when the Christians fought to expel the Moors from the Iberian peninsula.

Still today, a Spaniard might say jokingly to someone who has just used a foreign phrase: "Speak to me in Christian!"

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

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